SIX IN A ROW
An innovative approach to travel with family or friends...
by Malcolm Street
Anyone who has done but a brief study of both rental and private motorhomes will know that whilst most of the campervan and large-van layouts look the same, the larger rigs often have some differences. All, of course, come with the essentials like kitchen, dining and sleeping areas but it’s the latter two where differences occur. Whilst the rental market often caters for four or six people, motorhomes built for the private market are frequently just for two, with maybe a Luton bed for the grandchildren.
It’s been my experience that when travelling in a motorhome with more than two people, the travellers in the back often get to ride in seats not overly comfortable and or right at the back, making conversation difficult as well.
Not so long ago in New Zealand, I borrowed a United Campervans United 6 Premier motorhome. A six-berth you’ll have noticed, but one with a very interesting approach to the aforementioned seating problem. Naturally, as with any motorhome it does come with the odd compromise, but read on.
Underpinning the United 6 Premier is a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter cab-chassis. It’s powered by the Benz 2.2-litre 120 kW, 360 Nm turbo-diesel motor driving through a five-speed full-auto gearbox. Like most other motorhomes the Sprinter comes out of the factory ready for a motorhome body to be built on the back.
Most NZ motorhomes come with either framed tinted windows, with smaller opening slides, or tinted acrylic hopper-style windows. This motorhome has sliding windows fitted to the Luton but the side windows are done coach style; i.e. flush-glazed with sliders in various places. Visually, it certainly gives the motorhome a very modern look. Slightly detracted, I have to say, by the squarish-looking Luton peak but compensated for by the fibreglass mouldings at the rear that take away that boxy look, which too many motorhomes have.
Rental motorhomes don’t always come with good external storage but this one does, with a nice large bin at the rear that’s accessible from both sides. There is a bin, of course, for the toilet cassette but not for the gas cylinder. On the outside at least, the gas cylinder is located under the floor, mid-motorhome, and accessible by lifting a floor hatch inside. That little feature shows one of the differences between the Aussie and Kiwi gas regulations. In Australia, all gas cylinder bins require an external access door!
On the Road
With a length of 7.4 m and a width of 2.22 m, the Six Premier isn’t a particularly small motorhome, but don’t let that deter you. I spent a few days around Hamilton and touring around the Coromandel, including when I mistakenly thought I was taking a short cut along Route 309 across the Coromandel Peninsula. The 120 kW turbo-diesel pushes the motorhome along well enough, as long as you aren’t trying to get around in record time, while the 5-speed auto gearbox, a very smooth performer, is certainly the best in its class. A few motorhomers that I met along the way thought that the slightly unusual looking Luton-peak design might affect forward and upward visibility when driving, but it wasn’t something I particularly noticed.
Stepping into the Premier reveals a layout that looks slightly like the interior of a passenger bus, at least at the front. A couple of two-person seats, with seatbelts, sit directly behind the driver and with this arrangement, everyone travelling sits quite close together: an advantage for all. A disadvantage of this setup – isn’t there always one – is that there isn’t any table, but a redesign is underway and new vehicles will feature it later this year.
In the rear of the Premier is a more traditional dinette set-up in what I call a New Zealand Back: A club lounge with a table in the middle and windows all-round. I have to say that the table isn’t particularly large and six people might find things a bit of a squeeze. Under the seats there is plenty of storage space, part of which includes a small safe for valuable items. An idea I quite like but sadly cannot take advantage of with my camera gear (subtle dig for a pay rise ignored. Ed).
All the windows are tinted, with openings at the back and front on both sides. Sensibly all, including the front cab-area, have curtains – except the kitchen, which has a roller blind. Touches like these, along with features like the stylish looking curved overhead locker doors do much to take away the rental motorhome look.
Time to Eat
Catering is handled by a well set up kitchen. Behind the passenger seat, the bench contains a four-burner cooktop, grill and oven that sit alongside a stainless steel sink supplied by both a flick-mixer tap and a separate filtered drinking water outlet. Maximising the bench-top area, its curved shape has a drainage area included in the moulding. Under the bench-top, general storage is maximised by the provision of five drawers of various sizes, including one with two shelves, pantry style, and one cupboard. Given this is a rental motorhome, most of the drawers a filled with cooking and eating essentials. Have to say there wasn’t anything missing that I thought I might have needed.
Quite close to the kitchen bench are the 130-litre compressor fridge on the rear side of the doorway (and hence handy to the rear dinette) plus the microwave, fitted into the overhead locker area adjoining the front side of the bathroom cubicle. That might sound awkward to get at, being above the rear passenger seat, but it been installed flush with the shower cubicle and therefore does not offer a problem. Actually, that area is quite busy with the 12V switching, hot water switch and space-heater controls as well as the radio/CD player and flat screen TV. The latter can really only be viewed from the rear dinette in comfort and whilst the radio does have a 2.5 mm socket for an iPod or equivalent, there’s not really anywhere to put the little gadget.
Being a six berth motorhome, there are plenty of beds. Above the cab the Luton bed, measuring 2.16 m x 1.58 m, is the only one that does not have to be made up every night. Although not everyone likes sleeping in the Luton bed, that latter fact makes them a favourite with this writer. Naturally there’s a ladder needed to get to the bed and it’s clipped behind the passenger seat when not in use, with steps that just pass the bare foot test (i.e. aren’t painful to stand on).
The passenger seats behind the driver’s cab have been designed so that both seat backs fold down to form up a 2.0 m x 1.17 m bed. It isn’t a difficult bed to make up in terms of folding the seat backs over; just putting the sheets and blankets on takes a little while longer. In the rear, the dinette can be used to make up another bed. Measuring 2.18 m x 1.68 m, it’s made-up by removing the table and dropping it to the floor, then rolling out an integrated slat-base from under the rear seat and covering it with the side cushions. It’s all quite simply done. Alternatively, the rear area can be made up as singles measuring 1.68 m x 0.72 m.
Regarding the bathroom, unless a full-width one across the motorhome is desired then this one is not going to offer any difficulties. It comes with a Thetford bench-style cassette toilet, moulded-in vanity cabinet with a basin and a fixed-height shower. It and the basin share the same water outlet. Given the microwave oven location, the shaving cabinet offers quite a good storage area!
What we Think
There’s not much doubt that from a rental perspective, the United 6 Premier offers a very interesting and practical solution for a family or group of people travelling in a motorhome: all forward facing seats, close to the driver’s cab and all reasonably comfortable for travel. A good idea from United!
I’m aware that often, six-berth motorhomes are sometimes hired by four people who desire a bit more space and so this setup would work well for them. There is, of course, a downside in that there isn’t a second dinette and so it would not be particularly practical to leave the rear bed made up all the time, which is what some travellers do.
Apart from the seating layout, the 6 Premier has all the necessary items and appliances that should be found in any motorhome. All-up not a bad little package at all: One that steps away from a more traditional rental motorhome layout and is good for a family or four adults to enjoy some quality motorhome travel time together.
- Different six-berth layout
- Great for travelling passengers
- Good internal and external storage
- Flush windows that give a coach-like look
- Mercedes Benz full-auto gearbox
- Small dinette table in rear
- No table in front seat area
- Radio lacks iPod shelf
Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications and contact details.