Drive with a smile as the campervan goes upmarket super-cool
CAMPERVANS are cool – they have been for decades, the travel mode of choice for the individualistic wanderer.
But now with models like Auto-Sleepers’ Fairford they can be super cool, with privacy glass side windows combined with a subtle gold metallic paint finish providing an upmarket air of mystery.
Rather like a Formula 1 team’s shuttle, people peer to see who is in it! You drive with a smile.
Yes, it is based on a van, in this case the extra long wheelbase Peugeot Boxer just an inch under 21ft long, 8ft 3in wide with mirrors folded out and an 8ft 8in height – including TV aerial – which makes parking choice a consideration.
Despite the dimensions, finding a bay was no problem in supermarket car parks or the abbey, with the boon of that reversing camera – I wish all vans had them.
But you do have to be aware that the extra long wheelbase means the standard parking bay might be a little too short.
Under the bonnet is a proven 160bhp 2-litre HDI turbo diesel that uses Adblue mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, but the rest is skilfully converted camper and built from scratch for high specification accommodation with high quality finish.
The model reviewed was provided by Marquis Leisure, part of the Auto-Sleepers group and the country’s biggest motorhome and caravan dealer with 12 branches.
Serving this area are the Dorset branch at Poole and the Hampshire branch at Lower Upham near Winchester, which are holding big open weekends promising big savings later this month, the Dorset event on 20th-22nd September and Hampshire’s the following weekend, 27th-29th.
With larger coach-built motorhomes you can have all the space and luxury that you want, providing you have the space to park it and the budget to meet your aspirations, but campervans offer much more versatility and practical usability while being more affordable.
Costing a lot less than a Range Rover, the Fairford is larger than the traditional camper but priced from £56,200 on the road, while the top specification model reviewed here at £58,995 was still well under that luxury 4x4’s threshold.
Making up the increase was the excellent value premium pack adding alloy wheels, cab air conditioning, cruise control, Thule Ormiston side awning, colour reversing camera with LCD screen, Peugeot DAB radio with integrated navigation, an 80W solar panel on the roof to top up the leisure battery and AL-KO air suspension taking the rough with the smooth.
It also had the £250 winter pack providing concertina cab blinds instead of curtains, a heater blanket for the fresh water and waste tanks, wheel arch insulation blankets and Truma Combi heater upgrade – all in addition to the standard high degree of insulation for temperature and noise.
Pricing can be substantially more attractive with tax and vehicle excise duty benefits if one of the users is disabled, which is a key market thanks to the dignified self-contained mobility freedom a campervan provides.
With my wife a wheelchair-user, we have found campers and motorhomes a real blessing in terms of accessibility and most campsites have disabled facilities too.
With a name prompting thoughts of air shows, the Fairford has both space and technology with hardly a hint of its commercial vehicle cousin that happily takes a couple of pallets and load weighing a tonne and a half!
One van bonus is the large sliding side door, fitted with an electric retracting step, as well as the pair of rear doors opening up the back lounge – great for access as much as providing al fresco dining in the countryside.
As a conversion weighing in at three tonnes, with maximum mass of 3.5 tonnes, it is classed as a motor car and so has the freedom as well as the capability to be driven at car rather than van speed limits of 60mph not 50 on a single carriageway, 70 rather than 60mph on dual carriageways, as well as motorways.
Unlike some campervans it can seat three passengers on the move – one on a swivelling captain’s chair and the other two forward-facing in the front dinette - as well as the driver.
Its layout provides for two double beds, one using the seats in the front lounge and the other across the rear lounge, with cleverly packaged kitchen area and bathroom in between.
As there were just the two of us, I set up the 6ft 2in by 4ft bed across the rear for the weekend which was really comfortable, while we dined at the table in the front. Had we used the front bedroom setup, which gives a bigger mattress at 6ft 4in by 4ft 5in, it would have impeded access to the bathroom.
Standard specification includes a three-way fridge that runs on mains electric, the vehicle’s leisure battery or gas from the under-floor LPG tank that also serves the gas cooker with an oven and three-burner hob with extractor hood, dual fuel central heating and water heater for kitchen sink and bathroom shower/basin.
We also had a microwave cooker but you need to be hooked up to a mains power supply to use it!
The neat ‘bathroom’ has a shower and a swivel toilet with electric flush and Thetford cassette waste container, plus overhead extractor vent. Also standard are blinds and flyscreens, heki roof light and loose fitting carpets which help reduce interior noise to comfortable car-like levels.
All around there is plenty of overhead locker space running the full length of both sides but still leaving 6ft 3in headroom, while neat LED lighting keeps the lounge and bathroom as bright as you choose.
As a mode of transport the Fairford is a great drive with the six-speed manual shift right beside the steering wheel and a workhorse engine with a tremendous range.
Over a long weekend we headed first to a friendly hilltop site overlooking Oxwich Bay on the Gower peninsula in South Wales, on the way enduring some lengthy crawls following long-cleared crashes on the M4 with the now toll-free Severn Bridge.
Next we headed up into the Brecon Beacons for picturesque mountain motoring on deserted pothole-free roads to a lovely grassy favourite site with all mod-cons before starting the return trip beside the River Wye to a lunch stop at Tintern Abbey.
Then it was homeward across Salisbury Plain, clocking up some 600 miles of every kind of motoring, town and country, open road and motorway crawl, seaside and mountain top.
And at the end of all that the 90-litre tank was still quarter full, the trip computer giving a remaining range of 150 miles and average over 40mpg. That’s another excellent reason to relax with a smile.