Detailed ReviewMotorhome review of the Chausson Flash 03 vs Swift Escape 686. This head to head test first appeared in the September 2011 issue of MMM.
This month’s twosome provide multi-berth accommodation suited to the needs of families. However, they are very different in design, as one is a classic model with bunks and the other is a front dinette, rear lounge model that provides the same six sleeping spaces as its rival.
Bearing in mind that many families need to put value for money at the top of the shopping list, both are entry-level motorhomes. In spite of the poor euro/sterling exchange rate, the Flash 03 benefits from very keen pricing. Chausson is keen to keep prices pegged, as its policy is to stay competitive in the UK market, where other foreign firms have wilted in the heat of the weak sterling. Meanwhile, the homegrown Escape benefits from lower manufacturing costs – the range having a quality that belies its status. In short, it beats the foreign entry-level competition at its own game.
Externally, these motorhomes exhibit a very different character. Although both are the expected square boxes, the Escape has a softer look – its tear-drop-shaped Luton and plainer colouring appears more modest. The curvy Fiat cab, with its grey bumper, only adds to the overall understatement, along with the dark blue colouring.
Entrance is gained through an equally modest caravan door, while the external step is pulled out by hand – an electric version is an option. Dressed in the Silver Pack’s paint, the Flash looks far more flash! Substantial probably describes it best, while the angular shapes of the Transit cab work – to my eye – very well as part of the whole. Another simple caravan door, but you need not worry about manual steps, as you don’t get one. It doesn’t appear on the options list, but you might be able to have one fitted by your dealer if needed.
Step aboard both motorhomes and first impressions of décor are very similar. Mid-toned wood and neutral fabrics offer no real colour, thus providing owners with the opportunity to accessorise to their own taste. I’d arrive with colourful throws and/or cushions pronto, were either motorhome mine.
The Flash lightens the mood with concave locker doors that give an interesting vibe. The Escape’s locker fronts are plain and square, but given a good quality look by stylish metal banding. These lids do a lot for the Escape’s interior vibe and their concealed metal catches feel excellent and work really well.
Layouts see the Flash with swivelling cab seats, a Pullman dinette and side seat up front, midships kitchen and washroom and a pair of transverse bunks in the rear. The Escape has dinette and kitchen up front, centre washroom and U-shaped lounge in the rear.
Both base vehicles benefit from engine upgrades – welcome additions as long motorway journeys fully-loaded should be easier and more relaxing.
The Escape’s Fiat Ducato gains a six-speed gearbox with its upgrade, the Flash has a six-speed ‘box as standard. Beefed up horsepower ratings rise from 100 to 130 for the Escape and from 115 to 140 horsepower for the Flash.
Both cabs are comfy, pleasant places to be with good driving positions. However, the Escape’s lack of seat swivels make it even more suitable for taller drivers than the Flash, where fitted swivels raise the seats. But, as both motorhomes feature Pullman dinettes up front, the Flash could have its swivels removed without affecting the living area too much.
On the subject of seating, a word about travel seats. The Escape features four, three-point belts in its dinette, so there are safe travel seats (including the two in the cab) for all residents. The Flash provides a total of six belts too, but two – on the rearward-facing dinette bench – are less satisfactory lap strap-only belts.
Back to the cabs, where the Flash provides more kit, both in standard and with options fitted. Leather-trimmed steering wheel (someone had seemingly nicked the nice alloy spoke covers), cruise control and driver and passenger airbags are all standard. The Silver Pack of extras brings cab air con and radio/CD (with steering column-mounted controls) to the feast.
The Escape meanwhile provides a decent stereo as standard, but there’s no passenger airbag or cruise control and the external mirrors are manually-adjustable. Sadly, none of these things are available on the options list – there’s no cab air con option either.
ON THE ROAD
Personal preference will decide which is the most comfortable driving position, but both are very good. The Flash’s Transit has a softer seat and a smaller, more car-like wheel, but the seat could be too high for taller drivers. The external mirrors aren’t as good as the Escape’s Fiat and the instruments are mounted in a binnacle, seemingly designed to be so dark as to prevent you seeing them. Wear sunglasses and the dials are almost impossible to see.
The Fiat’s instruments are clear, its external mirrors superb, but remember that they are manually adjusted: with two drivers using the motorhome, the constant adjustment needed could become a bit of a pain. There’s also – thanks to the Escape’s living area design – some useful through-vision via the internal mirror. The Flash has an internal mirror too, but the ‘van’s blind rear means it’s useless, apart from use as a make-up-check device or maybe to keep an eye on the kids out back.
To the black-top, where performance from both vehicles was excellent. The Escape’s Ducato controls are generally lighter – brakes are more sensitive, clutch pedal is easier to depress and the steering lighter. The Transit scores with a more positive gearchange. While the steering is a tad heavier, the smaller leather-wrapped wheel gives an MPV-like feel to the driving experience.
The Transit’s narrower cab reinforces the car-like feel, but the motorhome body is actually 60mm wider than its rival’s. Super acceleration, willing motors and well spaced gear ratios feature in both vehicles, with sixth gears providing relaxed motorway cruising, and there is power in reserve. Handling sees the Transit with softer suspension, so there’s more bodyroll, but making a comfier ride. The Escape has the firm springing that makes it handle better – the ride is firmer, but not so much so that it’ll loosen your fillings.
LOUNGE AND DINE
This is where the differences between these two family-friendly motorhomes really get going. The Escape has a half-metre of extra length on the Flash, something that helps it offer a very different layout to its rival. Like the Flash, there’s a Pullman dinette up front, but with a rear lounge too – something that helps accommodate six people and offers lots of versatility when it comes to both dining and relaxing.
The Flash has just the dinette and side sofa for seating, so fits the aforementioned swivels on its cab seats to add a couple of extra on-site chairs. The driver’s side works fine, as it turns to face the lounge, but the cab passenger seat swivel seems superfluous: it’s difficult to turn and an occupant is jammed in, around the corner behind the dinette ‘wall’. The Flash dinette and side seats also suffer from short squabs, with reduced thigh support.
The Escape’s Pullman dinette is fine for four people to use – good for meals, games or work with the laptop. Aft, the lounge is compact, but welcoming – there’s seating for five, although the section on the rear wall has no backrest. An adjacent surface is perfect for your TV (power and aerial sockets are fitted here) and as a place for coffee cups and snack plates. There’s another dining table too – stored on the offside, against the forward bulkhead. It stands on a single leg and provides an eating surface for two. Six berths, six dining places and full marks.
In the Flash the dinette, side seat and swivelled driver’s seat provide the required six places. Come mealtimes, a swing-out table extension allows dining from cab seat or side sofa, but accommodating six hungry folks at this table will be tight. Five is the more sensible proposition.
The similar kitchens are very compact – no fancy L-shaped units and enormous fridge/freezers here, just a short run of cabinets that have to accommodate all the appliances and storage space. In spite of similar looks, they actually offer their facilities in subtly different ways.
Fridges first, and the Flash wins the capacity race as 97 litres plays the Escape’s 81 litres. Neither fridge is particularly large, considering the number of people likely to be needing food and drink... ever-open supermarkets and a selection of cans and packets to the rescue. Both coolers are also bottom-of-the-heap models, with those quaint little meters that react to tell you when the gas is lit.
Cooking facilities see the Escape start to nose ahead, its Triplex stove offers three hob burners – one a high-speed unit that boils your kettle quickly and powers a wok effectively. Beneath, there’s a good little oven/grill. The Flash cooker consists of an ignition free (get some matches) three-burner hob and a separate grill that’s probably a Brit-pleaser extra: the Continentals know that we’ve just got to have toast every morning. Neither sink has a drainer.
The Flash bowl is in stainless steel with a hinged glass lid. There’s also a drop-on plastic drainer that, thanks to limited space, has to rest on the closed hob lid at washing-up time. It’s stainless steel in the Escape too, but without a glass lid. You get the drop-on drainer plus a very welcome drop-in chopping board. However, to left of the sink there’s also a nice slab of worktop and here rests the drainer when in use.
Storage next, and we’ll start with my kitchen pet-subject, drawers. The Flash has just one, but it’s a decent size. There’s no cutlery tray, but that’s easily mended and here’s room for utensils and the corkscrew. The Escape presents with a tiny cutlery drawer – held closed with a rather crude latch that emerges from beneath the worktop. You’ll only get knives, forks and spoons in here, so the slide-out tray in the adjacent cupboard is a welcome sight.
The Escape has a couple of decent-sized cupboards down below. The Flash probably loses a cupboard to the grill, while the only other one is quite shallow. The Escape’s two overhead lockers are capacious, but unshelved, although the internals are arranged to take them. You do, however, get a plate and mug rack. Thanks to the ‘stylish’ concave doors, the Flash’s overhead lockers are quite shallow, although one does have a fitted shelf. You’ll need to get your hands on a plate rack, as dinner plates will only stow standing upright. These kitchens are very similar, but the Escape galley noses it, thanks to a better cooker, more storage space and that slab of useful worktop.
Maybe it’s strange to describe a motorhome washroom as quaint, but that was my reaction on entering the Escape’s bathing space. It’s the washbasin unit that did it – it just looks a tad old fashioned. Old fashioned maybe, but it’s a very practical unit – executed in easy-clean plastic, there’s a decent bowl, space to put things down and a large two-door cupboard beneath. Above, a lovely big mirror is a very nice addition. There’s nothing old fashioned about the loo – Thetford’s C250 is a ‘throne’ that looks good and sports a convenient wheeled waste cassette. Above, a big locker makes sure there’s enough space to stow all the family’s cosmetics. No separate shower in here, though. You get a rather small twin-drain wet-room floor, served by a separate shower mixer tap. The shower head has a trigger that’s a great idea: quick, controlled bursts of water will make the shower more practical to use. And with the basin adjacent, it should be super for hair washing.
The Flash ablutions are considerably more impressive, as in here you get a separate shower compartment – with curved rigid door – that should make post-beach sprog rinsing much easier. The rest of this washroom looks much more modern than its rival’s – its circular vanity basin is set into a chocolate-coloured surface with plenty of dumping space. There’s a locker above, along with a cupboard and cubby below. The loo is another C250, but set on a plinth, it might be a tad high for some. The Escape’s washroom is able to provide a big mirror as it has no window. However, in the Flash there is one, so the mirror is above – albeit angled for a reasonable view. The window is obscured, but lacks the flyscreen that would allow it to be opened for ventilation when biting bugs are around.
In conclusion, it’s the Flash washroom that wins the day, thanks to the separate shower and more general floor-space.
The most important beds in each motorhome are also very different. In the Flash it’s the reason-to-buy bunks that really make this ‘van family-friendly. Sprung slats provide comfort and each gets a light and window. A downside is the fact that these beds narrow at the foot. The reduced width is the fault of the washroom: you get
a separate shower, but the design sees it intrude into the bed space.
Larger-sized adults sleeping here might find things a tad tight. As always, try before you buy.
The Escape’s most important bed is the rear lounge’s transverse double. Of course, this bed has to be built, but it’s easy (pull out slats, add a slim infill and backrests). The result is flat and comfy, while the adjacent TV table becomes a good night-stand. You do end up with a spare cushion once the bed’s made up – the rear sofa section’s squab needs to be found a home at night, as do a couple of cushions form the dinette. The cab seems to be the best place to stash these.
The Escape’s dinette bed is also easy to make as the table, which drops down to provide support, is very light and easy to handle. It’s flat, comfy and long enough, but bear in mind that adding the side extension (to make it into a full double) prevents the overcab access ladder being used. That overcab is a simple space, but big enough for two. It has a window and a simple light fitting, but no roof vent.
The Flash overcab bed does better with a moulded, shelf-equipped headboard that houses a pair of halogen reading lamps. There’s a window here too, but crucially, a roof vent that’ll help give the essential ventilation need in hot weather. The Flash’s dinette bed does less well - it’s short and the seating’s sculpted cushions make it lumpy.
The Flash scores as, once the bottom bunk is flipped up, you have a garage big enough to take bikes, maybe even a folding boat. There’s still a good amount of space, even with the bottom bunk lowered. There are four overhead lockers, a big wardrobe and space under the side seat, so stowage space is good overall.
The Escape has space under dinette and lounge seating, though there are no external hatches – the under-sofa space would be the best place to have one. A decent-sized wardrobe has twin doors and the TV table sports a useful cupboard. Of all things, it’ll be space for the family’s clothes that’s lacking, but personal squashy bags stored in the overcab during the day should sort this problem. Payloads both break the half-tonne barrier and the Escape’s 531kg seems light compared to the Flash’s 656kg, but both are reasonable and quoted after allowance for weights of driver and fluids.
The Flash’s life support system is the more unusual, as its space heater is by Webasto and diesel-fired using fuel from the vehicle’s tank. The Escape goes the traditional route with Truma’s trusty-and-quiet, gas-powered convector.
The Swift’s Comfort Pack of extras adds mains power and blown-air heating. Water boilers are gas-only powered in the Flash, gas/mains in the Escape. The Escape’s external battery box is worth mention as it’s a neat solution for access and handily incorporates the mains hook-up point.
The Flash offers a mix of conventional and LED-powered lighting. The Escape disappoints with a lacklustre selection of cheap lights that are found wanting in kitchen and washroom.
I’d budget for upgrades and additions in both ‘vans – a couple of hundred pounds would do the job. Tank highlights include an inboard fresh water container in the Escape and a fast-draining, blade-type waste tank valve in the Flash.
With options in place, both these motorhomes are fairly equal in price, so choosing one will be down to personal needs.
The Chausson Flash 03 is a full-blown family ‘van first and foremost – its garage and permanent bed making it suitable for groups of all ages, maybe for sporting activities and the like. This is especially relevant, as the garage space allows the easy carting of sports gear.
The Escape 686 is a comfy tourer that’ll work as well for couples, as it will for mum, dad and the kids on holiday. Credit goes to the Escape for its six, fully-belted travel seats and the Flash for its superior washroom. But the Escape could do with better lighting and an external hatch to the under-sofa store; the Flash needs threepoint belts on its rear-facing dinette seat.
To read the full motorhome review in PDF format exactly as it appeared in the September 2011 issue of MMM, click here.
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