Two new twin-axle fixed-bed models arrived for 2015 from Swift. They’re the same layout, the same price, the same MTPLM and both have Alde heating. But they are very different in terms of interior styling.
These are the Challenger SE 640 and this Sterling Eccles SE Sapphire. The layout makes these caravans something of a rarity. They have island beds against the rear wall, with the shower forward of the bed on the offside and a separate toilet-washbasin compartment directly opposite, across a corridor.
Only one other twin-axle caravan offers the same layout. That’s the Buccaneer Caravel. And it’s in a different price bracket, at £30,499. The newest Coachman Laser also has its bed against the rear wall but the layout is otherwise distinctly different from these three.
The layout isn’t new, though. We owned and loved a Sterling Elite Explorer of the same layout, which I bought new in 2007 and is still in the family. When we spend time in this Explorer it still feels firmly like home. Which is possibly one reason why we love these two new Swifts. And it’s certainly why we know that these two new, now-rare layouts work really well in terms of practicality.
It’s not just the position of the bed; it’s the showering and washing arrangements that make the difference.
Our review caravan, the Sapphire version of this layout, is distinguished by white doors and fawn walls. It’s the sort of décor you’d associate with a house or apartment rather than a caravan. And nowhere is this styling point more emphatic than in the shower-washroom corridor…
The pure white, very solid door of the toilet-washbasin room opens across the corridor, to completely close off the bedroom and washing department. The shower door is identical, both with big, bold, brushed steel knob-style handles, again looking very domestic.
The toilet-washbasin compartment on the nearside has a large mirror inset along each side with strips of lighting. The exterior wall is clad in pure white, with slightly raised shiny pattern; it looks just like wallpaper. Lovely!
Evidence that this caravan is Alde-heated is in the washroom; a radiator is on the rear wall, with a towel loop ideally-place high above it.
If there’s one criticism of longitudinally-aligned fixed beds it’s that one occupant can’t get in and out of bed as easily as the other because they’re sleeping against the wall. Island beds get around that problem. But most of them have unequally-sized wardrobes. The two new rear island bed Swifts, though, have wardrobes of equal sizes, on either side of the bed. And there’s plenty of space to walk around three sides of the bed.
The bed is 1.9m long and has a mechanism which enables you to shorten it by 20cm during the day, creating more walking space.
The triangular dressing table has two power points and TV connections.
The fawn and white wall and cabinetry styling is enhanced in the bedroom by black and gold wallpaper on the rear wall, with a linear design that accentuates the look of space. The deep headboard is well padded, and edged in rich red, matching the red and gold upholstered panels alongside the windows.
This is a delightful bedroom-ensuite arrangement, practical in configuration and awesomely luxurious in looks.
All beds which have a retracting mechanism present a slight restriction on the size and shape of items like folding chairs, so it’s wise to make sure you choose chairs that are no wider than the space between the metal structures of the bed base. That said, the space under this bed is really easy to access because you can walk around three sides of it.
Wardrobes each provide 36cm of hanging width. Drawers and shoe cabinets are beneath, together with small shelves that are perfect for coffee mugs.
Substantial catches are on all top lockers, operated by chunky push-and-release buttons at the centre of big, chrome handles.
You’d expect a caravan of this size to be good on storage, and it is. So good, in fact that we think few buyers will need to use the under-settee spaces.
The four-seater table has its own cabinet aft of the 190-litre fridge-freezer, opposite the kitchen.
Rarely are table surfaces worthy of comment but this one is. Matching the kitchen and small, front pull-out table, it’s white with a fine geometric filigree design in palest grey. It’s another element of Sterling styling that’s utterly superb and unlike anything we see anywhere else in caravans.
Again, styling is stunning; deep red combines with brown and gold shades. And there’s a long-pile gold-brown rug; that’s unique to Swift, too.
The offside settee is 72m long; the nearside one is slightly shorter, at 1.55m. Bolster-shaped cushions are provided as well as square ones; getting cosy is easy here! Only one small thing mars the awesome styling of the lounge. That’s the presence of a bin on the door. As caravan bins go, it’s prominent, so it doesn’t exactly enhance styling. Somehow, amid all this amazing décor, it’s incongruous to imagine rubbish in a receptacle in the lounge. If a bin is a necessity, why not attach it to the inside of the right-hand kitchen cabinet door? There, it would be out of sight. (It’s worth admitting that when I bought this layout of Sterling, where the door is very much in the lounge, I ordered the caravan without the bin; to this day, it looks so much neater!)
The kitchen has an impressive quantity of storage space. The tower fridge-freezer has a deep cabinet above it. There are two small shelves in the slim cabinet that houses the table.
Opposite, two cabinets each give you 40cm of width. The left-hand one has two metal basket-style shelves, plus space beneath that’s large enough for tall items. The right-hand cabinet also has metal pull-out shelves; this time designed for smaller items such as canned foods, and, again, plenty of floor-level space for large items. The cutlery drawer is a good size, too, at 30cm wide, and with four compartments. There’s a second, smaller cutlery drawer above the cabinet on the fore end of the kitchen.
We adore the back-lit acrylic panel on the kitchen wall; it continues the geometric filigree pattern theme of the table surfaces, this time with big, bold shapes but staying with the grey-white outline design.
The sink is circular, set into an elliptical, white surround that fans out into a small drainer area around the tap. Brilliant in practicality and styling!
The microwave is centrally-placed, between white cabinets that slightly slope towards the wall, away from the microwave. This feature serves no other purpose than styling, which is fine; we love everything we see in the Sapphire. And we’re pleased to see that it’s equipped with an extractor fan.
As we’d expect of a caravan of this calibre, Sterling Eccles models are equipped with the AL-KO ATC electronic stability control system. With the advantage of twin-axle stability there’s potentially less work for the sway-detection-and-correction system to do. But it’s good to know it’s there to enhance safety margin.
The Sapphire’s tow test was a brief one and, by chance, involved a lot of manoeuvring; an opportunity to illustrate that twins behave more precisely and predictably at slow speeds in reverse. And that’s something to bear in mind if you’re thinking of switching from one to two axles when you next change your caravan.
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