Offside dining area layouts are in every manufacturer’s ranges and are well represented on the used market, too, because this proven arrangement has established its popularity over several years.
None, though, look anything like this one. Swift has created its new Sterling Continental range to be a trendsetter in styling and right at the top of the game in terms of level of equipment.
Styling relies on darkest browns, whites in various textures and subtle patterns and palest, shiny fawn-cream. It’s those white textures and patterns, in particular, that define the 530. As you step inside, the recess to the rear of the door where you find two coat hooks features a white panel, textured in an abstract grooved horizontal pattern. It’s a brilliant and refreshing culture shock in a caravan, a style feature that’s rather IKEA-ish in its stark simplicity, and utterly delightful. It’s a pity, though, that more use isn’t made of this awesome style feature; a second panel, on the offside forward outside wall of the shower room, would further enhance the 530’s style appeal.
Elsewhere the stunning domestic-look style involves white kitchen and table surfaces with a tiny, subtly abstract lacy pattern that’s fine in detail. Shiny tactile raised vertical lines define panels in the seatbacks. More shine is on curtains and cushions, this time pale fawn. And there's yet more shine, on high gloss, dark brown lower locker edges.
This combination of darkest brown, palest cream and white gives the Continental 530 a showhouse feel. And, perhaps more than other layouts in the range, the white surfaces with fine detail miniscule pattern makes a major contribution to the styling, simply because there are a lot of surfaces in this caravan. Not just front pull-out table and side dining table, but slim dresser forward of the table and also two large shelves on the fore end of the kitchen.
Before we even get into the detail of each section of the 530, we feel guilty of allowing the styling of this caravan to dominate this review. But then it does dominate the caravan. Even the door to the shower room is worthy of words…
A fawn panel with a textured pattern that catches the light, bordered by shiny metal, runs down the centre of the pale fawn, almost white, domestic-style shower room door.
Inside, the style story revolves around big shiny metal handles, and a chunky shiny metal radiator that’s your first clue to the fact that Continentals have the Alde heating system; it's hidden from view within furniture and barely evidenced except here in the shower room and by means of its touch-screen control panel alongside the door.
The washbasin is large, and with a good amount of surface around it. It’s centrally-placed, with a mirror flanked by strips of light. And, above this vanity area, two speakers, part of the Blaupunkt sound system, are set into a panel, facing forwards. So if you want your caravan to have surround-sound, you leave the shower room door open!
The wardrobe has 73cm of hanging width, plus shelving and drawers below. More shelving is below the table cabinet, forward of the shower on the nearside. And there’s a really clever design feature here. This shelving can be accessed from the table cabinet and also via the double-doored cabinet on the outside of the shower room, below that startling white ridge-textured panel.
We think this is the perfect place for shoes, rather than leaving them in the doorway.
It was while examining this feature, though, that we noticed there is no mains power point by this mirror. It’s the natural place to used a hairdryer and you’d have to stretch a cable across the door way to a socket in the kitchen; an extra socket here would be requested by most buyers, we believe.
The sleeping arrangements of the 530 are key to its appeal to both couples and families with young children. For just two, there are single beds (2.03m long) or a double; the centre section is a slatted base that draws out from under the two drawers at the front.
Children love bunk beds and the 530’s dining room answers that need. The mattress for the top bunk folds into sections and the shelf in the wardrobe is the ideal dimensions for storing it.
The bulk of clothing storage is catered for in the shower room wardrobe unit. When you add in seven head height lockers and two more, smaller ones, at the front, the 530’s capacity for hiding stuff is generous.
Full-length drop-down hatch doors give access to the storage areas under the lounge seats. Front opening hatches open into the spaces under the dining area seating; that’s a nice touch and makes the task of pulling and pushing sleeping bags and pillows in and out here much easier than having to raise seat bases.
To extend the chest of drawers top when you turn it into a dining table, you have to take everything off, and slightly raise the top, on its hinge mechanism. You then draw out the extension. It’s not the easiest table extensions we’ve seen (simply because you have to remove everything) but it does give you a nice big table area, measuring 64cm wide and 72cm long.
And if we bought this caravan we’d quickly get used to the routine. Call it the breakfast table, perhaps, for there’s space for serving lunch at the larger (side dining area) table. And dinner time is your cue for the large table to emerge from its slot in the shower room. The 530 caters amply for all mealtimes!
If there’s one feature which defines Continental lounges it’s the rug, a long-pile sumptuous, highest quality affair made of fabric of three different colours and three different textures that combine to catch the light. It’s closely woven, with long strands, so creates a lovely cosy feel. And it’s one more way in which Continentals are closer to houses than most caravans.
Total kitchen length is 1.73cm. There are surfaces to the left of the sink and to the right of the cooker. This latter area has a shelf of the same size, 22cm below it; the two areas are linked by a chunky metal pole. The cooker is a Thetford Aspire 2 model, with dual fuel hob.
We love the acrylic splashback, with hidden lighting along each edge, and an abstract geometric pattern in white along its top sector. Style and practicality are rolled into one here.
We also love the large capacity of the deep top cabinet (48cm deep, and 82cm wide). Big, chrome handles with press-release positive catches again mix style and practicality; these handles are on the top lockers elsewhere in the 530, too.
A cutlery drawer pulls out above the fridge.
A narrow cabinet between the fridge and the cooker gives you a drawer plus two wire basket-style shelves. The main lower storage area is the cabinet on the fore end of the kitchen, with a drawer above it. Overall, kitchen storage capacity is good, especially when you factor in the cabinet in the narrow dresser that divides the dining area from the lounge. Here, two basket-style shelves draw out above the groove made to store the removable drainer.
We haven’t yet towed a 2015 530; the caravan we reviewed hadn’t been released from the factory; some finishing touches had yet to arrive.
With AL-KO’s electronic stability control present (as you’d except of a caravan of this calibre), we’re confident towing the 530 would be a joy and we look forward to an opportunity to prove it.
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