There are a few brickbats to throw – lack of oven, grill and microwave for one; lack of electric heating mode as standard for another. But lots of roses – the shoe cabinet, the awning light with motion sensor, the size, style and robust construction of the table, the size of the beds, the presence of ATC… The list of positives about the PEP goes on
With an awning light with motion sensor, and a strip of bright LEDs running the length of the caravan outside, Tabbert PEP caravans are unique!
With an awning light with motion sensor, and a strip of bright LEDs running the length of the caravan outside; PEPs are unique!
Long-established German caravan brand Tabbert's newest creation is the PEP range, three single-axle models with cool, modern looks and head-turning graphics; you can have your PEP with bright turquoise graphics or sunset red.
These caravans have some distinctive features, among them is a strip of light running along the whole side above window level – that's in addition to an awning light with a motion sensor, and white alloy wheels.
PEPs are made by the Knaus Tabbert group; the giant company produces T@B and Weinsberg as well as Knaus and Tabbert caravans at sites in Germany and Hungary. All of these marques are stocked at Barnsdale Leisure, from where we borrowed the new PEP 540 for this review.
The Tabbert story goes back to 1953 when Alfred Tabbert made his first caravan of hardboard which he impregnated with oil to increase its strength. Along the years of development, Tabbert has gathered a reputation for build quality and for distinctive interior styling. PEP continues that theme, but in a very different way from the somewhat ostentatious looks for which Tabbert was at one time renowned. The PEP has bold, adventurous interior looks; you can have your PEP with 'sunny yellow', 'mint blue' or 'berry red' fabric schemes.
They come with a 10-year warranty against leaks. Rigidity of furniture construction is evident throughout. Locker hinges are robust and chunky. The roof is designed for what Tabbert calls 'silence' – the 58mm sandwich construction which is designed to minimise rain noise and resist hail damage.
The three layouts are the four-berth 490, with a double bed at the front, the five-berth 550, also with a double bed at the front and a side dining area, and this one, the 540, with single beds at the front and a U-shaped seating area at the rear.
But before you file the 540 neatly under 'twin-bed' caravans, of which there are many on the British market, let me introduce you to arguably the PEP 540's most impressive feature: you can order your PEP 540 with one, enormous double bed.
Styling is awesome. The bright turquoise that turns heads on the road continues inside, on the kitchen lockers and drawers, a band around the base of the seating backrests and on the stunning, quality-fabric panels that border the windows. So refreshingly continental!
Also unmistakeably continental is the orientation of the caravan's layout – with the bedroom at the front, the lounge at the rear and the door on the offside.
TV connection points are by a cabinet alongside the door. Inside the cupboard under this shelf is one of the PEP's five mains sockets plus a USB charger.
Heating is gas-only; electric heating is an option, as is carpet. There are lots of plus points that are standard, though. There's a level indicator for the 45-litre water tank, an awning light with a motion sensor and the word Tabbert on the slightly recessed step area illuminates to greet you. And there's a hatch into the under-seat locker, alongside the door, for shoes.
In typical German style, the PEP's shower shares space with the toilet; by British caravan manufacture standards, that's considered a negative. There is enough space in here to shower here but, if drying out a shower tray each time you've had a shower isn't your idea of caravanning fun, select your campsites with care and you'll get bigger and better showers there.
The shower rose extends on a hose from within the washbasin tap and slides into a clip in the ceiling. A curtain tracks around you to confine shower spray.
There are two towel hooks in the compartment. Two cabinets and two shelves are adequate for the washing necessities.
Hot water comes from a 10-litre Truma heater unit situated under one of the twin beds.
Both twin beds are 84cm wide. One is 1.96m long the other is 1.83m.
When you convert the lounge into a double bed, you get 1.2m x 1.96m of mattress.
Just like the shared shower toilet compartment and the panel curtains, German caravan style custom appears in the use of the table as the centre portion of the bed base. Equally Germanic in design, the table is of substantial construction, on a single, chunky oval leg that sits on a large base. To reduce it from table height to level with the seating, you slide a lever just under the table top – it's a smooth and easy action.
The solid wooden tops of the lounge bed boxes lift easily. You don't have to remove the seat bases; placing them upright is sufficient to be able to open the locker tops fully. On one side, the water tank takes up space but there's nonetheless a lot of room to store stuff under the lounge seating. The vast space under the twin beds is ever easier to access. The slatted bed bases are each supported by two substantial hinges (unlike the lounge bed bases which you have to hold up). There's an exterior hatch to the space under one of the beds.
Upper storage in the bedroom is amazing. There are nine lockers, each with a shelf. Lockers line the entire lounge, too – there are six. These are shallower than those in the bedroom, creating space for open shelving to run around beneath them, enhancing both practicality and style.
The wardrobe, above the Truma space heater (from which blown air is ducted around the caravan) provides 56cm of hanging width and 1.12m of depth.
The dining table is a huge 90cm x 75cm. Five or even six could sit around it. The 540, thus, is a caravan to consider if eating with guests is an important part of your holiday routine.
Like so many elements of the PEP, continental caravan style means that the table doesn't disappear into a cabinet. This one is designed to stay firmly in the lounge – even when you tow.
When the dining 'room' becomes the lounge, you sit around the table. Which is fine, because the lounge is so big that two can recline with feet up. Just get your head around putting your coffee mug on the dining table rather than a chest of drawers at the centre front and you are some way to adapting to the German caravan way of life.
The German caravan lifestyle is even more divergent from British expectancy in the PEP 540's kitchen. There is no microwave and no oven. Which means no ready meals. Just a (beautifully designed and substantially constructed) three-burner hob. There is also limited surface space. Whether that matters to you depends on your caravanning cuisine preference, but it does force us into giving the 540's kitchen a lower rating.
Continental preference is for cooking outside, which surely is the thing to which we all aspire but reality dictates that the British weather often frustrates that.
Kitchen storage capacity is first rate, with three deep drawers, each 88cm wide, two top cabinets, a slim pull-out three-shelf cabinet plus lockers above and below the superb Dometic tall, slimline 148-litre fridge-freezer.
The PEP got a longer road test than most of the caravans we review. From Barnsdale Leisure's base at East Hardwick, near Pontefract, to Ancaster is a mostly-A1, easy journey, with a few lanes on each end to test nimbleness. There were no high winds and no over-zealous overtaking by vans or lorries to deflect stability and potentially activate the PEP's ATC stability control system – but it's great to know that this electronic snaking detector is there to enhance stability. For a single-axle caravan, the PEP 540 towed superbly.
There are a few brickbats to throw – lack of oven, grill and microwave for one; lack of electric heating mode as standard for another. But lots of roses – the shoe cabinet, the awning light with motion sensor, the size, style and robust construction of the table, the size of the beds, the presence of ATC… The list of positives about the PEP goes on, to little things like two coat hooks on the door and a USB port hidden away in a cabinet. Best of all, you can choose your own bed layout – twin beds or go for the option of a massive double bed.