Best compact coachbuilt: Chausson 520
Overall winner in the Best compact coachbuilt category in the What Motorhome Awards goes to the Chausson 520. It might officially be a small motorhome but you might be pleasantly surprised by some of the space and features here. This is a great little motorhome...
If you’re looking for a compact motorhome with ‘all mod cons’ then six metres is the cut-off point. Few coachbuilts are more than the odd centimetre less than this (and, actually, quite a lot of van conversions now stretch the tape measure further).
It’s not just an arbitrary figure, either, but one that takes into account parking and manoeuvring, as well as saving some pennies on certain ferry routes. If you like to get to more out-of-the-way places, stay on small farm sites, or are just put off by the thought of driving anything bigger, this could be the size of motorhome for you.
It’s also a category in which the French firm, Chausson, has long offered interesting designs. After all, when space is limited, the designer needs to use his little grey cells to full effect and few brands are as innovative as the one from Tournon-sur-Rhône.
Enter the Chausson 520, a new model for 2020 that offers the company’s Smart Lounge in its smallest motorhome yet. And, when you enter this little low-profile, you’ll instantly be struck by just how spacious it is. If Doctor Who was French and the outside was blue, we’d know exactly where the design inspiration came from…
It’s not just about the lounge, though, for this new layout has what so many compact models lose out on to stay small – external storage. And, as anyone who has lugged outdoor chairs and a barbecue through a habitation door and then tried to stow them safely somewhere inside will know, one thing you really won’t want to do without is a convenient home for your outdoor gear.
The 520’s rear locker isn’t a garage, but the top-hinged door in the rear wall opens onto a very useful compartment with a maximum interior height of 0.95m and a depth of 0.35m. Two folding shelves are provided to make the area more versatile and Chausson also fits mounting points for a bike rack on the outside.
While we’re on the subject of storage, it’s worth noting that you don’t need to look for somewhere to keep that other bulky essential, your bedding. The 520’s main bed is, of course, an electric drop-down number – Chausson was at the forefront of this novelty, which has now become mainstream – and you can leave your duvet and pillows in situ when you raise the bed back up to the ceiling.
Unlike some rivals, it’s also possible to bring the bed right down to seat height for easy access (although not if you’re also using the second bed below, turning the 520 into an occasional four-berth!). The drop-down bed measures a very respectable 1.88m by 1.39m, narrowing to 1.20m at the foot.
With the bed stowed and the cab seats swivelled, you’ll soon forget that you’re in a ‘small’ motorhome. The interior of the 520 feels huge. In fact, there’s room to accommodate seven people in the lounge, with a nearside settee that’s more than a-metre-and-a-half in length and an offside sofa that’s virtually a metre long. The table is one of those neat fold-in-half designs, too, so it’s unobtrusive when you’ve got your feet up with a good book, but of banqueting proportions when you’ve unfolded it (to 1.00m by 0.82m) for serving up all the local delicacies you’ve bought at that morning’s market.
When it comes to cooking such a gastronomic masterpiece, you’ll be thankful that Chausson has also paid attention to the desires of British motorhomers in the kitchen.
Unlike some imported brands, it hasn’t just stuffed an oven over the fridge where you’ll need a stepladder to see what you’ve cremated because you couldn’t see it cooking, but it’s actually redesigned the galley to accommodate a Thetford Triplex cooker with combined oven/grill built in just below counter height.
There’s a flip-up worktop extension, too, as well as some preparation space in front of the sink (which is set further back in the counter), but the star of the show is the 167-litre two-door fridge/freezer opposite – you really can stock up in this motorhome.
For some buyers, though, the best bet has yet to come – the huge rear washroom. Go past the kitchen, up a small step and through a tambour door and you’ll find yourself in this spacious facility with the obligatory Thetford swivel-bowl toilet, a rectangular white resin basin fed by a chromed metal tap, a worktop for your toiletries and an overhead cupboard with a sliding mirrored door. A toothbrush mug and a soap bar holder are thoughtfully provided, as are an opening window and roof vent for ventilation.
Opposite the toilet is a separate shower cubicle that’s tall enough for those over 6ft. It’s a first-class shower and the area also doubles up as somewhere to drip-dry your wet coats as it has a fold-down hanging rail. Also in this area, located over the exterior boot, is an XXXL wardrobe, so the washroom becomes a great changing room, too. The wardrobe includes three shelves and a couple of slide-out hanging rails for maximum clothing storage flexibility.
Then there’s the base vehicle. Uniquely in the market, Chausson offers almost all of its motorhomes with a choice of chassis – Fiat Ducato or Ford Transit. The Fiat is, of course, familiar to anyone who has ever opened the pages of this magazine and it comes with a 120bhp engine, which can be upgraded at extra cost. The Ford counters that with 128bhp (130PS) as standard and a £630 lower starting price, but neither of those factors are deal-makers or breakers.
What wins it – oh, so easily – for the Ford is the way it drives and the way it looks and feels in the cab. If ever you needed an example of how commercial vehicle design has moved on in the last decade, just compare these two. The Transit has the nicer dashboard, better driving position, smoother ride, better gearshift… And, if you don’t want to change gears yourself, the price advantage of the Ford increases by a further two grand in automatic form.
That just leaves you to decide how well spec’d you want your Chausson 520. There’s no Titanium version (that’s reserved for the longer 640) and the VIP Pack is essential as it adds items like a passenger airbag and cab air-conditioning (as well as not-so-essential features like a colour-coded bumper). But you can decide whether or not you need the niceties of the Premium Pack (£2,200). With or without, the 520 is a great little motorhome.