Best van conversion without a fixed bed: IH 680 CFL
Having no fixed bed allows for a more fluid and flexible layout in a motorhome, and there's no shortage of excellent contenders in the Best van conversion without a fixed bed category of the What Motorhome Awards. The winner, however, is the ever-impressive IH 680 CFL...
This is a company with close to 30 years of experience in building top-quality van conversions and, while it may be best known for its rear lounge layouts, it is the FL models that have long found favour at What Motorhome.
Open the usual big sliding side door and a long L-shaped sofa stares back at you, inviting you to put your feet up and gaze back through the opening at the outside world from the comfort of your campervan. It’s not a new recipe from this Yorkshire firm, but it does have one fresh ingredient that makes all the difference…
Of course, we’re talking about the VW Crafter base vehicle, rather than the ubiquitous Fiat that forms the foundations for the existing 630 FL model (and much of the IH range). Not only is the Crafter longer (the clue’s in the numbering!), resulting in a bit more living space inside, but the VW seems so much more sophisticated than the Fiat when you jump behind the wheel.
Indeed, the driving characteristics of this Crafter-based IH will feel familiar to anyone who’s owned a smaller T6 Volkswagen – it’s that good.
It has the build quality, comfort and ergonomics that set its little brother apart, and yet here is a van conversion with coachbuilt-style spaciousness inside. And, at the same time, it puts just about any coachbuilt to shame in terms of road manners. The extra-long wheelbase here also gives a good ride quality and great stability.
Quite simply, the Crafter is the best base vehicle of its size by some margin. The Mercedes Sprinter might grab your attention with its tech – especially the MBUX multimedia display – but the VW has more driver appeal. It impresses from the get-go with cab seats that cosset, thanks to tilting squabs, lots of height variation and even electric lumbar support adjustment. All the controls appear clear and easy to use, too, in typical VW fashion.
IH uses the better-equipped Trendline spec van, which comes as standard with Composition Media with an 8in touchscreen display, cruise control, multi-function steering wheel and electric/heated mirrors, as well as Front Assist, Crosswind Assist, City Emergency Braking, and a driver alert system.
A 138bhp (140PS) engine is standard (and perfectly adequate), while a 175bhp (177PS) option gives effortless acceleration, thanks to a massive 410Nm torque figure, delivered from just 1,500 revs. Both units are available with a slick six-speed manual or a sensibly priced (£1,500) eight-speed automatic.
Being one of the newest vehicles in its class, the Crafter also comes with a raft of techy options, including lots of safety and driver assistance kit. Adaptive cruise control, LED headlights, High Beam Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Park Assist, Trailer Assist and Coffee Maker Assist are available – OK, we made the last one up, but a heated steering wheel is a very posh alternative to driving gloves.
On the outside, IH doesn’t just add windows and graphics, it also replaces the rear doors with its signature GRP rear panel. This incorporates a single double-glazed window, with an opening boot section below. It’s an improvement aesthetically (especially as it retains the original VW styling details) and adds practicality, too. The storage compartment here is the full width of the campervan and over a metre deep on the nearside, with an internal height of 820mm – plenty of room for all your outdoor gear.
Another plus of a specialist van converter like IH is that not only can you choose the exterior body colour but the interior can also be designed to suit your taste, with different fabrics, leathers, wood or grey furniture finishes and bold or classical colour schemes.
What won’t change is the CFL’s layout – or the feeling of space inside, with that long settee and matching XL-sized scatter cushions. There’s a free-standing table for dining here (or for use outside), Kenwood speakers in the ceiling and a Heki sunroof as well as large side windows to flood the interior with natural light. Of course, the front seats swivel to add to the lounging possibilities and full headroom in the cab makes for a stoop-free walk-through as another plus.
The lounge also converts into your bedroom in seconds. Simply pull out the slatted seat/bed base and drop the backrest cushion (plus an infill) in behind. Then, just remove the curvy cushion that forms the end of the settee and voila! Now, you have a 1.88m by 1.26m double bed, with the TV perfectly positioned for those late night flicks (the screen neatly pops up from under the nearside kitchen counter). Bedding stores conveniently beneath the settee.
Nor does the appeal of the 680 CFL wane as you head towards the rear of the layout, where both the kitchen and bathroom are top notch, especially for a van conversion. The galley is L-shaped, with a curvaceous counter at the end for serving up and plenty of worktop (more opposite) for preparing meals.
Equipment includes a combined oven/grill and a stainless-steel sink with a proper draining board, but it’s the storage capacity that really gets us thumbing through the Road Tester’s Book of Superlatives. Just remember to order the AES fridge upgrade to complete the spec.
Behind the galley, double doors swing back to reveal a generous washroom. Lots of white gloss furniture, an opening window and a rooflight make for a light, bright space here.
It serves as a changing room, too, as the wardrobe is located on the nearside, while large cupboards ensure that you won’t run out of toiletries even if you tour until the end of time. There’s a wide counter around the raised basin, too, so you can spread out all those perfumed pongs and potions.
Unlike many van conversions, there’s plenty of leg and shoulder room around the cassette toilet and, even though a curtain is essential for showering, there’s so much space in this IH washroom that you shouldn’t get wrapped up in it. You certainly won’t be pining for campsite ablutions when you’re camping off grid.
The new 680 CFL is probably the best motorhome yet from IH, aided and abetted by the class-leading Crafter.