Being at the top end for length in a panel van conversion, the Fairford is able to offer a feature that's less commonly found in campervans: both fore, and aft lounges. Despite the extra space available, the high specification, and quality build (all at a competitive price), the Fairford isn't perfect as it does have a few niggles. All vans come with compromises.
Berths: 4 Travel seats: 4 Base vehicle: Peugeot Boxer XLWB panel van Payload: 424kg Pros Very high spec for a reasonable price Well made and luxurious 160bhp engine as standard Cons Darkened windows can make interior gloomy Awkward tap/showerhead arrangement in washroom Front bed make-up arrangements are tricky
What’s the difference between a campervan and a motorhome? What do we understand by 'campervan'? And why are we indulging in semantics about this? Well, we're not so sure this large, plush panel van conversion qualifies as a campervan...
To our minds, campervans are typically old VWs, chugging along at 50 miles an hour. These are small, practical vehicles but perhaps lacking the facilities and space for longer holidays. So, move up to the bigger, more luxurious panel van conversions on Fiat Ducatos and Peugeot Boxers, but don’t they come under the heading of 'motorhome', or are they still campervans?
All this was foremost in our minds when first viewing the Auto-Sleeper Fairford, one of a clutch of upmarket van conversions named after equally upmarket, pretty Cotswold market towns and villages.
Built on Peugeot’s Boxer extra-long wheelbase, from some angles it can seem even longer than its 6.36 metres, courtesy of the line of sleek, mysterious black windows down both sides.
It’s certainly impressive, and looks very posh with alloy wheels and striking, though tasteful, decals.
Another quality of the traditional campervan, compared to a motorhome, might once have been a lower price, but, sadly, that no longer applies. Top-line campervans can cost upwards of sixty grand, so the £57,495 you’d expect to pay for a Fairford is par for the course, and pretty competitive, given the standard of equipment provided.
The Fairford has pretty well every mod con you’d imagine, and some you mightn’t. The only feature that some might desire, an automatic gearbox, isn’t available on Peugeot Boxers, so if you must have one, you’ll have to order your Fairford built on the largely similar Fiat Ducato, which is a tad more expensive.
Most Sevel (Fiat Ducato/Peugeot Boxer/Citroën Relay) panel van conversions come with a 130bhp engine, as it’s a fine compromise between price and performance, capable of a good turn of speed while still showing over 30mpg. However, Auto-Sleepers have gone one better – their Boxers all have the more expensive 160bhp motor as standard.
Coupled with Al-Ko air-assisted suspension, the big beast can, therefore, be hustled along winding A-roads in most unseemly haste – rather like a jolly little campervan. However, it’s less handy on narrower country lanes, where its width (just over two-metres) sometimes necessitates cautious progress.
You might think an XLWB would be difficult to manoeuvre in tight spaces but the Fairford has precisely the same wheelbase as the usual 6-metre LWB Sevel, the ubiquitous base vehicle used for most panel van conversions, so its turning circle is identical. You will find slightly more difficulty in parking, though, as the extra rear overhang makes it impossible to accommodate in standard-sized slots. The lack of rear parking sensors is a surprise omission, but at least it has an excellent rear view camera.
Traditionally, a campervan is a bit tight on interior space, but that’s fine if camping in good weather. However, if you’re sat on a hill, in pouring rain, the simple life might lose its lustre – and that is where a larger, more civilised conversion like the Fairford will surely score, as it offers all the perks of a motorhome.
As you’d expect from any Auto-Sleeper, the interior oozes quality. There’s space for a choice of seating areas, too, with a British rear lounge with parallel settees, plus a full dinette up front, incorporating rear passenger seats for two, so you can travel as a friendly foursome.
For relaxing, the Fairford’s rear lounge is the more obvious choice, with the four-feet long settees providing ample space for two, but it’s a mite cramped for four.
However, there is a TV point, plus extra audio speakers, USB, 12V and mains sockets, ceiling and reading lights, and hot air heating outlets. But, those swish, distinctive, darkened windows do have some drawbacks. First, they can make the interior a bit gloomy, and secondly, those in the rear lounge don’t open, making you glad of the ceiling Heki rooflight, and the opening back doors.
Now, surely a real campervan should have minimalist cooking facilities, to reinforce the pioneer image – one step up from a campfire?
Well, maybe, but nowadays many vans will have at least a grill/warming oven to back up the two-gas-burner hob; or perhaps a Wallas diesel cooker – even induction hobs. Here, there is no pretence towards roughing it. The Fairford has it all, including space with a capital 'S'.
The worktop is huge, with the sink at one end, and the three-gas burner hob miles away at the back, abutting the rear lounge – but, unfortunately, lacking any splashguard to protect the adjacent upholstery from greasy splashes.
It’s a pity, too, that the sink lacks a proper, integral drainer, making do with a removable plastic one that fits only on the forward side of the sink. Our old Auto-Sleeper T3, Trooper had an excellent, practical kitchen with a stainless-steel drainer, in a van seemingly half the size of the Fairford, so we were a bit surprised.
Still, the Fairford does cater for the serious cook, with the Thetford Triplex cooker having an oven/grill beneath the hob, and an extractor fan above. Plus, there’s a microwave at a sensible height. And kitchen storage is more than adequate with crockery racking and even dedicated wine bottles/glasses holders!
The main drawback of a traditional campervan, especially for those of a squeamish disposition, is the lack of civilised (or any!), washroom facilities. But here, behind a tambour door, the Fairford has a dedicated washroom. Stylish and roomy, with the latest Thetford swivel toilet, the floor doubles as a shower tray.
The washbasin slides along a rail, but tap and showerhead are one and the same. You can only use the basin above the toilet but, when showering, there’s a long stretch of shower hose across the washroom. A separate tap and showerhead would be a great improvement. There’s no storage in here, either (just a rail to hang towels), because the tambour door takes up most of the available wall space. Still, it does provide privacy, so just be grateful!
Many campervans have two beds – typically, one in the roof, for smaller, athletic people (i.e. children, who love them), and another, optimistically called a 'double', down below for the adults. The Fairford also has two beds; the rear one, will, at 4ft wide and 6ft long, be fine and comfy for normal-sized folk. Many owners will probably leave it made up, and live in the dinette.
The second bed, when fully extended and occupying the whole lounge, is larger than the rear. However, it’s constructed like a jigsaw puzzle, using multiple cushions – most of which have no other purpose, and occupy a great deal of storage space. Used as a ¾ bed, for children, you can leave some cushions behind at home, and have room to squeeze past the bed to the sliding door.
So, that’s the Auto-Sleeper Fairford – certainly a luxurious conversion; probably best considered as a 2+2 for sleeping, with adequate storage, full kitchen facilities and a roomy, but slightly flawed washroom. It’s reasonably priced in the current market – but is it a campervan? The jury is still out!