The marriage of a shorter base vehicle and a layout conceived for a longer van works quite well. The advantages of a smaller vehicle are attractive and Bürstner’s designers know their stuff. The City Car 540 is a great take on a classic continental layout and well-built and furnished, too.
Berths: 3 Travel seats: 4 Base vehicle: Fiat Ducato Gross weight: 3,300kg Payload: 540kg
Trawl the internet looking at continental high-top van conversions and you’ll discover two facts that come up time and time again: the vast majority are based on Fiat’s Ducato and layouts are dominated by a design that places the fixed bed(s) in the rear. Bürstner’s five-model City Car range reinforces these conclusions as all follow much the same layout – albeit in different-length Ducatos and with transverse double (or doubles) and lengthways single beds on offer.
The City Car C 540 is the baby of the range, packing a transverse fixed bed design that’s pretty much the same as you’ll find in the more commonly used (5.99m) long-wheelbase Ducato into a 5.41m panel van. The 540’s medium-wheelbase frame, however, does have advantages over its bigger brother: it just about fits into a standard car parking space and might be more likely to fit a car-sized space at home.
Fitting a layout originally designed for the LWB Ducato into a smaller van is no mean feat if the result is going to work well. Here, it sees just about every area carefully pruned back, but not so much as to render any of them frustratingly impractical – squeezed, yes, but no ‘squeaking pips.’ Build quality and finish, meanwhile, are up to the usual Bürstner standard and that means very good. Light wood is complemented to great effect by tweedy fabric that appears hard-wearing and excellently trimmed.
The front end does its thing in much the same way as others of its type, making a far better eatery than it does a lounge. As usual, the swivelled cab seats are the best seats in the house – here made more comfortable with twin, thickly upholstered armrests. Beyond, the rear travel seat takes two passengers – all standard stuff. The table is wall-hung and sports a swing-out extension that facilitates comfortable dining for the occupant of the swivelled driver’s seat.
The 540’s transverse dinette bed manages nigh-on six feet, but there’s a price to pay in the form of the components needed to complete the bed. The heavy table drops in simple fashion to rest on a shortened leg and lower wall rail, then a board with a pair of folding legs to support one end rests on the end of the table. Two infill cushions are added and the job’s done. It’s one of the better designs of its type that I’ve tried of late but, as is often the case, stowing the parts takes up a huge amount of storage space in the rear. I guess it’s adequate for the occasional trip with a third person.
Compact kitchens are de rigueur with this layout and are located partly in the opening of the side sliding door. The trimming process here impacts mostly on storage, although the drawers on offer provide cutlery space at the top, with a pair of deep drawers below. Cooking and washing up is thanks to a two-burner hob/sink combo of the type usually found in smaller campervans. A clever design trick is mounting the fridge at the end of the main unit, opening towards the cab. The flip-up worktop is a bit skinnier than many, but then the real working surface with this layout is always the nearby table – and the glass lid over the sink/hob. Just aft of the kitchen stands a rather slim wardrobe (good hanging height, though), its top providing a handy surface to stand items while pitched.
This washroom is undeniably bijou, even for a high-top camper, but it’s well put together and has a good number of practical features that should help it work well. The tambour entrance door means the room is easy to get into from the lounge or bedroom without having to navigate around a hinged door. There’s a large mirrored cabinet and, on the side wall, a big mirror that’s deep enough for both the tall and the short to use effectively. The toilet is not mounted too high and Bürstner has even managed to squeeze in a decent basin without it getting in the way too much.
Transverse beds in Fiat Ducato campers are almost always at least six feet long, sometimes longer. This one is indeed a six-footer, but there’s a bit of ‘wriggle room’ in the form of shallow alcoves at the foot and head of the bed. And it’s easy to sleep either away around, thanks in part to rail-mounted lamps that can be plugged in at either end of the bed. Most folks will probably sleep heads to the kitchen side, though, as the bed is wider here (the washroom intrudes slightly) and the wardrobe top offers itself as a night table – albeit a tricky one to get at, thanks to a protruding half-bulkhead.
And, as is usual, the bed base hinges up to make a full-height stowing space. In here, too, are a pair of deep drawers, the fresh water tank and a gas locker that takes a very healthy two 11kg cylinders. Heating is unsurprisingly by Truma’s Combi (the 4kW version), mounted in the rear passenger seat base, while a flap in its side gives access to electrics and fresh water drains in a heated space.