Despite its modest length, the HymerCar Free 540 offers plenty of room inside and a great layout with well-judged proportions. If you need a compact four-berth that can even suit four lanky adults, never mind the kids, then the pop-top option is a must. It’s beautifully made and we love the style of it, too. The icing on the cake is that premium Hymer badge which will ensure strong residuals.
Berths: 4 Travel seats: 4 Base vehicle: Fiat Ducato Gross weight: 3,500kg Payload: 775kg
Although this Hymercar Free 540 is classed as a large van, it’s the same length as a Transporter long-wheelbase. But compared to the stratospheric Volkswagen prices, it offers a lot more bang for your buck. Although the prices of the HymerCar Free model start at just £42,100 for a basic model with no air-con, black bumpers and the 115bhp engine. In practice few will be able to resist Hymers tempting option packages so few models will probably leave Germany in stock form, but even our fully optioned test vehicle came in at a reasonable £53,797. So is it the bargain it seems, or is there a catch?
Despite the current generation of Ducato being no spring chicken, recent upgrades to Euro 6-spec engines seem to have helped smooth off some coarseness and the test van's upgraded 130bhp 2.3-litre engine (the stock engine is a 2.0-litre 115bhp) helps it bob along merrily. Thanks to the tactile upgrades of a leather-clad steering wheel and gearknob, plus electric mirrors, windows and such niceties as cruise control and a sat-nav (linked to a reversing camera) it feels quite premium in the cab.
With air-conditioning also optioned on the test vehicle, there wasn’t a thing it needed in terms of the specification. It even boasted an aftermarket sat-nav system neatly integrated into the dash panel.
Both front seats swivel rearwards without you having to open the doors and, unusually, you don’t even have to take the handbrake off to spin the driver’s seat around. Optional semi-opaque net curtains add privacy to the lounge area and there are two overhead multi-adjustable LED spotlights mounted on a sliding rail. The rear travel seat faces forward and sports three-point seatblets as well as headrests.
Best of all, unlike many travel seats, it has an angled backrest that offers good comfort and support. It’s a proper seat for lounging which makes for a welcome change. Underneath the seat base, a hatch opens to reveal the consumer unit for resetting mains fuses, the 12V fusebox and the water drain-down point. It’s like a mini-indoor service point and is easy to access should anything trip out while you’re camping. The only point that is worth mentioning about the lounge area is that the sliding door access does not open to the UK curbside. It’s not a problem on a campsite, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re dropping off kids on busy roads.
If you’re a budding chef and are planning gourmet meals in the HymerCar, the kitchen may be a bit limited. While it does have a reasonably capacious 65-litre compressor fridge, built into the kitchen pod’s base, cooking facilities are limited to a two-burner hob and there’s limited room to add any additional appliciances. There is a raised worktop section next to the hob’s built-in sink, together with 240V and 12V sockets, that would be ideal for a coffee maker or mains kettle, though. Worktop space is equally limited, but Hymer have added a flip-up section of worktop and there’s plenty of space on the dining table so this won’t be an issue.
The dining table itself is another great bit of design. It’s a stout wall-mounted unit with a white semi-gloss top (much easier to keep clean than anything with a full gloss finish). The clever bit is that it has an angled extending leaf that pivots out around the circular leg when a catch is released. Even with the dining table and extending leaf set-up, there’s still plenty of room to access everything and get to the washroom.
Opposite the kitchen area is the washroom and while it’s not the largest of rooms, it does contain all most people will need. An electric flush Thetford swivel bowl cassette loo is fitted, with wooden duckboarding covering the shower tray when it’s not in use. Thanks to a 100-litre inboard water tank and an 11-litre boiler, you should be able to have a good long shower.
One area that the 540 excels at is the sleeping set-up. The rear transverse bed has been well designed and thanks to recesses in the bodywork, Hymer have created a 6ft 5in long bed that’s 4ft wide. It’s not a particularly high step up to access it, either, and the beech-slat sprung base is topped off by a deep memory foam mattress that is supremely comfortable.
On most Fiat-based campervans, the third and fourth berths are made up by some complex rearrangement of the lounge. This generally involves having to store several bulky cushions, which would really eat into the space of a 5.4m long van. Happily this particular HymerCar has been fitted with the optional pop-top and roof bed arrangement (a £3,710 option). The extra width of a large van is immediately obvious here and results in a 4ft 3in wide bed that’s an impressive 6ft 7in long.
Rear transverse bed Ducato layouts are always handy when it comes to storage space and despite only being 5.4m long, the Free 540 is no exception. Although the water tank sits to the offside of the garage space (with a useful access hatch at the top offering easy access for draining and maintenance), there’s plenty of floor space for bulky items and a couple of useful storage cupboards inset into the cabinets on either side.
One must-have option fitted to the test vehicle was a pair of outdoor chairs and a table. The chairs neatly fit between the bed base and rear doors on the nearside, while the folding table sits in a dedicated holder on the offside barn door. It makes such good use of space that you won’t resent the £260 option price. With lots of roof lockers, a slender wardrobe sandwiched between the kitchen pod and rear bed, a front floor locker and plenty of nooks and crannies, there are plenty of options for storing all your touring kit.