The new Auto-Trail Expedition is perfect for first-time campervan buyers on a tight budget and anyone who would rather not buy used. Its spec lacks a few frills (nothing you’ll miss too much), but also includes some surprising features, like the 140bhp engine and underslung gas tank. Not everyone will like the only-in-black exterior. However, everyone will love the £36,995 price tag.
Price from: £36,995 Berths: 2 Travel seats: 2 Base vehicle: Fiat Ducato Length: 5.99m Gross weight: 3,500kg
Words and photos: Peter Vaughan
Back in 2015, the cheapest new campervan in the entry-level Auto-Trail Tribute range was £36,921. Today, we found a pre-owned, three-year-old example with 12,000 miles recorded for £38,995 – depreciation is not a big worry on campervans like this. But what if you could buy a brand-new camper for even less?
We’ve been here before, with major manufacturers stripping out so much kit that the list price becomes just a headline-grabbing figure, before options packs restore the cost to typical levels.
This time, it’s different, though. The new Auto-Trail Expedition starts at £36,995 and that’s an on-the-road total with everything you really need included. There are no pricy packs to push up the cost and virtually no options to consider.
There are two models to choose from, this 66 with a two-berth, two-travel seat layout and, for £1,000 more, the Expedition 67 with a shorter rear lounge in order to accommodate a half-dinette (and two extra travel seats) up front.
Both layouts are familiar from the previous Tribute Compact range, which has now been renamed V-Line S (prices from £45,556), although the spec is sparser.
One surprise on a budget-priced campervan is the colour. Rather than the expected white, Expeditions come only in black, which might not be the best choice for reflecting the heat of a Mediterranean summer, but makes the unpainted front bumper much less obvious.
There’s little to break up the expanse of Nero Black panelwork, though, with the tinted caravan-style double-glazed windows rather blending in and only a minimalist set of graphics.
The fridge vents and toilet hatch are colour-coded, so these are unobtrusive, but the white surrounds on the roof vents are noticeable. Alloy wheels are one of the few extra cost options listed, with plastic wheel covers included as standard.
One of these was already missing from our new test campervan, but a set of cable ties would solve that problem without the expense of alloys.
Both Expeditions are based on the 5.99m Fiat Ducato in 3,500kg form (rather than the 3,300kg version used by some rivals), so payloads on both models exceed half a tonne. They come with cab air-conditioning, a passenger airbag and cruise control as standard, but electric mirror adjustment is one of the few omissions.
That will probably only be an issue if your campervan is driven by two people of very different heights. In any case, the proximity of the wardrobe to the back of the driver’s chair will restrict seat adjustment if you’re more than about 5ft 10in tall.
More noticeably for all, there’s no radio, nor any switches for such on the plastic-rimmed steering wheel. If you want an all-singing unit with DAB, reversing camera and sat-nav, don’t forget to build that into your budget.
Being a low-cost model, of course, the Expedition doesn’t come with a trendy new overcab sunroof (as can now be specified on a V-Line) but it does have a practical overcab shelf for storage. And it has all the typical Ducato features – a slick gearshift, very surefooted and stable handling, and a rather plasticky cab interior. The ride is firm, but it didn’t elicit too many rattles here, perhaps because there’s less stuff inside to rattle.
Despite the price tag, you still get height/tilt-adjustable cab seats, but the big news is the 140bhp engine (not the entry-level 120bhp unit that you’d expect). That means performance is really rather spritely.
The 160bhp and 178bhp options are available, too, but hardly seem relevant when cost is of concern, though the nine-speed automatic transmission, which can also be specified, will be a must for some.
Before you get on board the Expedition you’ll certainly notice one item that’s been left off the spec – a step at the sliding door. That means it’s a 510mm climb up into the campervan, which might make a portable step an inexpensive necessity. You’ll spot the lack of a flyscreen here, too.
Let’s not dwell too much on what’s not in the Expedition, though, because this is essentially the same traditional rear lounge floorplan as you get in the former Tribute 660 and current V-Line 610 SE. It’s insulated to the same Grade III level as other Auto-Trail campervans, too.
The Expedition feels light and spacious, thanks to the same pale woodwork as found in the Chausson van conversions, also built at Auto-Trail, and the large, push-up rooflight over the generous rear seating area. The dark seat fabric is quite automotive in style, as are smart interior mouldings around the doors and padded leatherette trim on the side walls and ceiling that definitely don’t feel ‘budget’.
You may not mourn the loss of scatter cushions (though you’ll want to add your own for a touch of colour) and the lack of carpets always seem sensible if you camp on grass pitches.
In winter, the 4.7kW gas/electric Whale heating should be up to the job, but it’s worth remembering that the water tanks are underslung and, unfortunately, our test was too brief to have a proper play with the new iVan heating controls.
The waste water drain is a small-bore tap that’s likely to get grubby and will be slow to disgorge the remnants from the sink and shower, but it shares this criticism with many of its ilk.
The end lounge is the unarguable star feature of the 66, with a pair of sofas each over 6ft long. They’re a tad high for sitting upright, unless you have very long legs, but perfect for more somnolent poses.
Reading lights are provided on either side, too, plus lengthy LED strips up at ceiling level and, surprisingly, the blinds are the posh concertina-style ones.
The table stores behind the driver’s seat and its single leg in the wardrobe, while its 800mm by 550mm size seems well judged for a couple’s camper – not so big that it dominates, not too small for proper dining.
Look carefully, though, and you start to spot some missing features, especially if you like to watch TV. There’s no bracket or aerial for the telly and there are blanks where a plusher Auto-Trail would have power points, although a couple of USBs are fitted above the offside settee. The only three-pin sockets in the Expedition are behind the hob and below the kitchen extension flap.
A big lounge equals a big bed in this type of campervan and this one is all but square at near-as-dammit 1.85m in either direction. To turn seats into a bed, you pull each settee base out into the aisle and drop the backrest cushions into the middle, but the seat frames don’t have the usual built-in support legs here, so a pair of simple crossbars are provided instead.
It’s a good bed (or you can use the settees as singles) but, if you want to sleep across the campervan, the fixed bolsters (which didn’t stop the main backrest cushions from falling over while I drove) limit the practical length of the bed. That’s much less of an issue here than in the alternative 67 layout, where you must sleep across the campervan.
If you and your partner have a different sleep regime, it’s good to find that the cab seats both swivel (something else we didn’t expect!), giving you a secondary seating area when the rear is acting as a bedroom. The passenger seat does leave you with dangling feet and the driver’s seat only turns through 90 degrees, but sitting in one chair with your feet up on the other is very relaxing and the kitchen worktop flap is adjacent for your brew.
The cab windows get insulated screens as standard, but pleated blinds are offered at an extra cost.
Under the sofas, there’s plenty of storage, accessed both from above (with cushions removed) or via the rear doors. The offside space houses the leisure battery and charger but still has room for your bedding, so the unencumbered nearside space can be used for all your outdoor stuff.
Surely you don’t expect an oven in this budget spec? Well, you get one (with a combined grill) and, better still, it’s served by a money-saving 25-litre underslung LPG tank. There’s a two-burner hob with spark ignition, too, as part of a Dometic combination unit with integral sink.
The galley also comes with that vital worktop extension flap, its own LED strip light and another light on the back of the unit, facing out through the doorway, for when you’re sitting outside of an evening. There’s a cutlery drawer and a reasonable amount of cupboard space, too, although the locker under the oven is rather cluttered with plumbing and the vents through the floor here may draw in dirt off the road.
Opposite, the galley spec is completed by an 85-litre Dometic three-way fridge with removable freezer section and fiddly push-button ignition for its gas mode. Above, double doors reveal a small wardrobe (760mm drop from the rail) that caters for shirts but not longer garments.
More storage can be found on the overcab shelf, in a slim drawer under the fridge and a useful selection of top lockers above the galley and lounge. The upper cupboards have flat doors, but that aesthetic difference can be waved aside when you’re saving so much cash.
The washroom is the standard Auto-Trail campervan installation with a tip-up basin and mirror-fronted storage cabinet. There’s adequate space inside this ‘little room’, but you will have to deploy a curtain for showering, though the central single drain should evacuate soapy water reasonably effectively.
You get a separate showerhead (with trigger release), rather than a dual-function tap at the basin, as well as a loo roll holder, towel ring and robe hooks, but there is no window and only a very small roof vent.
Our biggest gripe is with the lack of fiddle rails or straps to keep your toiletries and medicines in place when you open the cabinet after driving, but that’s the same on a much more expensive V-Line.
The large rear over-lounge rooflight, the oven and cab air- conditioning are all items you might have expected to have to forgo for Auto-Trail to get the Expedition’s price down to under £37k, but they are all present and correct.
We were even more surprised to find the 140bhp motor fitted here, and we’re rather pleased that, as a result, words like ‘sluggish’ and ‘underpowered’ belong nowhere in this report. We wouldn’t bother to upgrade further, nor to push up the price with alloy wheels or cab blinds, leaving the only question worth asking – manual or automatic?
You’ll need to budget for some form of audio equipment, whether that’s a flash multifunction double-DIN unit with touchscreen controls or just a basic way of tuning into Jeremy Vine. You might also need to find cash for dealer-fit accessories like an awning or bike rack.
What really matters with the Expedition is that it still feels like an Auto-Trail campervan and you could drive one off the dealer’s forecourt and head straight to a campsite.