Value for money is a strong card with this new Auto-Trail and you won’t really miss most of what’s been omitted to keep the price down. Meanwhile, the C63 layout is a classic that still has appeal, thanks to its super-sized lounge. With a separate shower, too, this Expedition could suit both couples and young families and make a great alternative to buying used
Base vehicle: Fiat Ducato Price from: £46,995 Berths: 4 Travel seats: 4 Length: 6.34m Width: 2.35m Height: 3.16m Gross weight: 3,500kg Payload: 570kg
Words and photos: Peter Vaughan
The word ‘new’ is, perhaps, overused and the term ‘all-new’ is one both motor and motorhome industries find hard to resist. So, here we are testing a ‘brand-new coachbuilt range’ (Auto-Trail’s words) based on the New Ducato (Fiat’s description) but, as we’ll see, there’s plenty here that’s very familiar…
So, let’s start with the Series 8 Ducato, of which this is the first example to get the MMM test treatment. It looks very like the previous Fiat, doesn’t it? Its maker says that the grille is new but, by the time an Auto-Trail motif has replaced the bold new FIAT (all caps) branding, the change is subtle, to say the least. And, as an entry-level model, the Expedition doesn’t benefit from new full-LED headlights that are said to be 30% brighter.
All the Series 8 models get new engines – as advertised by the Multijet 3 logo on the offside front wing – in order to meet the latest Euro 6d-Final emissions standard. Power outputs still offer a choice of 120, 140, 160 or 180bhp, with Auto-Trail opting to fit the 140bhp motor as standard across its coachbuilt range (except the tag-axles, which get the 160 unit).
Irrespective of their potency, the new motors are downsized from 2.3 to 2.2 litres, although torque here remains at 350Nm. If the new capacity sounds familiar, it’s because these ‘new’ engines are shared with the sister Peugeot Boxer and Citroën Relay vans. They are said to be more economical and more refined than the previous Fiat Multijet 2 engines, something that our readout of 32mpg (without any motorway miles) and our ears would agree with.
More obvious are the changes inside the cab, where the redesigned door trims have more convenient recesses for bottles, pens, etc. Then, there’s the smaller-diameter steering wheel (plastic here) connected to electric power steering rather than the previous hydraulic set-up. That allows for options such as a Lane Control system (not fitted here) and also makes the steering noticeably lighter, although not with as much feel.
The six-speed manual gearbox is ‘new and improved’ and we certainly found it light and easy to use. The dials are different, too, although this entry-level Auto-Trail doesn’t, of course, get the 7in Full Digital Cockpit. Instead, it’s the 3.5in black and white TFT display on which you can only see the needles of the speedo and rev counter until you turn the key and it all lights up like Christmas.
The rest of the fascia looks familiar, bar the new style of fresh air vents – the hard, cheap-looking plastics remain. Auto-Trail doesn’t offer any of the new Fiat infotainment systems on the Expedition, instead adding an Xzent radio with Bluetooth and 6.5in touchscreen as a £349 option.
There are plenty more new optional Fiat features (none of which are featured here), from a wireless connection to your phone to Autonomous Emergency Brake control and cornering lights, but the standard Ducato spec has been enhanced to include Crosswind Assist (working above 40mph) and Autonomous Post Collision Braking.
Keeping things simple on this budget-priced motorhome, the only chassis option is alloy wheels. It’s worth saying, too, that the Expedition is based on a standard-height chassis, which feels much less planted on the road than a typical low-profile on the lowered chassis.
Just as the new Ducato is, maybe, not quite as innovative as Fiat would like us to believe, there’s a lot of carryover from previous Auto-Trails in this new Expedition coachbuilt.
The model name was introduced last season on a pair of campervans that surprised with their affordability. Now, there are Expedition coachbuilts, too – a range of four overcabs (Auto-Trail calls them Hi-Lines), three of them measuring 7.25m and this more compact C63 kicking off the line-up at 6.34m long.
More importantly, this model has an on-the-road price of £46,995 – to which there are no essential packs to add. That’s almost £10k less than the smallest Imala, with which the C63 shares its overcab moulding, overall length and interior layout, as well as its construction and insulation. It also undercuts all models in the Swift Edge range and all but the smallest 5.70m Elddis Autoquest.
Externally, it has steel wheels, no roof bars and a habitation door without a window. There’s no choice of cab colour, only pale Expedition Grey, but you still get an electric step and flyscreen for the door, as well as the traditional branded brolly. There’s an external hatch into the nearside under-seat locker and brackets for a bike rack, too.
You’ll almost certainly want to add a reversing camera, and maybe an awning, but the external design doesn’t shout ‘basic spec’ too loudly. Even the waste water drain has a sensible, large-bore outlet. Both fresh and waste water tanks are underslung, which will need consideration in the winter, though. Inside, there are no carpets and there’s no super-sized rooflight (two small ones sit over the lounge and galley, with a bigger vent in the overcab), while cab blinds get relegated to the refreshingly short options list and stick-on screens are provided instead.
There’s no choice of décor, with light Salinas Oak contrasting sharpy with the dark charcoal upholstery. More shades of grey feature on the floor and top lockers, so you might want to brighten things up with some scatter cushions.
Over two decades ago, when I first became a full-time member of the MMM team, the C63’s layout would have seemed commonplace. Now, it is without a direct rival in the ranges of Bailey, Elddis or Swift. Auto-Sleepers, ever the traditionalist, maintains a similar floorplan in its Broadway range but at a very different spec/price level to this new Auto-Trail.
Of course, the Expedition coachbuilt range also includes the more fashionable island bed, a transverse bed/garage model and a family-friendly version with twin lounges. This is the compact offering in the range, not that you’d necessarily notice when you step aboard.
With no fixed bed, a very generous and open front lounge and extra-large windows on either side, the C63 belies its modest dimensions. It comes as standard with the ‘LD’ lounge seen here, but the offside L-settee can be swapped for a pullman dinette at no extra cost. Either way, this is a four-berth ’van with a corresponding number of travel seats.
It’s the lounge that is central to the model’s appeal, with a straight settee of more than 6ft long on the nearside and a barely shorter L-sofa opposite. Swivel the two cab chairs (trimmed to match and with twin armrests apiece) and you have room for at least eight humans here. If there are only two of you, the passenger seat turns far enough for you to put your socks on the sofa but, regrettably, this isn’t possible with the driver’s seat because of the bulkhead.
The table (950mm by 580mm) isn’t so super-sized and will require you to sit on the edge of the seats to reach your grub, but it’s a free-standing unit that’s wobble-free and can be stowed away alongside the fridge.
Lighting is not in short supply, although it’s always a shame not to have reading lights over the cab seats.
You do get LED strips under and over the top lockers, however, and spotlights at the rear end of each settee (plus USB ports on the offside). Net curtains are fitted at both of the side windows, too, and the blinds (surprisingly) are the more expensive, pleated type. There’s lots of under-seat storage, most of which is fairly easy to access from above, and you’ll find the Truma Combi 4 E gas/electric boiler under the rearmost part of the long sofa.
No television bracket is provided, nor any aerial, but the surface above the fridge could be an ideal spot for your TV, with a 230V socket fitted. You won’t have to use kitchen gadgets here, though, as the main galley area has a pull-up power tower with a trio of three-pin sockets.
Of course, the kitchen is primarily across the back wall, where you’ll find the three-burner hob and combined oven and grill, as well as plenty of high and low-level storage, including two drawers (one fitted out for cutlery).
There’s a little worktop alongside the sink, but it’s the area over the fridge that ensures that the chef is not short of preparation space.
It didn’t seem dark in the galley, despite the loss of the glazed door (coat hooks are fitted instead), but the fridge is quite modestly sized and has the basic push-button ignition on gas. Much more inconvenient than that is the odd, side-hinged sink lid that gets in the way when washing up.
When washing yourself, it’s a huge boon to find a proper separate shower in a layout like this. It’s a good size, too, with generous headroom, a clothes drying rail and bifold doors. You’ll have to rely on the window behind the washbasin to let out the steam, though.
The other downside of this washroom is limited storage and the fact that the slim top locker needs a fiddle rail or straps to keep its contents in place. There’s no such criticism of the capacity of the wardrobe alongside, however, and there’s a useful shelved cupboard below, too.
Then, when it comes to lights out, you have a choice of sleeping spaces, simplest of which is just to use the settees as lengthways single beds. Do that and the nearside bed is 1.86m long, while its opposite number measures virtually the same once you’ve removed the travel seat backrest.
Alternatively, you can pull the seat bases together to create a super-long transverse double bed. The reader who contacted MMM recently bemoaning motorhome bed sizes for tall occupants would have no issues here. What might be noted, though, is that the seat/bed foam isn’t as comfortable or as high-quality as in more expensive models and only part of the bed is on a slatted frame (the nearside settee has a plywood base).
The overcab bed also has a solid base, so you might need to think about stacking the mattress sections when the motorhome is in winter storage. A more pressing matter could be that access to the upper berths is challenging if you also use the downstairs double, as the ladder cannot then be deployed.
The 70mm-thick mattress in the luton is probably best suited to kids, especially as the curved roofline restricts headroom towards the front of the ’van. Ventilation is good up here, though, with that large rooflight, while lighting is on the offside only via a small LED strip. In the daytime, the rear part of the bed can be tipped up to allow an easy walk through to the cab but the gas struts used to support the bed base both became detached on this early example (something that is now being addressed).
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Auto-Trail VR Ltd
Tel: 01472 571000
Tel: 0345 366 6579