A classic two-berth layout at an entry-level price. The inclusion of a separate shower and good external storage are big pluses, while the Ford cab gives the F-Line a further USP
Base vehicle: Ford Transit Price from: £50,229 Berths: 2 Travel seats: 2 Length: 6.80m Width: 2.35m Height: 2.88m Gross weight: 3,500kg Payload: 550kg
Words and photos: Peter Vaughan
A rear lounge – seating at the back only, not with a second seating area up front – is, perhaps, the classic British layout. It’s the one that continental makers often don’t really ‘get’. But, in coachbuilt motorhomes (rather than van conversions), this floorplan is not nearly as commonplace as you might think. Or as frequently found as it once was.
The UK’s largest leisure vehicle manufacturer, Swift, doesn’t have this layout anywhere in its 2021 coachbuilt motorhome portfolio. Over at the Erwin Hymer Group UK, which makes the Elddis range, it seems to be almost as out of favour, with no rear lounge version of either the Autoquest or Encore (although the petite Accordo 120 keeps the faith for those looking for a smaller ’van). And, Bristol-based Bailey does not have an end lounge two-berth format in its Alliance and Adamo ranges, keeping it solely for the more expensive Autograph.
Of course, there’s a huge selection to choose from if you want a rear lounge campervan, but those seeking the extra space of a coachbuilt might be disappointed by the lack of choice – unless you can afford something like Auto-Sleepers’ new Broadway EL (see May, p89). However, one manufacturer – Auto-Trail – offers a selection of rear lounges, including this entry-level F-Line. It is a new model for 2022, although you’ll have to wait until October or November for production to commence.
The F68 is now the sixth model in a range that was originally called Tribute. We’re already big fans of the little F60, but were not quite so enamoured with the island bed F74 that appeared in MMM (Dec 2020, p101). Now, with this newcomer, there’s a new size of F-Line that fits between the previous 5.99m and 7.32m models, but shares the same look, specification and, importantly, the Ford cab.
In fact, this new F-Line is a handsome low-profile motorhome that doesn’t look at all ‘entry-level’. Of course, the optional alloy wheels help, as does the Driver’s Pack, which adds metallic paint (in a choice of five colours), body-coloured side mouldings and a colour-coded front bumper – in reality, we can’t see an F68 ever leaving the Grimsby production line without it. After all, it’s not just the aesthetics that benefit, as the £1,499 pack also includes powered and heated mirrors, automatic lights and wipers, front fog lamps, a heated windscreen and cab air-conditioning.
The Lux Pack (£1,499) is equally essential and adds the cab’s Zenec Xzent 9in touchscreen with sat-nav and reversing camera, an Omnivent extractor in the kitchen ceiling, removable carpets and, on the outside, a TV aerial, solar panel, barbecue point and upgraded habitation door.
Spec’d like this, the entrance has a flyscreen, bin and a branded brolly clipped to the door, while the cab’s remote central locking is not only linked to include it, but it also automatically extends the step when you unlock.
Even more importantly, the F68 addresses the issue of external storage – a criticism of many rear lounge motorhomes in the past. There are hatches on either side into the under-seat space, with this locker reaching the full width of the ’van for longer items such as windbreaks. There’s an internal height of 370mm in this space and width of just over 700mm where it extends under the central part of the lounge – plenty of room, then, for outdoor gear, although bikes will need to be hung on the back (mounting rails are factory-fitted).
The standard spec also includes the big overcab sunroof and a full-sized spare wheel (although the latter looks rather inaccessible). While on my hands and knees, I also found myself muttering about Auto-Trail’s fiddly water drain taps, but at least water capacities are good (100 litres fresh, 80 litres waste).
Get your dealer to add tank heaters if you want to go winter camping as both reservoirs are underslung.
The interior of the facelifted Fiat cab for next season looks a significant improvement, but Ford has been way ahead for some time and I still much prefer the lower, more car-like seating position in the Transit. Aspects like the smaller-diameter, leather-bound steering wheel (with plenty of adjustment) make the Ford feel less like a commercial vehicle.
The Transit has different road manners, too, with a softer, more cosseting ride that allows more roll through the bends, yet still seems stable at speed. The six-speed automatic fitted to this test ’van might not be quite as sophisticated as the Italian’s nine-speeder, but it’s certainly smooth enough, as well as being a less pricey option.
Also fitted here was Ford’s engine upgrade (168bhp, instead of 128bhp). I should have guessed that by the way the F68 shot down the sliproad onto the A180 dual carriageway and was up to 70mph in a remarkably effortless and refined fashion.
At close to 7m, this isn’t a small motorhome but it almost felt like one from the way it dispatched the hills of the Lincolnshire Wolds. As a two-berth on a 3.5-tonne chassis, it also boasts a very respectable payload. However, despite the softish suspension, there was still a bit of rattle and clatter from the living area.
With the colour reversing camera aiding manoeuvring and the motorhome-specific sat-nav taking the worry out of finding the campsite, that was the only downside to driving.
Of course, all the positives we’ve discovered so far would amount to diddly-squat if the new F-Line’s rear lounge didn’t pass muster. This is what you’ll buy the F68 for and, fortunately, it lives up to expectations.
The settees are plenty long enough for feet-up lounging, or the space is generous enough to invite friends in for a natter. The windows are big, giving a panoramic impression of the surroundings (great when I was parked up at Huttoft Beach), and net curtains are fitted, too, if you want a touch of privacy. Lighting is reasonably comprehensive, as well, with LED strips above and below the top lockers, plus reading lights positioned in the back corners.
There are not any rear speakers, but that’s a moot point as the cab radio won’t work with the ignition switched off, while the small roof vent also isn’t really an issue when the windows are this big and on three sides. A simple slide-out bracket is fitted for a TV and, also above the table locker, are two USB ports (the only ones fitted in the living area).
The area works just as well for dining, the table storing close by in its own cupboard and being easy to set up. At 950mm by 580mm, it’s a good size and, because it’s free-standing, you won’t have to carry another table to use outside. You might, however, wish for a small coffee table for evening nibbles and your glass of vino as Auto-Trail hasn’t equipped the lounge with anywhere (such as a corner shelf) to put drinks.
Pull the concertina blinds (a posh touch at this price point) and the lounge becomes a bedroom. It’s simplicity itself to unclip the backrest cushions from the walls and, in an instant, two single beds are made – one an adequate 1.87m long, the other a super-sized 2.01m.
Alternatively, you can pull out a section of caravan-style slats to fill part of the aisle and rearrange the cushions to form a very generous transverse double. After the join-free single beds, though, the double might seem a bit lumpy (if you’re the person sleeping to the front of the ’van) and the middle cushions seemed prone to move about in the night.
Whichever arrangement you use, there’s plenty of room for bedding to go beneath either of the sofas, where storage is very generous. However, there’s no separation between this and wet gear that you might have loaded from outside, and internal access to the area is awkward unless you remove the (bulky) settee bases.
There are no drop-fronts into the under-sofa lockers and the slatted supports for the seats just slot into place – as you retrieve your duvet they’ll fall out of position and it’s then a faff to get them back into place.
The tall/slim Thetford 142-litre fridge with automatic energy selection is the star feature of the kitchen, and the main L-shaped galley unit opposite doesn’t disappoint.
There’s enough worktop between the sink and the triangular hob – more, of course, when you can close either of those glass lids. Storage is pretty generous, both at high and low-level and a Duplex combined oven and grill unit is fitted as standard.
If we’re to nitpick, then having just one 230V socket here seems a bit mean and the only drawer (quite large for cutlery and utensils) is behind a cupboard door that, when open, blocks access through to the lounge. There’s no microwave option, either.
Up front, the wardrobe and washroom face each other and neither is fitted too close to the cab. It’s an interesting detail that Auto-Trail has found room to fit little corner cupboards, magazine pockets and coat hooks in this area. Crucially, there remains plenty of room to adjust the cab seats for the tallest occupants.
Above, the sunroof stops the area feeling gloomy but the large front shelf (which is big enough to house the cab’s insulated stick-on screens) has nothing to retain anything placed there, and the side pockets are little more than decorative.
The wardrobe is a good size, though, with a drop from its rail of 1.09m. Even longer garments could be accommodated if you repositioned the hanging rail further up (it’s mounted 230mm down from the ceiling).
In the washroom, the key news is that – as you’ll find in more expensive Auto-Trail motorhomes – there’s a separate shower. With bifold doors, corner baskets for your shampoo and shower gel and good water pressure, this feature is a huge plus over some entry-level UK ’vans if you prefer to use your own facilities.
The rest of the ablution space isn’t huge but adequate and it has everything – a large mirror, reasonable storage, a cassette loo, toilet roll holder, towel ring on the door and a fixed washbasin. The roof vent is positioned over the toilet rather than in the shower, which might have seemed more logical, but the main point to note is that there is a step up into this space, so headroom is reduced (to 1.86m in the shower).
With the toilet door opening out and facing the wardrobe, an opportunity has been missed here to create a larger dressing area – something for the competent DIYer, perhaps? Meanwhile, cab privacy is achieved with those aforementioned silver screens, with blinds available as an extra cost option.
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