At under £55,000 (as tested, with a variety of desirable options and packs), this new Auto-Trail looks good value and fills an obvious gap in the F-Line range. The Ford cab gives it an immediate advantage over much of its opposition and there’s a choice of lounge layouts, too, but you’ll need to be sure that the size of its island bed suits before confirming your order.
Base vehicle: Ford Transit Price from: £48,285 Berths: 4 Travel seats: 4 Length: 7.32m Width: 2.35m Height: 2.88m Gross weight: 3,500kg
Words and photos by Peter Vaughan
The Tribute is dead, long live the F-Line. This is not a new range, though, but a rebranding exercise by Auto-Trail.
The Tribute name has been around since 2003 (first on imported van conversions, badged Trigano) and it has become synonymous with keenly priced motorhomes, latterly Fiat-based campervans and Ford-based low-profiles.
The former are now called V-Line S and the latter F-Line – that’s F for Ford.
Beyond the new name there are few changes to the coachbuilts, which has to be a good thing as we fairly raved about the first one we tested, the compact Auto-Trail Tribute F60.
Watch the MMM video review of the Auto-Trail F-Line F74 motorhome:
For 2021, there are two new optional extras – Motorhome WiFi (at £395) and a 21.5in Avtex smart TV (£389). The big news, however, is the addition of a fifth model in the range – the F74 – which plugs a gap in the line-up by adding an island bed floorplan.
It is 7.32m long (the same as the twin bed F70 and rear lounge F72), and has a starting price of £48,285.
Auto-Trail took the bold move a year ago of offering a wide range of cab colours for its motorhomes.
In the case of the F-Line, Blazer Blue is standard but there are six alternative metallic finishes available at extra cost. The Kapoor Red is certainly eye-catching and helps the F74 – as tested, with the optional alloy wheels (£840 extra) also fitted – to look anything but entry-level.
Thank the Driver’s Pack (£1,499) for the more premium appearance, as it adds not just the metallic paint but also the front fog lamps, body-coloured side mouldings and colour-coded bumpers (as well as cab air-conditioning, automatic headlights and cornering lights, rain-sensing wipers and heated mirrors).
To get the ‘full monty’, though, you also need to dig down the back of the sofa for another £1,399 for the Lux Pack, which adds the upgraded habitation door (with a window, bin, umbrella and central locking), an external barbecue point and other niceties, like a solar panel, carpets, TV preparation and the posh cab radio with sat-nav and reversing camera.
Frankly, we’d be amazed if you ever see an F-Line without both packs fitted, even if they do add nearly £3,000.
This F74 was still under £55k, as tested, so it’s no surprise to see caravan-style windows sitting proud of the bodywork. More of an issue will be the fiddly water drain taps, which seem rather ‘old school’ now.
But you do get Thule mountings for a bike rack on the rear and an electric step that auto retracts.
Most importantly, you also get some external storage running under the island bed and with loading doors on either side.
This is not a garage (the internal height is 430mm and the hatches measure 330mm by 630mm), but long thin items (such as chairs that fold up into a tube shape) will slot in nicely.
Step inside the F74 and there’s a good feeling of space, enhanced by the very pale wood tone used throughout.
The huge overcab sunroof ensures there’s plenty of daylight, too, while LED strips under the top lockers and a backlit panel beneath the drop-down bed ensure a decent level of artificial illumination. It’s a pity there are no reading lights, though, and these would be an especially welcome addition in the cab.
A slight step up into the driving quarters is the only variation in floor level until you get back to the rear bed and headroom is an airy 2.04m, though this reduces to 1.84m under the drop-down bed (if fitted).
The front seats swivel through a full 180 degrees for feet-up relaxing and there’s plenty of room to seat five in this lounge (possibly more), with an open-plan feel thanks to the lack of a fixed table.
This is the optional HD Dinette version (£825 extra) with an L-settee on the offside in place of the standard F74’s side sofa.
You’ll need to spec it like this if you want rear travel seats and it’s worth noting that here it’s much, much quicker to remove a wooden panel and single cushion from the ‘L’ to give legroom for the second passenger than it is to turn settees into travel seats, as in many rivals.
To convert the lounge into a dining room there’s a free-standing table, which stores against the wall in the bedroom. The fact that you can use it al fresco is a boon but, inside, it seems too big, or too rectangular.
Once in place it can restrict the cab seat occupants in their seats and so a squarer shape would be better with this seating.
As with any entry-level model, you spot areas of economising and here it’s the blank wall in the entrance that stands out. There are 12V and aerial sockets over the door but the lack of a TV bracket (or coat hooks or a mirror) leave it looking a touch austere.
Meanwhile, there is some useful storage under the nearside settee which is accessed only through a rather roughly hewn hatch in the top of the seat base when a drop-front by the entrance would have made this space ideal for shoes.
In the ceiling above the kitchen is a roof vent with two-way fan; it’s another one of those features you might not expect at this price level, and which you won’t get if you haven’t ticked the Lux Pack option. Other than that, the galley has the classic L-shape configuration backing onto the travel seats, just like you’ll see in so many continental motorhomes.
The spec here includes a Thetford Duplex oven/grill as well as the triangular three-burner hob and there’s a reasonable amount of worktop between the cooker and sink. A single mains socket on the wall allows you to use a kettle or a toaster here, too.
Kitchen storage is adequate, with a double locker at eye-level and a large cupboard under the sink (also incorporating the cutlery drawer). There is no other pull-out storage, but the generous 142-litre fridge opposite includes a bottle drawer, as well as having the convenience of automatic energy selection for its gas, 12V and 230V modes.
Above the fridge are the Auto-Trail control panel and the new-style switches for the Whale mains and gas 4.7kW space heating and boiler, which look a lot easier to understand than their predecessors. Also here, high enough to be out of reach of little fingers, are the key and controls for the drop-down bed.
In a motorhome like this, the rear bedroom is the key feature and the F74 makes a great first impression with its mattress slid back and the last 620mm of its length tipped up on gas struts to create a chaise longue-style recliner.
In this position, there’s class-leading space around the foot of the bed but, when I got onto the bed to try it for comfort, the mattress started to slide forward rather than locking securely into this position.
With the bed completely flattened for the night, there’s still a surprising amount of room to get undressed. Even in its centre, this bed is just 1.78m long and, at the sides, it starts to curve in at 1.32m from the headboard, so check you are not going to suffer from dangling a foot over the end of the bed. At 1.30m wide, the bed is also up to 30cm narrower than some of the competition.
If you’re not particularly tall and the bed size is not an issue for you, then the reading lights, ambient lighting and roof vent are all pluses, as are the ‘his and her’ wardrobes (each with a metre drop from the hanging rail).
You can also lift the front of the bed (aided by gas struts) to access the large storage space underneath, although bulkier items kept here will need to be carried through the motorhome rather than reached via the exterior locker doors.
If you need more sleeping capacity, then the optional drop-down bed up front is easy to use. As well as being electrically operated, only the forward-facing travel seat backrest needs to be moved before lowering it.
Mattress length here is quite generous and the bed is completely rectangular, while a 200kg weight limit applies. You’ll sleep heads to the offside, where there’s an LED strip light. There’s no roof vent, so you’ll rely on the overcab sunroof for ventilation on warm summer nights.
The shelf above the cab is within reach for bedtime reading matter but it’s a pity there are no USBs here for phones, etc. And, while the kitchen is not obstructed (for that essential morning cuppa) with the bed down, if you need to take the dog for a walk you’ll need to limbo under your dozing partner to get out through the door.
Headroom under the lowered bed is 1.23m, which is not enough to sit in the lounge seats.
Both beds have easy access to the en suite, which is in the now de rigeur style of toilet cubicle on one side and shower opposite. As usual, the loo door separates off the end bedroom but, in the F74, there is no way of providing privacy between the shower and the island bed.
On the nearside, there’s a substantial step up into the lavatory and the cassette toilet is mounted on a plinth, so it helps to have long legs. With the door closed, shoulder room on the ‘throne’ is restricted but legroom is ok.
There’s also a stylish square basin here and plenty of worktop alongside, while a toilet roll holder is provided, but no hooks or rings for towels, etc.
Opposite, the separate shower has good headroom (1.93m) behind its frosted doors, although there’s nowhere (except on the floor) to place your shampoo and shower gel.
Of course, the Transit base vehicle gives the F-Line an advantage over many of its rivals, especially perhaps if you’re new to driving a motorhome. With its tilt/height-adjustable seats and reach/rake-adjustable steering column, it’s easy to get a comfortable driving position – and one that doesn’t feel like a Routemaster bus! The cab also has better ergonomics than the Fiat/Peugeot, with controls that will feel familiar to anyone who has driven a modern Ford car.
On the road the F-Line continues to impress, with a smooth, comfortable ride and an engine that feels lustier than the 128bhp (130PS) quoted. A 168bhp (170PS) version is available for an extra £1,200 but probably won’t be considered necessary by most buyers.
There’s also a six-speed automatic gearbox option for £1,740 but, if you’re happy to shift the cogs yourself, then the Ford’s gear change is at least as good as in any light commercial van.
The F74 handles well, too, never feeling as big as its 7.32m length might imply, while rattles from the living area were mostly from the blinds, with none (pleasingly) from the furniture or drop-down bed.
Of course, the Xzent multimedia unit with DAB radio, Bluetooth, sat-nav and reversing camera – and a big, clear touchscreen display – is another plus, as long as you’ve ordered the Lux Pack. And, lastly on the cab spec, we’d be tempted to go for the optional cab blinds (priced at £590) instead of the standard silver screens seen here.