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Motorhome review: Auto-Trail Grande Frontier GF-70

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Key Features

  • Model Year : 2021
  • Class : A-Class
  • Base Vehicle : Fiat Ducato
  • Engine Size : 2.3TD
  • Maximum Weight (Kg) : 3500
  • Berths : 4
  • Layout : End Washroom

AT A GLANCE

Base vehicle: Fiat Ducato Price from: £76,345 Berths: 4 Travel seats: 2/4 Length: 6.93m Width: 2.35m Height: 3.04m Gross weight: 3,500kg/3,650kg Payload: 230kg/380kg

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION

Model Year
2021
Manufacturer
Auto-Trail
Class
A-Class
Range
Frontier
Base Vehicle
Fiat Ducato
Engine Size
2.3TD
Payload (kg)
250
Belted Seats
2
Maximum weight (kg)
3500
Price from (£)
76345
Length (m)
6.93
Width (m)
2.35
Height (m)
3.10
Berths
4
Main Layout
End Washroom
Price from (€)
Campervan Test Date

DETAILED REVIEW

Images courtesy of Auto-Trail

 
The Auto-Trail Grande Frontier GF-70

We should have been shouting from the rooftops about this a year ago. First details of the new Auto-Trail A-class emerged late last summer but the small matter of a worldwide pandemic meant that there was no press launch. Then, no big public unveil at the NEC when the show – last year’s – was cancelled.

Better late than never, though. After all, the arrival of an A-class from a UK manufacturer is big news. No, make that HUGE news. The previous (short-lived) Grande Frontier debuted a decade and a half ago and other major British makers have been absent from this top-flight sector of the motorhome market for longer than any of them will care to remember.

Developing a fully integrated motorhome (as the continentals call them) is no small undertaking, because now you’re almost into the realms of motor manufacturer, designing all of the bodywork and not just a box on the back of a Fiat, Ford or Mercedes cab. Not only does it have to look right, but there are headlights, windscreen and wipers, etc, to consider. And to do all this for a percentage of the rather niche A-class market in the UK could be seen as more about vanity than business sense. It’s a whole different saucepan of herrings if you’re Hymer and have been building A-classes for 50 years and successfully selling them all over Europe, as well as beyond…

This is where Auto-Trail’s parentage comes in. The company from Grimsby might be a leading player in upmarket British motorhomes, but it’s also part of the vast French Trigano Group, which includes A- class makers such as Adria, Arca, Autostar, Chausson (we don’t see its Exaltis range here), Eura Mobil, Mobilvetta and Roller Team. That has given the Brit brand access not only to a wealth of A- class knowledge, but also a parts bin to dip its corporate fingers into. So, it has pinched the windscreen, coach-style mirrors and cab door (with puddle light) from existing models, although it’s secretive about exactly which ones!

 

THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT

So, the Grande Frontier benefits from being a Trigano product, but this is not merely an imported vehicle with a UK badge slapped on it. The cab exterior is Auto-Trail’s own design incorporating full LED headlights, while a covered spare wheel on the rear is a trademark feature of the brand. There’s a flush-mounted awning on top, too.

And the layouts of the 8.07m-long GF-80 and tag-axle 8.79m GF-88 are proven designs – taken from the Delaware and Comanche, respectively. But you don’t have to go super-sized with this A-class; the line-up kicks off with the sub-7m GF-70, which is even available on a 3,500kg chassis, albeit with a rather modest payload. An upgrade to 3,650kg is a no-cost option that will be sensible for anyone with the relevant licence.

It’s this smallest member of the new clan that is the most interesting. Its big brothers – both with an island bed at the back – face umpteen opponents from predominantly German manufacturers (and also French brands and Adria from Slovenia), but the GF-70 sings to a different tune and one that has a lot more ‘Rule Britannia’ about it.

It’s based on a Fiat Ducato chassis-cowl, as you’d expect, but not featuring the Al-Ko rear chassis of the larger Grande Frontiers; it’s a standard Fiat frame here. The engine has 140bhp but you can upgrade to 160bhp (£1,410) or 178bhp (£2,820). We’d recommend the middle motor and reckon that most will also plump for the super-smooth nine-speed automatic transmission – even if it seems costly, at £3,354.

Fortunately, though, there’s not a long list of other options to consider – the £76,345 list price includes most of the gear you’ll want, including the Auto-Trail Media Pack featuring a 21.5in Avtex smart TV, omnidirectional aerial, colour reversing camera and an 8in Zenec touchscreen radio with motorhome-specific sat-nav, DAB+ and Bluetooth. If you want a satellite dish, that’s an additional grand to spend, while rear corner steadies add another £160 and a towbar is £650.

That just leaves the choice of standard side sofas or an L-settee arrangement – referred to as the ‘LD’ lounge – incorporating two rear seatbelts, at an extra £875. Any of the extras eat into your payload, of course, as well as your pocket. In line with its flagship status, though, you won’t have to dig deeper for Motorhome WiFi, a solar panel or the Alde Hydronic ‘wet’ central heating, all of which are included in the spec.

 

TWO’S COMPANY

All three of the Grande Frontiers come in standard form with a side sofa lounge, but without any way of converting them into travel seats. The seats are trimmed in dark grey Gabriella faux leather and, here, there’s oodles of room to stretch out – the nearside settee is 1.46m long and the offside one a super-sized 1.85m, making it big enough for an afternoon nap. Not that it takes much effort to deploy the bed…

In normal A-class fashion, the double bed is concealed in the cab ceiling and it lowers manually. The bed measures 1.85m by 1.32m. It pulls down low enough that you can simply hop up via the settees but the lack of a roof vent in this space could be an issue if you’re more likely to tour Marbella than Mablethorpe.

The telly isn’t the biggest but it is neatly hidden behind a black roller shutter door in the entrance area and it can be viewed from the lounge or the bed. The swivelled cab chairs probably make the best place to sit ‘n’ watch but you could, alternatively, spend more sociable evenings with a group of friends (maybe up to seven people) gathered around the 950mm by 580mm free-standing table.

There’s a generous amount of under-seat storage, too, with the offside space being accessible via an outside hatch. That’s not the only external storage, as you’ll find a small locker (about the size of a gas compartment) adjacent to the cab on the offside and, at the nearside rear corner, a tall area with folding shelves. The last is ideal for long/thin items such as windbreaks. What the Grande Frontier doesn’t have, unlike more prestigious A-classes, is a double floor. As well as limiting storage for bulky outdoor gear, that also means the water tanks (despite being heated) are in less frost-protected underfloor locations.

 

BIG CHEF

Where the Brit beats most of the Germans is in the kitchen. The galley here is the same as you get in the much longer GF-88 (except that the microwave moves to a position over the hob). The L-shaped unit with its slate-style worktop incorporating a draining board, has plenty of preparation space, while the Dometic cooker is an all-singing model with mains hotplate, three gas rings and a separate grill and oven. Pity, then, that the lack of a splashguard could see spillages onto the offside sofa. Kitchen storage includes two drawers and a pull-out rack for tinned foods, while a 142-litre Thetford fridge is opposite (next to the double-door wardrobe).

While the chef of the household will no doubt applaud their workspace, it’s the bathroom – across the back of the GF-70 – that’s the star feature of the model. This generous area incorporates a supersized separate shower, two large mirrors and plenty of storage, as well as an L-shaped worktop around the basin and cassette loo. It really is a VERY generous ablutions area, its only downside being that the design hasn’t placed the wardrobe in here to make it a true changing room as well.

 

RIVALS ARE FEW

Once, there was a good selection of models to choose from if you wanted a spacious A-class that wasn’t too big on the road, achieving that mix by using its drop-down bed as the main sleeping space. These days, though, the breed seems much less en vogue. One of our favourite compact A-classes is still Itineo’s FC650. It’s a remarkably spacious vehicle and its end washroom floorplan even includes a good-sized garage. Really, it’s more of an entry-level proposition, at £58,200, though.

More of a direct rival is another Gallic ’van, the Galaxy G690D from Pilote. Like the Auto-Trail, it has a superbly spacious lounge in a 7m body (actually 7.04m), as well as an end washroom but, like the Itineo, it benefits from a rear garage, too. In plusher Sensation trim, it’s priced from £69,450.

Finally, and into a different league, is the Frankia F-Line I 640 SD on a 4.5-tonne Al-Ko chassis. This really is a luxury model with a deep double floor and everything you need for serious long-term touring. Prices start at £95,172 but expect to spend more as there’s a typically German options list to mull over.

None of these is a direct rival for the GF-70, although you may wish to seek out one or all of them before you spend your hard-earned. The Grande Frontier, of course, adds a British twist – a dash of gravy, perhaps? – to the recipe and is sure to appeal to existing Auto-Trail owners. In many ways, it’s the pick of the new GF range.

 

 

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