Most rivals to this new Grande Frontier will benefit from a double floor but also have a heftier price tag. They may also lack some of the spec, especially in the kitchen. Here, then, is a motorhome for owners who like their British-style model but want to move up to an A-class. It’s been a long wait but Auto-Trail now has a true flagship and there’s a British A-class worthy of your consideration once again.
Base vehicle: Fiat Ducato Al-Ko Price from: £99,513 Berths: 4 Travel seats: 4 Length: 8.79m Width: 2.35m Height: 3.04m Gross weight: 5,000kg
Words and photos: Peter Vaughan
The return of the British A-class has been a long time coming. The Elddis Autoking and Swift Bel-Air are distant memories and Auto-Trail’s previous Grande Frontier debuted 15 years ago.
But, an A-class takes significant investment on the part of its maker and the sales volumes for such models, if restricted to just the home market, are relatively small.
Auto-Trail has the advantage of being part of the Trigano Group, with sister companies in France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia all building A-class motorhomes.
Whilst the new Grande Frontier was designed in the UK and is being built in Grimsby, the company has been able to call on expertise and components from other brands in the group.
The result of three years of development, this new Auto-Trail has a windscreen shared with an Italian motorhome, coach-style mirrors utilised by a French maker and a cab door from another existing model.
The Grande Frontier doesn’t look like any other A-class, though. The front mask (built using a closed mould for rigidity) incorporates full LED headlights and this is a handsome motorhome with the Auto-Trail DNA showing through in the flush-fitting roll-out awning and the rear-mounted, covered spare wheel.
The company has also played it safe with layouts, this range-topping GF-88 taking its floorplan wholesale from the Comanche. This 8.79m tag-axle is not expected to be a big seller (the GF-80 will outsell it), but it’s a fitting flagship for a trio of A-classes that are now being built by a dedicated team at the rate of one a week.
View the Grande Frontier GF-88 side on and you appreciate its sheer size but it isn’t too daunting to drive (at least until you look for somewhere to park!).
Forward visibility is excellent, with a relatively modest extra section of dashboard between the Fiat fascia and the deep windscreen, making its front corners easy to place.
The twin-lens mirrors give a good view aft and the reversing camera’s display on the 8in Xzent radio/sat-nav unit can be left on all the time, if you wish.
The tag-axle Al-Ko chassis has always been impossible to beat for stability on the motorway and that helps with driver confidence, too. It comes with a very firm ride, though, which can’t help but elicit a few rattles from the living area.
A lack of creaks or groans from the body is reassuring, however, and on road surfaces of respectable quality the Grande Frontier is fairly quiet. Where noise could be better suppressed is from the engine, which is more intrusive than you might expect in the lower gears.
Our test model came with the auto’ gearbox and top-spec 178bhp engine (an upgrade from 160bhp) – frankly, we’d be surprised if any GF-88 is ordered without this combination, which makes for relaxed driving and decent pace (it is a £5k option).
At least this is one luxury motorhome without a long list of options. This example also had leather upholstery and rear travel seats but the only other extra cost item of note is a satellite dish (at £1,000).
Even a Motorhome WiFi system and 100W solar panel are included.
There’s a lot of leather in this lounge because, where the GF-88 differs from the four-wheeled, 72cm shorter, GF-80 model, is in the size of its lounge.
This is a motorhome for those who like space to entertain. You could comfortably sit eight adults without anyone having to keep their elbows pinned to their sides.
As standard, the GF-88 comes with two straight settees but the LD Lounge option seen here replaces the offside sofa with an L-shape incorporating two high-backed forward-facing pews for passengers.
If anything, that enhances on-site comfort, too, but I did find the settees a tad higher than I’d have liked – they suit dining better than unwinding and are noticeably taller than the cab seats. Those are Fiat fittings with integral seatbelts and they rotate easily but cannot go through the full 180 degrees.
At mealtimes the free-standing table comes out of its compartment adjacent to the fridge and is easy to set up. It’s plenty big enough, too.
Interior lighting is excellent, with dimmable ambient illumination, LED strips and no less than six reading lights (including a pair on flexible leads over the cab chairs).
There are rear speakers as well, and new leather-style wall panels, but the rooflight is a simple push-up type rather than a wind-up version. A 21.5in Avtex smart TV is also fitted as standard, although you may not spot it initially as it’s neatly hidden behind a black roller shutter door in the entrance area.
Underneath the sofas there’s a lot of locker space, some of it (nearside) accessible from outside, all of it reachable by lifting seat cushions and bases.
Providing so much storage space has been made possible because the water tanks are underslung; they have 12V heating elements, but will still not be as fully winterised as in rivals with a double floor. And, of course, the Grande Frontier cannot match the stowage capacity of models with that basement space.
In standard form, the GF-88 (on a five-tonne chassis) has 1,000kg of payload, which will reduce only slightly with the automatic gearbox and rear travel seats fitted here.
If you want to make the most of that, you might be tempted by the HB (high bed) option, which trades less easy access to the bed for a taller garage. Whichever version you choose, the bed/garage height is fixed; there’s no clever up/down arrangement here.
In standard form, the garage has 840mm headroom and a width of between 790mm (nearside, more at floor level) and 650mm (offside, where the loading door is also smaller). A couple of lashing points are fitted on the floor and there’s a small LED light inside the nearside hatch, but no 12V or 230V power points.
On the offside, a section of the side skirt rises vertically, coach-style, to reveal the leisure batteries, the large-bore waste water drain, the mains hook-up point and a small amount of extra storage – ideal for your electric cable and the useful extension hose provided for the grey water outlet.
Both the cab and habitation doors (on UK sides, of course, unlike most A-classes) are linked to the remote central locking, which also automatically pops out the electric step for the habitation door.
The entrance features a bin and the traditional Auto-Trail brolly, but less welcome was the fact that the GF comes with four different keys (including the Fiat one).
As you enter this motorhome, the L-shaped galley is straight ahead. I can’t help feeling that this is deliberately the first thing you see as it’s likely to be a key selling point.
The Dometic cooker is an all-singing model with a mains hotplate and a separate grill and oven. There’s plenty of worktop, too – all in a stylish, slate-effect, textured finish.
The draining board is integral within the countertop and the cupboards below include two small drawers (one with divisions for cutlery), as well as a pull-out rack for tinned foods.
In the aisle, the galley’s roof vent has a two-way fan, while opposite the main kitchen unit is a Thetford two-door fridge/freezer that’s as big as you’ll find anywhere – 167 litres with automatic energy selection, of course.
Then, above that, is a Russell Hobbs 800W microwave – not that you’d know, because it’s concealed behind a black panel that matches the fridge.
There’s plentiful eye-level locker space in the kitchen, as well as over the lounge. The former includes plate/cup racks and the latter comes with wine glasses and bottle holders. It was a pity, though, that the cup holder came away from its fixings on test and the top lockers lack positive catches.
The bedroom and its en suite are up a step from the rest of the living area, but there are no further steps around the bed or into the facilities.
Like the smaller GF-80, the largest Grande Fontier comes only with a lengthways island bed for sleeping. We found a lot to like in the rear section of the model, beyond the toilet door that separates the vehicle into two rooms.
The bed itself is firm but very comfortable and the mattress is especially generous in length. It isn’t as severely radiused at the foot as some, either, but that hasn’t impaired space to manoeuvre yourself around the bedroom because the toilet and shower cubicle walls are curved.
As in the front of the motorhome, the lighting is more than comprehensive and a second large rooflight allows for ventilation. The stylish leather-look wall panels are repeated, too.
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Storage is plentiful with the usual his and hers wardrobes (incorporating a mirror on the nearside wardrobe door). There are two large drawers for folded clothes below the foot of the bed, while, unusually, you’ll also discover a pair of much smaller drawers under each side of the bed.
Lift the whole mattress and you’ll also find ‘secret’ storage that looks perfect for your cameras, laptop, etc.
USB ports by the nearside bedside table are another plus of sleeping on this side and there are power/aerial sockets provided on the nearside, too, should you wish add a second TV.
The toilet compartment has all the usual fittings – loo roll holder, toothbrush mug, towel ring and robe hooks – as well as plenty of leg and shoulder room when you’re sat on the swivel cassette loo. The cupboards include neat baskets for your toiletries, while a slither of worktop sits adjacent to the washbasin.
Arguably, the star feature, however, is the shower. Its shape disguises the generosity of its dimensions, which must be amongst the best in this class. Good water pressure completes an excellent shower, along with corner baskets for gel and shampoo. And there’s a clothes drying rail, too.
Full marks for the bedroom and en suite, then? Not quite. Two issues stop this half of the GF from getting unbridled praise. First, the raised floor back here reduces headroom to less than 6ft in the shower.
And, second, the overhead cupboards in the bedroom prevent you from sitting up in bed – such a shame when reading lights and a padded headboard are provided.
Of course, this being an A-class, there’s another double bed that swings down from the cab roof. This is lowered manually and it has a proven mechanism – you guessed it, from elsewhere in the Trigano Group.
The only thing it wants for is a roof vent directly above for summer nights, but it’s worth remembering that, when using the GF-88 as a four-berth, there’s no privacy screen between the en suite and the rear bedroom.
Finally, while the cab bed is manual, the windscreen blind is electric. It can be lowered (not all the way!) while driving, to act as a sun visor and, on site, you can open it from the top to let daylight in. It’s another detail that shows Auto-Trail has paid attention to its European sister marques.
Tel: 0345 366 6579