This new Autograph is a very well-equipped motorhome with much more than the Al-Ko chassis and Alde heating to shout about. It’s well-priced, too, at under £60k, and this new 79-2F layout is a particularly spacious and comfortable two-berth – as it should be at nearly 8m long. Access to the bed and its narrowness at the foot are bugbears but there’s always the island bed 79-4I to consider instead.
Base vehicle: Peugeot Boxer Al-Ko Price from: £57,999 Berths: 2 Travel seats: 2 Length: 7.93m Gross weight: 3,850kg
Bailey is one of the few major motorhome manufacturers to eschew an annual cycle of updates across its range. Instead, models get revamped (or new layouts added) as customer and dealer feedback dictates. And that’s why we’re looking at a prototype for the new, third-generation Autograph three years after the last facelift.
This is still Bailey’s big seller, despite being its more expensive range but, with prices starting at around £55k, value for money remains a strongpoint. Here is a motorhome line-up which, to all intents and purposes, has no options list. It comes highly specified, with not even an engine upgrade to tempt you (just a choice of soft furnishings). And, being based on a Peugeot Boxer, it’s a manual gearbox only, too.
If you’re happy changing gears – and most motorhomers are – the new Autograph has plenty to offer, including a range of layouts from just under seven metres to slightly over eight.
There are models with two, four or six travel seats and floorplans designed for couples or families.
In the mix are two new additions, the 79-2F (tested here) and 79-4F, both with a French bed/end washroom layout but differing in how many seatbelts/berths are supplied.
The new Autograph remains clearly a Bailey and is still the Bristol-based manufacturer’s most attractively styled motorhome range. In this third incarnation, we see a return to a black Boxer cab (officially, it’s Graphite) and with new Slate Grey side walls, distinctive bronze metallic graphics and new ‘diamond cut’ alloy wheels. With a Thule Omnistor awning, 100W solar panel and external 230V and barbecue sockets fitted as standard, the 2020-season model makes a great first impression, only slightly contradicted by habitation windows that sit proud of the bodywork, rather than having neater framed glazing.
This Autograph is a lot of motorhome for £57,999, with both width (2.42m) and length (7.93m) being greater than many rivals. But it also sits lower than most (at 2.71m) thanks to the Al-Ko chassis, which also keeps the floor low and does away with the need for any external step.
The habitation entrance features a flyscreen, central locking, a new backlit grab handle and useful locker just inside (under the fridge) that’s perfect for footwear.
Once inside, you’ll find a floorplan that’s a relative rarity in 2020, although Bailey also offers more fashionable island bed and single bed/garage layouts in the same body size. For the 79-2F, though, it’s the combination of a French bed (hence the ‘F’) and a full-width end washroom.
Up front, there’s a classic side settee lounge, which, with no travel seats, makes this a pure two-berth. If you need four seatbelts, look at the £1,000-dearer 79-4F, which comes with a half-dinette lounge (and the possibility of turning this into a second double bed). The only drop-down bed is found in the six-berth Autograph 81-6.
While the 79-2F benefits from the results of Bailey’s crash-testing programme (including chassis outriggers and additional fastenings for ovens and fridges), these features become even more important in the four-berth. And it’s worth noting that ESP and twin airbags are standard, while the reversing camera (using the radio/sat-nav display) could save you from minor (but potentially expensive) accidents. After all, you wouldn’t want to spoil that attractive rear with its new sequential indicators, Audi style.
The Autograph’s extra width, combined with an open-plan lounge with no fixed table (there was no table in this prototype as it was being refined before production and, when finished, it will store in the wardrobe) and a large opening overcab sunroof (now with backlit surround) make for a very spacious feel.
It’s also worth noting that the bedroom is more on show in this layout than some, creating a one-room feeling, although a concertina screen can be pulled across to make the rear bedroom area private.
Shown here is the optional Portobello upholstery with a tweedy feel and faux leather highlights on the cab seats. The settees themselves have a more rounded look, with a matching curve to the seat base nearest the door where you might otherwise catch your leg on a hard edge.
With ambient lighting over the top lockers and new flexible reading lights in the cab (with built-in USB ports), plus pleated blinds and contrasting scatter cushions, it’s a lounge in which you’ll want to do just that. You can spin the cab seats through a full 180 degrees and get your toes up on the settees if you’re a twosome, or there’s room for six when you feel sociable.
I liked the JVC speakers neatly recessed into the bulkhead on either side of the cab, too, although it’s surprising to find no bracket for a TV (sockets are fitted in the nearside eye-level locker).
Overhead, there’s a basic, push-up rooflight and, while the deep under-settee lockers impress, I’d have liked easier access to these – there are no drop-fronts, nor any stays to support the bases. And then we come to the new top lockers – still with extra-wide doors and with a new Cashmere high-gloss finish, but now without any positive locking. You’ll need to reserve these for lightweight items (so nothing bursts out when cornering) and, in use, the doors felt rather unsubstantial.
You step down from the lounge into the kitchen area. Headroom thus increases from 1.88m to a top-hat-accommodating 2.02m, but there are no other steps and you’ll find a hidden storage area in the lounge floor (with the leisure battery, but no room for a second one, below that).
At first, the kitchen area looks reasonably compact, but one new feature above all else won me over – and if you’ve ever wondered about the practicality of glass-lidded appliances, it’ll get your vote, too. Here, then, the Thetford Caprice cooker – with three gas rings, a mains hotplate, separate grill and oven – gets a proper worktop cover. Then, alongside the sink (now with concealed fixings) is another slab of preparation space. There’s room to site a kettle (two 230V sockets are handily placed) even when the removable draining board is in use and the sink also comes with an inset plastic bowl.
Behind is a rather fancy, Autograph-emblazoned splashback, while above is an 800W microwave. Overall, it’s a stylish, practical culinary space that’s only marred by the shallow kitchen drawers, which aren’t deep enough for dinner plates or pans as the external gas locker intrudes into this area.
Perhaps the best feature (certainly the most newsworthy), is the 153-litre fridge/freezer opposite. Not only does the Dometic 10-Series unit come with automatic energy selection but also the new open-from-either-side doors.
In a size of motorhome where twin beds over a garage or an island double often seem like the only options, it’s refreshing to see an alternative, but let’s deal with the elephant in the room first – like any French bed, the sleeper next to the wall will have to climb over their partner to get to the toilet. That, and the greatly reduced bed width at the foot, are the obvious downsides here.
Otherwise, there’s much to like in this bedroom, from the luxurious mattress to the reading lights and speakers above, from the corner shelves for drinks, specs, etc, to the ability to comfortably sit up in bed, aided by the padded headboard.
Under the bed is a generous storage area, with some of it given over to the Alde heating. Exterior access to this area through a side hatch is limited as the hatch is rather small (it’s restricted by the wheelarch). The bed base is fitted with gas struts to assist lifting it to gain access from inside.
There are more top lockers above the bed and opposite the foot of the bed is an illuminated wardrobe with particularly generous hanging height (1.25m). Before you get your ballgown out, of course, there’s a vanity area with mirror, worktop and 230V socket (for hair dryer, etc), so you can make sure you’re looking your best.
And that all comes after you’ve finished in the washroom, which runs the full width of the motorhome, behind the bed. Of course, there are plenty of island bed models now that offer ablutions space right across the ’van, but they require folding doors to be deployed – here it’s a walk-in washroom that’s always ready.
Open the washroom door and ahead of you, in the corner, is the swivel toilet with almost unlimited leg and shoulder-room. Then there’s the biggest horizontal mirror I think I’ve ever seen in a motorhome, complete with a shelf for toiletries and a substantial worktop. Inset is a new basin with push-down/pop-up plug.
There’s loads of cupboard space – you could stock a small branch of Boots in here – and, finally, of course, in the rear nearside corner is the separate shower. It’s a really good size (no diet required!) and has headroom of over two metres, plus its own roof vent and a folding rail for wet clothes. The only absentee is a shelf or recess for your shower gel.
I was appreciative of the Autograph’s Alde heating system, which soon had the whole motorhome very cosy in silence and without a dry feeling to the air.
Insulated fresh and waste water tanks should cope with most of the UK’s winter, too. And also underneath is a spare wheel – so much more useful than a can of gunk.
So far, we’ve barely mentioned the base vehicle and that’s because, while it won’t look any different, this prototype was built on an end-of-the-line Euro 6b cab with the 2-litre, 160bhp motor. All production models of the new Autograph will come on the latest Peugeot Boxer with its 2.2-litre, 165bhp, Euro 6d engine.
However, to be thorough as ever, I did take the new Bailey out on a test drive from the Bristol factory into the Mendip Hills – and I’d discovered a very fine handling motorhome, that low Al-Ko chassis providing a reassuring lack of lean and great stability on twisty roads – a world away from rivals built on a standard-height Fiat/Peugeot chassis.
The 160bhp motor gave punchy performance, too, though admittedly we were running unladen.
With five more horsepower and 20Nm more torque, the production versions should perform well.
As this was a prototype built on the outgoing Peugeot, we know some of the elements we noticed in this model will never be seen by buyers of the production versions. With this in mind, I expect one element to be addressed is the squeaks and rattles I noticed while driving this prototype.
Also, before buying, do take a test drive – this rule applies whatever you’re considering – as the Bailey Autograph range has a wider body (2.42m) than many rivals.