This isn’t the first time we’ve been impressed by a Dreamer campervan but this one needs a more detailed examination to prove its talents. The size of its main bed, its generally spacious feel and its kitchen storage and worktop are all big pluses, but it’s the contemporary design and quality of finish that complete an excellent all-round package at a sensible price.
Base vehicle: Fiat Ducato Price from: £54,100 Berths: 3 Travel seats: 4 Length: 5.99m Width: 2.05m Height: 2.59m Gross weight: 3,500kg Payload: 485kg
Words and photos: Peter Vaughan
As sure as night follows day, a continental campervan in the six-metre class will have a fixed bed at the rear. But, with so many makers offering ostensibly similar models, it can be down to the details to make all the difference. Whether that’s Knaus’ rear seat that extends sideways, Malibu’s porthole windows, Pilote’s slide-away cassette toilet, or Laika’s folding table, there are multiple differences there to help you pick one over another.
Of course, Dreamer hopes its new D51, from its more premium Select range, is the one you’ll, err, select but, as if to emphasise the sheer variety in this sector, that means the Gallic maker now has six models in this 5.99m length of Fiat panel van (plus two 5.41m offerings and a further half-a-dozen 6.36m campervans). At least this Rapido Group company – and campervan specialist – has a history of innovation in the sector, but neither the on-paper first impressions of the floorplan, nor the physical sight of the D51 emerging from Wokingham Motorhomes’ storage building got my pulse racing.
Of course, this is the very first time I’ve seen this new model, with Covid having prevented our attendance at the launch in Mayenne in northern France, as well as sounding the death knell for last October’s NEC show.
Now, in the grey light of December in Berkshire, the silver-grey paintwork struggles to stand out, even though this example has been equipped with optional 16in alloy wheels. Perhaps, it’s because there’s just one habitation window on each side and the graphics are soooo subtle.
Opening the sliding door is enough to raise my spirits. This new Serenity interior finish not only looks premium but very contemporary, too. There are handleless, gloss white top lockers, a textured finish below and there’s solid wood edging to the table and kitchen counter.
Before I have noticed all the aesthetics, the awning light has come on as I plipped the remote central locking and the step has automatically extended as I slid the door open. Then, there’s an additional handle inside to make closing the big panel so much easier. Such details really matter. And that’s before I’ve flicked all the lights on.
There’s illumination everywhere: under the galley at floor level, around the dinette’s side window, in the ceiling and below the top lockers, plus swivel reading lights for both cab seats. With every LED switched on, the lack of natural light outside is soon forgotten.
I can’t help noticing, though, that this D51 adopts the halfway house we’ve seen in some rival models – a full-height walk-through into the cab but no sunroof overhead. The Skyview is an optional extra that Wokingham Motorhomes says it would usually spec on this model but, even without it, there’s a palpable feeling of extra space simply because there’s no headroom-reducing overcab shelf.
The clear view through the interior on the offside is another aspect that gives the Dreamer a greater impression of room to enjoy the vanlife. We’ve seen this before, of course, but not having any tall furniture on this side, in contrast to the company’s popular D55, does make for a far more open feel.
Here, it also results in a much more expansive kitchen worktop, even though there’s no folding extension by the door. You won’t miss that because there’s plenty of preparation space and you won’t find yourself squeezing past a flap to get in or out. Indeed, if you’re already enjoying the al fresco life, the 84-litre compressor fridge is accessible from outside – its door doesn’t hinge from either side but it can swing through a full 180 degrees when the campervan door has been slid back. You can lift the table out and clip it to the back of the galley for dining outside, too, although it’s worth noting that you can’t then deploy the flyscreen to keep the biters and stingers outside.
The kitchen’s comprehensive countertop – it measures 1.39m from end to end – isn’t its only A-grade feature, either. There are three super-sized drawers, complete with partition rails to keep everything in its place. A tin/bottle rack pulls out alongside and all four sliding storage sections are locked centrally, with just the flick of a switch – one that’s handily illuminated red (don’t drive) and green (locked and ready to go).
With a waste bin in the bottom drawer, a smart gas-on-glass hob with a solid cover (more worktop!), an almost domestic stainless-steel sink with high-quality metal tap, and little wall recesses for tea towels, etc, the D51 is starting to win me over. Then I spot the deep upstands inside each of the top cupboards, so their contents should stay put after a drive through the Alps – the sort of detail that shows real understanding of motorhome use.
Most of the optional items fitted to this example favour the Fiat base vehicle – a last-of-the-line pre-facelift model. The prices we’ve quoted reflect the fact that future production will be on the new Series 8 Ducato, while this Dreamer also benefited from the optional Comfort + Pack (Traction+, Hill Descent Control, height-adjustable cab seats with armrests, a painted front bumper, flyscreen door and an Alpine DAB radio with 7in screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, its screen also serving for the reversing camera).
Then, the Safety Pack adds automatic lights and wipers, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and an emergency braking system.
On the latest cab, you can go even further with new-fangled features. The Easy Driving Pack includes adaptive cruise control, the Macadam Pack adds keyless starting and an electric parking brake and the Control Pack features electrically folding mirrors and blind spot detection. Spec’d as here, though, the D51 seems well-priced by the standards of 2022, its sub-£63k total including the expensive (but highly desirable) nine-speed automatic gearbox.
It also seemed to be kitted out ideally for the wintry conditions of our test. A 25mm Styrofoam floor and XHP insulation are standard, as is a diesel-fired Truma Combi boiler. Here, however, that had been upgraded to a 230V and diesel system with the higher 6kW output, while the underfloor waste tank had the optional insulation. The fresh water is inboard as you’d expect (under the rear bed on the nearside).
Talking of beds, here’s another aspect where the D51 does things a little differently. For a start, this is a big bed – although our data shows a mattress of 1.85m long, the usable length between Ducato’s walls is a more impressive 1.94m, as Dreamer trims the sides to take advantage of the Fiat’s curves. More unusually, the bed is 1.52m (fully five feet) wide, with no reduction in breadth to one end or the other.
The only compromise is that the wardrobe overhangs your duvet on the nearside – if you have size 11 feet you might need to check out the 270mm gap from the furniture to the mattress.
With sleeping comfort assured, it’s perhaps a shame that the overhead lockers stop you sitting up in the morning, but you can at least switch on the ‘Zoe Ball Breakfast Show’ without emerging from the duvet, thanks to remote radio controls above your pillow. A radio speaker, twin USBs, a roof vent and reading lights also feature in this bedroom.
Many campervan rear beds of this ilk fold up to one side, but here the slatted bed bases slide fore and aft. One advantage is that the mattress is only divided lengthways, another that you have easy access to half the stowage space (and the gas locker) without going outside. Opening the rear barn doors reveals another plus – a largely uninterrupted load area with 670mm headroom and heavy duty chequerplate flooring. From this side, the sliding bed base is more useful, too, as it allows tall items (such as bikes) to be carried.
You can also remove the divider splitting the under-bed compartment and even the panel at the front of the bed, so really long items can extend into the living area. Even the bed bases and mattresses just lift out if you’re planning a major Ikea expedition. A good deal of thought seems to have gone into making this camper’s garage both practical and versatile.
On the face of it, the lounge is the most typical aspect of the D51. After all, here is another half-dinette combined with swivel cab seats. The differences start with the rather automotive part-cloth, part-faux-leather (which Rapido Group calls TEP) upholstery.
More significant, though, is the car-like shape to the back seat, which feels a lot more supportive than the flat bench seen in some rivals. Better still, the base cushion extends to give extra support for those with longer legs, even if it doesn’t alter the angle of the fairly upright backrest. The head restraints are height-adjustable, too, but there are no Isofix mountings.
There’s almost no storage under the rear seat, either, as this space is used to accommodate the Combi boiler and the twin leisure batteries (two 100Ah units being another plus).
The table slides along its wall rail, but is rather heavy to move out of the way or to reposition outside. Rather better is the swing-out leaf that serves the swivelled driver’s chair.
So, the D51 has four seats for travel and, at a pinch, room for a quartet on site as well. It also offers a third berthas standard, although the infill cushion that turns the lounge into a bedroom does take up a lot of room, unless you simply lie it loose on top of the rear bed.
First job when making up the front bed is to reposition the table onto a lower rail, then it’s simply a matter of unfolding the infill cushion and its support legs. You end up with an adult- sized single bed, running across the campervan and blocking the sliding door. As a bed, it works well but its position will probably render it suitable for just occasional use.
You’ll have no such concerns about the washroom. This space is where you’d anticipate it – on the nearside, between the dinette and the bed – and it’s sited behind a sliding tambour door for convenient access. But appearance-wise, it’s a cut above the norm with its wooden duckboard, stylish circular basin, storage recesses in the wall (even if shampoo bottles, deodorants, etc, have to lie on their sides within), and waterfall-style tap. It has a drying rail in the ceiling, too.
The Duo’Space washroom comes into its own, though, when you release the curved wall behind the basin from its magnet and hinge it to the left, creating a shower cubicle that isn’t huge, but will be a lot more usable for many than one enclosed by a clingy curtain. There’s a shelf for your shower gel (and a strap to keep it there), but you’ll want to try this space for size before you buy.
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