Limited storage means that the Nugget works best for shorter trips or for couples, rather than families, but the high-quality, automotive finish throughout puts the Nugget on a different level to many rivals. It might look a touch pricey but it is very well equipped and the twin sliding doors are a big plus. In the end, though, it’s the layout that will be the reason to buy.
Base vehicle: Ford Transit Custom Price from: £59,608 Berths: 4 Travel seats: 5 Length: 4.97m Width: 1.99m Height: 2.06m Gross weight: 3,240kg
Words and photos: Peter Vaughan
On the Continent, Ford has competed with the Volkswagen California and Mercedes Marco Polo in the campervan market over the past two decades or more.
Whilst there are plenty of Ford-based campers available here, and its previous-generation Nugget was sold in the UK in the early 2000s, you’ve never before been able to buy an official Ford campervan from its own British dealer network.
Finally, Ford has decided to market the Nugget in right-hand drive form, firstly with this short-wheelbase pop-top model and, later this year, with a longer Plus version that adds a cassette loo in the rear.
Unlike VW, Ford doesn’t build its campervan in-house, but outsources the conversion to Westfalia (which also builds the Marco Polo for Mercedes-Benz).
This is not a camper that you can directly compare to its two OEM rivals, though, because it eschews the usual side kitchen layout for something wholly different.
Not only that but, because it doesn’t have the galley along one side, Ford has been able to sidestep the criticism of its key competitors that the sliding door is on the ‘wrong’ side.
Yes, the RHD Nugget adopts a layout unchanged from the German market model and, yes, it has a door on the offside. Cleverly, though, Westfalia has added a second sliding door for British buyers.
So, you can exit the vehicle safely wherever you’re parked – and the layout here allows the tailgate to be an entrance, too (although you can’t open it from inside).
In the modern idiom, the Nugget doesn’t shout ‘campervan’ until you raise the elevating roof and wind out the standard-fit awning (on the offside). Subtle Nugget and Westfalia logos are all that mark it out from a Tourneo people-carrier and its 16in alloy wheels are quite modest.
It lacks the chrome-trimmed grille of top-spec Tourneos, too, and the Magnetic Grey paint here gives it quite a stealthy vibe – ideal for discreet off-grid camping, perhaps. Race Red, Saffron Yellow and Orange Glow are available for those who want to make a statement but, of the 11 colours listed, only white is included in the standard price.
At just under £60k, the Nugget is around £5,000 less than the cheapest VW California Ocean but that gap narrows if you upgrade to this 183bhp (185PS) model with six-speed automatic gearbox.
A 128bhp (130PS) motor and manual shift are the starting point for the Nugget, with the automatic only offered with the more potent power unit.
This is certainly the one to go for and we’d expect that 90% of buyers will be seduced by its easy driving and generous performance. No campervan buyer will ever be disappointed by the way this Ford drives, although its EcoBlue engine might be just a tad noisier than a VW and its cab plastics not as plush. Economy is similar to a 148bhp (150PS) VW T6 at about 35mpg.
Where the Ford scores is in feeling more modern and less van-like, while Westfalia’s sturdy, automotive-style quality means a total absence of rattles from the living area.
The (blast furnace-spec) heated cab seats have plenty of height adjustment and the steering wheel is small, leather-wrapped and reach-and-rake-adjustable.
There’s an 8in central touchscreen, too, with DAB radio, Bluetooth and a Ford Pass Connect embedded modem for on-board mobile WiFi. The display was upgraded here to the ICE Pack 25 (£912) with sat-nav, speed sign recognition (showing the current limit in the instrument cluster) and adaptive cruise control (which proved very effective at maintaining a suitable gap to the vehicle in front).
More essential, perhaps, is the Visibility Pack (£1,008) as it includes a reversing camera; without this, backing up might feel a bit too much like guesswork as the rear seat blocks a lot of your through vision.
We’ve rather got used to campervans having a rear-hinged pop-top, so it was a surprise, at first, to find the single catch to release the Nugget’s roof at the back.
Of course, it needs to be this way around to give maximum headroom (over 2.40m) where it’s needed most – in the kitchen. The roof rises manually with the aid of gas struts, but the standard-fit roof bed is lifted solely by your muscles and then clipped into its raised position.
Lowering the top back down is simple enough in terms of manpower but you do need to watch that you’re not leaving any material hanging outside like an untucked shirt.
With the roof raised, you can appreciate how different this Ford feels to the typical side kitchen camper. Lounge and kitchen areas are entirely separate, rather than sharing space, and a narrow offside aisle (possibly too narrow for some, at around 340mm minimum) allows commuting between the two.
The rear seat is excellent, with a comfortable backrest rake, a folding armrest on the offside and a full-width headrest. At 1.24m wide, it’s broader than the bench seat in almost any rival (bar my own CMC HemBil Urban) and, unlike most, it can genuinely seat three people. It even has Isofix for two child seats.
The cab chairs (with two armrests apiece) rotate without having to be raised first, but you’ll need to ensure their backrests are fairly upright if you want to avoid opening the doors. Then, you can add the remarkably lightweight table, which sits on an island leg and shows that such a system need not have all the stability of a party animal leaving a nightclub at closing time.
The tabletop stores behind the bench seat (pity it couldn’t have been incorporated into one of the sliding doors) and its leg goes under the settee.
It’s not the only table, either, as there’s an outdoor one included in the Nugget’s impressive spec, as well as two surprisingly luxurious camping chairs. The al fresco table stores on the inside of the tailgate.
Lighting is important in the Nugget as the side windows are quite heavily tinted and the charcoal-coloured upholstery seems a touch drab. In most aspects illumination is adequate and the dimming function was appreciated when I sat down to watch a film in the evening.
The floor-level LED strip and under-counter light in the kitchen are a talking point, too, but it’s a pity that the excellent reading lights provided for the upper bed are not repeated in the cab.
You’ll not want for daylight on a summer’s day, when opening both side doors for a through breeze could be idyllic, but ventilation was more restricted on this autumnal test as the sliding doors each have only a small, hinged opening section. More fresh air can be let in (and bug-free) via the three mesh panels in the rising roof but there is no way of letting light in up top without a breeze.
“That’s better than our camper,” proclaimed my wife, Katy, on spotting the Nugget’s kitchen, not so much for its facilities as the fact that she could prepare our nosh undisturbed.
The L-shaped galley here is quite unlike most other small campervans, but its Dometic two-burner hob and 40-litre top-loading compressor fridge are nothing out of the ordinary. More of a surprise is that the stainless-steel sink is fed with both hot and cold water (via a three-litre electric-only 12V/230V boiler).
The kitchen shelf, running across the vehicle behind the hob and sink, is a fantastically useful space for all manner of smaller items and it’s good to find that there’s a cutlery drawer, too. The fit and finish throughout is superb, but much of the rest of the galley storage will see you bending down to floor level.
Opposite the kitchen, in the offside corner, is a wardrobe that’s a practical size for a couple’s needs. It has shelves inside, as well as a hanging rail, and it comes with two doors, the second for loading from outside, via the tailgate.
Forward of the wardrobe is a deep, top-loading cupboard that looks ideal for cereal packets and bottles of pop – plus a Ford-branded brolly clipped into place just inside the door.
Under the wardrobe is a cupboard for a toilet, but it needs to be the right one – a Dometic 976 fits, apparently, but our Porta Potti didn’t.
Next, you’ll find a much larger space under the bench seat. There’s a stay to hold the base up while you retrieve your gear – mains lead, levelling wedges, hose and silver screens for the cab windows all lived here and we still had some space left over in this three-section locker.
The largest single storage space, however, is the one behind the settee’s backrest (under the transverse section of kitchen). On the Nugget’s delivery we found the outdoor chairs here, as well as the internal table, but we had to eject the former in order to stow our duvet and pillows.
In more conventional side kitchen layouts, there’s usually a large rear boot area for bulky gear and that’s where the Nugget can’t compete. If you want to carry a free-standing awning, for example, it will have to travel on the floor in the kitchen.
Keeping your duvet rolled up behind the bench seat means that you simply need to unfurl it onto the bed at shut-eye time. But first you need to convert the lounge into a bedroom – and that’s easy.
First of all, the cab seats need to be pushed close to the dashboard (and facing either inwards or forwards). Next, the rear seat simply slides forward and then folds flat.
Between here and the kitchen there’s a section of mattress that hinges up into position to complete a bed that’s 1.90m long – even longer if you place your pillow on the cab seats adjacent.
Heads have to go to the front of the camper and feet tuck under the galley, where there’s around 290mm clearance for your tootsies (but considerably less – about 180mm – where the mini-boiler intrudes into this space on the nearside). There are no noticeable ridges in the mattress and I found it comfy, but my better half thought it too firm.
The roof bed is bigger, taking advantage of the extra width of the Ford versus the VW (especially so at roof level) and more comfortable, too, as it has the luxury of Froli plastic springs under its mattress. Another plus is the ladder (stored on the inside of the wardrobe door) that makes for easier roof bed access than in just about any rear-hinged elevating roof model.
Don’t think of this necessarily as the kids’ bed; I spent my first night in the Nugget up here and found it a joy to come ‘downstairs’ in the morning to a breakfast table set up from the night before.
Obviously, as with any fabric-sided roof, the upper bed won’t be for all-season use but, in mid-October, I was happy to leave the diesel-fired heating blowing enough warm air into the living area to keep me comfortable.
Better still, the heater (like the top-loading compressor fridge) is controlled from a simple control panel above the rear-view mirror. Just dial in your desired temperature and forget – and the blown-air heating is another standard feature of the Nugget.