There are many ways in which the new 680 SG excels but its storage – both in capacity and well-thought-out design – is the stand-out element. And there’s lots more here to love, from the massive Duo Bed to the well-appointed galley, from the top-notch quality to Frankia trademark touches like the built-in water hose and mains lead. The only thing missing, perhaps, is a Mercedes-based version.
Base vehicle: Fiat Ducato Al-Ko Price from: £89,195 Berths: 2 Travel seats: 4 Length: 6.98m Width: 2.30m Height: 3.06m Payload: 870kg
Frankia’s I 640 SD is one of a dying breed of A-class motorhomes where overall dimensions are kept reasonably modest, the lounge is at the front and the main bed is the one that drops down from the cab roof.
Blame the continental fixation with island bed and permanent single bed floorplans for the fact that big guns of the A-class world have recently dropped their competitors in this sector (UK sales alone are insufficient to keep these models alive). But for relative minnow, Frankia, there isn’t the same obsession with high volume demand for every model, so not only is the 640 SD still part of the 2019 line-up but now it has an even more appealing sister, the 680 SG.
In motorhome lingo a ‘G’ invariably means a garage, so the 680 SG answers the one key criticism of its forebear in affirmative style with a full-sized bike-swallowing locker in the tail. In the process, overall length grows from 6.45m to 6.98m but that still leaves it as one of the more modest motorhomes in the F-Line range, although you’d never guess so from the facilities and feeling of space on board.
So, this is a smaller Frankia but not a lesser one. It’s still a £100k motorhome with all the features that make this German brand stand out. And, while the standard spec is a 3,850kg gross weight, most buyers will go for the 4,500kg upgrade. Even with a host of desirable options, that still ensures a payload of around 870kg as tested.
You’ll want a good weight capacity for there’s plenty of room to store all your gear, starting with that garage, which – in typical Frankia style – boasts three exterior doors. There’s a smaller hatch on the nearside, a full-sized one on the offside and a gaping 1.30m by 1.15m hole revealed when you lift the top-hinged door in the rear.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s a large internal door into the garage, too – never again will you struggle to find, or reach, anything you’ve stowed. That could include a small motorcycle as headroom is 1.24m and the chassis extends right under the garage floor. Inside, the practical non-slip flooring covers not just the garage but the whole of the (35cm high) double floor void, which also nestles the (150-litre) fresh and (130-litre) waste water tanks inboard for full winterisation.
Taking a look along the offside, you’ll find the external barbecue point, as well as a home for a spare toilet cassette (so useful when you’re camping away from site facilities) and it’s not long before you start to appreciate the superiority of Frankia’s fit and finish. Thermo Guard Plus wood-free construction with a full GRP exterior is now standard across the Frankia range, while side walls include metal rods to which furniture is affixed, enhancing rigidity.
On the nearside, there’s also access into the basement storage, as well as a servicing door for the boiler and an external shower attachment, but more unusual are the built-in mains lead on a reel and, further to the rear, the service hatch with grey waste hose and a fresh water hose for easy filling of the fresh water tank. At Frankia these are long-established practical touches and there’s even a separate top-up facility for the water if you can’t get near a tap, or don’t want to move the motorhome.
If the way a door closes is a measure of build quality then the habitation entrance certainly thunks closed with authority. Then you climb an external step (with auto retraction) and two internal steps to reach an interior of restrained opulence. Frankia offers six interior design options (this one is called Marble), but then goes down the really bespoke route with 35 different colours of leather, four worktops, five scatter cushions, six curtains, and so on. Whatever décor you choose, there’s a flat floor throughout the living area (with removable carpets as part of the UK Pack) and a large underfloor well for your shoes as you enter.
Before discussing the 680’s layout, let’s hit the road. Of course, as an F-Line model it’s a Fiat power unit up front (M-Lines are Mercedes-based). Standard spec is the 130bhp motor but the High Chassis Pack fitted here adds another 20 horses. In fact, the pack is nothing to do with raising the structure and everything to do with increasing the spec. For your £3,000 you also get a 120-litre fuel tank, cruise control, cab air-conditioning, a multi-function leather steering wheel, chromed dials, twin airbags and reinforced front springs.
On the road, the overriding impression is of the panoramic view forward, combined with superb comfort from the SKA captain’s chairs with tiltable, extendable squabs, height adjustment and built-in seatbelts. Twin-lens, bus-type mirrors and a reversing camera take care of the view aft, while the wipers do a better job of clearing the huge glass area than in some A-classes.
The 150bhp engine is the right choice for a vehicle of this calibre but we still have reservations over the sometimes-hesitant Comfort-Matic gearbox. The ride is typically firm Fiat with resultant precise handling, but also a few rattles on poor surfaces.
And, as with many right-hand drive A-classes, the gas locker intrudes next to the driver’s seat, making access to the handbrake quite tight.
When you park up, the cab chairs spin around easily and rise up to match the height of the settees. The two sofas (longer on the nearside) make for an open-plan lounge, with plenty of daylight via the wind-up Heki sunroof and the huge windscreen. The cab windows are only single-glazed but the driver’s one slides open easily and the electric window in the passenger door has one-touch operation. If you want extra privacy, the windscreen’s (manual) blind can be lowered a little from the top to allow daylight in while keeping prying eyes out.
Both cab chairs rotate through a full 180 degrees, so you can rest your feet on the settees and face the 22in Avtex telly with soundbar, which, along with the reversing camera, Blaupunkt DAB radio with sat-nav and TV aerial, form the SMC Media Pack (another £3,000 option).
It’s a comfortable lounge in which to relax, especially on the nearside where the captain’s chairs recline is not restricted by the steering wheel and the settee has a cosy corner backrest. Reading lights (art deco style with the Frankia logo) serve all four corners of the lounge and there are rear speakers for the stereo.
The table is the usual permanent fixture of a continental motorhome but its size can be extended with a pop-up centre section (maybe when you’re entertaining guests) and it can twist and slide in all directions. Parked over to the offside, it in no way hinders access through to the cab, but in use it is a steady platform for dining.
The lounge has one final fling of innovation in the way that the settees convert into face-forward belted travel seats. The offside transformation, complete with swiveling seat base and slot-in headrest, is particularly clever but the resultant seat is short of legroom. There’s a lot more room on the offside but it still seems slightly odd putting your feet into a now-unlidded seat box.
With no fixed bed, the Frankia’s only sleeping space is the drop-down one above the cab. Or should that be ‘power-down’? There’s nothing so basic as manual operation here, as a switch (hidden behind a panel above the door, along with the main controls and Truma LCD display) deploys the bed on its 25-second descent. And, if you’re content with a 1.92m by 1.40m transverse double, that’s job done.
Again, though, Frankia offers a better solution – the optional Duo Bed. Once the bed is lowered, you can now pull the base rearwards (manually) and slot in a pair of extra cushions to create a 1.99m by 1.92m mattress on which you can sleep lengthways (and thus easily climb out without disturbing your partner).
Either way, the bed is supremely comfortable, with plenty of headroom and a roof vent above. There are reading lights, too, and a large shelf with useful adjacent USB port. The Duo bed’s extra cushions and your (folded) duvet can stay in situ with the bed stowed, but you’ll need to move your pillows.
It’s not often that you’ll see a UK-style full cooker with mains hot plate, three gas rings, a grill and separate oven in an A-class, but that’s what you get here if you tick the box marked ‘UK Pack – £2,350’.
Of course, the cooker isn’t that expensive; the pack also gets you removable carpets throughout, external shower and barbecue points, a 120W solar panel, gas/electric heating and – even rarer in a motorhome like this – a microwave (hidden in a cupboard above the fridge).
Naturally, you also get the desirable European-style touches like a 160-litre automatic energy selection fridge/freezer and lots of large soft-close drawers, as well as Frankia features such as high-quality hinges mounted onto steel frames for the top lockers and a metal tap with extension hose.
But by far and away my favourite kitchen aspect is the storage – lots of it, including three shelved pull-out pantry units for tins, cereal packets, etc (one high and one low alongside the galley and another opposite, under the TV).
We’ve come across end washroom layouts combined with a garage before, albeit rarely in an A-class, and not with a rear window (which here allows a lighter, more open feel towards the rear of the layout).
With a good-sized shower cubicle (complete with glass doors and fancy lighting) on the offside and a toilet compartment opposite you might think you’ve seen it all before, until you open the toilet door.
The toilet area wall (including its door) swings around to close off the back of the motorhome as a full-width washroom. Now there’s plenty of space to use all the facilities, as well creating a changing room. The largest wardrobe (with high and low-level hanging rails and removable shelves) is outside the washroom, next to the fridge, and there’s lots more clothing storage here.
Alongside the shower is a second wardrobe with slide-out hanging rail, as well as another pull-out unit for folded clothes.
Then, in the opposite corner is yet more shelved space, with double access (doors side and front). With plenty of washroom storage, too, and even a neat little slot-in shelf next to the basin, Frankia really has thought of somewhere for everything.
And, when you’ve finished your ablutions, you can fold the wall back around and enjoy a more spacious-feeling motorhome with a view right to the back - and beyond through the rear window.
This review was originally published in the July 2019 issue of MMM - click here to buy a digital version of the magazine.