IH has built up an enviable reputation for its high-end campervans and the new 680 CFL could be its best design yet. The lounge is especially appealing, but the kitchen and washroom both impress, too, and the rear boot is a practical feature that’s typically IH. Not everyone will want a campervan this long but, for coachbuilt owners wanting to downsize, it has a lot to offer, not least the VW’s superb road manners.
Base vehicle: VW Crafter Price from: £72,895 Berths: 2 Travel seats: 2 Length: 6.84m Gross weight: 3,500kg
Words and photos by Peter Vaughan
As the campervan market grows, so does the size of some of the vehicles. Where once six metres was as big as panel van-based leisure vehicles got before buyers decided coachbuilt was the way to go, now the extra-long (6.36m) Fiat/Peugeot is, perhaps, the norm and we see campers based on the Mercedes Sprinter and VW Crafter vans, which are close to 7m in length.
It’s not hard to see the appeal. You retain the narrower body of a van, which is much easier to drive on city streets and country lanes, while also benefiting from the structural advantages of an all-steel body built to automotive standards. Some prefer the looks, too, as well as factors such as the wide palette of exterior colours.
Meanwhile, going for a longer base van can result in near-coachbuilt levels of interior space, resulting in more choice of layouts and more facilities – plus less compromise for those downsizing from a larger low-profile or A-class.
IH is just one company that has responded to this trend and now offers a choice of front or rear lounge two-berth layouts on the 6.84m VW Crafter. It has even adapted its N-Class concept (where both side and rear doors of the commercial van are replaced) to the Volkswagen.
Driving this Crafter-based IH puts most coachbuilts to shame. In fact, I jumped out of a much smaller VW Transporter T6.1 campervan and straight into the IH and the first impression was one of familiarity.
The newly facelifted little vee-dub and its big brother have a lot in common in their cab design and general on-road feel and there’s nothing about the bigger van to suggest a step down in quality, ergonomics or comfort. And anyone who’s owned a T5 or T6 will know that’s a huge compliment.
The Crafter remains the best larger motorhome base by some margin. The Mercedes Sprinter might grab your attention with its tech – and especially the MBUX multimedia display – but the VW has more driver appeal.
It impresses from the get-go with cab seats that cosset with tilting squabs, lots of height variation (you can get down nice and low for a less lorry-like feel) and even electric lumbar support adjustment. All the controls are clear and easy to use, too, in typical Volkswagen fashion.
The test campervan was a Trendline 177 manual. IH only builds on the higher-spec model (rather than the Startline), which comes as standard with Composition Media with an 8in touchscreen display, cruise control, multifunction steering wheel and electric/heated mirrors, as well as Front Assist and City Emergency Braking, Crosswind Assist and a driver alert system.
The 175bhp (177PS) engine is an upgrade over the standard 138bhp (140PS) unit and both engines are available with either a six-speed manual gearbox or (at £1,500 more) an eight-speed torque converter automatic. We’ve tried the excellent auto before, but I also enjoyed the slick manual shift here.
However, the more powerful motor seems a no-brainer at just a £1,500 supplement – it gave effortless acceleration (thanks to a massive 410Nm torque output) to keep up with the cars on the A1.
On smaller roads the long wheelbase gives this motorhome a smooth ride accompanied by great stability and it’s only when you venture up a dead-end road looking for a photo opportunity and need to perform a 15-point turn that the extra length seems like a downside. At least I had the Driver Assistance Pack A on my side – a £1,020 option that not only adds front and rear parking sensors but side protection, too.
Long before that manic manoeuvring, I’d succumbed to the big German’s charms, aided and abetted by a host of other tasty (if pricey in typical VW style) options – LED headlights (£1,116), Climatic air-conditioning (£1,746), sat-nav (£888) and best of all on a wintry test drive – a heated leather steering wheel!
Our test campervan is the third model to join IH’s Crafter-based range and the nomenclature here is easy to understand – 680 indicates the length (almost half-a-metre more than the longest Fiat-based IH), C is for Crafter and FL means front lounge. The other VW models are the 600 CRL and 680 CRL – translate for yourselves…
FL might also mean ‘fully loaded’, though, because (as tested) this is £84,430-worth of motorhome. That figure includes a 4m awning, half-leather upholstery (an IH trademark touch but actually a £995 option), gloss interior doors, alloy wheels and an 18.5in TV with Freeview.
Another IH signature is the GRP rear panel, which replaces the factory barn doors, incorporates a single double-glazed window and has an opening boot. A £3,500 option on IH’s rear lounge layouts, it’s included as standard here and does wonders for the leisure vehicle look of the motorhome.
It’s practical, too, as the boot opens on gas struts to reveal an L-shaped compartment across the full width of the campervan that’s over a metre deep on the nearside and has an internal height of 820mm. There’s plenty of room in here for your outdoor chairs, levelling wedges, mains lead, wellies, etc.
For a non-fixed bed campervan to have so much storage is unusual, but building a camper of this size and quality comes at a cost – weight. IH had not yet weighed the test vehicle but a previous show model had a payload of just 274kg (allowing for fuel and driver but no water). Be careful if you’re considering further options such as the automatic gearbox, a satellite TV system or bike rack (for which a towbar is required).
White wouldn’t be my choice of paint colour but Indium Grey, Reflex Silver and Deep Black are offered as options and, likewise, the interior can be tailored to your taste with different fabrics, leathers, wood or grey furniture finishes and bold or classical colour schemes.
External graphics are not overpowering and habitation windows are all the upmarket framed type – top-hinged, too, apart from aft of the side door where a sliding window avoids any clash when opening the entrance. The step here automatically retracts on start up.
Slide back the full-height door and facing you is an L-shaped settee that’s as comfortable as it looks. It’s another factor in the appeal of big campervans like this as you can enjoy those summer days, sitting inside with a great view of the outside world.
The cab chairs join in the lounge, too. You sit higher here, with the driver’s chair rotated through 90 degrees and the passenger seat turned the full 180. In the former it’s tempting to put your feet up on the opposing front seat but, if you’re in the passenger chair, there’s an extended section of raised floor so that your feet don’t dangle. You could even stow a couple of pairs of shoes under here.
The sofa – long and luxurious, with matching XL-sized scatter cushions – is eminently suitable for sprawling, too, and it’s here that you’ll sit to dine.
Above – recessed under the top lockers and built into stylish trim panels in the ceiling – are a selection of dimmable LED lights. There are spotlamps, too, but none of the lamps are directionally adjustable and, while the cab benefits from full headroom (for easy walk-through and a spacious feel), there’s a lack of reading lights over the cab seats.
There are Kenwood speakers in the lounge ceiling and a Heki sunroof joins the large side windows in endowing the interior with lots of natural light, but it’s the simpler push-up type rather than one with a crank handle (something that IH is considering changing after our road test).
At night it’s covered by a flat blind instead of the concertina-type on the windows, while silver screens are provided for the cab as there are no fitted blinds yet on the market for the VW cab.
That’s the most minor of inconveniences in a layout that converts lounge into bedroom in seconds. Simply pull out the slatted seat/bed base and drop the backrest cushion (plus an infill) in behind. All you then have to do is extract the curvy cushion from the end of the settee and stow it in the cab. At 1.88m by 1.26m, it’s a double bed that should be big enough for most couples, especially as there’s a bit of extra wiggle room at the head (cab) end. At the foot of the bed toes go under the kitchen counter but 360mm clearance should be enough even for size 11s.
There’s a wide aisle down one side of the bed and you’ll be in prime position to watch breakfast TV when you wake up. If you’ve ticked the relevant option box, the Avtex screen pops up from under a counter.
You’ll have plenty of room to store all your bedding under the settee. There’s a small drop-front hatch to access it, or you can lift the whole seat base (although it could do with a strut to hold it up).
The kitchen may be almost as much a reason to buy the 680 CFL as the lounge. Its L-shape design incorporates an ideal curvy counter at the end for serving up, while a hinged flap in front of the TV creates even more preparation space.
Equipment includes a Triplex cooker with combined oven/grill (a microwave is offered as an alternative) and an 85-litre fridge with removable freezer section.
Unusually, the stainless-steel sink incorporates a proper draining board, while storage capacity is superb, including two cutlery/utensil drawers above the fridge and two larger drawers for pots and pans below the sink, as well as a range of high and low-level cupboards.
When the TV is in hiding there’s additional worktop here, too, plus 230V and USB sockets adjacent. Another mains socket (plus 12V) is mounted above the sink but it’s too high for your kettle/toaster lead.
In this super kitchen, the chef can work undisturbed by comings and goings through the side door and yet be sociable with those in the lounge. The only criticism is that the fridge requires you to change the power source yourself, but you can optionally upgrade to an AES version.
Unusual double doors swing back to reveal an impressive washroom. With lots of white gloss furniture, an opening window and a rooflight, it’s a light, bright space.
It’s also a changing room, as the wardrobe lives here, while large cupboards ensure that you won’t run out of toiletries.
You’ll have plenty of room to get all your beauty potions out on the wide counter around the raised basin, too, although it might be good to have another mirror here for shaving, etc.
There’s plenty of leg and shoulder room around the bench loo and, even though there’s a curtain required for showering, there’s so much space that you shouldn’t get wrapped up in it.
The water tanks are relatively modest in size and both are underfloor. Tank heaters (12V powered) are available as an option for all-season camping, while also underslung is the 25-litre gas tank (for easier topping up abroad).