Base vehicle: Fiat Ducato Al-Ko Price from: £84,230 Berths: 4 Travel seats: 4 Length: 6.99m (6.9 E), 7.29m (7.3 F) Width: 2.28m Height: 2.83m Gross weight: 3,500kg (3,700kg and 4,500kg options) Payload: 660kg (6.9 E), 580kg (7.3 F)
Words and photos: Peter Vaughan
It was hard to contain my disappointment at missing the launch of the iSmove but, in the grand scale of things, that was a minor matter in a year that none of us will forget.
In any other season, I’d have caught up with the news at Düsseldorf’s Caravan Salon, but that (while being one of the few shows to actually go ahead in 2020) was also off limits as HR wisely said ‘no’ to foreign travel.
So, I had to wait for the prototypes to make their way to Britain and the UK home of the brand, Erwin Hymer Centre Travelworld at Stafford. I’d seen the press pictures, watched the official video and, if there’d been a T-shirt, I’d have worn that, too.
The excitement as I drove across country was palpable. Would – or could – these new A-classes live up to the hype? Was it possible to include everything that makes a Niesmann special in a smaller, lighter package?
Of course, Niesmann hasn’t always built only super-sized motorhomes and, more recently, it moved back into the mid-sized market with the low-profile Smove.
But the iSmove is so much more than a Smove with an A-class cab that you wonder why it didn’t earn its own moniker. Perhaps that was Niesmann’s one mistake in creating this motorhome?
At first glance, though, you might wonder what all the fuss is about. Or even fail to spot the iSmove as an all-new model. The exterior styling is unmistakeably N+B, with the look of a slightly more compact Arto.
Without the latter alongside, you might even think you were looking at that well-established model.
What is incredible, though, is that this family look was introduced back in 2013 but it hasn’t dated at all. This design set Niesmann on the road to success and the company hasn’t looked back since, so it’s hardly a shock that it has stuck with what it knows customers like for the exterior of the newcomer. Even nearly eight years on no rival has managed such pleasing aesthetics for what is, basically, a big rectangular box.
Or not such a big box, because the iSmove is a seven-metre, 3.5-tonne motorhome – albeit one that aims to provide liner-style luxury. It’s lower, too, at 2.83m, compared with 2.95m for an Arto and a lofty 3.34m for the range-topping Iveco Daily-based Flair.
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The iSmove range is ultra-simple – two models, one with single beds (6.9 E) and one with an island bed (7.3 F) in a slightly longer body. Bedroom areas aside, the two models are the same and each is based on a Fiat Ducato with Al-Ko chassis.
Unlike the Arto, though, the standard iSmove comes with a 3,500kg gross weight and payloads look practical in this form, too. The shorter 6.9 E has a 660kg payload in standard trim, although no one is ever likely to buy a basic iSmove.
As ever, there are plenty of options, as well as packs – go for the Comfort Pack, Chassis Pack, Multimedia Pack, Winter Pack and Premium Kitchen and the payload reduces to a still perfectly acceptable tally of just over 500kg, but don’t forget that an awning, automatic gearbox and myriad other options can eat further into that figure.
And, as you tick options, you not only add weight but cost. Ignore the prices in the Fact File – you’re not likely to see change out of £100k when you collect your new iSmove.
There are plenty of £100,000 motorhomes that don’t feel anything like as special as this, though. Of course, there are Aguti captain’s chairs, the feel is all very automotive, with slick integration of the Fiat fascia into its larger home, and you’re bound to tick one of the multimedia options.
A 7in touchscreen with sat-nav and reversing camera is included in the Multimedia Pack but that can be further upgraded to a 9in display. There are docking stations (with USB and USB-C sockets) for your phone or tablet at either end of the dash, as well as neat drawers alongside driver and passenger.
The Fiat 140bhp engine is standard, but the 160bhp unit will be the one you’ll want. And, if you go to town on the extras, the chassis can be upgraded to 3,700kg or 4,500kg.
As soon as you step inside, you know that this is not just another me-too motorhome. We’ve seen the contrasting settee base and (pillow-like) backrest cushions before and there’s the usual huge choice – six squab colours (three leather, three fabric) and 12 backrests (plain, patterned, hide or cloth, from beige to bright orange).
What we haven’t seen before is the anthracite headlining, which should make it feel gloomy, but somehow makes it more cosy, more luxurious.
Then there are the optional soundproofed felt walls for what Niesmann calls “fantastic ambient sound.” We weren’t so sure about the windowless door, which is usually the sign of an economy model, but N+B says the vehicle looks better inside and out with a door that’s seamlessly integrated.
We’ll let you decide and it’ll be interesting to see if a window gets added back in for 2022.
These are just the details, however, in a vehicle that uses clear sight lines along the right-hand side of the interior and generous headroom of 1.97m, as well as a flat floor from the cab to the bedroom, to maximise the impression of space in a vehicle that’s small by its maker’s standards.
It isn’t just a motorhome that looks good. There are real innovations of a practical nature, too. We’ve seen a table mounted on floor rails before and it works well here, especially as it still rotates and folds in half, too. What’s really new is the way that the twin sofa lounge converts for passenger carrying.
Side settees are a must-have at the moment and manufacturers have come up with a variety of ways of combining them with rear travel seats (some offering poor comfort/safety or a complex conversion process).
This, however, beats everything that’s gone before. The forward-facing backrest simply extends into the aisle, then the base swivels from side to front-facing and head restraints are slotted in. It’s brilliant and you won’t see it elsewhere because Niesmann has patented it.
A 32in smart TV is included in the Multimedia Pack and is sited flush with the wall behind the travel seat, while heating and satellite dish controls are hidden in the locker above.
One option that we reckon will be ordered on every iSmove is the Premium Kitchen. This includes the biggest drawer-style fridge we’ve ever seen (138 litres plus a separate 12-litre freezer compartment), with restaurant-grade containers inside.
It adds the mineral worktop that you’d expect in a vehicle of this calibre and also the electric lifting shelving unit at the rear end of the galley that allows that through-view when it’s retracted.
However, the really clever part of this kitchen is, perhaps, how it grows. We’re used to seeing simple worktop flaps but here, instead, the chopping board cover for the sink lifts out and slots into a pull-out frame adjacent to the door.
Even more noteworthy is the way the glass cover for the hob slides out, right across the gangway, to meet the washroom wall opposite and create an L-shaped working area for the chef.
Of course, the drawers have electric central locking and there’s an 820mm-wide cutlery/utensil drawer, as well as a deep soft-closing drawer under the fridge for plates, bowls, etc.
There’s more clever space utilisation in the washroom, although this is possibly less different from other motorhomes. Open the bathroom’s sliding door and you’re faced by a corner washbasin, with the swivel cassette toilet to your left. There’s plenty of room to use these facilities but no sign of a shower.
For that, you undo a bolt and slide the whole of the right-hand washroom wall across, so the basin moves to above the toilet and a good-sized shower cubicle (600mm by 720mm, headroom 1.93m) is created.
The island bed iSmove 7.3 F has a 1.92m by 1.42m bed with a luxurious Tencel mattress on optional Lattoflex plastic springs. The bedroom feels huge and it includes plenty of extra storage, too, including a bedside cabinet with 12V and USB sockets.
It’s a pity that there’s insufficient clearance under the top lockers to sit up in bed, though, and the wall clock just looks cheap.
Perhaps, the more compact 6.9 E offers a better solution then, with its similarly comfortable mattresses of generous size – 2.05m long on the nearside, 1.97m on the offside. Deep (800mm) wardrobes are hidden under the foot of each bed and you can use this bedroom as a transverse double, too (measuring 1.97m by 1.35m).
Cupboards again get in the way of sitting up in bed, but a sliding door can be used in either model to make the bedroom private.
Of course, there’s a drop-down bed, too, and even here there’s innovation as the cab bed is a new slim design that hides away more discreetly.
Although this is a smaller Niesmann, it has been designed with the same thoughts of independence from site facilities as its bigger brothers. A 200-litre fresh water tank is standard, as is a 100Ah lithium battery.
One or two extra batteries can be specified, as can a pair of 125W solar panels and a 50-litre gas tank, and even a marine toilet with 120-litre black tank. Whichever layout you choose, there’s a huge garage with 1.13m headroom and a 300kg limit. A second garage door is another of the many options.
Virtually everything you’d expect on an Arto or Flair is possible here, too. You can have the whole body in Eifel Grey, or go for flashes of colour on the skirts and mirrors. Heated cab seats and LED headlights are available, too.
The heating system is a Combi 6, but you can have Alde central heating and, if you do this as part of the Winter Pack, you’ll also benefit from a heat exchanger and double-glazed cab windows.
You can spec your iSmove to meet your needs exactly. It won’t be cheap but this is not a lesser model in the N+B portfolio, it’s just a smaller one.