The super lounge is, of course, a star feature of this new Pilote, but it’s the excellence of the palatial washroom that is the surprise. The two-burner hob might displease some, but there’s a lot to like here in a rear lounge motorhome that isn’t just a copy of British rivals.
Base vehicle: Fiat Ducato Price from: £56,900 Berths: 4 Travel seats: 4 Length: 6.99m Width: 2.30m Height: 2.88m Gross weight: 3,500kg Payload: 625kg
Words and photos: Peter Vaughan
Just a few months ago (MMM, October 2021), we tested a brand-new French motorhome of under 7m in length with a rear lounge. Now, here we are again in an upmarket 2022-season Gallic motorhome with seats in the stern. Whatever next – snails and chips at your local takeaway? Has Boris been slipping something into his Evian water?
Whatever the reason for these Entente Cordiale motorhomes, the Pilote P696U is not just a facsimile of the aforementioned Rapido 854F.
For a start, this is a low-profile, not an A-class, and even a casual glance at the respective layout diagrams will show a different approach. Like its countryman, though, this Pilote is significantly different from its UK-built rivals, as we’ll explain.
The one you see here, however, isn’t quite as you’re likely to see a P696U on dealer forecourts. It’s here in Expression spec, which replaces the previous Essentiel and Sensation trim levels in Pilote’s 2022 portfolio. In this form it’s highly configurable, with many, many options to choose from.
The newcomer is also available as an Évidence model and the success of this trim level (introduced for the 2021 season and displayed by the P626D that we tested in the March 2021 issue) suggests that buyers will flock to this instead. Why wouldn’t you when it has all the features and options seen on this test vehicle, plus the nine-speed automatic gearbox, and at a lower price? Supplying dealer, Davan, only spec’d an Expression to get this first example in the UK.
Although this P696U beat the Évidence versions to Britain, it’s still the new Series 8 Ducato that you see here, not that you’d be any the wiser from the outside.
Inside, you’ll spot the new instrumentation (not the full digital dashboard), new air vents and new steering wheel. Under way, you’ll probably remark on the lightness of the new electric power steering but, otherwise, this still feels like a familiar Fiat Ducato.
Pilote specifies the 140bhp motor (now a 2.2-litre), cab air-conditioning, cruise control, stop/start, ESP, ASR and Traction Plus as standard but, rather than Fiat’s new multimedia system, it adds an aftermarket head unit from Pioneer. Featuring DAB radio, a 9in touchscreen, sat-nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the display is also linked to a reversing camera with fish eye-style vision.
In Expression trim you can also add some of the new Fiat features, but Évidence comes with a fixed spec that is very comprehensive but not variable. And the Ducato, in any form, still has a steering column that adjusts for reach but not rake. Here, your driving comfort may also be jeopardised by the wall behind the pilot’s chair restricting its adjustment – if you’re over 6ft you’ll need to try it for size.
It might seem odd to go straight from describing driving to discussing the ablutions but it’s the washroom wall that is behind the cab and this is such a key feature of the P696U that it should be addressed first.
In fact, once you park up, you can forget about the cab, notwithstanding the fact that Pilote fits swivel seats (probably just because all of its chassis come like that). You wouldn’t even miss the cab blinds that were omitted in error from this test model because you can just slide a door across, separating the Fiat cab until your next journey. Considering that the cab is usually the coldest part of the living space, that has to be good news for winter camping, too.
A second sliding door shuts off the washroom from the rest of the motorhome and, in between, 1.09m of this motorhome’s length (across the full width) is allocated to a washroom par excellence.
On the offside are the cassette toilet (the superior Dometic type), the washbasin, a large mirror and plenty of storage. The toiletries cupboard even has upstands to keep everything in place.
Then, opposite, as well as a generous shower cubicle with wooden duckboard (but just a single drain outlet), you’ll find the wardrobe and cupboards below for folded clothes. In between is a super-sized area for drying yourself off and getting dressed – having a dance, even!
There are two roof vents, a hidden loo roll holder (in the under-basin cupboard), a towel rail and robe hooks. The only thing missing, perhaps, is a hanging rail in the shower but, that apart, this is the sort of washroom normally associated with 9m liner-class motorhomes!
The Évidence range already includes two layouts (P626D and P696D) where the main bed is an electric drop-down one and the lack of a fixed bed or beds maximises living space. Now, this is the third such layout and it marks a return of a rear U-shaped lounge in the Pilote brochure.
And what a lounge it is. Measuring 2.16m (over 7ft) in length on the offside, the claim that you could sit seven people here is, for once, not based on an unlikely party of size six Kate Moss lookalikes.
It’s light and airy, too, with large windows at both sides and in the rear, so you won’t notice that the drop-down bed precludes a rooflight above. Nor will most have an issue with the 1.90m headroom under that bed, while 11 downlighters and two rear speakers are neatly integrated into the bed base.
If you want privacy from your campsite neighbours, there are net curtains in addition to the pleated blinds, while the wall-mounted bracket can support up to a 32in TV. Only reading lights are absent from the standard spec.
There’s certainly plenty of room to put your feet up on the Plume faux leather upholstery to watch the telly (one of the few things not actually included in the Évidence spec). However, when sitting more formally, it’s worth noting that the seat squabs on the offside are shallower than those at the rear and nearside, which better suit those with longer legs.
The central table is fixed and it folds in half, doubling to 900mm by 815mm for family dining. Importantly, it’s also height-adjustable – I found it uncomfortably high in its tallest position, but that is easily remedied and you can even lower it right down to use as a coffee table.
You can also adapt this lounge to incorporate two rear travel seats. The two centre cushions on the nearside are popped out and the locker lid folds against the wall to create foot room. Just add the slot-in head restraints and you have one forward and one rearward-facing pew. If your passengers are prone to motion sickness, though, it’s worth noting that these seats are behind the rear axle, as well as being rather distant from their compatriots in the cab.
That’s not the only trick that this seating serves up. The space under the settee, across the back wall, can be accessed from outside but it may surprise you to see the size of the hatch here (500mm by 750mm) compared with the height of the storage area at a modest 360mm. That is explained when you realise that the seat bases across the back wall can be raised, creating a sort of open-topped garage area that you can use while travelling (though you’d want to reclaim the seating space as soon as you park up). It adds versatility but I can’t help feeling that it’s a feature that looked better on the designer’s drawing board than in reality.
Beneath the lounge’s sofas you’ll also find the Truma Combi boiler (nearside) and 130-litre fresh water tank (offside), so there’s not as much other stowage capacity here as first impressions may suggest.
Push the table down as low as it’ll go and slot a couple of backrests from the offside on top and you have a very long double bed that’s reasonably flat for its ilk. You’ll only ever do that, though, if you need four berths.
The drop-down bed can be stopped partway down to allow a double-bed-above-double bed format but we’d envisage most P696U customers using their motorhomes as two-berths most of the time. In that case, you just keep your finger on the button above the habitation door a little longer, until the bed is just 810mm off the floor.
It’s a one-piece Bultex mattress of generous proportions, so you should sleep soundly here and the ceiling lights only on the nearside dictate that you sleep with heads at this end. The only downside is that, in order to get the bed to its lowest setting, you have to remove all of the backrest cushions from the settees – 10 of them. Fortunately, with the cab not really serving any other on-site role, it can become the dumping ground for the unwanted cushions at night.
You can leave your duvet on the mattress when you stow the bed, so you don’t need to find storage for bedding, but, if you park your pillows there, too, the bed won’t rise all the way, so your lounge lighting won’t come on. Another point to note is that the drop-down bed doesn’t cover all of the offside sofa, leaving somewhere to sit to take off your socks. And that’s in addition to the separate seat in the entrance, where you can rest your derrière to remove footwear, before placing in the shoe cupboard beneath.
With coat hooks as well, the doorway area is very well thought out.
There’s an electric step outside, too, and this automatically retracts on turning the ignition key. Outside, on the opposite flank of the vehicle, you’ll also discover another area for storage – in a lidded drawer (rated at 70kg) that pulls out of the skirt. A 100W solar panel and a roll-out awning are also standard on Évidence models.
Back inside, the star feature of the kitchen is the two-door, 153-litre fridge/freezer with the convenience of automatic energy selection.
For cooking, there’s a Duplex oven/ grill and a hob with only two rings. A three-burner unit set back into the counter would have given chef a few more options, as well as freeing up a bit more countertop but, if you run out of preparation space, there’s always the slot-in cover for the sink.
Storage includes four drawers and a trio of large top lockers, while a small shelf caters for condiments – plus it has hooks for lightweight utensils and tea towels.
Behind the sink are 12V and 230V sockets, as well as a double USB port, while another mains power point and more USBs are located opposite, where there’s a small flat surface for appliances as well as some extra cupboard space. It’s a good kitchen, marred only by the lack of that extra ring on the hob.
Motorhome supplied by
Davan Caravans and Motorhomes
Tel: 01934 510606
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