The quality of this V600G impressed and so did the details of its design, especially the shower, kitchen and rear travel seats. There’s a mind-boggling array of options, too, but (as a two-berth) this example seemed to be well judged – without a sky-high price tag.
Base vehicle: Fiat Ducato Price from: £48,750 Berths: 2-4 Travel seats: 4 Length: 5.99m Width: 2.05m Height: 2.58m Gross weight: 3,500kg Payload: 630kg
The layout is the Euro classic but the design has been brought bang up to date on this latest French campervan, the Pilote Van V600G Premium campervan
Words and photos: Peter Vaughan
Pilote Van, Foxy Van, Danbury Avenir – the names have kept changing as the French manufacturer reconsidered the branding used in a sector it first entered in 2012. But, behind the confused marketing, there has been a strong product range, albeit one that hasn’t reached its potential in the UK.
You can’t level the same criticism at Hayes Leisure, the Birmingham dealer who supplied this fully loaded V600G. It introduced the Pilote name to the UK back in 1986, with perhaps the first low-profile motorhomes ever sold here. To this day, now as part of a nationwide network, Hayes remains a loyal Pilote dealer. Steve Hayes says that, “During the last year we have found a younger audience looking at the product, to follow their outdoor pursuits.” These first-time buyers want all the toys on the base vehicle, he opines, which partly explains the £12,000 difference behind the base price and the cost as tested. It’s not that the Pilote Van lacks spec, but there’s a huge range of options available.
That starts with the Standard model (with Aspen wood cabinets) or this Premium version featuring white furniture, automotive upholstery (part faux leather) and the open cab (with full headroom). Premium models also benefit from a wide electric step with automatic retraction, a fabric headlining, LED backlighting and the option to add Isofix.
All models have Grade III insulation, including 20mm Styrofoam in the floor, as well as Pilote’s latest Xpérience 2.0 touchscreen control panel, which is very simple to use. The Fiat base vehicles are all plated at 3,500kg, have ESP, Traction+, a passenger airbag, cruise control, air-conditioning and even front fog lamps. New this season is the addition of black headlight surrounds, a gloss black grille and a colour-coded bumper. There is also the option of two non-metallic and six metallic paint colours, while all come with smart, flush-fit habitation windows.
This upspec’d test ’van also came with optional alloy wheels and all-year M+S tyres, colour-coded door handles, electric folding mirrors, a solar panel and an awning. Under the bonnet, power was up from the standard 120bhp to 140bhp (adequate but not sparkling on this delivery mileage vehicle), but more crucially (and more expensively), it also had the nine-speed automatic gearbox, which is now such a must-have on any Ducato.
Inside, the Interior Luxe Pack adds the leather steering wheel with radio/ phone controls and the chrome-ringed dials, while the Media Pack gives the idMedia 8in touchscreen with DAB radio, reversing camera and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay. More unusual additions come in the Safety Pack, which adds lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, high beam recognition, advance emergency braking and automatic lights and wipers. But the extras didn’t end there, as the boxes for the blind spot detector, tyre pressure monitoring and heated cab seats had also been ticked. It’s hard to think what else could be added.
The sliding door remains on the continental side and the layout is the European classic of a rear transverse double bed and a half-dinette lounge. However, with the Premium model’s automotive-style interior colour scheme, the V600G immediately impresses with a very contemporary vibe. The open cab makes it feel more spacious, too – a feeling enhanced by class-leading interior lighting (including spotlights for each cab seat) and the white walls reflecting light inside the camper.
I was equally pleased by the quality of fit and finish, which seemed up there with the best of the German opposition. Of course, there are more options to consider, too. Truma Combi 4 heating is standard, but that had been upgraded here to the 6 EH unit with 6kW output and mains/gas power.
Further enhancing its winter camping capabilities was the heated/insulated waste water tank (the generous, 110-litre fresh tank is inboard, where it should be for all-year use). For off-grid camping, it was good to see the 120W solar panel and a second 130Ah leisure battery had also been added to the itinerary.
As tested, the Pilote Van is a two-berth but a transverse single bed in the lounge is an option, as is a pop-top roof with a 2.00m by 1.35m double. However one specs the V600G, though, it has four belted seats and this is an area where it has a clear advantage over some rivals – the rear seat isn’t the typical upright bench but a seat with proper automotive shaping. It doesn’t just look good but supports passengers’ backs so should provide comfort on long journeys.
On site, that best-in-class bench is just as welcome, and the wall-mounted table (quite slim at 40mm across) is not as dominant in the space as some. It has a swing-out leaf, as you’d expect, so that it can cater for four diners but, more unusually, it can also be used outside, where it affixes to the back of the galley through the open sliding door.
Raised flooring in the lounge means that no one has to suffer from dangling feet, while a little storage is found beneath a trapdoor under the table. There is no stowage space under the sofa, though, as the boiler and habitation electrics are here.
Of course, one of the key features of a layout like this is the storage area at the rear. Open the rear barn doors and you’ll find the gas locker (with generous capacity for two 13kg cylinders) on the left and cabinets hiding the fresh water tank on the right. In between is a void measuring 1.33m by 0.73m with a height of 0.49m. It would be taller but for another option on this test ’van. That extra feature is a super-sized drawer that pulls out from under the garage floor and seemed perfect for levelling wedges, mains lead, etc – making them quickly and easily accessible. Choose that option and, at the opposite end of this area, you also get a pull-out step to ease access to the bed, so there are two very good reasons to tick the box.
In the garage area there are two more drawers on the nearside, but these may prove hard to reach if the central space is fully packed with outdoor furniture or sports kit. More usefully, the bed’s mattress can be folded and the central bed base hinged vertically to carry taller items. You can also remove the area’s forward bulkhead to stow long gear, like a kayak or surfboard, perhaps. Pity, then, that there are no lashing points to secure heavier loads.
This test Pilote did, however, come with an external cold-water-only shower in the rear (another option) that could prove useful for hosing down dirty kit before loading.
A good fixed bed will almost always prove more comfortable than berths created from seats and the fact that I overslept on the Pilote Van’s Bultex Comfort hypoallergenic mattress proves my point. This is a mattress that more than lives up to its name and, although its dimensions of 1.80m by 1.34m might look a tad mean in length, that’s not the case in reality. With no window at either end of the bed, there are no blinds or window frames to get in the way and Pilote’s GRP mouldings extend the bedroom as far as possible into the complex shapes of the Ducato van – the result is a usable bed length up to 1.94m.
The aforementioned step is a godsend for climbing in and out of a bed that’s 840mm off the floor, while another option fitted here is the taller bedroom cupboard on the nearside. That completes a copious amount of storage on three sides of the bedroom but the underslung shelf on the forward part of the offside is a piece of furniture too far, restricting headroom for whoever sleeps on this side.
There are no reading lights in the bedroom, but downlighters are fitted in the ceiling and an LED strip sits above the head of the bed (along with a double USB port and a magazine pocket). Ventilation is provided by a small rooflight and opening windows in the back doors. If you want to hang clothes, rather than fold them away in the bedroom cupboards, there’s space for a couple of coats in the 140mm-wide wardrobe, adjacent to which you’ll find an equally slim floor-to-ceiling mirror. I thought that Pilote was telling me something about my waistline, until I saw the size of the shower…
We’ve seen slide-away toilets before but the way the bench loo disappears under the wardrobe here feels a lot more robust. Better still, it provides what’s probably the best shower in any 6m campervan, with plenty of space and good water pressure. There’s less room, of course, when the toilet is pulled out for use but most will find it adequate. The fold-down washbasin also makes good use of space; it’s one of the increasingly common backless designs, so you’ll have to be careful not to waste too much valuable H2O. Above the basin is more storage than is at first apparent as it’s part-hidden by a sliding mirror. Four recesses should be plenty for your toiletry essentials and everything is kept securely in place by elasticated straps – hurrah!
A folding drying rail, roof vent and (optional) duckboard complete the bathroom spec.
The theme of this campervan seems to be an almost bewildering amount of choice. Premium models usually come with a slide-out section of kitchen but Hayes Leisure says it prefers the cleaner looks of the Classic kitchen and orders its stock vehicles as seen here. That also means a long worktop and a lack of tall furniture on the offside, giving an uninterrupted view down this side of the camper for a greater feeling of space.
The fridge here is an 85-litre Vitrifrigo compressor-type mounted under the rearmost section of kitchen counter. Alternatively, Pilote offers a waist-height 90-litre Thetford compressor fridge or a tall 141-litre three-way AES model, but specify either of these and you lose worktop space and the area adjacent to the bedroom feels much more confined.
With such generous preparation space here, and a fold-up serving flap at the forward end of the galley, it’s easy to see cooks enjoying creating meals in this space, even if there’s just a two-burner hob to work on.
The kitchen feels much more spacious (that word is another theme in this test) than most rivals and storage is excellent in an array of soft-closing drawers.
There’s a built-in waste bin, too, although no cutlery holder and, even more of a shock in a Gallic camper, no wine bottle rack! What you can have is a gas oven, but only in combination with the largest fridge – so then you lose the worktop (which also makes a great bedside table at night). In a 6m panel van, you can’t have everything…
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Images courtesy of Pilote
Motorhome supplied by Hayes Leisure
Tel: 01215 263433
Tel: 0345 366 6579