FROM its rather slab-fronted visage of 2013, the Arto range now has a splendid, ultra-modern black and silver, chrome-embellished grin (courtesy of the optional Clou-Line Design Pack) and a vertical row of LED driving lights at the corners of its ‘mouth’, alongside ‘intelligent’ twin headlights which move with the steering, following the road.
Rear panel lights are also LED and smart alloy wheels are fitted. Black surrounds to the cab side windows extend in a rising line along the ’van, emphasising the darkened side windows and minimising the boxiness of the bodywork.
The Arto tested here had many extras, including the Liner and Comfort Packs, raising the price to £98,732.
Under the skin, the Arto is a Fiat Ducato, tested here with the 148bhp, 2.3-litre engine and six-speed manual gearbox – the Comfort-Matic robotised gearbox and/or 3-litre engine are optionally available.
As you’d hope, the cab has all the mod cons including climate control, cruise control and double airbags. There’s an impressive media centre with 7in screen, offering Bluetooth, DVD and sat-nav – as well as supplying music through the extra speakers above the cab and operating the reversing camera.
One splendid aspect of buying a Niesmann is the choice of upholstery; you can really customise the ambience to your taste. However, the seat backs are unshaped, so weren’t ideal for rear seat passengers when travelling, though sturdy headrests are provided.
Woodwork is rich, dark and of high quality, while the floor is oak plank-effect vinyl. Being pernickety, it’s a shame the planking pattern on panels cut in the double floor, for inspection hatches or storage, doesn’t correspond with the surrounding floor.
For dining, the tabletop is slightly too small to be reached from all seats (an extending table is optional), but any larger and it would be obstructive – however, the top slides in any direction, easing access.
The television is part of the media tower by the door, and on its pull-out bracket, is easily visible from the swivelled cab seats, but obviously not from the forward-facing bench.
NIESMMAN MOTORHOME KITCHEN
Behind the lounge, on the nearside, is the roughly L-shaped kitchen. Though compact, it’s highly-specified and works well.
The worktop and sinks – one very large with a small ‘drainer’ sink alongside and both with lids to provide work surface – are all moulded from white Corisan. Just remember to stow the lids when travelling – left in situ, they’d be lethal in a crash.
There’s a grooved drainer area in the corner and an elegant mixer tap, though water-flow from its flattened design isn’t good.
To the left, the hob has three auto-ignition gas burners. Its 60/40 split lid helps with work surface area – if the sink is in use there’s not much worktop available.
Below the sink, a large cupboard has two curved doors, opening to reveal pull-out metal racking, and under the hob are a large cutlery drawer and two further drawers, one containing a rubbish bin. All are, naturally, soft-close.
Above, the shelved cupboards have two LED lights in their underside and there’s an ambient lighting strip under the work surface.
Opposite the kitchen unit is the Dometic tower, comprising a 100-litre SES fridge with removable freezer compartment and oven/grill above. As the fridge is slightly smaller than usual (but perfectly adequate), the oven can be placed lower – 1.25m (4ft 1in) above the floor is surely ideal for most chefs, especially as when opened, the potentially hazardous door slides neatly underneath.
The microwave is positioned above the oven and even this is only 1.66m (5ft 5½in) high. There’s even room below the fridge for a useful drawer. Full marks to Niesmann for this arrangement, which has been developed with Travelworld’s input especially for our market.
Behind the kitchen, up a small, illuminated step and enclosed by a cream-coloured sliding door, lies the en suite bedroom. On entry, to your right is a dressing area with a stainless-steel washbasin set in a vanity unit with cupboards, mirrors, overhead lighting and window.
Beyond, in the rear nearside corner, is the shower room, which includes the loo at its far end. Occupying the remainder of the room is the island bed.
The shower room and toilet are necessarily compromised in width by the dimensions of the semi-island bed alongside. The outer door is a rather tight 51cm (20in) wide; once through, the shower area has translucent bi-fold doors at front and rear, smooth walls, and a tray with two drainholes. The shower has a chromed riser bar, but no soap dish or accessories basket is provided. Despite the space limitations, this is a good, practical shower.
SLEEPING IN THE NIESMANN MOTORHOME
So, to that island bed and has it been worth limiting washroom space to attain a really top-notch sleeping area? The bed is of domestic width, at 1.37m (4ft 6in), by 1.93m (6ft 4in) down the centre, and it has a 15cm (6in) thick mattress, supported by independent Froli springs.
It’s superbly comfortable and, compared to a French bed, there’s less of a cut-off corner, but the curved end means the full length is only available right in the centre of the bed.
It isn’t a true island bed as it snuggles against the blown-air ‘radiator’ on the offside wall; however, the inner sleeper does have room to slip out of bed over the end, rather than clambering over a protesting bedmate.
Facilities include two shelved lockers above the bedhead (bedroom and lounge top lockers can be specified in wood, instead of white), with a useful shelf below for books and glasses, two stalked reading lights, a ceiling Heki surrounded by four LED clusters, plus a large side window – all making this a very comfortable en suite bedroom.
If four are travelling, or if you each like your own double bed, there’s a drop-down double over the lounge. This is also of a good size, measuring 1.88m by 1.30m (6ft 2in by 4ft 3in) and is again very comfortable. There’s 30in of headroom and it’s easy to reach the bed from the offside single seat in the lounge. There’s no dedicated reading light up here, but there is a small rooflight with blind.
With such a large payload, you’d hope for storage to match and the N+B doesn’t disappoint. The Arto has a capacious garage, measuring 1m high by 1.20m wide and stretching the full width of the vehicle (under the shower room height reduces to 1ft).
Inside the motorhome there’s plenty of room under the travel seats in the lounge, with access from above (made somewhat awkward by the fixed table). However, the offside, seat base is fully occupied by the Truma heater.
The kitchen and en suite areas are well-provided with storage, but where’s the wardrobe? In a unique design tweak, Niesmann has hidden the clothes storage under the island bed. Raise the bed base (on gas struts – it lifts easily and stays up) to find two trays, separated by a central bar. Press each tray, and they rise, revealing two sets of shallow shelves on which to store your clothes.
The central bar, now also risen, is a hanging rail, with a drop of 87cm (34in). It’s a very ingenious space-saving device, enabling the motorhome’s length to be minimised (this Arto is 691mm shorter than the next most compact island bed Arto, which is more typical of this type of layout).
This is an edited extract taken from the April 2014 issue of MMM
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