Our 2004 live-in test
When Avondale offered us a Seascape 5-ELX to test it took me about two seconds to decide to say 'Yes please'!
So it was that at the end of May I was heading off to the Forest of Dean for a three day 'live-in' test.
I wasn't alone, my wife runs a Ranger Guide unit and they had a few days kayaking on the River Wye and mountain biking in the Forest planned, so we had a ready made team of testers, and they had a luxurious base to complement their 6-person tent!
We stayed at Holly Barn, which is an outdoor activity centre used mainly by youth groups, it's in a beautiful location as can be seen from the photo above.
The Avondale Seascape 5-ELX is one of three models in the 5 Series, the others being the 5-CDX and the 5-CSX. The ELX is an end lounge layout whilst the CDX and the CSX are both end kitchen layouts differing in the lounge area with the CDX having a bench seat and a dinette and the CSX having two benches.
|5-ELX day time layout||5-ELX night time layout|
The test vehicle was built on the Fiat Ducato 2.8JTD Maxi chassis, other options are the 2.3 and 2.8JTD and the 2.3JTD Maxi, the Maxi chassis has an extra 150kg user payload, giving a total of 652kg, ample for what is effectively a '2+1' berth motorhome.
This was the first time that I'd driven a 2.8JTD and I have to say that I was impressed. Although it had only covered around 800 miles from new, the performance was quite lively and I would imagine that it will get even better once it's covered a few thousand miles. The driving position is comfortable with plenty of adjustments on the seat and all the controls fall easily to hand, commendably all Avondale motorhomes come with central locking and electric windows and mirrors. There are, usefully, two 12v cigar lighter sockets provided, but unfortunately they are only powered when the ignition switch is on, it would be better if at least one of them was permanently powered. The cab doors seem to suffer from the usual Fiat tendency to flap at the top at anything over about 65mph, accompanied by a lot of wind noise.
The conversion bodywork is of a high standard with a one piece GRP roof moulding neatly joined to the front and rear sections. GRP is also used as the outer skin to the bonded side panels, giving an easily cleaned finish that will provide some resistance to minor scrapes. The side door is provided with an electric step as standard and the internal step well has an integral light that is switched on and off by tilting the lens. It would be handy to have a remote switch for this to save bending down to switch it off after having entered. There is already a switch for the awning light which is a standard fitting, although no awning was fitted to the test vehicle. A good standard of insulation is fitted, the floor is 40mm thick and the walls and roof are 28mm thick.
A slight diversion here: The electric step has, as usual, a warning buzzer to remind you that it is extended if you turn the ignition on, this is very useful, but as I've mentioned, the cab 12v sockets are only powered with the ignition on. Now, I'm sitting here typing this report in the cab and need 12v to power the inverter for my laptop, this means that I need the ignition on, therefore the step has to be retracted, what's more, because the habitation 12v power is disabled when the ignition is on, we can't use any of the electrical system - grrr! There is a 12v socket provided for running a TV, but it's not a cigar lighter or DIN type and is marked at 5A max. This problem of course isn't of Avondale's making, it seems that 'regulations' mean that the habitation electrics must be disabled when the engine is running - I know more than one motorhome owner that has bypassed this feature! However it would be nice to have an extra 12v socket over and above the one for the TV. There are sufficient 230v mains sockets, which is fine if you are on a hookup.
Externally, on the nearside, we have a gas locker with a fixed 30mB regulator, the test vehicle was provided with a 4.5kg butane bottle but there is room for 2x 7kg bottles. On the offside there is a very useful external locker with space for leveling wedges, water hose, drain hose, etc. Also on the offside is the door for accessing the cassette, together with the filler for the cassette flush tank, the fresh water filler point and the ventilation grilles for the fridge, these are removable to give easy access for servicing. Rear corner steadies are provided as standard and the spare wheel is slung underneath. Also underneath are the fresh and waste water tanks, these are a rather miserly 50 litres capacity and are not winterised (a winterisation kit is available as an extra). Draining the waste tank is very quick through a central gate valve operated by a pull handle. The valve has a bayonet connector but no waste drain hose was provided, meaning that you have to rely on an assistant to help get the van positioned over a road level drain. A drain hose would be a useful addition to the inventory, we took our own but you have to crawl underneath to fit it, if the tank drain was extended to the side of the vehicle it would be an easier job. A stainless steel roof rack and access ladder is fitted as standard, and the roof is strong enough to walk on.
The cabinetwork is very nicely done, all the cupboards have attractive curvy doors made from solid laminated wood finished in real wood veneer and worktop edges are finished with hardwood mouldings. The vinyl wood effect flooring is very practical, we dispensed with the cream bound-edge carpet for the duration of our trip, it might not have been quite so cream after three days camping in a field! The carpet can be fixed in place with poppers and is sensibly divided in two so that it is possible to have the resilient vinyl for the entrance and galley area, whilst keeping the luxury of carpet for the lounge. The cab is also carpeted but this is not removable, cream is not the most practical colour for a cab but I understand that the carpet is fixed for safety reasons so I would imagine that most owners will pretty soon add some removable mats here.
Cooking, eating, dining and lounging
The fridge is a 77 litre Dometic RM7271L unit with electronic ignition and manual energy selection. The energy selection knob was a bit awkward to get at, as a narrow shelf curved out just above it. Oddly, Dometic have not fitted any indicator lights to show when the fridge is working on mains or 12v power.
There is a reasonable amount of storage space in the galley, one of the overhead lockers houses a four place set of china crockery held securely in place with Velcro straps, there is a small cupboard below the sink and a good sized double cupboard with nice curvy doors below that. This double cupboard also houses the cutlery tray which is on runners fixed to the underside of the cupboard above. This seems a good idea in principle, but in practice it needs some method of securing it in place when travelling, it slides back and forth on its runners at every bend in the road, banging into the back of the cupboard and the door. A neat bottle/tin store slides out from alongside.
At first glance there doesn't seem to be much worktop space, but a useful slide-out section to the right of the sink provides a bit extra and the small swivel table, between the cooker and the rear bench seat, can also be pressed into service. These, together with the fold down glass lid to the sink were judged to be just fine. We did find that the grill pan was missing however, so I had to forgo my usual toast for breakfast. Also missing was a waste bin, we had to resort to a plastic bag hanging from the securing knob of the swivel table support!
Snacks can be eaten from the aforementioned swivel table. This small table is a neat idea, we found it useful to work at during the day, it was nice to sit by the big vertical window and have somewhere handy to put your books, mug, etc. without having to get the big table out. At night the top is removed and has its own dedicated storage location just below the adjacent window. This is more than can be said for the main table, it is free-standing, with the usual folding metal legs, and is of ample size for three to dine at, we managed to seat five round it quite easily. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be anywhere to store it, when we picked the van up it was stored in the overcab space, so that's where we kept it when it wasn't in use. This arrangement would work fine for two people but not if the overcab bed was in use by a third occupant. This is, of course, a genuine three person van, there being a fully belted seating position at the left hand end of the rear bench seat.
Lounging is a very pleasant affair, two people can easily relax with their feet up, the L-shaped seating plan provides more useable seating area than some of the popular U-shaped rear lounges. The cushions are firm enough to give support and soft enough to be comfortable, whilst the big windows give an excellent view of the outside world. There did however seem to be an in-fill cushion missing below the backrest of the rear seat, this meant that we had to keep pulling it back into position.
The cab passenger seat has a swivel base fitted but is of course too far away from the main lounging space to be considered part of it, it does however provide somewhere for someone to sit quietly and read or listen to the radio/CD. The van is very well provided with storage space, there are plenty of overhead lockers, thankfully fitted with metal stays rather than the fragile plastic ones, and the lounge seat bases both lift easily, without needing to remove the backrests, to give access to the space beneath. Unfortunately the metal stays that form the hinge mechanism for the seat bases are secured by brass nuts and bolts, I fear that these are not strong enough to stand up to regular use, in fact one had already sheared.
The overcab bed is 3ft 4in (1020mm) wide and has an average length of 5ft 9in (1750mm). It's easily folded out into position over the cab roof cutout and there is a strong net provided to prevent an occupant rolling out of bed. The mattress is in two pieces for easy stowage but is only a measly 2in (50mm) thick and too soft to give any sort of support. It needs to be thicker or made from a much higher density foam. Access to the over cab bed is by a metal ladder that folds in half for easy storage, but the metal rungs might be a bit hard on bare feet!
Clothes storage is catered for with a good sized wardrobe, personally I'm not convinced that all that hanging space is necessary, we would prefer to have the option of a good set of drawers or sliding baskets on rails in here, with a much reduced rail for the very few clothes we carry that need to hang.
Water is heated by a Truma Ultra-store gas/mains heater, the gas control and thermostat are easily accessible, being mounted on the side panel of the wardrobe, however for some reason the switch for mains electric operation is fitted inside the wardrobe. The warning lights on the Truma gas control are irritatingly dim, in fact it's pretty well impossible to see them in daylight, this caused a problem when I first turned the water heater on, it didn't ignite first go and because of the dim lights I hadn't realised it, so we got cold water when we were expecting hot!
Adjacent to the Truma gas control is the Eberspacher control, and a simple electrical panel with a meter that can be switched to show battery voltage or fresh water capacity. An option to show the state of the waste water tank and the engine battery would be a useful addition. Also here are the switches/circuit breakers for the habitation electrical systems - none of which are labeled to indicate the circuits they control. We found the switch for the water pump by trial and error when our water ran out. The final item in this cluster of controls is a main switch for the lights. The lighting in the 5-ELX is very good, with overhead fluorescent lights complemented by attractive diffused lights in the rear corners and swivel spotlights under the high level lockers. Swivel spotlights are also provided in the overcab area. It's a shame then that the only way to turn the corner lights off seemed to be by the main light switch that turns off all the other lights as well. It wasn't possible to read in bed with just the under locker spotlights on.And finally...
It's always difficult to ignore personal preference and try to be objective when carrying out a review like this, I have to say that on first viewing we thought that the layout of the 5-ELX wasn't particularly to our liking. However at the end of our few days away we had come to the view that, actually, this is a very comfortable and practical layout for a couple. Apart from the minor niggles mentioned earlier, which will be quite easily sorted, the van is very well put together, a pleasure to drive and cosy and comfortable to live in.
The technical stuff
Avondale Seascape 5-ELX, base vehicle: Fiat Ducato MWB 2.8JTD Maxi
*Maxi chassis weights estimated
The prices quoted were from the price list dated 11/11/2003, and were 'on the road', including deliveries, PDI, number plates, 12 months road fund licence and new vehicle registration fee. Options prices are for factory fitted options specified at the time of ordering.
Our thanks to Avondale Coachcraft Ltd for the loan of the test vehicle.
Avondale Coachcraft Ltd ceased trading in September 2008