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Rob McCabe shares his observations on a rugged three-berth from Swift
Thee Swift Basecamp can surely lay claim to being the most instantly recognisable British-built caravan.
I’ve started to see more and more of them on sites and out on the road, which isn’t a coincidence – Basecamps have proved to be a sales success story for Swift, even though the short-lived Basecamp 6 has been dropped for 2023. Its place in the three-model line-up has been taken by the new Basecamp 3, which joins the 4 (with which it shares a bodyshell) and the smaller 2.
All Basecamps have interesting layouts, but this new three-berther has a particularly eye-catching surprise in store.
One word you’d use to describe the Basecamp’s unique design is ‘chunky’ – and it’s a good word to use to describe the caravan more generally.
The smooth, impact-resistant GRP body panels feel thumpingly hefty and, inside, there’s a pleasing robustness to all the fixtures and fittings, exemplified by the metal frames and sprung-slat bases on the furniture.
The removable table that slots into place in the side seating area keeps up the over-engineered theme.
All this is all the more admirable considering the 3’s relative lack of weight.
The piano black alloy wheels are new this year – and they’re absolutely stunning.
Let’s stay with weight, then. The MTPLM figure of 1,146kg is considerably less than that of even the lightest Sprite, and the ability to be towed easily by a vast variety of vehicles undoubtedly plays a part in attracting caravanning newcomers.
For 2023, the Al-Ko chassis has been adorned with shock absorbers to give a more settled ride. The same company’s celebrated ATC trailer control system is available as a £475 factory-fit option.
So, now we come to that eye-opening surprise. Walk in through the extra-wide rear door and look to the very front.
Here, you’ll find what Swift modestly describes as a ‘folding Duvalay mattress’. Oddly, there’s no mention I can find in any brochure of its daytime use as an exceptionally comfortable and huge sofa. All it needs is a big, woolly throw to chuck over it, plus a couple of fat cushions to lean into, and two of you can wallow in luxury with your feet up.
It’s ideally located for watching telly too – all the TV connections are on the shelf directly facing it. The enormous panoramic window floods the entire area with light, and opens so wide that you can almost think of it as a sunroof.
At night-time the sofa becomes a bed (more on that later…) and, being a Basecamp, the whole structure also folds flat and secures against the front wall so you can accommodate your bikes, etc.
What gives the 3 its third berth are the two facing single seats along the nearside wall. With the floor-mounted table in place, this area is perfect as a breakfast bar or lunch station. Stow the table top/leg away and, as with the bed/seating at the front, everything folds up out of the way, giving you somewhere else to secure unwieldy kit in transit (or, indeed, you could bring it all in for secure, weatherproofed overnight storage). Most caravans offer the capacity to take stuff with you that would be difficult to accommodate otherwise – but the Basecamp takes that to extremes.
A signature feature that continues into 2023 is the bank of removable soft storage bags along the nearside, where you’d usually expect to find ‘normal’ overhead lockers. This year, these are the only orange fitments on display – a nod to what has been something of a trademark Basecamp colour since its inception. Are they a bit gimmicky? I don’t think so. You can take them all home with you at the end of your trip, and then load them up when you’re packing for the next one – this cuts down on the number of bags you need to take, and saves on unpacking time when you arrive. They have zipped fronts, so they’re just as easily accessed on site as lockers – and, of course, they’re a very obvious design feature.
The overall décor could almost be described as ‘industrial chic’. It’s coolly attractive, and a couple of fluffy rugs and the aforementioned throw for the sofa would instantly make it more homely.
Equipment is decent, headed up by a standard 100W solar panel on the roof. In addition, the Basecamp features plenty of mains and USB sockets, dual-fuel heating (courtesy of a Whale heater that delivers its blown air from a space-saving underfloor mounting) and posh pleated blinds. Outside you’ll find a gas barbecue and mains sockets, and a shower attachment – perfect for attending to mucky pups, sandy feet or filthy mountain bikes.
This may well turn out to be the 3’s biggest selling point: the permanent double bed that’s only ‘permanent’ some of the time (if you see what I mean). Just lift up and pull out the sofa base, then pull on the mattress to extend it – and there’s your tremendous proper, Duvalay-mattress-topped double bed. Okay, so you need to slip on a bedsheet and fetch the duvet from the bottom of the wardrobe – but it’s a brilliantly conceived compromise.
Some users may choose to leave the bed set up all or some of the time, using the single seats during the day. These transform quickly into a good single bed, with the tightly packed cushions making a good, firm mattress. It’s officially 5ft 10in long, although I’m 5ft 11in and I’d be perfectly happy overnighting here. There’s no privacy curtain, so all three occupants would effectively be in one big bedroom.
It may lack work surface, an electric hot plate and a microwave, but, featuring classy shades of black and slate, it’s so handsome you can forgive some of its equipment shortcomings.
The three-burner gas hob looks like it belongs in a style magazine, and even the fitted basin has a neat built-in recess so you can lift it out of the cylindrical sink more easily. Genius!
A flip-up extension does address the work surface issue in a modest kind of way, and you could easily accommodate a compact microwave on a shelf where one of the soft zippy bags currently lives; there’s even a convenient mains socket right underneath. The combined oven and grill is good to see, as is the generous storage that includes slide-out drawers.
Restrained elegance is the order of the day in here; the marble-look wall covering is a particularly effective style touch, and when I first opened the sturdy, domestic-style door to go in, I was struck by how much more spacious it felt than I imagined it would be – certainly there is plenty of room to take a shower. The mirror is usefully big and square and, commendably, there’s another longer, slimmer one outside the washroom.
There are only two directional reading lights at the front, so somebody will have to do without one when the bed’s made up – but the glow from the lights serving the kitchen and TV shelf opposite help illuminate the lounge/bedroom too.
There’s a nice ambience in the evening when all the blinds are in place, with mood lighting peering out from above the kitchen lockers and wardrobe. A long under-locker strip bathes the kitchen in brightness – helpful when cooking. The side seating has its own push-button light, and there’s a floor-level mains socket back here too, should you want to bring a little table lamp from home.
The washroom is very smartly illuminated, thanks to a little LED strip on the wall above the big square mirror, and another on the wall opposite.
‘Different’ is sometimes a polite way of describing something that doesn’t quite do it for you. This is quite the opposite. It’s a great vehicle to look at, and some of the design touches indoors are outstanding too. Add in its light weight and versatility, and it equates to what looks like a winning combination to me.