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Rob McCabe is knocked back by the latest 8ft-wide offering from Swift
The latest addition to the growing ranks of 8ft-wide caravans is the Swift Challenger X 860, which sports the much-desired centre washroom/rear island bed layout and an eye-catching L-shape lounge. Best of all worlds, then? Let’s find out.
Swift’s SMART construction method means no trees were harmed in the making of this caravan – the GRP body panels are mated to a polyurethane frame. Keep the caravan serviced by the book, and you get a 10-year bodyshell warranty to back up the manufacturer’s faith in the integrity of the build.
Inside, space frame construction supports the overhead lockers and seat bases, which is good to see – my experience of evaluating second-hand Swift Group vehicles suggests that this is a robust and long-lasting set-up: the tightness and solidity on show in this one should still be evident many years hence. My only quibble on this example was with the very flimsy plastic panel at the bottom end of the fixed bed, where one of the screws had already made a bid for freedom.
The biggest surprise on a £30k-plus caravan is that Al-Ko’s ATC trailer control system isn’t included as standard – you need to specify it as a £399 extra when ordering. As always with an eight-footer, you’ll just need to be conscious of that little bit of extra width when venturing away from trunk roads, and with a weight of more than 1,500kg unladen, you’ll need a towcar of a certain stature too. Inside, the weighty appliances are ideally clustered over or around the axle for optimum weight distribution.
When it comes to making first impressions, Swift has got it nailed. For starters, L-shaped front lounges do have that ‘wow’ factor, especially when you consider all the floorspace on offer in this extra-wide offering. The combination of a subtle, classy upholstery finish and beautiful woodwork completes the selling job. The big shelf along the nearside wall is all set up to receive your TV, with the built-in stereo offering alternative entertainment. There’s no DAB or Bluetooth but the head unit does have a USB socket, so you can connect your phone or tablet and play your own tunes through the caravan’s speakers. There are no fewer than seven other USB ports on board.
The sofa is plump and supportive, with lovely, comfy corners for three people to flop back into. As is usually the case with L-shapes, it’ll start to look a bit busy when you introduce Person No 4. There’s no chest of drawers, so you’ll need to use the freestanding table at mealtimes – and that lives all the way at the back, in one of the two bedside wardrobes.
Storage provision is excellent. The seat lockers have full-width opening hatches for maximum user-friendliness, and accessing the vast space under the bed is a delightfully simple one-handed operation. Similarly, you have to love a gas locker with just one handle and one lock.
Heating is well taken care of by the Alde system, and the 100W solar panel on the roof should keep the battery healthy.
This new model brings one of the cleverer caravan layouts to the Challenger X line-up – clever because the adaptable configuration of the centre washroom makes it equally accessible to both sleeping quarters without anyone having to intrude into anyone else’s bedroom.
As such, the 860 can serve equally well as a luxury en-suite two-berth or a three- or four-berth family caravan, so long as the kids don’t mind sharing the big front double in their sleeping bags.
That bed at the front is certainly a good one. The base is cleverly and effectively created by lifting up, extending and unfolding the front seat base, and the upholstery sections fit snugly to create a really comfy mattress.
Star of the show, however, is the island bed at the back with its top-quality Duvalay mattress. The bedroom itself lays on everything you need: roomy bedside shelves, two wardrobes, reading lights with USBs, TV socketry on the wall, low-slung central heating radiators along the bottom of each sidewall and, of course, spacious walkways either side of the bed.
A series of thoughtful little touches makes this a very agreeable kitchen. The already decent workspace is extended by a sturdy, fold-up section; the electric hotplate on the dual-fuel hob is raised slightly so that you can place a larger pan directly on it without having to remove the pan guard; the plastic drainer and sink cover have their own, custom receptacle in a cupboard; pull-out wire racking is such a good use of space; and the microwave is nicely fitted.
To be honest, this is never going to be in the running for Washroom of the Year but, for all that, it’s roomy and practical, with plenty of places to store stuff. The grey slab of a radiator looks a bit drab compared to the swish heated towel rail that graces many Alde-equipped caravans, and I have no idea what that big black panel in the shower is all about – it would look so much nicer if it just wasn’t there.
The feature wall behind the TV shelf in the lounge is a real focal point, especially in the evening with its soft lighting accentuating the textured finish. Laid-back ambient glows also emanate from above the lockers here, and also in the bedroom. Both the bedroom and lounge feature two reading lights, each of which includes a built-in USB socket. A trio of flush-fitting lamps and a strip on the underside of the overhead lockers ensure the kitchen is nicely lit up across its entirety, while the washroom benefits from a separate light in the shower. The mirror above the washbasin is devoid of glamorous backlighting but the flush-fitting LEDs above it do their job effectively enough. And a ‘well done’ sticker goes to whoever thought of putting a light above the dresser next to the entrance door.
The super-smart X 860 is a great place to be during waking hours – and just as nice after lights-out. No surprise that the combination of the added width and a brilliant layout are already winning this new caravan lots of sales.