Alastair ClementsSee other News articles filed in ‘Caravans’ written by Alastair Clements
Ahead of Thursday's ceremony, we can now exclusively reveal the runners and riders for this annual celebration of the very best that the touring caravan industry has to offer.
We’ve made a few changes this year – quite apart from the new location, that being Hampton Manor, near Solihull in the West Midlands – with several fresh categories to ensure a bumper-crop of award-winners. Our new classes are designed to recognise the best in luxury, the biggest bargains, and some of the more intriguing options being brought into the UK from the Continent. Because these categories are completely new, our judges were able to take a second look at some of the tourers that have already been on sale for a few years, as well as those introduced for the 2016 season.
Together with last year’s classes, we are confident that readers will be able to find their perfect tourer among our winners and runners-up. And, of course, one element of our awards remains a constant, our event sponsor Whale. We are delighted that the renowned heating and water-pump manufacturer has joined our team for a fifth consecutive year.
Former Editor Nigel Donnelly and caravan historian Andy Jenkinson have returned to our judging panel, alongside Practical Caravan’s long-serving Chief-sub-editor Claudia Dowell and me, Alastair Clements, the magazine's Group Editor, making up a team with a combined caravanning experience of nearly a century. So, what products have made our Tourer of the Year Awards 2016 shortlist?
The first award is, Best Awning, which returns to the 2016 awards by popular demand. Our judges were looking for awnings that were as simple and fast as possible to erect, constructed from top-quality materials, and offering excellent value for money. Following a week of testing earlier this year, we gathered the following shortlist: the Inaca Jeroboam; the Isabella Ambassador Seed; and the Vango Varkala 420.
The only other award that recognises an element of a caravan rather than the tourer itself is that for Best Innovation. This category was introduced last year, to recognise the efforts of both manufacturers and suppliers to move the industry forward. In choosing the finalists, our panel considered everything from new layouts to bike racks, before narrowing down their choices to three that we felt best delivered the usability, comfort and convenience gains that really push the market on: the Swift Command control system; Belfield’s DreamSleep bed; and the Whale Expanse under-floor water heater.
The main tourer categories begin in earnest with the first of our completely new awards, for Best Budget Tourer. Now the term ‘budget’ means different things to different buyers. We set our price limit for the class at £15,000. That’s a lot of money, but it doesn’t buy a lot today, and our judges were looking for caravans that do something different, and do it brilliantly. The three making our shortlist were: the Adria Altea 552DT Tamar; the Sprite Alpine 4; and the Xplore 304.
From one end of the price spectrum to the other for our second new award, which is for the Best Luxury Tourer. Here, our judges were looking for the best of the best, a caravan that combines a high level of specification and build quality, supportive furnishings, contemporary materials, and attention to detail, not to mention a layout that makes as few compromises as possible. The shortlisted contenders were: the Lunar Delta RI; the Coachman Laser 620; and the Elddis Crusader Aurora.
The last of our completely new categories is something of a break from the norm. For our Best Specialist Tourer award, our judges weren’t looking for the caravans that will appeal to traditionalists, but for forward-thinking vehicles that could tempt newcomers to try caravanning. Here, innovation, flexibility and a sense of adventure matter more than high kit levels. Our shortlist consisted of: the Pino Pi 2010; the Kip Shelter; and the Knaus Deseo Transport Plus.
After all of those newcomers, we return to more familiar territory with our award for Best Tourer For Couples. As in previous years, only tourers that are all-new since our last awards or substantially revised for the 2016 season are eligible to be considered for this and the following categories. This was a tough group, once again dominated by fixed-bed models, but we eventually whittled it down to the following shortlist: the Sprite Major 4 SB; the Elddis Avanté 554; and the Bailey Pegasus Modena.
Ask any parent and they will tell you that caravan holidays with kids on board are not always plain sailing, so to win our Best Tourer For Small Families award, you need a caravan that is flexible whatever the weather. Our judges were looking for a minimum of four berths, with singles for the kids and a bit of privacy for long-suffering mum and dad. Among the shortlisted contenders were: the Bailey Pegasus Ancona; the Sterling Eccles 565; and the Coachman Vision 570.
In the Best Tourer For Large Families category, we were looking for a caravan that offers families a spacious, flexible living space and the ability to sleep at least six. Value for money was a top consideration, as was weight, ensuring the winning van is one that most large family vehicles could tow. It was a tough order, but these contenders made our shortlist: the Elddis Avanté 566; the Xplore 586; and the Lunar Quasar 646.
For our final group winner, the Best Tourer For Seasonal Pitches, the judges sought a caravan that blended the qualities of a ‘static’ with the flexibility to go touring when the mood takes you. That means plenty of space, well-appointed accommodation and high specification levels. The weighty contenders making our shortlist were: the Buccaneer Clipper; the Compass Rallye 636; and the Swift Conqueror 630.
Which just leaves our overall Tourer of the Year. As part of our revamp of this year’s awards, we decided that the title had to go to one of our category winners. The judges were looking for a caravan that boasts genuine innovation, supreme practicality and as few compromises as possible. We’ll keep the result a secret for now, but we can tell you that our victor pipped its nearest rival by just one point in the final count.
The full results of our Tourer of the Year Awards 2016 will be announced online after the ceremony on 24 September, and in full inside the November issue of Practical Caravan magazine, which goes on sale on Thursday 8 October. Don’t miss it!