Lizzie Pope
Digital Editor

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The revamped for 2013 Swift Challenger SE 565 impresses the experts in Practical Caravan's definitive review

Overview

For the 2013 season, Swift Group radically revamped the Challenger range, replacing it with the new Challenger SE, and it stole the headlines at Swift Group’s 2013 model launch. We also declared the Challenger SE 570 to be the ‘Best Caravan for Couples’ in our 2013 Tourer of the Year Awards.

The Challenger name has always been synonymous with mid-range comfort, but if a criticism could be levelled at it in recent seasons, it would be that the caravans have been on the heavy side, and a bit light on kit when compared to rival tourers in its sector.

The launch of the SE range (which stands for ‘special equipment’) put this situation right. First, it upgrades the upper mid-market Challenger to better differentiate it from the previous season’s runaway success, the Challenger Sport models, which stole some of its sales.

The new SE vans share the Sport’s narrower, lighter bodyshell, which significantly reduces overall weight: in the case of the 565 tested here, it’s 51kg lighter than the outgoing model in full touring trim. Now weighing 1553kg fully laden, it can be towed comfortably by a BMW X3 or similar. And crucially, while it’s 6cm narrower than 2012’s model, there is no reduction in interior length, which remains at 5.6m. Other models within the SE range were significantly shortened in order to achieve these standout overall weight reductions.

The layout featured here is very much in vogue right now, featuring fixed single beds and a full-width rear washroom. Of course, the strength of this layout is its flexibility: they’re mostly bought by couples who prefer the comfort of their own, single bed sleeping space when on tour. But those with young children or grandchildren may also be swayed by the ability to make up the lounge sofas into a double bed for occasional guests who are prepared to share a bed.

And don't forget that all Swift Group tourers benefit from a factory-backed, 10-year warranty, plus new for 2013, a Tracker Retrieve tracking system.

Pitching and setting up

The Challenger is built on an Al-Ko chassis, and is equipped with the AKS 3004 stabiliser and ATC trailer stability control as standard. We towed it close to fully laden with our SsangYong Korando 2.0 EX Auto, at an 89% outfit match. The ATC system is superb – you can feel it activate and gently pull the van back into line behind you, without making the driver lurch forward. The SE’s aerodynamic design and its narrow body helped the Korando return a shade over 24mpg, which represents a slight improvement on towing wider tourers of the same weight.

We’re big fans of the body shape and external styling; the one-piece aluminium sidewalls don’t show any signs of telegraphing, while the standard sunroof looks great – and don’t forget, Challenger pioneered the current fascination with sunroofs. Its new alloy wheels are the icing on the cake.

On site, the two-way, gas-assisted, button-free handbrake takes the grunt out of applying and releasing it. The hitch cover has moulded sections for stepping on when cleaning the van, which we reckon is a useful touch. We found the heavy-duty steadies easy to locate and simple to access, lower and raise. The gas locker at the front is capacious, and the lid is supported by a single gas strut, for easy access to the cylinders, although you’ll need to lift them clear of a substantial lip in front.

On the offside, the battery box houses the hook-up point and an aerial socket for those who like to take a satellite dish with them to pick up their favourite TV channels on tour. Access to the toilet holding tank, the fresh water inlet and the waste-water outlets are all also on the offside; it’s sound thinking to site all the ‘dirty hands’ work outside the awning area. Note that the toilet holding tank is mounted on wheels so it can be transported easily to the site’s chemical disposal point.

On the nearside, there’s an external gas barbecue point and a mains electrical socket, plus two external locker doors, for access to the storage areas under the front seat box and the rear bed. This is a welcome addition, and will save the owner from having to walk bulky items through the van to stow them or to retrieve them from these premium storage spaces.

The main control panel is sensibly sited above the caravan entry door and is designed to be visually intuitive – we found it to be perfectly user-friendly. Other external kit worth mentioning is a new roof-mounted 20W solar panel and an LED awning light operated via the van’s key fob – the latter works from 50 paces, and is good for locating your van on return to a busy field, or for the feeling of added security when you’re pitched in a dark corner of a campsite.

Lounge

The lounge space is comfortable and cosy for up to four people: each of the sofas measures 1.56cm. The reduction in overall body width is barely noticeable in terms of legroom for occupants of the sofas.

The centre chest is standard and the pull-out top provides sufficient space for two to enjoy a meal without being cramped, while the well-proportioned, free-standing table (measuring 96cm x 60cm) has space for four diners. When the table is not in use, it slides into a dedicated storage rail on the underside of the fixed, nearside single bed.

There are two dedicated TV points, each with 230V, 12V and aerial sockets: the first of these is built into the centre chest, the second is mounted to the wardrobe bulkhead at the foot of the nearside single bed. There are two mains electric sockets in the front lounge in total.

The sunroof is standard and does a good job of flooding the lounge with light by day. However, unlike the latest sunroof offered by a close rival, the Bailey Unicorn II Cadiz, it doesn’t open. The Swift roof has five built-in downlights, which combine well with over-locker lighting to create a classy internal ambience in the evening. LED corner spotlights provide battery-friendly, directional illumination for night-time reading.

All the windows get pleated blinds, flyscreens and full curtains. The sofa backrests also receive backboards to reduce the risk of condensation against the interior walls in cooler climes. However, this shouldn’t be a problem: one of the key new kit upgrades is Alde’s wet-central heating system, which features radiators beneath the seat boxes and a heated rail in the washroom. It’s a premium bit of kit, and Alde’s new touch control panel is easy and intuitive to use. Drop-in carpets are also included on the standard kit list.

Kitchen

The kitchen gets a hinged extension to increase space for preparing meals, which is a welcome addition because space is at a premium here. This is to be expected, though – single-axle floor plans featuring a rear washroom and fixed longitudinal beds invariably lead to a squeeze in space somewhere. Despite this, the designers found a place for a second cutlery drawer, sandwiched between the fridge and the granite-effect worktop.

The entire kitchen has been restyled – for example, the locker doors are cream-coloured to distinguish the area from the rest of the van. Even more striking are the attractive, wipe-clean, LED-lit splashback and LED strip lighting under the work surface’s leading edge, both new for 2013. The overall effect gives the area great visual appeal.

The fridge is the latest 110-litre Dometic model, with an easy-to-use, push-button control panel. The hob has three gas burners and an electric hotplate, with a full, separate oven and grill, as well as a microwave oven above them. Another useful upgrade is a three-speed, two-way Omnivent roof fan, designed to extract cooking smells and cool the interior. There are two further three-pin electric sockets in the kitchen, which we put to use with a kettle and a small toaster.

There’s room for Swift’s trademark chopping board and clip-on plastic drainer, but otherwise storage in the kitchen area – similar to the food preparation space – is squeezed. However, if you keep your plates and cereal bowls to a minimum, everything can be accommodated.

Washroom

The generously proportioned, full-width rear washroom is accessed via a domestic-style door. There’s plenty of legroom by the Thetford C-260 swivel toilet on the offside, while there's a roller blind to the frosted window behind it and shelved storage for toiletries above that. The main vanity mirror gets new backlighting, which does wonders for the ambience of the space.

The Alde wet-central heating system includes a radiator in the washroom, which doubles as a heated towel rail, and it’s wisely not shoehorned into space that is uncomfortably close to the toilet. There’s a large – if rather shallow – basin and a spacious, fully lined separate shower cubicle on the nearside, which features a hanging rail for drying. The shower cubicle has a folding, rigid partition door and an overhead light inside, but no ceiling vent to release steam.

Beds

The beds of choice for adults are the fixed twin singles. The offside bed measures 1.92m x 0.68m, while the nearside bed is slightly shorter at 1.83m x 0.73m. This bedroom is partitioned from the front lounge by a concertina blind, making it effectively an en suite. Each twin bed has an attractive padded headboard, with a small storage shelf for essential knick-knacks, and each gets a single directional reading light at the head of the bed. The mattresses are of the deep-sprung variety, and feel very luxurious. Our testers found them to be as comfortable as any domestic mattress.

All the essentials are here for watching TV in bed: there’s a bracket for mounting a flat-screen, plus mains electrics and an aerial point at the foot of the nearside bed, although a TV is not part of the standard kit supplied.

Up front, the sofas make suitable single berths for youths under 5ft. Alternatively they can be made up quickly into a transverse double bed by pulling the slatted base from beneath the central chest – and these slats are retained on a track.

We believe the layout will prove most popular with couples who prefer to have clearly separated lounging and sleeping areas. The front sofas are really only for use as single beds for younger children, although visitors may prefer to make up the transverse bed into a double.

Storage

The rounded, aircraft-style lockers of the outgoing Challenger have been replaced by flat-faced ones. The change gives the impression of greater internal headroom. The under-seat storage in the front lounge can be accessed by raising the self-supporting wooden lids of the seat boxes or via front flaps.

However, the seat box lids open on springs in the lounge area, unlike the frames of the fixed beds, whose lids are lifted on gas-assisted struts, so they’re only self-supporting when opened a full 90˚. Avoid storing bulkier items here – which can’t be removed via the front flaps – or you’ll need to remove all the cushions to get at them.

In contrast, the storage space under the single beds is easier to access, thanks to proper, hinged, aluminium frame bases that are supported by two gas struts when opened. The struts are man enough to carry the weight of the mattresses on top when they’re opened, making access to the storage space easy.

There’s a good-size wardrobe next to the main entrance door, which has a light that switches on automatically when the wardrobe door is opened. External access to the storage space beneath the nearside front sofa and nearside bed is also useful.

Technical specs

Berth4
MiRO1400kg
Payload153kg
MTPLM1553kg
Interior length5.6m
Shipping length7.25m
Width2.24m
Height2.65m
Awning size996cm

Verdict

You get one chance to make a first impression – and the Challenger SE seizes on this. Outside it’s stylish, but it’s inside where it stakes its claim to greatness.

Swift is a past master at producing tourers that ooze quality and ambience, and the attention that’s gone into lighting throughout the 565 testifies to this. The rich wood tone coordinates beautifully with the upholstery. While some testers found the caravan's soft furnishings a little bland, others admired the red detailing in the headboards, curtains and cushions. Either way, it’s set off well by over-locker lighting, lots of natural light, backlit features and under-worktop detailing.

There’s substance to complement the style though. The standard kit list has been beefed up for 2013, to include Alde’s wet-central heating system and a new Tracker Retrieve tracking system. At the same time, weights have been reduced, thanks in part to the narrower body. Crucially, though, the 565 is the same length as last year.

It’s a welcome rethinking of the Challenger range that gives buyers a real reason to upgrade from a Challenger Sport. Some critics felt it might snap at the heels of Swift’s flagship Conqueror range – the real litmus test will be how it fares against the likes of the Bailey Unicorn II Cadiz, the Elddis Affinity 574 and perhaps the Coachman Pastiche 565/4. If you like its bulging kit list and slimline statistics, you’ll adore the sight of the 565. Hugely impressive.

Conclusion

Pros

  • It has a factory-backed, 10-year warranty, plus a Tracker Retrieve tracking system
  • The washroom is a great size
  • It's stylish and well equipped

Cons

  • It has a sunroof, but it doesn't open
  • Space is a little tight in the kitchen
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