An award winner when new, but how does the Elddis Affinity 540 fare in the tough Practical Caravan review?
Just after it went on sale, the Elddis Affinity 540 picked up the most prestigious gong in the business: Practical Caravan’s Tourer of the Year 2013. It was an impressive start. Our judges were bowled over by this caravan, praising its cutting-edge construction method, stylish interior, low weight and competitive price. It's a great interpretation of Britain’s most popular caravan layout – the nearside-fixed-bed, end-washroom.
For 2013, Elddis has rolled out a new way of building its caravans. ‘SoLiD’ (strong, light and dry) construction does away with screws to fasten the body panels together, replacing them with an insert join fixed with water-repellent adhesive. This makes for stronger bodyshells that can be produced in a variety of shapes, so caravans built using SoLiD can be attractive as well as robust.
The model tested is an Affinity 540. Affinity caravans are firmly pitched towards the top of the mid-market segment, packing must-have goodies, including the Alde wet central heating system and a flat-screen TV/DVD player as standard. More plush points are racked up thanks to interiors that borrow styling cues from Elddis’s upmarket Buccaneer brand, which brings comfort and sophistication into the reach of more buyers.
Pitching and setting up
Despite its innovative construction technique, this caravan has two-piece sides. This may seem old fashioned, but scratches and dings low down on the caravan's body can be repaired more cost-effectively this way.
The front gas locker is very wide, with struts and locks at either end. Access to its interior is excellent, and there’s plenty of room either side of the two gas bottles. One possible gripe is the fact that the locker door won’t rest in the down position; you have to lock it, or the struts will lift it to the raised position.
On one hand, this seems quite sensible, as there’s no danger of towing the caravan with the front locker unfastened. Still, anyone used to the more common arrangement, in which gas lockers can rest on their catches, will have to adjust to the change.
Dropping the Affinity's steadies is easy, although there are no guiding tubes for the rear bolts so you’ll have to crouch down on the ground. The front steadies are easily accessed from the sides of the caravan. Reassuringly sturdy grabhandles at either end of the van will help make fine positioning on pitches much easier.
Making the connections is straightforward, the battery box located on the nearside, all the water connections on the offside. The mains consumer unit is under the nearside seat bench, but there is no master control panel. Instead, there are switches for the electrical system and water pump, plus a switch for a battery test, just to the left as you enter through the two-piece caravan door. Above these are the controls for the Alde wet central and water heating system.
As for specifications, there are no gimmicks. Elddis has eschewed some fads in van design, such as sunroofs, opting instead for a tried-and-trusted fit-out that will please traditionalists. There’s a centre chest with two drawers, a slide-out top and a cubby at floor level. Corner lights are fitted where the front and side lockers meet.
The lounge seats offer plenty of support and have pronounced knee rolls for extra comfort. With each seat bench 1.18m in length and a gangway of 0.61m, we easily managed to fit four adults in for afternoon tea. Another detail we liked was the lack of a panel at the end of the nearside seat bench; this makes the lounge feel more open and allows a single occupant to dangle his or her feet off the end of the bench while watching a TV mounted on the dresser.
There’s no way this lounge could feel gloomy. Five large windows and a rooflight flood the lounge with natural light. Two corner lights get extra support from spotlights at the midships corners of the lounge, an LED strip mounted under the front lockers and lights above the side lockers.
A couple will find that the centre chest’s top extension will suffice at mealtimes. If more table space is required, then a folding-leaf table, which stows in a cupboard to the left of the fridge, is available.
The rectangular sink has a clip-on drainer and mixer tap, and is a good 10.5cm deep. It will easily cope with a couple’s pots and pans. The worktop is thick and has a high-quality feel; it extends over the profile of the fridge to offer valuable extra space.
For flexible working, the cooker has three gas rings and one electric hotplate. Underneath there is a separate oven and grill. We found that it was hard to use a large saucepan or frying pan on the electric hob, and we would have been happier with the cooker controls at the front of the unit, rather than along the right-hand side, a position that puts left-handers at a disadvantage.
Between the grill/oven and dual-fuel 107-litre fridge, there’s a very narrow cupboard. At first glance, we weren’t convinced how useful this would be, but one of our testers thought it would be ideal for tall items, such as cereal boxes and washing powder containers. Up above, you’ll find a drinks cabinet and two lockers with positive catches.
The middle locker has two doors and contains crockery racking. Two task lights are located beneath the lockers, above a small window, so there is plenty of light for food preparation. A rooflight is fixed in the centre of the ceiling, in line with the cooker, but an extractor fan is available as a cost option in lieu of this.
Two sockets in the galley will be useful for a kettle and toaster. A microwave, mounted safely at chest height, fits above the dresser opposite the kitchen.
The square shower unit is moulded and looks well sealed. It has a bi-fold door, ceiling light and mixer tap. There’s no storage unit in the shower, but a tray for a bar of soap is built into the shower attachment – although in this age of gels and creams, how many people still use soap for showering?
The washbasin is deep and wide, with a mixer tap and toothbrush holder, and there’s one usable shelf in the vanity unit beneath it. Under the unit, cabling runs across at floor level, effectively reducing the usefulness of this space. A half-length mirror perches above the basin, with a task light positioned above it to illuminate proceedings.
A cupboard to the right of the basin will store a variety of lotions and potions, but it means that everything will have to be kept behind a wooden door. People who like to have their toiletries on display or within easy reach could find this arrangement irritating.
Other washroom equipment includes a half-length mirror located on the wall opposite the swivel toilet, with heating vents running along the rear wall of the caravan. A toilet-roll holder is sensibly positioned to the left of the toilet.
To provide a clear path from the kitchen area to the washroom, the bed tapers along its offside edge, so the taller sleeper will have to take the nearside berth. A spotlight for reading in bed is mounted at each end of the headboard, and a small shelf at the nearside end of the headboard will accommodate a few paperbacks or mobile phones.
A flat-screen TV with built-in Freeview tuner and DVD player is mounted on a bracket fixed to the bulkhead at the end of the bed; at 16in, it’ll be ideal for night-time viewing. A TV aerial point and mains socket are here, too.
For privacy if the grandchildren come to stay, a concertina partition slides across from the offside to the nearside. However, we thought that brown – typically the default choice in caravans – would be a better option than the white one supplied.
The front double beds make up using slats that are pulled up from under the centre chest. It’s a straightforward operation, but we found that the knee rolls on the seat benches created a sizeable bump at either end of the bed.
Another niggle was the lack of spotlights at each corner above the bed – they’re only available at the midships end of each seat bench – so anyone wanting to read come bedtime will have to occupy this position. At 1.6m, the lounge seats will only function as single beds for children or young teenagers.
There’s also the yawning space under the rear fixed bed, which lifts on gas struts for easy use, and can also be accessed from a hatch on the side of the caravan. With 44cm of headroom, you’ll easily be able to store bulky items here, although we wouldn’t recommend loading heavy items towards the rear end of the bed in preparation for towing.
A full-length wardrobe opposite the fixed bed has three hanging rails and three shelves inside. It is just under one metre wide so it will happily hold a couple’s clothing. A vanity unit sits to the right of the wardrobe and boasts a mirror and mains outlet that is ideal for plugging in a hairdryer.
At the front of this caravan, the seat bases provide some useful extra storage. The mains consumer unit takes a nibble out of the nearside bench, but all remaining space is usable. On the other side, you’ll have to compete with the Alde heating equipment.
The seat benches can be loaded from the top, or from the front via flaps in the lounge gangway (the nearside seat bench can also be accessed externally via a flap on the caravan’s sidewall; this is also where you’ll find a 230V plug socket for external use). Last but not least, there’s a cubby at the foot of the centre chest.
Storage for toiletries is well thought-out. What with the vanity unit opposite the bed and the two cupboards in the washroom, the Affinity provides plenty of places for all the necessary items.
Stylish, practical and well-made, the Elddis Affinity 540 performed impressively under our exacting live-in test conditions. From the outside, its angled front and clean lines make it look sharp and contemporary. The BPW underpinnings and IDC anti-snaking system will ensure stable towing, and an MTPLM of just 1450kg – which brings many popular family cars into contention as potential tugs – will significantly broaden this caravan’s appeal.
Moving inside, things get even better. An attractive interior boasting many current must-have items (Alde wet central and water heating, plus a TV/DVD player) has been successfully crafted onto Britain’s most popular caravan floor plan. The cabinet work and upholstery are well matched and everything feels well screwed together.
The result is a tourer that feels more upmarket and expensive than its price suggests, thanks in no small part to the introduction of Buccaneer design DNA into the Affinity range. This was an inspired move, and will please many potential buyers.
But there’s substance to go with the style. You really won’t want for kit and there’s plenty of storage space for a couple on tour. The only slight niggles we had were the lack of two spotlights in the lounge, and an electric hotplate on the hob that was quite small.
On balance, though, this a van that works well and leaves you feeling content. It is good-looking, great value for money and decidedly aspirational.
- It looks attractive inside and out
- This caravan is very well equipped
- It represents good value for money
- Great use of a popular layout
- There's plenty of storage space
- The electric hotplate could be bigger
- We'd welcome more spotlights in the lounge