Kate TaylorSee other caravan reviews written by Kate Taylor
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Practical Caravan's experts review the 2013 Coachman Amara 580/5, a family five-berth that’s also ideal for couples who host their grandchildren
Coachman’s Amara 580/5 is an all-new, family-oriented layout that was introduced for the 2013 season. The Hull-based firm is best-known for its premium-quality tourers, and has earned a well-deserved reputation for manufacturing excellence; the Amara, however, is its entry-level range. It nevertheless looks and feels like a luxury tourer, both outside and in, and is certain to retain strong residual values in the second-hand market.
At its launch last year, Coachman explained its aim to appeal to the ‘gramping’ market: that is, grandparents who take or welcome grandchildren on holiday with them. The single-axle Amara 580/5 replaced the outgoing 550/5 layout, and was one of the star models for 2013 built with this target market squarely in mind.
We were so impressed at its launch that we named it Best Caravan for Small Families in our 2013 Tourer of the Year awards (November 2012, page 62).
The smart red-and-grey graphics were a stylish addition for this season, as were the one-piece aluminium sidewalls. Inside, Coachman has played it safe with soft furnishings in neutral beige, which caused us a few concerns on first impressions – the colour is not ideal for lively families, even if used only occasionally.
Inside, the 580/5 layout features a huge, offside corner washroom, rear nearside double bunk beds, a midships kitchen with facing dinette and a comfy lounge up front. It was our base for an extended test in April at the new Capesthorne Hall Caravan Park in Siddington, Macclesfield, at the edge of the Peak District.
Pitching and setting up
After unhitching on site, we easily applied the gas-assisted handbrake, which is also a breeze to release. A deep front window line is good news for the ambience of the living quarters, but it results in a smaller gas locker. At 1.13m x 0.38m, its aperture is narrow, and it has a pronounced lip, which may hamper removing and replacing gas cylinders.
The Amara is well specified for making full use of its capabilities from the comfort of the awning. On the nearside, there’s an external gas barbecue point and a fully lined locker that houses a three-pin mains socket.
The cassette toilet locker is on the offside, as are the hook-up point, the leisure battery and the Truma heater inlet. Similarly the waste-water pipes drain to the offside – they’re rigid and fixed to the underside of the van, with just a short run of flexible hose to the drain outlet near the axle, so water is unlikely to get trapped in sagging pipework. All the facilities are sited to ensure that ‘dirty hands’ work is not done from inside the awning.
The attractive alloy wheels are a standard fit, although the spare wheel, which is underslung just rear of the axle, is steel. The rear grabhandles are arranged at a 45˚ angle, which makes for easier manoeuvring, whether manhandling the caravan forward and backward, or pivoting it sideways. The entry door is a solid, one-piece affair, with a built-in waste bin and a flyscreen.
Also, the use of the Truma Combi 4E space and water heater, sited in the offside seat box, means no storage space is taken up with a domestic-style heater frontage. Instead, blown air circulates throughout the van via heating ducts, and the clever electronic touch control panel allows you to programme times for the heating and hot water.
Small, neat details in the comfortable lounge area point to a wider attention to quality. For example, the knee rolls of the seat squabs are flattened at the ends so the bolster cushions sit flatter. In addition, the backrests sit against backboards to reduce the risk of condensation, and the wallboards are attractively textured.
The cabinet work looks smart, with a light ash veneer, canvas-style contrast detail and silver-effect trim and handles. All lighting is LED, including integrated lighting units in lockers, vertical fixtures in the front corners and four directional spotlights in the lounge.
However, the lights are individually controlled: the mood lights above the lockers on either side of the van have separate switches, and the lights built into the corner mouldings have their own switches, as do the reading lights. It gives you more control over the ambience, but our testers found it fussy. Also, the LED bulbs are clearly visible through the plastic covers of the over-locker strips.
Our testers did like the separate, two-seat dinette opposite the kitchen. All agreed on the merits of a second lounging area, whether it’s a place to eat breakfast for the grandparents while they leave the bed made up, or somewhere for the grandchildren to play games in the evening. The side dinette is served by a table that clips to a rail on the wall, and is stashed in a dedicated space in
the wardrobe when not in use.
To dine in the front lounge, you need to set up the free-standing table, which has its own dedicated storage cupboard against the bulkhead of the bunk beds. Walking it all through the van when you fetch or return it is not ideal, but the table is lightweight, so manhandling it shouldn’t prove a physical hardship for most.
The table is 70cm high, though it is not level with the slide-out occasional table from the central chest in the front lounge. It measures 99cm x 60cm, and happily accommodates four; you can seat a further two diners at the side dinette.
The area is well illuminated by a mini Heki rooflight and a strip light over the work surface. A microwave oven, which comes as standard, is housed behind a locker door at eye level. There’s
no extractor fan on the kit list as a standard item, but an Omnivent is a £170 cost option.
A 113-litre Thetford fridge with automatic energy selection provides ample room for provisions for two, but may struggle to cope with enough ingredients for a full complement of five occupants.
We love the Belfast sink, and found the fully lined, walk-in shower cubicle well-proportioned. There’s also plenty of legroom around the swivel head toilet, and ample shelf and cupboard storage for toiletries and other essentials. It’s a better-designed family-van washroom than most.
If the 580/5 is to function successfully as a genuine five-berth family tourer, it should have a curtain for the single dinette to partition the offside berth from the rest of the living quarters. However, we accept the thinking that, if it’s truly a ‘gramping’ van, you’d have to stash that curtain somewhere when it’s not in use, and that would likely be more often than not.
From the front windows to the entry door, the floor plan is effectively that of a standard, end-washroom four-berth. However, rear of the entry door, it features an offside-corner washroom and fixed longitudinal bunks instead of an end washroom.
The bunks are both 1.73m long, have their own lights at the rear wall, and their own privacy curtains. Young children will love them, as they double perfectly as dens.
One minor gripe: if those two bunk beds are in use, the access to the washroom is fouled by the rake of the ladder to the upper bunk, which may pose problems for night-time visits to the facilities.
If it were a vertical ladder, this problem would be resolved.
The front seat boxes also have locker flaps to access the contents, whereas the side dinette seats don’t offer this. We mentioned earlier that one of the merits of a combi-style boiler is that you no longer need a space heater frontage; in the 580/5 this allows space for a taller wardrobe, with extra drawers beneath it. There’s further storage space beneath the rear lower bunk bed for larger items, although it’s not the easiest space to access. Of course, if you don’t have the grandchildren staying with you, the bunks can double as load trays. There’s plenty of space in the abundant overhead lockers, too.
The 580/5 ticks all the boxes with aplomb: separate lounge spaces for evening quiet time, bunk beds that double as in-van dens, a kitchen that will cope with preparing meals for five, and ample storage throughout the van.
By virtue of its weight – it’ll require at least a large estate car to tow it comfortably within the recommended 85% match guidelines – and price, it has few natural rivals at dealerships today. It’s also tightly focused on the gramping market in a way few other tourers are.
Unlike many family caravans, that put the squeeze on space in the washroom or kitchen, there’s no compromise on luxury here for grandparents who’ll more than likely use it as a massive two-berth most of the time. And it looks superb, as we’ve come to expect from Coachman. We found it a worthy winner in our 2013 Tourer of the Year awards for delivering so well on its tight design focus, and a week with it only reinforces those strong first impressions.
- Moderate-price van that doesn't compromise on luxury
- Spacious, practical kitchen and washroom
- Loads of storage space, including large wardrobe
- No curtain to close off offside dinette when converted into berth
- Aperture of gas locker is reduced in size and has a pronounced lip