Alastair ClementsSee other caravan reviews written by Alastair Clements
With more berths, more kit and less weight, 2016's Adria Astella 613HT Amazon offers much, but is its beauty more than skin deep and can it woo UK buyers?
Introduced in 2012, the Astella remains at the top of Slovenian manufacturer Adria’s catalogue. Unlike the majority of its siblings, the flagship makes few concessions to the conservative British buyer: there’s a kitchen across the front of the van, rather than the expected parallel sofas, and a centrally placed, L-shaped lounge.
From there back, things get a little more conventional with an end washroom and either a nearside fixed double bed (for the Rio Grande) or, as here, a pair of fixed twin beds. But no one could accuse it of looking conventional: from its silver sidewalls to its roof-rails, its dark wood finishes to its leather and chrome, this is one stylish caravan.
The ‘Glam Edition’ tag may have been dropped from the Astella’s title for 2016, but the sense of glamour remains, outside and in. The range has a small but loyal band of followers. In an effort to increase their number, Adria has worked hard to broaden the appeal of the Amazon and the Rio Grande for 2016 by turning them from two- into four-berth models, with an additional double bed made up from the lounge sofa.
But the question remains: does the concept work for British buyers?
Another attempt to appeal to a wider audience can be found on the spec list: thanks to revised construction, the plated MTPLM is down by a whopping 175kg to 1825kg – and that is despite the addition of a 50-litre on-board water tank.
Nonetheless, this is one seriously hefty caravan, and one that will need a similarly hefty tow car – one weighing in at 2147kg if you prefer to stick to the two main clubs’ 85% rule for safe and secure towing – which is why it seems all the more unusual that Adria persists with a single axle for the Astella, when most vans of this type will be twin-axles on seasonal pitches. If you’re not worried about overall weight, and the standard 160kg payload seems a bit meagre, you can upgrade to a 2000kg MTPLM – giving a useful 335kg payload.
All of that mass sits on an Al-Ko Delta galvanised chassis, while the body features Adria’s ‘iShape’ family look with ABS front and rear panels and polyester sidewalls and roof finished in snazzy silver-grey. Thick Styropor insulation helps it to achieve EN1645 Grade 3 for thermal insulation.
The kit list is impressive, with seven-spoke alloy wheels, an external gas barbecue point, a two-part glazed entrance door and a huge double-glazed panoramic sunroof. Smart tail-light units and a high-level brake light contribute to the automotive look. And to see other Adria caravans for sale, click here.
Pitching and setting up
There are heavy-duty steadies all round, with long tubes giving access to the front bolts – which demand care to avoid scratching the front panel when using a powered winder – and little guidance to the rears, so they can take a bit of finding. You’ll want to get it pitch-perfect, too, because the waste-water outlets are well aft of the axle line.
Once pitched, the Astella is highly user-friendly: the awning light is mounted centrally, there’s a superbly engineered retractable Thule step making a portable plastic item redundant, and the services (water-tank filler, external water pump, electric hook-up, fridge vents, plus toilet cassette and flush) are all relegated to the offside to avoid cluttering the awning.
You could be forgiven for expecting a single-axle tourer of this size to be a pig to tow, and it’s true that a 2.48m-wide caravan probably isn’t ideal for beginners, but nor does it feel particularly intimidating on the road. The body length sneaks under 7m, so you won’t need a car weighing more than 3500kg to legally tow it, but this is really a van that’s best pulled by a large 4x4.
We hitched up to a Range Rover SDV8 and it never felt anything other than utterly stable, aided by that wide track, though a twin-axle would suffer less buffeting when overtaking HGVs. Some of that stability can be put down to a very capable tow car, but the Adria has a reassuring spec, too: the alloy wheels wear wide 215 R14 tyres, and the chassis is equipped with an AKS stabiliser, shock absorbers and Al-Ko’s ‘premium’ braking, with automatic adjustment.
All 2016 Astellas come with ATC, too, as part of the standard Anniversary Pack – which also includes concertina flyscreens and blinds, those smart roof-rails, plus carpets, a chopping board and a drainer.
The central lounge consists of a comfortable, thickly padded L-shaped sofa on the offside with a large separate armchair opposite – perfect for relaxing into with a book. This adds an extra seat at the freestanding table, a sturdy, high-gloss affair with a heavy telescopic base, making room for five or six when entertaining.
Despite its location amidships, the lounge is perfectly bright enough during the day – thanks to a combination of two side windows, a wind-open Midi-Heki rooflight and the light flooding back from the panoramic sunroof over the kitchen. The lighting gets even better at night, when you can choose the level of Lumens according to your mood, from a mixture of bright ceiling units, LED spotlights, attractive ambient lighting below the overhead lockers and a wonderful swing-out lamp with a shade that gives a cosy domestic feel – ideal for a board game or an intimate dinner.
There are neat touches such as a high-level shelf that’s ideal for herbs and spices (though remember to pack them away on tow!), the huge drawers that easily swallow pans and serving bowls, or the way the hob drains into the square stainless-steel sink, making it easy to clean. Some may complain that there are only three gas rings, and no electric hotplate, but unlike most square hobs, the in-line version really can accommodate three pans. A glass cover drops down should you need more worktop, but this area rarely feels short on space, with preparation space on either side.
So far, so good. But there are flaws, which peg back the scoring in this round: for a start, there is only one socket (though there are more in the rest of the van). Perhaps more of a problem, certainly for shorter caravanners, is that the oven and separate grill are sited high above the fridge/freezer, itself a little smaller than we’d like in a tourer of this calibre, at 104 litres. For those who simply must have a microwave, that’s something to haggle over with your dealer.
That shower is served by both the on-board water tank and an external submersible pump, though we found the water pump noisy when used for extended periods. The centrepiece is a bowl sink and chrome mixer tap in front of a large mirror, flanked by useful storage for cosmetics and with a big cabinet beneath.
There’s the familiar Thetford swivel cassette toilet, with electric flush and a window featuring misted glazing for privacy. The large separate shower cubicle has a bi-fold door – though it isn’t fully lined. There is, however, a hanging rail for wet clothes, plus a mirror and a radiator.
Adjustable headrests on each side mean you can prop up the mattress to act as a chaise longue for afternoon reading, or perhaps birthday breakfast in bed, and each side gets a handsome shaded lamp – but no oddments shelf. You’ll find the television stand here, on a swing-out arm so that it can serve both the bedroom and the lounge, along with a screen to close it off from the rest of the van, plus a pair of windows and another wind-open Midi-Heki.
So why doesn’t the Amazon get five stars in this section? Unfortunately, in opening up this van to more occupants, Adria has opened itself up to criticism: once you’ve lugged the table out of the way and pulled out the bed base, the front ‘double’ is just 6ft 2in x 3ft 10.5in, so your guests are going to get very cosy. They may also struggle for comfort: no complaints about the sprung bed base, but the jumble of wedge-shaped cushions makes for an undulating mattress.
Eight huge aircraft-style overhead lockers are distributed throughout the van, and all have positive latches, though only one is shelved. There’s plenty of room for bedding in three bed boxes beneath the sofa and armchair – though the lion’s share of the area beneath the main sofa is taken up by the water tank. The space under the twin single beds can be accessed by lifting the bed frames on gas struts, though unfortunately there are no separate internal access doors and external access is only to the nearside.
The kitchen is packed with storage solutions, from the bottle storage by the entrance door to triple wire racks that pull out as a single drawer. The ‘dead’ space in the corner of the kitchen isn’t wasted either, creating a large external locker that’s ideal for kids’ toys or chairs, to complement the vast front gas locker, where you’ll also find the steel spare wheel.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: whatever the spec sheet says, the 2016 Adria Astella 613HT Amazon is not a family caravan; it’s a couple’s van that can occasionally accommodate a couple of (slender!) guests when needs be.
With that in mind, four stars may seem a generous score, but it is testament to just what a special tourer this is, offering serious levels of luxury and build quality for a price that looks remarkably low in comparison to its rivals. Its unusual layout and high weight mean that this is likely to remain a niche caravan, but it’s one that is very easy to fall in love with.
- It's a chic-looking van
- The fixed single beds are a great size
- Build quality and luxury are both in abundance, and at a competitive price
- The heavy-duty steadies are a bit fiddly to access
- There's no microwave, and the oven and grill are high set
- The make-up double isn't huge