Andy Jenkinson

See other caravan reviews written by Andy Jenkinson

America's best-selling compact caravan has a trick up its sleeve – a slide-out! But is this enough to help the R-Pod RP-176 conquer the British market?

Overview

They do things differently in America. Take this caravan, part of a range that arrived in the UK for the current model year. Lightweight and competitively priced, they are produced by Forest River, which was founded in 1996 and is now one of the largest RV makers in the US.

Forest River has distributors around Europe and hopes to carve out a niche in Britain with its R-pod range. It is built to current UK standards but sports a profile that dates from the 1950s. These tourers also have a trick up their sleeve: a slide-out, which makes them extra spacious.

We have reviewed the R-pod RP-176, a four-berth compact caravan that importer American Caravans Direct expects will sell well. It features a rear U-shaped lounge, the nearside sliding section that contains the kitchen, a washroom opposite and fixed bunks at the front.

Pitching and setting up

Let’s start with the drive to your site. The R-pod RP-176’s axle extends beyond the bodyshell, for wider tracking and stability on tow.

The retro style of the R-pod doesn’t end with its profile. Its steadies are unlike those on conventional tourers; instead, they’re scissor jacks like those used on early UK caravans. Instead of a gas locker, a single cradle sits on the A-frame. Toughened glass is used for the windows rather than acrylic, and they slide open as on old cars. At least the roof and sides of this unusual caravan are GRP.

Modernity leaps into the picture with a flourish: a good-sized section of this caravan slides out within a couple of minutes. Twin mains sockets and a shower with hot and cold water – ideal for hosing off muddy boots or dogs – are fixed to the exterior. A fold-out step is below the door and an awning light above it; a swing-out handle is to its left for those who need help getting in.

Some differences between UK caravans and this American import will divide opinion. First, the entrance is on the offside, and the absence of grabhandles will complicate manoeuvring by hand.

Then there are the waste pipes: one for grey-water drainage from the kitchen and shower, and the other for the toilet. There’s no cassette hatch for hiding it here.

Unlike pitches in Britain, those in the States have black-waste drainage. To make up for this lack of drainage on every pitch, R-pod supplies a large dedicated container, which you park under the nearside and connect to the appropriate pipe.

Lounge

The R-pod RP-176 has a wraparound rear lounge that can accommodate five adult diners comfortably around its sturdy freestanding table.

So it is a sociable and roomy caravan lounge, but it loses something in atmosphere.

Although the windows on either side are large, they can’t count on much support on dull days, because the rear window is small and there is no rooflight.

R-pod is also stingy with dressings, compared to UK caravan manufacturers. In the R-pod RP-176 there is a lone curtain protecting your privacy at the rear, and the caravan's side windows just get blinds, not curtains – both unusual for tourers sold here.

Artificial illumination is provided by a ceiling light; there are no spotlights for reading into the night.

The R-pod is better-equipped for other diversions. At the far end of the kitchen, just before the bunks, is an entertainment centre, with branded radio/CD/ MP3 player and an optional TV. We’re told the US-spec aerial will pick up UK digital signals. Two speakers are at the top; a second pair is fitted outside for enjoying your music outdoors.

Kitchen

The slide-out gains more space for the caravan galley, from the worktop to the cupboards. However, the standard kit list may disappoint UK shoppers. A two-burner gas hob stands alone, without an oven or grill. The stainless-steel sink has a fill-in to match and supplement the work surface, but no drainer – recessed or clip-on. Twin mains points are beneath the locker.

A window is in the wall of the slide-out section, just behind the workspace, while a small but effective 12V light provides good illumination at night. To the right is a 119-litre, three-way Dometic fridge; our test van had an optional microwave above it.

Washroom

Another unintended retro touch is the offside washroom; it is so basic it could be from the early 1980s. The toilet empties into a tank under the van; the tiny handbasin is served by a simple plastic tap, which also controls the old-fashioned showerhead.

There is no window in the washroom, but at least there’s a vent fan in the rooflight and a powerful light fitting to compensate. Another dated idea is the shower curtain. The room is so small, using it will be a squeeze for some people.

Beds

Designed as a family tourer, the R-pod RP-176 has fixed bunks that measure 1.88m x 0.54m and offer good headroom and lights for reading, but no windows. Bunk bed occupants may find it gets stuffy in summer and may also feel hemmed in. The mattresses should be supportive for young children but may not be as comfortable for older children.

The full-height entertainment centre partly separates the bunk beds from the kitchen. A pair of mains sockets is fitted on its edge, near the floor.

The lounge sofas can be converted into a double bed measuring 1.88m x 1.54m using the large dining table to fill the area between the bench seats. The cushions aren’t very thick and may become less suitable for use as mattresses over time.

Storage

The R-pod hasn’t got much spare space for storage, but the designers have made the most of it.

The space beneath the bottom bunk and the lounge seats is all available, although the latter is shared by lockers with exterior hatches. The washroom tries to make up for its lack of cupboards and roof lockers with two wall- mounted pouches. The kitchen has two good drawers and a cupboard, plus an overhead locker but it’s quite shallow.

Aside from towing stability, the wider tracking puts the wheels beyond the walls, which does away with wheelarch intrusion into storage space.

The entertainment centre provides some cubbyholes, but nothing can make up for the absence of a wardrobe in the R-pod RP-176. A wardrobe would have helped, given the dearth of useful storage options in the main living area.

Technical specs

Berth4
MiRO1129kg
Payload360kg
MTPLM1489kg
Interior length4.7m
Shipping length6m
Width1.95m
Awning size340cm

Verdict

The R-pod RP-176 caravan has a look that is simultaneously retro and rugged, which is certain to appeal to some caravan buyers. But there’s no getting around it: this is a niche product.

This imported compact caravan's strongest selling point is the slide-out section, which makes it feel spacious. The long list of options, such as air-con and a spare wheel, may make it even more attractive.

However, the R-pod RP-176 falls short of what the British public expects from volume caravan manufacturers in 2016 – a full line-up of white goods, for example. Nevertheless, the importer says the R-pod RP-176 is gaining ground and winning fans in the UK.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Tough exterior
  • Retro profile
  • Compact, but the slide-out adds living space
  • Ample mains sockets, including two outside
  • Outdoor shower
  • Outdoor stereo speakers

Cons

  • A wardrobe would have compensated for restricted storage
  • Small, basic washroom
  • Stingy provision of cooking options
  • Throwback to the past
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