It's fashionable, but is it practical? We check out four of the best 2017-season, centre-washroom caravans for sale to help you select the one for you

Without doubt, the most popular layout of the 2017 season has been the central washroom, with the living area at the front and a rear bedroom.

Although we might consider this layout to be something new, it is in fact one that has been around for decades. Just like clothing fashions, caravan layouts come and go, but if you wait long enough things will often go full circle.

What has marked out the recent incarnation of the layout is that manufacturers have made a separate feature of the centre washroom area.

And in most cases the washroom can be closed off from both the bedroom and the rest of the caravan – handy if there’s more than the occupant(s) of the fixed-bed using the caravan, particularly during night-time manoeuvres.

It’s also pleasing to see that manufacturers have tried to be imaginative in many cases. Not only have they made washrooms appealing, but in some cases, they’ve not simply nailed a bed to the rear wall (not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course).

Here we showcase what we think are four of the best 2017-season caravans for sale with this layout, that can each be bought for under £23,000.

The contenders

Bailey Unicorn Cabrera

  • Price: £22,999
  • Berths: 4
  • MiRO: 1396kg
  • MTPLM: 1550kg
  • Payload: 154kg
  • Awning length: 1045cm
  • Layout: central washroom, rear in-line island bed
  • Read our full 2017 Bailey Unicorn Cabrera review
      

Compass Capiro 550

  • Price: £20,899
  • Berths: 4
  • MiRO: 1314kg
  • MTPLM: 1467kg
  • Payload: 153kg
  • Awning length: 1030cm
  • Layout: central washroom, rear in-line island bed
      

Sprite Major 4 EB

  • Price: £16,995
  • Berths: 4
  • MiRO: 1232kg
  • MTPLM: 1433kg
  • Payload: 201kg
  • Awning length: 1022cm
  • Layout: central washroom, rear in-line island bed
  • Read our full 2017 Sprite Major 4 EB review
      

Swift Challenger 635

  • Price: £21,470
  • Berths: 4
  • MiRO: 1520kg
  • MTPLM: 1680kg
  • Payload: 160kg
  • Awning length: 1064cm
  • Layout: central washroom, rear transverse island bed
  • Read our full 2017 Swift Challenger 635 review
      

Here we’ll compare them and highlight what’s good and what might not be so great, so that you’ll know what the options are if you’re in the market for such a model.

Pitch and set up

The lightest of these caravans weighs in with an MTPLM of 1433kg (Sprite), with the heaviest at 1680kg (Swift), so you’ll need a pretty substantial tow car for whichever you choose.

Unsurprisingly, in standard form, the Sprite is the most sparsely equipped. If you want an Al-Ko AKS stabiliser, alloy wheels and an Al-Ko Secure wheel lock receiver, you’ll have to opt for the ‘Diamond Pack’ (which also includes a microwave, door flyscreen and radio/CD/MP3 player). The same applies to the sunroof.

However, the Sprite’s options do represent excellent value. But there are no external hatches to the under-bunk storage, either.

The Swift fares a little better. It does have an AKS stabiliser and alloy wheels as standard, and the sunroof – plus an 80W solar panel.

But an external gas barbecue point and a 230V socket are part of the ‘Lux’ pack (which also includes an illuminated splashback and an alarm system), and ATC stability control is an option, too.

The Bailey and the Compass are both superbly equipped: all the options on the Swift come fitted as standard, including ATC.

The Bailey goes that bit further by having a 100W solar panel and the TyrePal monitoring system. The Compass fights back with an external solar panel connection.

However, whilst the Sprite and the Swift confine all their services to the offside, the Bailey’s mains hook-up connection, and the toilet cassette on the Compass are accessed from the nearside; not ideal if an awning’s attached.

Lounge

As with most fixed-bed layouts, the lounge is the area that often pays the price in terms of space, and all our examples here are no exception.

That’s perhaps a little surprising in respect of the twin-axle Swift. Four can sit in comfort in all, but any more would be a squeeze, and none of the seats are long enough to stretch out on in total comfort.

All these caravans have light and airy lounges. Perhaps the Compass takes the gong here though, as not only does it have a sunroof, but also a massive ‘Stargazer’ rooflight which stretches the full length of the lounge (and into the kitchen area).

Each lounge has four corner spotlights which is good to see. The entry-level Sprite in particular should be applauded for this.

TV points are a bit of a mixed bag. In the case of the Compass, Sprite and Swift, they’re on a narrow ‘dresser’ unit immediately inside the entrance door. Oddly, the Bailey’s only point is on the front shelf, meaning the TV would be perched in front of the window.

Main table storage also varies, but by far the most convenient is in the Compass, where it’s stored in a dedicated unit next to the entrance door. The others are either in wardrobes or under the fixed bed.

Both the Bailey and Compass have Alde wet central heating as standard; that being an option on the Swift. The Compass also scores for having a pair of USB sockets in the lounge area, too.

Kitchen

All our contenders come with well specified kitchens. Even the Sprite has a three-burner hob, and a separate oven and grill. Tick the optional ‘Diamond Pack’ and you also get a microwave. The other three come with dual-fuel hobs and microwaves as standard.

Fridge-wise, the Bailey and the Swift have tall units on the nearside which frees up space for extra kitchen storage.

However, because Bailey locates its gas locker amid-ships, a substantial part of under-kitchen storage is swallowed up by this. To make amends, the kitchen is L-shaped, but it’s still robbed of useful storage space. The Swift does fare better in this respect.

The Compass and Sprite have fridges within the kitchen unit, which in the main are perfectly adequate for singletons or couples.

With detachable drainers, work surface space isn’t too bad in any of these caravans, and in each case, is supplemented by fold-up worktop extensions.

The microwaves are all mounted high, so some caravanners might struggle to lift out hot dishes.

But we’d be happier doing this in either the Sprite or the Swift as their microwaves are over the sink, unlike the Bailey or Compass where they’re above the hob, which could present an extra hazard.

Bailey and Compass do provide a pair of 230V mains sockets in the kitchen, though – the Sprite and Swift just having a single socket.

All are similar when it comes to overhead locker storage and lighting, including the size of the window.

Washroom

We’ll start with the Compass. In terms of the washroom layout, this is ‘old school’. It’s more of an en-suite bedroom rather than a bespoke washroom.

The toilet compartment/washroom is on the nearside, and is closed off by a solid door. This can be opened across the caravan to close it off from the rear of the kitchen area. There’s also the facility to close off the bedroom via a concertina type screen.

The shower unit is pretty much standalone on the offside. There are no windows in this area, so unless the concertina screen is left open, it’s not the brightest of areas.

The other three caravans here are similar in layout, and are true centre-washrooms incorporating the shower, although thanks to the bed layout, the Swift’s wardrobe is in the washroom. In each, a solid door closes the area from the front of the caravan, and his ‘n’ her’s doors close off the bedroom to the rear.

Although it has the largest washroom, the Swift does lose out in terms of spaciousness because of the location of its wardrobe, which in itself isn’t that large. All four caravans lose a little floor space in the shower thanks to wheel arch intrusion.

The Bailey, Sprite and Swift each have a window in the washroom which keeps the area light, airy and well ventilated. Whilst the Sprite and Swift’s are opaque, the Bailey’s is clear, so unless you want to be an exhibitionist, the blind will need to be drawn!

The Bailey does score points, though, for having a dedicated linen bin – a thoughtful touch.

Beds

One of the main reasons for buying any of these caravans must be for the bedroom. The Bailey, Compass and Sprite all have longitudinal fixed-beds, whilst the Swift’s is transverse.

Let’s start with the Swift. Here, the bed retracts, allowing easier access to the rear of the caravan.

When extended to its maximum (1.85m), there’s little room to squeeze around the bottom of the bed, especially if the optional Alde heating is fitted.

When on a dealer’s forecourt, without any bedding fitted, transverse island beds might look attractive, but put a duvet on and you’ll probably end up taking it with you to the toilet in the middle of the night!

Because the wardrobe is in the washroom, the Swift has a pair of useful bedside cabinets – very handy for putting books, tablets or that morning cuppa. There are also attractive upholstered window surrounds here, too.

Moving on to the other three, the Bailey has by far the shortest bed, at 1.77m. The Compass and Sprite’s are both a reasonable 1.90m long.

However, the pure dimensions don’t tell the whole story, and we’d suggest that if any of these caravans are on your shortlist, then you ought to spread out on the bed to see if it’s suitable. Like the Swift, the bed in the Compass retracts to give more ‘dressing room’ space if required.

Wardrobes flank the island beds in the Bailey, Compass and Sprite, and each has a useful small shelf area next to the bed, but it should be noted that the main table in the Sprite is stored in one of these, and the Alde heating header tank is present in the others.

Thoughtfully, the Compass gets a couple more USB sockets in the bedroom. All four have TV points in the bedroom, whilst the Swift and Compass have small vanity units tucked into the front offside corner.

Storage

Storage shouldn’t be a problem in any of these caravans.

The Bailey has the best storage under the front offside sofa, despite housing the Alde boiler. In the other three, pretty much all the space under there is taken up with heating and electrical units. Other than that, they’re all well blessed with storage space.

The Sprite and Swift house their spare wheels under the fixed beds.

Verdict

This fashionable layout can work well if chosen carefully. Overall, we think that any of these four would be sound buys if this layout appeals.

Our main proviso would be that you need to check the bed size prior to purchase – we are all different heights, of course.

Although the Bailey is the most expensive of this group, it is remarkably well equipped and does represent excellent value when compared with other similarly specified caravans.

We do prefer having a dedicated central washroom rather than the en-suite-type affair in the Compass, but that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s personal preference. And the Compass is very well specified, with little touches that the others are missing (USB points, for example).

Even after ticking the optional ‘Diamond Pack’, Al-Ko ATC and sunroof options on the Sprite, it still undercuts all its opposition here by some margin. Granted, it still does without some of the bells and whistles of the others, but there’s everything that you need.

But in the end, however good the Swift is, we don’t feel it makes the most of its size (advantage) or weight (disadvantage). Having the transverse bed does mean that there are compromises elsewhere.

And it doesn’t offer any significant advantage over its rivals here, especially when you need to tick the ‘Lux Pack’, Alde and ATC options to get a similar specification to the Bailey and Compass, which ups the price by almost £2000, putting it within a whisker of the twin-axle Bailey Unicorn Pamplona – and over our budget here.

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