Britain's best caravans, awning and accessories were crowned at Practical Caravan’s Tourer of the Year awards last night.
The great and the good of the industry gathered for a glitzy ceremony at Hampton Manor near Solihull. Following a drinks reception sponsored by MB&G Insurance, the guests took their tables to discover what Practical Caravan’s judging team considered the best tourers to suit every need and budget.
Topping the awnings category was the Vango Vienna 400 inflatable awning. The judges said: “Our winner uses a new fabric that’s a mixture of polyester and PVA fibres with an acrylic coating to make it waterproof and durable. Design-wise, this awning looks very sharp and the manufacturer has thoughtfully supplied it with a deliberately oversized carrier, so it’ll be easy to pack up.”
Next up was the best accessory category. Top place was awarded to the SMART-Trailer system from Dutch manufacturer E-Trailer. Here’s what the judges said: “Once you fit some sensors to your van, this clever system allows you to monitor vital signs including tyre pressures, noseweight, battery voltage, temperatures and humidity, as well as helping you level your van on a pitch. Granted, it requires a degree of up-front investment, but once on board, you’ll wonder how you ever did without it.”
Best budget tourer
The first of six tourer categories was best budget tourer. After careful deliberation, our judges opted for the Xplore 586, a six-berth with rear fixed bunks, an offside dinette and a parallel lounge. The van received a revised washroom for 2019, and the judges noted that: “This go-anywhere tourer can be towed by a small SUV. Sure, there are some entry-level specification signifiers but none of them will be deal-breakers in such a competitively priced van like this.”
Best luxury tourer
From saving money to splashing it out, the awards turned next to the best luxury tourer. The decision was close, but the judges went with the Swift Elegance Grande 635, and the clincher for this van was its excellent facilities for ablutions.
“Our winner takes its washroom to the next level – it really has to be seen to be believed. It has masses of space, a large handbasin, a roomy shower and a central heating radiator.
“But this van isn’t a one-trick pony. There’s an opulent bedroom that really makes the most of the available space, and the kitchen, with its scratch-resistant worktop and pan stands, also really stands out. The lounge also benefits from some intelligent design, with natural illumination in abundance courtesy of extensive window provision.
Best specialist tourer
Best specialist tourer went to the Eriba Touring Troll 530 Ocean Drive, narrowly pipping Swift’s Basecamp.
“Our winner takes a tried-and-tested formula and sprinkles some magic retro dust on it,” said our judges. "You don’t get every creature comfort, but it takes the core proposition of the donor vehicle to the next level. Small, light and good value for what you get, our winner offers quality that’s never going to go out of style.”
Best tourer for couples
Next, best tourer for couples was won by the Coachman Pastiche 470, which reboots a previous model with the same designation, but gives it an L-shaped lounge with a make-up double bed rather than the fixed bed favoured last time.
“Where our winner really tries something different, though, is in the front lounge. It’s fully optimised for relaxing on tour and is brilliantly executed – a flexible space that performs on all the required levels. There’s a pleasing ambience and seemingly no end of sources for artificial and natural illumination. This is one van you’d certainly be happy showing off to your neighbours on site.”
Best tourers for family use
Categories for families were awarded next. First up, the Venus 550/4 was crowned best tourer for small families. With fixed twin single beds, an end washroom and a make-up double in the parallel lounge, it’s perhaps not an obvious choice for small families use, but we know this layout does work well in this context, and this entry level van has been on the receiving end of upgrades that make it very compelling this season, as the judges noted:
“In common with its rivals, this year’s winner comes from a line-up that the manufacturer doesn’t want to market as ‘entry level’. How satisfying, then, that our winner’s specification allows it to compete with ranges in the market that cost more.”
For larger families, the gong went to another van from the Lunar Caravans stable, the Quasar 686. This is the firm’s first 8ft-wide model in the Quasar range, up to this point a narrow-body lower mid-market line-up. Although the twin-axle 686 could have been a contender in the seasonal tourer category, the judges felt that a series of design choices leaned firmly towards family use:
“The provision of a family-sized fridge, for example, and locating the microwave at a sensible height – always a winner in our well-thumbed cookbook. Add to that a generous payload and an MTPLM that’s not outrageously heavy, and we have a clear winner.”
Best seasonal tourer
The last caravan category was seasonal tourer. Separating the big beasts that made our shortlist is always difficult, but in the end the judges rewarded a new model for 2019, the Bailey Pegasus Grande Messina. This is an 8ft-wide twin-axle with an in-line island bed, full-width midships washroom and a G-shaped lounge – new and unique in the market. It’s keenly priced and well-equipped for the money and should really widen the appeal of Bailey’s mid-market Pegasus.
Said the judges: “Our winner is a new van for 2019. It certainly makes the most of its internal dimensions, with a large fixed bed, a roomy and well-equipped washroom and a cracking kitchen. Its special sauce, though, is a new lounge design that prioritises the need for comfort that’s so fundamental to a caravan for use on a seasonal pitch.”
And Practical Caravan's Tourer of the Year 2019 is…
Finally, the gathered throng of the British caravan industry waited for our overall winner to be unveiled. Awarding the top prize is never easy, but the judges felt that one category winner in particular was from a range that’s a bold move for its manufacturer to make in the current market. It’s also a van that’s brilliant across the board, and that doesn’t just excel in one particular area.
Practical Caravan’s Tourer of the Year 2019 is the Bailey Pegasus Grande Messina, and here’s what our judges said of it: “Well-resolved in every area from front to back, our overall winner is well-proportioned, well-specified and, referencing one of its manufacturer’s USPs, well-priced. Our judges also felt, however, that making such a bold move in today’s challenging market for new tourers should be not only applauded, but recognised, too.”
That concluded our awards, and afterwards the assembled guests repaired to the bar for cocktails kindly provided by Kal Group.
For full coverage of our Tourer of the Year Awards 2019, see the November issue of Practical Caravan, on sale 4 October 2018.