Peter BaberSee other caravan reviews written by Peter Baber
The latest addition to the Unicorn range reintroduces a floorpan with the washroom across the rear of the van. Our test team delves inside.
When Bailey launched the fourth generation of its upmarket Unicorn range last year, one popular model, the Seville, had been given a bit of a facelift.
Its washroom, which used to straddle the rear of the van, was squeezed into a corner to allow for an L-shaped kitchen in the rear nearside corner.
It seems Bailey aficionados missed that large washroom, because it's now back in the newest addition to the Unicorn fleet. But the Merida doesn't replace the Seville, which continues in its new guise.
Bailey has gone even further afield to find another Spanish city to name this caravan after. Merida is in the Extremadura, not far from the Portuguese border - well away from the touristy region, but certainly a place to discover.
Is the new caravan, complete with all of the goodies we have already found in the Unicorns, also something of a discovery? We took it to Bath Chew Valley Park to find out.
The Merida is a new model, not a new range, so you get the fourth-generation Unicorn look that we've all become accustomed to. Full-height ABS moulding up front surrounds a large window, which only opens a short way, but does let in plenty of light.
The panel below the windows at the front is more sparse than some previous generations of Unicorn: the fancy moulding that some people thought looked like a moustache has gone, and instead, you just get two grab handles.
Thanks to the re-engineered lounge interior, the reduction of the front sill and the removal of the front gas bottle locker, the front settees are a bit more visible from outside than they might have been in the past.
A single bold decal line runs down the side of the caravan, interrupted only by a large 'B' for Bailey. And round the back there is one single grab handle, with enough space for plenty of hands to take hold if you get stuck somewhere.
You barely notice that the heavy-duty corner steadies fitted on this caravan are only present at the back.
Pitching and setting up
Even towing with our Land Rover Discovery, having all that fitted made those merry jaunts up and down the lanes of the Mendip Hills more enjoyable.
Unlike the next-range-down Pegasus Grande, the Unicorns stick with a conventional width of 2.28m, so the narrowness of said lanes was not as much of a problem as it might have been with other caravans.
You don't really notice the cost saving in only having heavy-duty corner steadies at the rear, because the front ones barely seem necessary, thanks to the solid A-frame and jockey wheel.
All four steadies are easy to reach, without too much kneeling on the ground.
The gas bottle locker, which was at the front, has now been moved to the offside, where it is closer to the kitchen, and even more out of the way of your awning.
The same is true of the cassette toilet hatch, which on this caravan, also includes a small wet locker. We're not sure you would need that, as the locker on the front nearside is one of the largest wet lockers we have ever seen in a caravan, with a waterproof floor that stretches across pretty much the whole of the underseat area. It's easy to store and access all of your outdoor gear here.
It's slightly surprising, though, that the hook-up connection is to the left of this, in the front nearside corner. Given that most people tend to reverse their caravans onto a pitch that has the hook-up connection at the back, with this arrangement, you are more than likely to have a hook-up cable trailing all the way from the front of the van.
The top of this is an ideal location for a TV, which is no doubt why Bailey includes a mains and TV socket here, with the controls for everything except the Alde heating, whose panel is over the kitchen.
That central chest differs from standard only in having a pull-out occasional table that does not fit flush with the top of the shelf itself. Given that other designers seem to achieve flush fitting with a mechanism that jerks the whole chest as you pull it, this is no bad thing.
The interior colour scheme is very restful, with oatmeal cushions and pale blue/grey curtains with a reed pattern. These look even better when bathed in sunlight streaming through that huge window.
We tested the Merida in brilliant sunshine, and we were disappointed not to be able to open the window any further. But there are perhaps not so many days in Britain when you are going to feel the need for a wide-open front window.
Two LED lights sit in the housing between that window and the rooflight, and along with ambient lighting behind the overhead lockers, really brighten the interior at night.
And although this is only a two-berth, you still get four directional spotlights, either for guests or so that you can have a choice of reading positions.
The two at the front include USB sockets, and nearby on the wall are pouches where you can put your device while charging.
The fold-out table is large enough for four. Unfortunately it is stored in the rear, but it is lightweight, and Bailey has thoughtfully included a clasp to hold the legs while you carry it to lessen the likelihood of trapped fingers.
Another homely touch comes at the entrance, where there is almost a kind of mini-hall, and you get a large lit mirror with coat hooks above three shallow shelves - space for all of your favourite knick-knacks.
Chief of these was a wooden cover for the four-burner duel-fuel hob, which you naturally get in the Merida, too. It really enhances what is already quite impressive workspace.
The area is well lit, too, with daylight coming in from the window on one side and the second rooflight in the middle of the van on the other. There's ambient lighting by the window and above the lockers.
Two mains sockets are right where you need them on the edge of this area, next to the Alde controls, while the swan-neck tap over the large sink adds a touch of style.
The cupboard on the left below the work surface opens up to reveal, in effect, two and a half adequate shelves.
The medium-sized pan locker under the Thetford Caprice Mk III oven and grill is clear. And to the right of the oven what looks like a column of three drawers and a locker.
The overhead lockers are sizeable, too - half-shelved, with a crockery and mug rack in the left-hand one.
It is a pity Bailey persists in having the push knobs for these locker doors in the corner away from the central handle. You need two hands to open them.
The Merida is now the only Unicorn that doesn't have a tower fridge. It has a half-height one still with 103-litre capacity, to make room for the sideboard on the nearside.
If there are just two of you, you might think 103 litres is perfectly adequate, and you can put up with having to bend down a bit more often if that means you get the greater sense of space you have here.
You do also get two narrow shelves in a unit that looks as if it was originally intended as table storage, but which is effective in stopping draughts.
Up top there is a microwave and a large shallow locker. All in all, there is more than enough space for two here.
There is no window, but the area is well lit by an LED and a rooflight over the door. A salad bowl handbasin sits over a cupboard with plenty of shelves. Above it is a well-lit mirror. The shower cubicle on the right is a good size, with an LED and a second rooflight, and even if Bailey has had to include table storage between this cubicle and the door, the designers have made the most of this by including another shelf above the table.
On the offside, behind the domestic-style toilet with its own toilet roll holder, is a wide, two-thirds height wardrobe with a shelf above.
To the left of this is more shelving and a laundry basket - but this is where things come slightly undone.
Bailey includes these laundry baskets in many of its Unicorns (usually closer to the basin), and they are a good idea. But woe betide you if you drop any small item of clothing between the basket and its housing here - which would be quite easy to do. You would have the devil's own job fishing it out, especially if you are not long-limbed.
We were also disappointed that there is no provision for towels in the large wall space above the panel radiator to the left of the door. Instead, the towel ring is squashed between the handbasin and the shower.
When assembled, the seat cushions do make for a firm, comfortable bed. Their bulk mean that they might not be as close-fitting as you'd imagine, but with the scatter cushions, they provide good support when you want to sit up in bed and read.
You might prefer the beds made up as singles, so you both have equal access to the washroom. They are lengthy enough for all but the tallest.
The large wet locker that we mentioned earlier, under the nearside front bed, is clear. The offside area contains the Alde heating system, but still has some space. And both areas are easy to access from the inside by lifting up the seat bases. This is perhaps one advantage of not having bed platforms.
Each of the two overhead lockers up front is half-shelved, and there are also two small corner lockers - the one on the nearside houses the radio.
The chest of drawers that makes up part of the sideboard is a bonus, when you consider how much clothes storage there already is, in the washroom and in the overhead lockers. In addition, there's an extra locker under the central chest.
The Merida appears in a crowded market, and although it is at the lower-cost end, there isn't much to choose between the models to make you think any one of them is an obvious give-away.
Where the Merida scores is probably in the things that make it quintessentially Bailey, such as the laundry basket (for all its flaws here), USB sockets in the spotlights, the wooden hob cover and the traditional amply packaged interior.
The caravan probably loses out in the size and shape of its fridge. At this price, you might also expect to see an Omnivent or an extractor fan, and signs of cost-cutting, such as the corner steadies, might not please all.
The Merida is, however, a comfortable caravan for two, with a layout that was worth bringing out of retirement. It offers bags of storage, a practical kitchen and, given the additional space, a wonderful washroom.
We might have expected to find a rather more robust bed arrangement at this price, but it served its purpose.
However, we would have liked slightly more room for kit and supplies in the kitchen, and for some of the larger storage areas to be a bit less obstructed.
- Spacious shower cubicle
- Well-lit kitchen
- Restful interior colour scheme
- Hook-up connection at front
- Limited opening of front window
- Fiddly locker doors in kitchen require two hands to open