Can Elddis meet the demands of modern caravan families? Practical Caravan put a young family in the 2009 Avanté Club 464 for their live-in test verdict
Recent trends in family layouts have seen caravans getting bigger by 2009. We've seen the triple bunk layouts with dedicated sleeping spaces for the kids. There's been a rise in fixed-bed layouts, which are popular with mum and dad but leave the kids sleeping on single beds with no space of their own. One problem with vans with these layouts is that they are often quite big and quite heavy.
But the main problem is that they do not cater for the traditional caravanning family. These days the average UK family has 1.8 children, according to the Office for National Statistics. So most families don't need a big six-berther. They want a compact four-berth van, the likes of which is currently hard to find.
But one manufacturer is listening to the needs of our forgotten families. Elddis has released the four-berth Avanté Club 464, which has two transverse fixed bunks and is just 6.4m long. It's a layout that has gone missing from forecourts since the Avondale Dart 475-4 was last on sale in the summer of 2008.
To see if Elddis can meet the demands of modern caravan families we've asked the Flower family to explore the new Avanté Club 464. With two young daughters its layout should work perfectly for them.
Pitching and setting up
Walk to the front of the van he and Julie are intrigued by the BPW chassis. "I've not used one like this before," says Julie, "but it looks good. I especially like the buttonless handbrake, it's really easy to put on and off."
Nick agrees, adding: "That noseweight gauge is a good idea. Having it integrated like this would encourage you to check it every time."
The couple like the 13-pin electrics and the BPW stabiliser, but not the plastic covering on top of the A-frame that "feels cheap. It has a small crack in it already and I don't think it would last well over the seasons.
"And aren't BPW chassis heavier than Al-Ko ones?" With that he checks out the weight plate by the entry door. "1320kg MTPLM – that's much heavier than I expected.
The weight is a problem as this van should appeal to small families with small tow cars. But weighing 1320kg means it's too heavy for many family hatchbacks."
Elsewhere on the outside Nick and Julie lavish more praise. "The front locker is nice and big and we like the guide channels for the steadies. A window at the back would be nice, as having them both ends means that you get loads of light in the van," says Nick.
Julie would like "plastic feet on the steadies, because it helps on grass pitches like this. And I'm surprised to see the waste outlets at the back of the van. That's always going to be a problem on a sloping pitch."
"It's practical too," says Nick, "The front access to the bed boxes makes good use of storage space. I also like the slide-out table extension. It's better than the flip-up versions as you don’t have to remove everything whenever you want it extended. Having a stereo as standard is good."
Stretching out, the Flower family all agree that there's plenty of room for all four of them to lounge comfortably. To check that they can all eat with space as well Nick erects the freestanding table. "It's not level with the centre chest, but that doesn't really matter. What's more important is that we can all sit around it with plenty of elbow room."
Spotting the chance for a game, the girls have Rummikub set up before Nick can get the table packed away. Before sitting down to play Nick spots the fire alarm: "That's in an unsightly place. Wouldn't it be better placed over the entry door? I'm not too keen on the location of the aerial socket either. Being at the bottom of the centre chest means that if you want to watch telly in bed, you have to thread the TV wires through the bed slats every night. That'd be a right pain."
Julie is more complimentary about the lighting. "The circular lights are attractive and have good head clearance below them. The roof lights good too, although not being a full-sized Heki seems a little stingy in a van costing this much. The drop-in carpets seem durable though, which is important with children."
With their Rummikub game over the girls run outside to play while Nick and Julie assess the front double bed. This assembles in the traditional way, with soft-wood slats that slot into place and well-fitting cushions.
"The wallboards are good and don't take up too much room – there's space to stretch out," says Nick."The only thing I don't like is that there aren't enough spot lights for both people," adds Julie. "Only one of you gets to read without straining their eyes.
Again, it's not a major thing but this isn't a budget van, so I wouldn't expect corners to be cut."
Nick is also impressed: "Having two mains socket is rare and a good thing. The fridge is an old-style one, but that's not a problem for me."
"There's plenty of kitchen work surface," says Julie. "Especially with the flip-up section extended. It's supported by strong springs, which is reassuring.
"The only problem is that there simply isn't enough cupboard space." The two head-level lockers have crockery racks, but little space for food alongside them. "There's no main food cupboard – I don't know what we'd do on a two-week holiday."
Nick is not sure about the plastic floor: "This type of floor has a tendency to crack, which is a costly repair."
"I like the separate shower," says Julie. "But not the flip-up sink. It wouldn't be long before the girls lifted that up when it was full of water!" There is a rooflight providing natural light, and spotlights above the cabinet and shower head. And because the room is all white, it feels bright.
"It's a compact space," says Nick. "But it's let down by the lack of storage and plastic floor. I'd also prefer a proper door with a proper handle. Little touches like a domestic-style door make the van feel more homely."
Ellen takes the top bunk but has a little trouble getting up. "There's not a lot of headroom when you get up here so it's hard to get on the bed. But the ladder is good." The steps on the ladder have extra reinforcements screwed to the backs of each, making them sturdy. The extra wood also means that the steps are not too narrow and it makes them more comfortable for little feet.
Both bunks have a small reading light each, which get "warm but not too hot" says Laura. The top bunk has a window at the foot end, and the bottom one has a little door, so both get natural light. The top bunk also has a cubby hole, which Ellen is quick to fill with her books and cuddly toys.
The bunks are a success. The only issue being that Ellen cannot sit up in bed, as headroom is limited.
"The wardrobe has good hanging space and I like the shelves next to it, but you definitely need more storage for a family of four."
The other main storage area is below the bottom bunk. Lifting the base creates a big space in which you can store bikes or your aquaroll and wastemaster while driving. "This area could have been really useful. But with no securing points for the bikes I'd be worried about towing with them there. And whatever you store there adds extra weight in a bad place."
"Getting to the space is a pain, too," he continues. "The base hinges towards you, which means you can only access your stuff by going outside. A little door in the base would mean that you could at least use it for shoes while on site."
Julie agrees, saying, "It's a real shame as that could have made a difference. As it is there's just not enough storage space. And when you're dealing with a small family van you need to make the most of what is available."
This is a good little van if you’re after diminutive proportions and your kids are desperate for beds of their own. Inside the attractive Elddis is all the kit that you could possibly need. Weight is the only major drawback.
- The bunks work really well and they're the main point of this layout
- The kit list is very impressive
- Kitchen, lounge and running gear all have the latest caravan gear
- Little niggles let it down, such as the flimsy washroom door and flip-up sink
- Only one reading light for both mum and dad seems stingy
- The main problem is lack of storage space
- The van is too heavy to tow with a small family car
- Both of these make it unsuitable for small families
- If it were lighter and cheaper, the layout would make more sense