Read our review of our long-term dealer-special Swift Lifestyle 4, to find out how this French-bed van stacks up against its increasingly talented rivals
Difficult as it may be to believe now, there was a time when fixed-bed caravans were the sole preserve of Continental manufacturers; the prevailing opinion here in the UK being that such layouts were, quite literally, a waste of space.
How times have changed. From the earliest days of the first trickle of UK fixed-bed vans, we now have a host of options: rear island bed; transverse rear island; twin singles; and bunks. There’s now even one with a transverse double slung across the front, where the lounge should be.
But the original design – that of the French (or corner) bed – hasn’t gone away yet. Granted, most such models now sport a full-width end washroom, but there are still a couple of tourers that stick with the original notion of locating the washroom alongside the bed in one dedicated room. Showering in the tighter space is a bit more of a chore, but there’s no arguing with the shorter, lighter body that this old-school layout allows.
The Lifestyle 4 might be called a Swift, but it starts life at the Cottingham factory as a Sprite Alpine 4. It then goes through its transformation into a special-edition caravan exclusive to the Marquis dealer network; hence the alloy wheels and panoramic sunroof the standard Sprite does without. It’s a good-looking van.
It really does belie its budget background, too. Marquis’s policy with its special editions is to take cheap and cheerful vehicles and lavish them with kit, and the result is a caravan that only those in the know would ever suspect was anything other than a premium model.
Happily, the Lifestyle doesn’t stray too far from its budget roots, so the original’s simple, glossy white body, windowless door and huge single front window remain.
Sticklers for laden 85% matches will need to budget for a tow car weighing no less than 1471kg. However, the Lifestyle’s occupant for the rally was going to be flying solo on this occasion, so a minimal load meant the fact that our long-term Suzuki S-Cross’s 100kg shortfall in this specific respect wasn’t a problem.
Certainly the long, 200-mile haul from Middlesex to Combe Martin in Devon would have cast a spotlight on any chinks in the outfit’s armour, but none came to the fore. The standard-fit Al-Ko AKS hitch stabiliser no doubt helped, but Swift has been building caravans for too long for it to produce a duffer in outright towing stability. And to see other Swift caravans for sale, click here.
Pitching and setting up
Nothing, however, could have been further from reality. Even with its additional kit, the Lifestyle weighs in at just 1105kg unladen/1250kg all up, so getting it into position was a breeze. One person could easily manoeuvre it onto a level pitch.
In practical terms, the Lifestyle ticks most of the important boxes. Those eagle of eye will doubtless have spotted the additional flaps flanking the bedding locker access door on the nearside wall: these conceal a weatherised three-pin mains socket (for those al fresco TV or stereo moments), and a dedicated gas barbecue point.
The nearside toilet hatch is a little disappointing, but everything else, from the mains hook-up to the fresh- and grey-water points, is confined to the offside wall – even the radio aerial lives over there.
You enter the Swift Lifestyle 4 straight into the lounge area, and the combined single-pane front window and adjacent panoramic rooflight – not to mention the huge Heki 2 rooflight a little further back – create a whole that looks and feels spacious and airy. Matters are helped by the fact that Marquis has chosen to retain the Sprite’s mini folding table flap at the front, rather than succumbing to the temptation of bolting in a full-blown chest of drawers; fold it away, and there’s ample room for six. Retrieve the substantial table from its easily accessible open slot in the kitchen, and there’s room to sit six down to dinner, too.
Soft furnishings are finished in the familiar oatmeal hue, which look smart enough and are comfortable in both lounge and sleeping modes. The sectioned removable carpets are dark blue – both practical and smart.
Lighting is, as you’d expect, below the standards of other, more expensive Swifts, but the ceiling lights in the sunroof surround throw out a great deal of illumination, and there are two adjustable reading lights to boot, so it all feels very cosy after dark.
The TV station is of the old-school, in that it lives in a high-level unit between the kitchen and bedroom, together with the power socket and aerial points. Simply swing the bracket 180 degrees, and the TV is easily viewable from the lounge.
Speaking of the bedroom: you can section it off completely from the lounge, so the living area feels cosier and more intimate. The pull-across curtain between the kitchen and bedroom hints at the Lifestyle’s Sprite origins, but the concertina blind that covers the ‘hatch’ at lower level is a thoughtful touch on such a bargain-priced van.
The only obvious cost-cutting is evident on the cooker, which makes do with three gas burners. But elsewhere, it’s all good news. The oven and grill areas are separate and are boosted by a high-level microwave oven. The fridge is a modern Thetford three-way unit, too, boasting a healthy 113 litres of capacity.
We’ve no complaints on the worktop front, either; there’s plenty of space to the left of the large sink unit, and a little more to the right of the cooker. As for storage space, the roof lockers either side of the microwave oven comprise dedicated crockery storage (on the left) and a good-sized cupboard (on the right), which passes the cereal packet test with consummate ease. Full marks are also due to the Lifestyle-spec electric extractor fan, and the classy-looking pin lights sunk into a ceiling-mounted wooden pelmet.
The washroom door opens to reveal a fairly sparse-looking (though well-lit, thanks to the pop-up ceiling vent) and unlined room containing a shower tray, shower riser and – at the rear – a swivel loo. Clearly, this is a washroom intended for occasional use on full-facility sites, not year-round self-sufficiency.
However, we did use the Swift’s shower every morning for four days, and – clingy shower curtain woes aside – it was fine. Better still, the washbasin and vanity unit live outside the washroom proper, adjacent to the bed, and come with a low-level cupboard, dedicated towel rail, two large storage shelves and a huge backlit mirror. Pull the curtain across and you’ve got a good-sized dressing area, too.
Swift Group makes no pretence that the forward sofas are useable as single beds; at 4ft 2in apiece, they might suit occasional occupancy by children, but adults will have to make up the double, which measures 6ft 7in in length.
The main bed, of course, is at the back. Like most French beds, there’s a degree of cut-off around the foot of the mattress to better facilitate through-passage into the washroom area; but it’s pretty negligible and the hypoallergenic Duvalay mattress itself is hugely comfortable. It’s a good size, too, measuring 6ft 2in in length by just over 4ft 3in wide.
Up front, the offside bedding locker void is stuffed with boiler and electrical equipment, but the nearside equivalent is pretty much empty and has the benefit of exterior access.
The main storage area in this caravan, of course, lives beneath the French bed. It’s large, uncluttered and easily accessed from both inside and out. But as always, we should issue the caveat that this area should only be used once the caravan is safely ensconced on its pitch. Otherwise you risk a tail-heavy caravan prone to the dreaded tail-wagging-the-dog syndrome.
Special-edition caravans always run the risk of looking like poor value compared with the caravan upon which they’re based. And the £16,295 Lifestyle 4 certainly seems expensive compared with the £13,775 Sprite Alpine 4.
But the kit you get in return is considerable (including such luxuries as a solar panel), so it’s actually very good value.
However, spec up an Alpine 4 with the comprehensive (and frankly essential) Diamond Pack (£475) and panoramic rooflight (£335), and the result is a seriously well-equipped tourer that costs just £14,585.
As ever, you pays your money and you takes your choice.
- There's a useful amount of storage
- The alloys and panoramic sunroof are smart extras
- The French bed, at 6ft 2in x 4ft 3in, is a good size
- The washroom isn't lined and is more for occasional than everyday use
- There are just three gas burners