Old-school layout meets the 21st century – Practical Caravan assesses the 2016 Sterling Elite 630, an intriguingly indulgent prospect for two – or six

Overview

Elite was Sterling’s traditional flagship model for years before the über Continental came along and stole all its thunder. But the brand made its comeback for 2016, and we got a sneak preview of the fixed-bed Sterling Elite 630 at the Swift factory a few weeks before the official launch.

And it was well worth the trek up to Cottingham, since the Sterling Elite range (along with the Swift Conqueror equivalent) has enjoyed a major upward shift in terms of looks, build and design for 2016. Indeed, the uninitiated would be hard-pressed to distinguish between the 2016 Elite 630 and its more expensive sibling, now that it has adopted much of the Sterling Continental’s looks and Swift's timber-free SMART HT construction.

Elite’s return also plugs what was previously a rather obvious gap in the company’s line-up. Over in camp Swift, there was Challenger Sport and Challenger SE, then Conqueror, then Elegance. Curiously, though, there was no Conqueror equivalent in the Sterling line-up, meaning there was quite a jump from Eccles SE to Continental.

And this Sterling Elite 630 is one of the most intriguing models in the range, offering a comfortingly familiar layout (French bed, end washroom, L-shaped lounge) in a caravan that looks and feels bang up to date for 2016. And to see other Sterling caravans for sale, click here.

Pitching and setting up

The Swift Group has been building caravans for too long to drop the ball with regard to something as important as exterior design.

Perhaps predictably, then, the only real criticism we can level at the Elite 630 concerns its sheer size and weight. If you can haul this big twin-axle onto its pitch by hand alone, then you’ve clearly been eating your spinach.

From an aesthetic perspective, the Elite’s Continental-alike styling scores a direct hit, with its serious presence enhanced by pleasing details like the car-standard LED tail lights. Only the badge gives the game away that you’ve not splashed serious cash on Sterling’s range-topper.

On a more practical level, the 630 appears to get off to a slightly iffy start by positioning the battery box and mains hook-up point on the awning side wall. Closer examination, however, reveals that it’s positioned so close to the front of the caravan that any trailing leads will be pretty negligible and easily tucked away. And it’s flanked by the useful additions of a gas barbecue point and external mains socket. The locker further back, meanwhile, affords access to the huge void beneath the French bed.

Lounge

It’s long been a bit of a mystery to us as to why the L-shaped lounge fell so spectacularly out of favour. Granted, both sleeping and dining are slightly compromised as a result (especially in family caravans), but the lounge is just so much nicer. The Elite 630’s superb L-shaped lounge demonstrates this beautifully.

The ultra-modern colours probably won’t appeal to everyone (traditionalists can opt for the Swift equivalent, however), but the whole area feels very much like a spacious sunroom, thanks to the twin sunroofs and slightly deeper offside window, which combine to positively flood the area with light.

The main settee sits longitudinally on the nearside wall and is big enough to accommodate three adults, with room for two more on the smaller transverse settee up front and – for short periods only – a further seat to perch upon under the offside window. It all feels so much more conducive to relaxing than a pair of rigid longitudinal settees.

The low unit here is the obvious place to position your TV, too, thanks to the nearby mains/aerial sockets, and the seating layout means that everyone can watch TV comfortably without craning their necks.

Lighting is all LED and typically generous, stretching to adjustable reading lights as well hidden ambient strip lights and a line of LEDs stretched between the twin roof speakers.

Dining for two is facilitated by the traditional side dinette, if sitting side-by-side up front (the most obvious alternative) isn’t to your liking.

Kitchen

The 630’s kitchen looks a little on the small side, upon first acquaintance, especially given the caravan’s overall length, but closer examination tells a rather different story.

Worktop space, for example, is more than adequate for most needs, although it does come as a bit of a surprise to find no extension flap fitted. Fitted equipment is to the expected standard, however, and includes the latest Thetford Aspire cooker, complete with dual-fuel hob and separate oven and grill areas, low level fridge and eye-level microwave oven.

What could so easily have been an overwhelmingly dark and gloomy area (black and grey seem to predominate at worktop level) is enlivened by Swift’s now-traditional back-lit splashback, together with a discreet downlighter beneath the cupboards and a trio of pinlights inlaid into the wooden ceiling pelmet.

Higher up, the cupboard doors are finished in a contrasting cream colour and open to reveal a cereal box-friendly void to the left and dedicated crockery storage to the right.

At lower level, there’s a pair of pull-out wire baskets and a large cutlery drawer, while the trendy metal tube to the left supports additional ‘floating’ storage at the foot of the bed.

Washroom

There was a time when caravans fitted with a French bed had to make do with a cramped all-in-one washroom next door, but not any more. In fact, there’s a distinct whiff of premium hotel about the Elite’s end washroom, with its tasteful, muted colours and thoroughly modern chrome trim (which extends to a prominent heated towel rail).

The washbasin is a moulded one-piece unit fronted by a huge mirror and there’s plenty of floor space for dressing and undressing. The area around the swivel loo is lit by a proper frosted window, too and there’s ample downlighting for those inevitable visits during the night.

The fully-lined shower cubicle is entirely separate from the rest of the washroom and is accessed via a full-height bi-fold door, which incorporates an in-built transit locking mechanism. The cubicle is a good size, too, and comes complete with a fitted towel rail, light and oversized EcoCamel shower head.

Beds

The Sterling Elite 630 can ultimately sleep up to six people, but we suspect it will appeal most to couples looking for a layout that can accommodate occasional visiting family or guests, rather than large families. Viewed in this light, it puts in a strong performance, here.

The main bed is obviously the fixed nearside double at the rear, measuring 1.92m x 1.29m (6ft 4in x 4ft 3in), so six-footers should be able to get comfortable with ease. As ever, the traditional mattress cut-off is at the foot end.

As in the rest of the caravan, there’s an almost Saharan feel to the décor in here, with a basket-weave patterned headboard and rich dark wood with contrasting cream locker doors. Space is provided for spectacles and jewellery on the flip side of the high-level kitchen storage area and each bed occupant gets a reading light.

Up front, the second double appears smaller than it would be were the settees parallel, but is easy to make up and feel extremely comfortable. It is 2.05m x 1.37m (6ft 9in x 4ft 6in).

Visiting children, meanwhile, will doubtless love the fold-out bunks on the offside. They are 1.80m x 0.69m (5ft 11in x 2ft 3in) and 1.76m x 0.59m (5ft 9in x 1ft 11in).

Storage

Basic physics suggests that it’s difficult to provide anything other than generous storage potential in a twin-axle caravan of this size, and the 2016 Sterling Elite 630 certainly doesn’t disappoint. Inevitably, the panoramic rooflight precludes the fitment of roof lockers over the front windows, but the two side lockers offer reasonable space, albeit hampered slightly on the offside by the CD/radio’s DIN slot.

The presence of the external gas barbecue point, mains socket and battery box takes up some of the nearside settee bedding locker space, but there’s internal access both to this and the small transverse settee.

Removing the seat bases from the side dinette reveals two good-sized storage voids beneath, and lifting the French bed base (it rises easily on gas struts) shows off the biggest single storage void in this caravan, and better still, it’s accessible via an internal door and from the outside.

There’s better than average storage in the washroom, too, with a high- and low-level cupboard, together with various open shelves, to choose from.

Technical specs

Berth6
MiRO1618kg
Payload180kg
MTPLM1798kg
Interior length6.38m
Shipping length7.94m
Width2.26m
Height2.61m
Awning size10.41cm

Verdict

Like the 2016 Swift Conqueror 565 that we have also tested, we think this welcome reiteration of the Sterling Elite name marks a quantum leap forward for this sub-Continental caravan in 2016. Not everyone will appreciate the compromises that come with an L-shaped lounge, and your tow car will need to be made of stern stuff. But we can think of few other tourers that would suit long-term touring quite as well as this.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Luxuriant lounge
  • Flexible sleeping arrangements
  • Premium feel to spacious end washroom
  • High kit levels

Cons

  • Quite heavy
  • Rather expensive
  • Unusual décor is an acquired taste
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