Andy Jenkinson

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The mid-market Swift Challenger 580 breaks new ground in being the first van with optional Alde wet central heating – read the Practical Caravan review

Overview

Since its inception in 1985, Swift’s Challenger range has broken ground with sleek looks and innovative features – the first donned rear spoilers, believed at the time to improve fuel efficiency. The attractive specification and variety of layouts helped make Challengers among Swift’s most successful models. 

Over the past few years, though, its identity has been muddied by the introduction of two line-ups bearing the Challenger badge: Sport kept prices lower by keeping its features simpler, while SE models splashed out more. 

For 2016, the Challenger name is back as a single range, whose showroom appeal is heightened by its GRP end panels, sidewalls and hail-resistant roof, Swift Smart construction and wood-free sandwich floors. 

The Challenger 580 boasts the popular transverse island bed. It's accompanied by a front lounge, an offside kitchen, a full-width end washroom and contemporary décor. What else does the range, and this model in particular, have to win over buyers? And to see other Swift caravans for sale, click here.

Pitching and setting up

The exterior sets the pace in the style stakes, with an aerodynamic design, alloy wheels, a full height rear panel with fixings for a Thule cycle carrier and road lights that add to the showroom appeal of the entire package. The front panel has three flush-fitting windows and a gas locker that is easy to access, while the durable gloss GRP sidewalls are well-finished.

This all rides on a Al-Ko chassis that is kitted out with an AKS stabiliser, and a spare wheel and carrier; ATC trailer control is an option. The standard-fit 80W solar panel should keep a leisure battery topped up and the digital TV aerial is the latest from Status.

Setting-up is simple: the steadies are easy to wind, all the service points are on the offside, and an exterior access locker for the fixed transverse bed is placed on the nearside of the Challenger. An LED awning light shines from above the single-piece entrance door.

We were surprised, however, that an external gas point is not included. But it is stronger in the security department, with a Tracker Retrieve system, a receiver for the optional Al-Ko Secure wheel lock, smoke and CO2 alarms, and more.

Lounge

With a panoramic sunroof at the front and, below it, larger windows than last year and a rooflight, the lounge is characteristically bright and airy, which contributes to the overall sense of spaciousness. This is not just theoretical: the bench seats easily accommodate four for dinner or relaxing with ample space between them. Their bases, backrests and bolsters are covered in pale-beige ‘Zimba’ fabric, accompanied by scatter cushions that provide a subtle contrast.

Between them is the central chest of drawers, with a pull-out occasional table on top, in addition to the drawers and cupboard under it.

Other storage options include bed boxes whose wide flaps at the front let you stow bedding without a struggle. The overhead lockers are generous in size but the corner sections flanking the sunroof lack doors of their own, making it difficult to use the space. The wood-effect locker doors have positive-catch chrome-effect handles.

The big difference between last year’s Sport and SE line-ups was the heating: the former had Truma’s latest system, the latter had an Alde wet central arrangement. This year, the Truma comes as standard, but the Alde is offered as a cost option.

The plastic front window ledge has mains sockets moulded right into it. For night-time illumination, you get four LED corner spotlamps, five LED bulbs in a row above the sunroof and mood lighting above the lockers. The mix makes the lounge a pleasant place in which to spend time and entertain.

Kitchen

The kitchen is compact, but well-equipped and thoughtfully designed. For example, it is short on worktop space, but a fold-up extension ameliorates this – somewhat. The circular stainless-steel sink has a clip-on drainer, which has its own storage space in the cupboard provided alongside the 110-litre fridge. There's a dual-fuel hob and separate oven and grill, while a microwave oven is fitted above the sink.

Storage is limited to two cupboards, a cutlery drawer between the fridge and work surface, and two overhead lockers. Swift wasn’t lavish with sockets here, either: there’s one, but two would have been better.

Illumination is a different story: twin downlighters are trained on the workspace, while a small side window and Mini Heki brighten things during the day and keep air moving. We miss the lit splashback from the Challenger SE line-up, and the squeeze on food-preparation area cannot be fully remedied by the flap.

Washroom

The end washroom has what you’ve come to expect in this space – including a place to stand to get dressed. The electric-flush toilet is just below a frosted offside window, the handbasin at the rear wall is deep, but not very large.

The nearside shower cubicle is fully lined, large enough for most users and equipped with the economical EcoCamel showerhead; it is closed off behind a bi-fold door. A rooflight combines with the window to keep the room from steaming up, as well as providing daylight. In the evening, switch on the small, domed fixture.

Beds

Island beds are so widespread, you’ll even find entry-level tourers with them, including transverse versions, as in the 580. The Challenger’s is retracted during the day to ease access to the washroom; the base has a plastic surround that can be slid out at bedtime and the gap filled with a section of mattress. And the mattress itself? It’s a Duvalay – exclusive to Swift Group caravans – which helps give you a good night’s sleep.

The lounge can also boast a special sleeping platform: its ‘Airwave’ seat cushions promise extra comfort. Simply arrange them over the seat bases and sliding slats that join them to create a sufficiently wide double bed. The seats are too short to be used as singles.

Storage

When it comes to storage the Swift Challenger 580 excels in certain areas, such as the base of the island bed, which can be accessed by lifting the metal bed on its gas strut or via a nearside exterior hatch. The kitchen isn’t overflowing with storage, although its options are well-designed.

The front lounge has overhead lockers plus the chest of drawers, while a handy dresser offers its drawer and cupboard for you to use near the main door. The island bed is flanked by wardrobes; the central one is much larger than that towards the rear, but both have two drawers.

A corner vanity unit sits across from the double bed. Above it is a cabinet with a large mirrored door and below are points for connecting a TV. Lockers above the bed add even more storage.

The washroom provides ample space for toiletries, from the large cupboard beneath the basin to a convenient shelf to its left.

Technical specs

Berth4
MiRO1354kg
Payload156kg
MTPLM1510kg
Interior length5.83m
Shipping length7.54m
Width2.23m
Awning size1020cm

Verdict

The 2016 Swift Challenger 580 is well equipped for the cash. We like the profile, the well-finished exterior and the contemporary interior. It certainly feels solidly built. There are still shortcomings, though, such as the overly tight fit of the cushions when making up the front double bed, as well as the lack of external gas and electrical points, which are big oversights. 

Conclusion

Pros

  • Storage provision is impressive
  • You get good value for money with this caravan
  • The interior is spacious and airy

Cons

  • The kitchen is stingy with storage and worktop space
  • The sofas aren't long enough to serve as single beds
  • There should be an external gas point
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