Claudia DowellSee other caravan reviews written by Claudia Dowell
Relax in a comfortable island bed and enjoy a spacious end washroom in the Swift Challenger 645, a 2017-season twin-axle caravan built with couples in mind
Love fixed-bed caravans? Then a new model from a British pioneer is surely one to be excited about.
When Swift launched the Challenger brand at the end of the last century it also debuted the first fixed bed in a UK caravan – in the Challenger 500 SE. The fixed bed format was quickly taken up by other manufacturers to become commonplace and has since gone through its own design evolution.
Now, the height of desirability is an island bed and, if you are a fan of end washrooms, one that goes across the width of the caravan. And that’s exactly what’s on offer in one of three new models to join the Challenger range for the 2017 line-up.
The 645 is designed for use by couples, but can sleep four. And there’s an extra treat if you also like a bit of space – it’s a twin-axle, and one that’s not particularly encumbered by a super weight.
There’s another change. In recent years, the Challenger has been offered in two guises, the higher specced Challenger SE and the lightweight Challenger Sport. For 2017 the SE/Sport distinctions no longer exist.
For 2017 all Challengers, and Eccles for that matter, have been built using Smart Plus construction, which means a timberless, GRP bodyshell and a new sandwich floor construction. The GRP is tougher than aluminium.
In addition, all Swift caravans will be fitted with the Swift Command system, launched in 2016 in its top ranges. This includes an intelligent power supply unit, which is operated through an LCD control panel and via an app, which can be downloaded to a smartphone or tablet to operate remotely (you can pay £95 a year for a tracker subscription).
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Pitching and setting up
The step-on hitch is white and the van rides on an Al-Ko chassis, but the ATC system is an option (£325) rather than standard.
However, it does have alloy wheels, plus a steel spare wheel, a secure wheel lock, LED running lights and new LED high-level marker and brake lights. There’s also a portable satellite dish connection in the battery box, plus our test model had a barbecue point, an external 230V socket and two external lockers, which are all part of the new optional Lux Pack (£595).
The steadies are standard-sized, rather than heavy-duty, and are easily accessed at the front, but a bit of knee-bending is required to locate those at the back. As with all Swift caravans there are fixings for a bike rack on the rear panel.
A swoop of red and grey decals along the sides is simple and stylish, passing over the single-piece glazed entrance door, which has a sturdy, chrome-effect door handle and is forward of the axles.
We liked the magnetic door stay rather than the catch type, which has to be yanked in order to close the door. On the inside is a sensible lever handle that is easy to grab.
The standard Swift Command system and optional Alde heating (£995) controls are located above the entrance door, with smoke and carbon monoxide alarms adjacent.
The lounge of the Swift Challenger 645 has the familiar parallel sofas, central chest set-up with new ‘Santa Monica’ red and grey soft furnishings.
The sofas are in grey and cream, with shaped bolsters at the front end to encourage relaxation. It’s a slightly austere, masculine-looking scheme, but the red curtain tie-backs give it a pop of colour.
The wood is a restful, inoffensive medium tone and there are loose-fit carpets throughout. There’s an alarm sensor next to the centre chest and the seat bases have front access.
The single, wide overhead lockers on either side have glossy doors with chrome trim and handles.
With the large rooflight and sunroof this is a light space, but that one rooflight must do service over the lounge and the kitchen.
The sunroof housing incorporates an LED light and two speakers. There’s more ambient LED lighting above the lockers and for more directional illumination there are four spotlights.
Behind the centre chest is a plastic console that is a great spot for keeping phones, so it’s a shame that no USB points have been installed here, although there are two plug sockets, with chrome-effect surrounds and two light switches.
At one end is the Thetford Aspire 2 cooker with a dual-fuel hob, and separate oven and grill. Next to that is a round sink with a single mixer tap set in a granite-effect worktop, so all the preparation space is at one end, and there’s a fold-down flap that extends it further.
The smart illuminated splashback is part of the optional Lux Pack. There’s a single socket and light switch here.
Set between two overhead cupboards, both of which have racking for crockery, is a microwave in a dedicated housing, giving a neat look. Tucked below the worktop is a slim cutlery drawer, with a larger utensil drawer below the sink.
The deep cupboard below that has pull-out wire racking for store cupboard items and the isolation gas taps are located here. Below the neat cutlery drawer is a tall shelved cupboard.
If you like to end your day with a glass of crisp white wine, there’s ample space to cool the bottle in the tall, slimline, three-way fridge/freezer opposite the kitchen. Above and below the fridge are deep lockers, the upper containing the TV aerial.
The large, fully lined shower cubicle has moulded shelves for shower gels and shampoos, plus an Ecocamel showerhead. Bi-fold doors make access easy and take up less room when opening and closing than a single unit.
The square plastic basin, with chrome-effect mixer tap, has a large mirror behind it and two-door shelved cupboard below.
Storage is good, with a shelf running the remaining length of the back wall and a shallow cupboard above that. Under the shelf is a towel ring, which sits above the optional Alde heating radiator, but is slightly awkward to get to – however, there are a further two towel hooks on the wall opposite.
The electric-flush cassette toilet has a frosted window above it and two shelves above that. There are four small LED lights in this space, plus a light in the shower.
The Swift Challenger 645's transverse island bed is set against the nearside wall and slides back in daytime mode to give easy access to the washroom beyond. The Duvalay mattress, with infill, is supremely comfortable.
There’s a wardrobe on either side of the island bed. The one on the right-hand side is bigger, and has storage for the table and the optional Alde heating unit. Below the hanging space are two wide drawers and a locker, plus a small surface for a cup, book and specs. The other wardrobe is narrow with a shelved cupboard rather than drawers below.
Above the bed are two glossy-fronted lockers, with ambient LED strip lighting above and two spotlights below. A small rooflight helps with daytime illumination.
On the offside is a large corner vanity unit, which sits over the wheel arch. If you like to watch TV in bed there’s space here to accommodate one, with a TV aerial point and socket, and an extra socket for a hairdryer, plus a light switch next to a large mirrored corner cupboard.
There’s a big cupboard below but it’s not shelved, and there are two LED lights above the area, which is heated by low-level vents.
The window is dressed with decorative padded panels either side in the same material as the curtains. You get either a good view of your neighbour from here if you are on regimented pitches, or a wonderful view of the countryside.
This area will obviously get a bit of cheer with a duvet on the bed, but we can’t help feeling that the wall between bedroom and bathroom could be made less dour if it had a full-length mirror on it – it would be useful, too.
The front double bed in this Swift caravan makes up in the usual way, by pulling out slats, which run on tracks, from the centre chest and rearranging the cushions.
We like the drawers in the bedroom and the two lots of hanging space, and there’s useful storage in the large vanity unit.
Kitchen storage isn’t bad, with crockery racks and slide-out racking for vegetables and store-cupboard essentials. The sunroof in the lounge reduces overhead locker capacity, but there’s that useful cupboard just inside the door.
The washroom has plenty of shelving and room in the lower cupboard for clean towels.
The 2017 Swift Challenger 645 provides a transverse-island bed and an end washroom on a twin-axle tourer, optimising this layout and giving an open and airy feel. It is built for couples and we think they'll love the vanity unit in the master bedroom.
- The large, square shower with shelves for storage
- There's a fantastic dressing table with a mirrored corner cupboard in the master bedroom
- You get two wardrobes, one of which is a very good size
- The kitchen has two cutlery drawers and a tall fridge/freezer
- It doesn't have ATC, which we'd like on a twin-axle caravan
- There's just a single socket in the kitchen
- There are no USB points
- It's a bit dark as the lounge and kitchen share just one rooflight
- The price increases by £2000 when you add options that you'd probably go for