Nigel DonnellySee other caravan reviews written by Nigel Donnelly
Swift's Challenger 635 puts the layout everyone wants into a package that is well-equipped, well-priced and not even that heavy – so, what's the catch?
Caravans are really a box of compromises. Every year, manufacturers have to decide where a line between acceptable and unacceptable is drawn.
So has Swift cut corners that deliver uncomfortable compromises, or performed the sort of packaging magic trick which just wrong-foots rivals? This was what we sought to find out on a week-long test on the French Atlantic coast.
Externally, the Challenger is fairly standard Swift Group fare – and that is no bad thing.
High-gloss GRP sidewalls are tough enough to cope with the occasional awning pole dropping against them, but look great, too.
Graphics are discreet on this very large caravan and there is a lot of sidewall on show, with not many windows. If you don’t like your caravans big, white and boxy, look elsewhere.
Full-height front and rear panels ensure there are minimal chances for water ingress.
As is standard nowadays, the front end looks automotive, with transfers infilling the gaps between the windows, roof window and the gutter mouldings to make the whole thing look very uniform.
This also helps hide flies and midges after a long tow, minimising the time you spend ensuring that the van looks smart.
The rear panel has rails fitted for adding a Thule bike rack. Alloy wheels are standard.
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Pitching and setting up
In general, the basics are all well covered. Corner steadies are easily reached, locker doors operate nicely and latch securely, and the cassette toilet is on the offside, rather than the awning side.
Externally, a mains socket for the awning and an external gas point in the front nearside corner mean you want for little. There is also an externally accessed storage locker in the same corner.
Directly above the door there is an LED awning light that illuminates well for its size. It is controlled from the Swift Command panel above the door which, once you have familiarised yourself with it, is a logical and nicely presented means of controlling your tourer’s various talents.
The 1680kg maximum weight of the Challenger was no match at all for the Range Rover Sport we towed it with. But an excellent tow car can only temper, not tame, iffy towing characteristics.
As it happened, this relatively lightweight twin-axle towed beautifully at the legal limit, with no hint of unruly behaviour on the bumpy French N-roads. Al-Ko ATC is not fitted on the Challenger, but at £325 you might want to tick that option box.
The inherent stability of a layout that puts all the meatiest items of kitchen kit directly over the axles, and has a big box of fresh air at the back, likely helps in this respect.
It is quite tempting to fill that vast rear under-bed area with all your clutter, but we suspect that if anything was going to ruffle this Challenger, such thoughtless loading would do it.
The sofas aren’t very generous in length, but otherwise the Swift Challenger 635's lounge space works well.
There is space for four to sit and eat, and for light lunches the main dining table will remain stowed because the pull-out table above the centre chest is more than adequate.
The seats are comfortable and the standard upholstery is inoffensive and contemporary. The curtains stop it feeling drab.
Lighting in here is highly configurable. You can choose from cup-final floodlights to gently backlit, and just about everything in between.
In terms of natural light, the combination of the roof window and high-gloss cupboard fronts above the lounge ensure that the maximum amount of natural light gets in and is bounced around effectively.
But you will spend time wiping fingerprints off the glossy surfaces, and you won’t notice them until you sit down and look up.
There is a television shelf next to the door, which is fine for a portable flatscreen. A universal VESA mounting point is provided on the side of the fridge, so you could instead permanently mount the telly and keep the useful shelf clear for keys and phones.
Easily the most impressive bit is the huge nearside fridge. It will delight any prospective owner who is partial to hosting a couple of beers or the odd bottle of Prosecco among the more prosaic groceries. We managed to fit a crate of Kronenbourg in there. A crate.
The standard arrangement of three gas burners and a single electric hotplate tops the stove, while a separate gas grill and oven lurk beneath.
Low-down storage is very good. With the fridge installed opposite, you have a huge cupboard in addition to the good drawer storage on offer.
Above, there are two side-opening lockers with cages for mugs and plates, although shorter caravanners may struggle to reach the back of them. Buyers should try accessing the microwave prior to purchase: it is high above the centre of the workspace.
In terms of worktop, there is reasonable space to the left of the sink and a strip in front of it. More would be nice. The flip-up worktop provides it temporarily, but it quickly gets in the way of those in the lounge.
The granite-effect sink looks suitably chunky, and a clip-on drainer is provided for washing-up time.
Recessed LED lighting above the worktop, and the backlit splashback that is part of the Lux pack, ensure you never struggle to see what you are working on.
Although the bathroom sits in the middle of the van, the amount of natural light through the opaque offside window and rooflight means it feels a nice place to preen.
The wardrobe, next to the door from the kitchen on the left-hand side, is not huge, so if you pack heavy or take winter coats for year-round touring, you’ll want to scrutinise the available space. The shelving underneath is good for spare shoes.
Other storage in this area is generous, with a locker above the window, shelves between the wardrobe and the window, a shelved locker beneath the sink and a cupboard next to the toilet.
The shower cubicle is on the nearside of the van. It is fully lined, well-lit, and water pressure is good, too. A towel rail is within reaching distance on the nearside wall, directly above the radiator.
The sink is a good, usable size and has a large, well-lit mirror right in front. This also aids the general feeling of space.
If we are looking for things to give consideration to, perhaps removing the little cupboard next to the toilet might improve comfort and access for cleaning and servicing.
The Thetford toilet itself is tucked into the corner, so access is quite snug. Without being indelicate, we’d suggest that a discreet perch on the pot on the dealer forecourt might be a good idea to ensure you have the requisite room.
All told, this is a well-equipped washroom. But it does feel a bit squeezed in, with some odd nooks as a result.
At a glance, the space is impressive. Two windows and a clear rooflight ensure the area has loads of natural light. The artificial lighting is well concealed but effective, and details such as the upholstered window surrounds make this area feel plush.
It’s practical, too. The side-tables for the bed provide genuinely useful storage space, and there’s a brace of drawers underneath.
Three roof lockers run above the head of the bed, offering excellent storage for lightweight clothes. Shorter patrons should avoid keeping their items in the centre locker, because they may struggle to see what they are reaching for.
The corner vanity unit at the foot of the bed is perfectly designed to take the pain out of getting ready to face the world.
It has a mirror straddling the corner with some modest storage behind it, and a more useful low-level cupboard underneath. A plug socket means that you can use a hairdryer in comfort while sitting on the bed.
There’s even good lighting to ensure that you look as though you’ve just stepped out of a salon, rather than a caravan.
At the top of this corner unit are mains, 12V and aerial sockets to take advantage of the television mounting point above the side window.
There’s a reason that we’ve left the actual bed until last in this description, and that’s because deciding how good it is depends on who is buying it.
The bed is mounted on the offside wall and extends to a maximum length of 1.85m (6ft 1in). When pulled out to these dimensions in a caravan with an overall external width of 2.23m, the access around the foot of the bed is under pressure.
Getting to the far side of the bed is simple when it’s in the retracted position by day, but with it out and a duvet in place, a nocturnal visit to the washroom introduces an element of The Krypton Factor to your weekend break.
If the optional Alde heating is fitted, available space at ankle height is restricted still further by the heating pipes that run around the wall. So, ensure you play out this scenario before committing to purchase.
The other thing to bear in mind is the bed length. If you are taller than five foot eight, take time to ensure that you would be comfortable in the bed. As a pair of six-footers, we found that the time the bed area worked least well was when we were sleeping.
There’s little to say about the front lounge double bed that you couldn’t guess, but the make-up double’s comparatively generous proportions make it a surprisingly tempting proposition, despite the effort involved in making it.
It becomes a very acceptable occasional bed, although you’ll need to put the two smallest cushions at the head of it to ensure the best support for a comfortable night.
Starting at the back, the under-bed area is large, although the spare wheel is bolted to the floor under here. There is external access to the storage area, however, which is useful, and you should be able to stow smaller outdoor chairs.
It is better suited to outdoor stuff, though, so you don’t get black marks from the spare tyre on your kit. You should also take care not to overload this storage area, or you risk corrupting the Swift Challenger 635’s excellent on-road behaviour.
Storage under the seats in the lounge is restricted mainly to the nearside-front because the offside example is home to the electrical controls, optional Alde unit and the water pump. The nearside one is completely available for storage and has external access.
The gas locker has space enough for essentials, and the various gaps between the walls and floor of the locker are well protected to prevent small items from falling out.
The Swift Challenger 635 is a very nice caravan, and you won’t find the same layout for the same price anywhere this season.
If you love the configuration, buy it. There are a few caveats to be aware of before you start peeling the pound notes out from underneath the mattress, however.
As mentioned, our van was fitted with the optional Lux upgrade pack. This is actually more of a ‘delete’ option – it is fitted unless you specify it not to be.
Likewise, we can’t imagine not having the optional Alde heating system, either. That makes this caravan a lot dearer than it initially looks.
As a £23,000 vehicle, it’s still excellent value, but the convoluted pricing tactic makes us like it a tiny bit less.
Pricing aside, the success or failure of this titanic tourer comes down to how much you like the layout and how well it fits you.
Despite its size, this is a caravan that won’t completely suit all buyers, no matter how much they might like the idea.
If you are partial to a pasty and taller than around five-foot ten, you really need to spend some time visualising yourself living in the van.
The toilet area is snug, access through the washroom and into the bedroom is narrow, and getting to the far side of the bed may cause consternation.
Consider all these pinch-points before you commit to purchase, to ensure that you can cope with the compromises needed to get all of these lovely features into a 2.23m-wide tourer.
If you look at these areas and they present no issues, the combination of this year’s most desirable layout trends, in an attractive, eminently towable twin-axle package, will hold huge allure. And deservedly so.
The Challenger sits in the lower mid-range of the Swift line-up, but a quick glance down the kit list as tested shows there is little missing that you’d need to enjoy your holiday.
The Swift Command control panel is as good as any you’ll find, whatever you spend on a caravan.
As mentioned, we are not huge fans of the confusing price offering, which means you need to tack the cost of the Lux pack and the Alde heating onto the price of this tourer as tested.
The Lux pack consists of external gas and mains outlet sockets on the awning side of the van, an illuminated kitchen splashback, key-fob alarm operation and the external locker door access to the under-seat front storage. This lot adds £595 to the price.
It’s a further £995 to upgrade from Truma blown-air to Alde heating, which also adds 20kg to the MiRO and MTPLM.
In truth, without these add-ons the Challenger would be a relatively sparsely equipped caravan and far harder to love. We suspect that very few Challengers will be built without these options fitted as a result. With them, this is a very well-equipped mid-range van.
But we’d rather such pricing structure was stopped – it’s just confusing. There is no doubt, however, that the Challenger is far more comfortable and desirable with these extras.
While you have the calculator out, you may be compelled by your insurer to find an extra £255 for the Al-Ko Secure wheel locks, too, which aren’t standard on the Challenger. Also, ensure you budget for the £95 annual fee for the tracking system fitted to help locate the van if it’s stolen.
- A great execution of a sought-after layout
- The kitchen is good – and the fridge is huge
- The corner vanity unit in the rear bedroom is well designed
- The island bed isn't massive
- The pricing system is a tad confusing
- Space in the washroom is at a premium