Peter BaberSee other caravan reviews written by Peter Baber
The Warwickshire-based dealer has upped the spec on an 8ft-wide family caravan that already has much to offer. We take a look to see how well it works
Can you improve on success? Back in 2017, the Explorer Group (as it then was) introduced the Avanté 866 as one of two new models in Elddis's entry-level range that were eight feet wide – a larger width it had only introduced on its flagship Buccaneer brand just two years before.
The extra girth made sense at the larger end of the Avanté range – for twin-axle vans that were designed first and foremost for larger families. Nor was that the only nod to the needs of sprawling families: the 866 also included a small dinette at the back, specially designed for children where they could get away from their parents (perhaps to the latter's relief).
Since then both ideas have been extensively copied. Other manufacturers have quickly wheeled out eight-foot wide caravans. And while Elddis may not have been first with the family dinette idea, others have produced versions of it, too.
For the 2018 season the eight-foot wide range has been expanded with the introduction of the transverse-island-bed 860. But a mark of the idea's success is also the enthusiasm with which these models have been included in the many dealer specials that are based on the Avanté range and make up a significant part of Elddis's production output. Pretty much all the Avanté-based dealer specials now include a version of the 866.
So do they improve on the original? To find out, we've chosen to look at what Warwickshire dealership Raymond James offers on its version.
This retailer has a novel way of naming its dealer specials. The family that owns Raymond James Caravans also used to produce touring caravans under the Avondale brand, and retains the intellectual property rights. So the Coachman Vision-based range is called Avocet, and the Avanté-based one is Osprey – Avocet and Osprey are former Avondale line-ups. It's great to see these names live on, but does the current Osprey live up to its illustrious namesake?
Pitching and setting up
Fortunately Elddis has gone some way to making that job easier for you too, over and above making this a more stable twin-axle model. The manufacturer is unusual in including ATC trailer control and an AKS 3004 stabiliser as standard on what, one must remember, is still an entry-level van.
And fortunately Raymond James has taken things further too. One criticism we had of the Avanté 866 when it first came out was that there was no external access to the underseat locker – quite a prerequisite for a family with a large collection of boots and wellies. On the Osprey you do get an external locker door, which also houses the 230V socket.
And there's more. We were disappointed not to find no heavy duty corner steadies on the standard Avante. They are there on the Osprey, along with big feet, an upgraded awning light, an offside service light, and even a light in the gas bottle locker. So pitching up in the dark should be no problem. That gas bottle locker also includes an auto changeover regulator, so you shouldn't have to stumble out to change the gas bottles around on a cold night.
If you are taking an awning with you. you shouldn't have to wait hours for it to warm up either, because this caravan includes an awning warmer – essentially an extra vent from the Whale dual-fuel heating system that blows out into the centre of your awning near the door.
There is also an external BBQ point, and even an external shower point, if you really need to hose down kids or dogs before they are allowed back in.
There are unique decals down the Osprey's GRP sides, and a wheel lock on each of the twin axles.
A foldaway table can go in here, but you may not need it because what is extra special in the 866 (again because of that extra width) is the second dinette you get with wraparound seating and a pedestal table right by the kitchen where you need it. Unlike other caravans which have this layout, you could easily seat four, possibly five, around here – so this can be a dining space for the whole family, not just children.
Some people have found the upholstery in the original Avanté a little too plain and austere. In the Osprey, Raymond James has gone for something a little bit more upmarket, with hints of mauve and a floral pattern for the scatter cushions. The fabric itself is also Aquaclean (so it's easy to clean) and 'pet friendly' – in other words, made of a tight enough thread so even with the best of intentions Fido's claws cannot rip it apart.
Raymond James has added a Stargazer rooflight to bring even more light into the front lounge than you get with the sunroof. And it has added a USB socket in addition to the seven mains sockets you would find in a standard Avanté van. That's a fairly important consideration if you are travelling with teenage children with a heavy demand for all things digital. More senior members of the touring party may be relieved to know that a CD player with a USB input and MP3 connectivity is included as standard on all Avantés.
The more upmarket Elddis ranges this season have all come with a larger, domestic-sized stainless steel sink, but Raymond James has stuck with the Avanté's round plastic version for its model.
The dark colour of the worktop probably works better with accident-prone families. In the Osprey you do get a backlit splashback.
In our initial impressions of the Avanté 866, we were a little disappointed not to see a window in this washroom, even if there is a rooflight. The Osprey goes a little way towards ameliorating this situation by including a backlit mirror above the basin.
By pressing down the pedestal table in the side dinette, opening out some extension flaps and adding a couple of infill cushions, you get a perfectly decent double here, too. It could be good for a sulky teenager who wouldn't be seen dead in the bunks at the back, although for privacy they only get a wraparound curtain. Even with those extension flaps out, there is still room for people to get past by the kitchen.
The bunks at the back, though, are a real treat. They are more like pods than bunks, as each has a substantial wooden surround, its own individual curtain, and its own window and spotlight. Best of all, each bunk is 6 ft 4in long – an amazing length for a fixed bunk.
So if there are only four of you travelling, that teenager could get over his or her prejudices, and then you would be able to keep the table clear for anyone who gets up early in the morning, or stays up late.
The central wardrobe is large enough for such a family and includes two hanging rails. And even in the washroom you get two cupboards.
The Elddis Osprey 866 is a great van for families, although it is also heavy and large, so you would need to make sure your car and drive or storage area can cope with it.
The specification added to this caravan also lifts it just a little above the basic level, to provide a more comfortable, stress-free experience – although it also adds a further 42kg to its weight.
As for whether the added spec is value for money, or whether you could save money by adding all these extras yourself, that is a harder question to answer – not least because you may not be comparing like with like.
What's going for a dealer special edition like the Elddis Osprey 866 is that the dealership has saved you a lot of time and effort in sourcing the added extras. So if the package as a whole includes most of what you want, you'd be wise to go for it.
- Excellent additional spec – particularly on the outside of the van
- Internal furnishings make it look that little bit more classy
- It's still a heavy van, so you'll need a hefty tow car