Andy Jenkinson

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Bailey replaces its revamped Pursuit range with the new Phoenix, hoping to grab a bigger chunk of the entry level segment. We review the baby of the range

Overview

Bailey has never replicated the success it had with its Ranger line-up, built between 1996 and 2010. It launched the quirky Orion using its Alu-Tech bodyshell construction, but this range was never a top seller. Pursuit followed and although heavily marketed by Bailey, it never hit the spot – but it did do better than Orion. In January 2017 Pursuit was re-invented but with tough competition from the likes of Sprite, Venus and Xplore, sales struggled. Enter the Phoenix, Bailey’s latest entry level tourer (although it’s being marketed as a ‘first choice’ caravan). 

With a good selection of layouts – seven in all – the 420 we’re looking at here is the end-washroom two-berth (one of the better sellers in the defunct Pursuit range, in fact). The new Phoenix comes with the same design package as its siblings, with a vertical front window. At the rear, a new lower panel has been added, to try to give the Phoenix a more upmarket look. So how does the 420 compare with its rivals? It's a tough segment to compete in, with the benchmark Sprite being a top seller, helped no doubt by its many dealer special editions. 

Pitching and setting up

Built on an Al-Ko chassis with an AKS hitch stabiliser, the Phoenix comes as standard with alloy wheels and a Status TV aerial. As with all other Bailey tourers, no front gas locker is fitted (for many caravanners this is essential). Instead, there’s a nearside front locker which of course eats into the seat box storage. The gas locker is placed on the offside just aft of the axle line. There's also another locker at the rear offside: this is to access space in the base of the wardrobe in the washroom. Not only does it allow access to the loo but it adds storage. This means that the Thetford swivelling cassette loo is right up to the base of the wardrobe. Some may like this, others may not, but it’s different and we quite liked that.

The exterior is finished in white GRP with quite low-key graphics including the Bailey family ‘B’. If you’re looking for a battery box, then you won’t find it outside; it’s submerged in the floor so a mains-only socket is fitted on the nearside. This means, however, that the mains lead has to go through your awning – we feel it would have been better placed on the offside. The water pump inlet is on the offside, though near the front end of the 420. The corner steadies are of a standard design and are easy enough to get to, while decent easy-to-use grab handles finished in matt black are well placed.

Lounge

Step inside the Phoenix 420 to find the conventional classic end-washroom/ midships kitchen/ side dresser configuration. Plenty of natural light streams in through the large front central window and the large side windows, and all offer good viewing from the lounge area. Parallel lounge seating features here, although we don't feel that the seat support will be brilliant for heavier people. Two large overhead lockers are fitted, plus two corner cubbyholes (although they felt a tad flimsy on the prototype we viewed).

The central front chest has two drawers with the usual slide-out tabletop. There's no third cupboard allowing for a little legroom, although we feel most will miss that extra storage. Twin blown-air outlets are placed in the chest’s base while LED corner spotlights with USB points, plus LED ceiling lights and integral overhead locker lighting, means night illumination will be excellent. For audio lovers, a radio and CD player comes as standard. No under-seat access flaps are fitted, so bedding has to be removed from the top of the base.

In a new strategy for Bailey, Phoenix’s ‘Brockwell’ soft furnishings have been left quite plain, so that buyers can personalise the lounge to suit their own tastes. In addition, a ‘Dressing pack’ (fitted to our test van) is available as a £229 cost option: this consists of four scatter cushions, two bolsters, two pure wool throws and a washroom carpet.

Kitchen

The Phoenix 420’s side kitchen comes well equipped. It has a four-burner gas hob, a separate oven and grill, a stainless steel sink, an 800W microwave and 103-litre dual-fuel Dometic fridge. The kitchen has a twin cupboard, plus a large drawer for cutlery that uses a soft closing action. There are two large overhead lockers plus mains sockets, making up to five in the 420 overall.

Worktop provision isn't bad but opposite the kitchen unit is the Dometic fridge with a good worktop above it. A smart microwave is fitted here, placed at a practical height, and there's a locker above it for extra storage. A midi Heki rooflight is placed partly over the kitchen area, again great for natural light and also ventilation. Overall, the 420’s kitchen is well planned and has a decent spec for this price point.

Washroom

An end washroom is a vital feature for those who use all the van’s facilities, of course, but does the 420's cut the mustard? The shower compartment is now lined but without using a full plastic sheet as other manufacturers do. The shower does have a roof vent, which is ideal for showering and also allowing in natural light as the 420 doesn't have a washroom window.

The decent washbasin is practical and has a cupboard beneath it, while next to the shower is a small cupboard for the free-standing table. The wardrobe is a good size, but its base is accessible from the outside, along with the cassette loo’s hatch. And that Thetford electric-flush loo is placed right against the base. Normally this area is left as open space but Bailey’s designers decided to make this area more usable. In the round, this isn't a bad washroom for a van in this market segment.

Beds

When it comes to bedtime the Phoenix 420 has the usual choice of two single beds, using the side settees, or making the seating up into a double. The double bed is easily formed using the pull-out slats from beneath the central chest of drawers. The cushions are then easily positioned to make the mattress for a double bed at 1.88 x 1.49m, which will be a good size for most users.

Storage

For two people on tour, the 420 offers enough storage for a week away or longer trips. Good-sized overhead lockers will take bulkier items but we would have liked to have seen a cupboard beneath the front chest of drawers. The lack of a front gas bottle compartment is also a feature you may miss if you've been used to having one on other vans.

We quite like the idea of the storage space below the base of the wardrobe, but some prospective buyers may find that the removal of internal space decreases the available floor area for changing in comfort. With the fridge being placed opposite in the side dresser, the kitchen has decent storage. The 420 has a respectable selection of storage areas but the lack of a front gas bottle compartment could be a deal-breaker for some.

Technical specs

Berth2
MiRO1022kg
Payload117kg
MTPLM1139kg
Interior length4.03m
Shipping length5.56m
Width2.21m
Height2.62m
Awning size857cm

Verdict

So does the Phoenix 420 make a good small starter van for touring couples? It's certainly an improvement on Pursuit, with a better wood finish and a good spec including Truma Combi heating and a microwave plus a good-size Dometic dual-fuel fridge. We liked the airy feel at the front and the night lighting is very good, but the interior does feel a tad flimsy in places. We’re referring to those front overhead cubbyholes and the plastic trim used as pelmets above the front windows. 

We also feel that Phoenix’s seating isn't up to the standards of its rivals, either for comfort and overall design. This new range is a good effort from Bailey but Sprite has a more upmarket feel and feels marginally better built, although weight does come into the reckoning here. If the Venus 460/2 was still around it would just slip in behind the Phoenix 420, but the Sprite Alpine 2 and Xplore 422 still nip in front. Having said that, the 420 is still definitely worth a look and will be ideal for owners of small cars. 

Conclusion

Pros

  • Improved looks over its Pursuit predecessor
  • Airy interior, with large side windows and good night lighting
  • Low weight
  • Good kitchen storage
  • Microwave fitted at the right height

Cons

  • Lounge seating not as supportive as it could be
  • There’s no front gas locker
  • Access to leisure battery is poor
  • Flimsy front overhead cubbyholes
  • Mains hook-up connection on nearside

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