It seems somehow apt that the manufacturer that brought fixed-bed caravans to the UK mainstream should come up with the first truly budget model with a transverse island bed. And while the newest Sprite has its little niggles, on the whole it ticks every box that matters.
Potential buyers are strongly advised to specify the optional Diamond Pack – as much for future resale value as current convenience – and to ensure that their tow car is up to the job. For an 85% match, you need a tow car with a kerbweight of 1644kg.
Otherwise, however, this is a caravan that rivals would do well to emulate in their own budget-class ranges, or miss out on a potentially lucrative market sector.
Rear island bed 1.85m x 1.33m
Front single or double beds
Full width rear washroom
Underbed storage with external access
Microwave oven is mounted high up
Shower cubicle isn’t fully lined
Only one drain hole in the shower tray
It’s true to say that fashion can be as transient and fickle in the caravan industry as it is anywhere else. But no-one could have foreseen the impact that the fixed bed – for so long a mainstay of the European caravan market – would have on the once unadventurous UK market.
Those with sufficiently long memories will no doubt recall the intense debate that surrounded the first fixed-bed from a British volume manufacturer – built, perhaps predictably, by Swift during the 1990s – and whether the British buyer would entertain such a seemingly outrageous waste of living space.
Time has given us the answer, but there is more than one take on the fixed-bed theme. Initially it was a French bed only, but then a couple of manufacturers dabbled with transverse rear doubles and even island beds. Then we’ve had the more recent trend for twin singles and – as here – the transverse island bed.
Very much an import from the motorhome world, it was arguably Fleetwood that initially dabbled with it the most in some of its top-spec models, back in the day. But it’s taken until 2015 for a genuinely affordable example to hit the showrooms. And, perhaps fittingly, it’s Swift Group that has taken the big step, with its new Sprite Major 4 SB, priced at considerably less than £15,000. The standard model is £14,850 and the model we tested is £15,325 at the time or our live-in caravan test in Spring 2015.
It’s an inevitable consequence of the layout hiding within, but like all transverse-island-bed caravans, the Sprite Major 4 SB does look a little forward-heavy in profile when viewed from the nearside. The huge expanse of blank sidewall betrays where the bed lives, and the effect is magnified still further on the budget Sprite by the lack of a window in the entrance door.
If you can see past this (and we certainly can), then the rest is very much business as usual, with a trademark single-pane front window, imposing frontal styling and a stylish rear that bears a close resemblance to the much more expensive Swift Challenger range.
The offside wall is rather better balanced, thanks to the additional windows and the minimalist graphics. As with our test model, the optional alloy wheels add a dash of class that belies the Sprite caravan brand’s value origins.
The void beneath the island bed is simply enormous and can be accessed from outside
Pitching & Setting-up
All four corner steady winding bolts are relatively easy to locate, but those at the front are the most impressive, thanks to the lined guide tubes that are cut into the skirting.
All exterior services are laid out entirely logically, with everything – even the fridge vents – kept out of the awning and banished to the offside wall. The water inlet and battery box/hook-up point are adjacent to one another, while the grey water outlets are positioned just behind the wheels for optimum drainage. The toilet has a separate flush header tank.
This may be one of Swift’s smaller, cheaper caravans, but it’s no shrimp, tipping the scales at 1196kg unladen and mustering an MTPLM just shy of 1400kg. That’s quite an impressive payload provision, so if you’re a stickler for 85% matches, you’ll need to ensure your tow car weighs no less than 1644kg. That’s certainly what we did, pressing our long-term Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI
into service. It weighs 1678kg and packs a 177bhp punch.
We’re not going to pretend that we barely noticed the Sprite on the Tiguan’s hitch, but it took particularly unsubtle steering input or excessive speed to instigate any tail sway, and the Al-Ko hitch stabiliser made a good fist of keeping the outfit straight and true. We suspect that, with a greater load on board (ours contained the bare minimum of kit), it would have been more impressive still.
This four-berth caravan will no doubt appeal to couples and small, young families. As such, the 5ft 3in-long settees are entirely forgivable, and look longer than they actually are, suggesting that five or six people can cosy up to one another along them with ease.
Some caravanners still get a little sniffy when they see a caravan with a single front window, but we think it suits the Sprite’s interior ambience, and there’s no arguing with the sheer amount of daylight that it admits. Factor in the large Heki rooflight and optional panoramic window above the front panel, and this is one seriously well-lit lounge.
It’s just as impressively bright after dark. All you need to flip on are the adjustable reading spotlamps; the strip light above the sunroof is almost too much.
It’s comfortable in here, too. The largely brown colour scheme won’t be to all tastes, but the seats themselves are supportive and comfortable, while the curtains, tiebacks and scatter cushions add a welcome splash of contrast. There’s an extra of dash of spice from the cream strips along the tops of the roof lockers, while the chrome-effect fittings certainly look as though they’re punching way above the Major’s price.
The main controls are grouped near the entrance door, and include the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, the buttons for the pump and lights and the new, snazzy-looking LCD control panel for the Truma heating and boiler.
Nearby is the TV station, complete with myriad power and aerial sockets, decent low storage for books, CDs and DVDs and ample room for your TV and digibox.
It’s in the lounge more than anywhere else in the Sprite that you feel the benefit of the Diamond Pack. This assemblage of options includes a habitation door flyscreen, radio/CD player with MP3 connection and two scatter cushions, in addition to the alloy wheels and Al-Ko hitch stabiliser. We doubt many 4 SBs will leave the factory without it.
The 4 SB’s kitchen lives on the offside wall, opposite the doorway, and feels impressively comprehensive for what is, after all, a budget caravan’s galley.
Its standard equipment stretches to a 113-litre Thetford fridge and a Thetford cooker with a three-burner hob, oven and separate grill. Our test tourer’s microwave oven is part of the aforementioned option pack – but all models get the folding extension to what is already a generous worktop, the premium-look wooden roof pelmet countersunk with pin lights and cream-coloured locker doors.
The storage space is better than average as well. The low cupboard next to the fridge contains plumbing and heating equipment and houses the loose-fit drainer, but space is left over to accommodate a pull-out wire basket. Higher up, the left cupboard is for crockery, but the one on the right can swallow anything you need to keep there.
The Sprite Major 4 SB is one of four models in the range that sports a full-width end washroom. Although it feels just a little Spartan in there, it still benefits from loads of changing-room space, ample lighting and a separate shower cubicle.
There are a couple of let-downs in here, though. We acknowledge that this is an incredibly well-priced budget caravan, but discovering that the shower cubicle is not fully lined came as a disappointment.
We’d have liked to have seen a second drain in the shower tray, too, which would aid drainage on uneven pitches.
As the model name suggests, this caravan is capable of accommodating four people, but it’s likely that most Major 4 SBs will be bought by couples seeking the luxury and convenience of a fixed bed.
And what a bed it is. Remove the thin bolster cushion at the head end, and the SB’s signature transverse island can be slid back against the nearside wall during the day – enough to allow clear passage to the washroom beyond, but not so much that it can’t be used as somewhere to snooze off those long, lazy lunches. It also pulls out easily at night to form a 6ft 1in x 4ft 4in (1.85m x 1.33m) double with the bolster reinstated. It’s not the biggest of its type – remember, this caravan is just 2.23m wide – but it’s more than enough for most users.
Each occupant gets a reading light, a share of the padded headboard and a roof locker; each also gets a wardrobe, although the one closer to the centre of the van is by far the bigger of the two, as it needs to be, because it’s also where the folding table lives – and incorporates a couple of shelves. The smaller one against the washroom wall is pretty good, though, and provides considerable hanging space.
A thoughtful touch is the fitted dresser, whose workspace doubles as a second TV stand, thanks to the power and aerial sockets provided. We like the big mirror and good low storage space, but it really needs a single light overhead; as things stand, it’s quite a dark corner.
We’ve already touched on the well-executed storage areas in the Major 4 SB’s kitchen, bedroom and washroom, but the void beneath the island bed is simply enormous and can be accessed from outside via a lockable door. Still, this area should only be filled once you’re safely pitched up. The nearside front bed box is largely clutter-free, too, although the one opposite is largely occupied by plumbing, heating and electrical equipment.