The Sterling Elite 530 layout, while not quite as ubiquitous as it once was, is still a huge seller. Given its close resemblance to the more expensive Sterling Continental, top quality feel inside and out and high spec (including Alde heating), the Swift Group‘s Sterling Elite 530 looks set for a successful 2016 season.
Hard to believe it’s not Sterling’s flagship model
Stylish and practical kitchen
Interior décor won’t have universal appeal
Unequal-length lounge settees
No fixed double bed
The 2016 Sterling Elite 530 may be one of the very newest on the block, but in a (slightly convoluted) way, it’s also one of the oldest. Sterling is, in fact, closely related to Eccles, which is one of the oldest caravan marques in the business. So you’d imagine that, with all of those decades of experience behind it, Sterling’s current owner, Swift, will have poured all of its long-accrued know-how into its new premium contender.
After all, Swift is up against many rival caravan manufacturers, all of which launched new caravans for 2016.
The Elite’s welcome return to the showrooms for 2016 has come after a short absence during which there was, rather oddly, no Sterling equivalent to the long-standing Swift Conqueror. Happily, that obvious gap in the range has now been filled. And as tradition dictates, the 2016 Sterling Elite range is more unusually styled inside than the more traditional Swift equivalent.
And we expect this four-berth Elite 530 model to be one of 2016’s big sellers, thanks to its tried and tested layout (parallel lounge, side dinette and kitchen, end washroom) and close resemblance to the über Sterling Continental that sits even higher within Swift Group’s caravan hierarchy.
That similarity is more than skin-deep, too, now that the Elite shares much of the Continental’s SMART HT timberless construction; indeed, only the badging really gives the game away, especially to the uninitiated.
We grabbed an early test of the 2016 Sterling Elite 530 at Swift Group’s summer press launch, where we also found out more about the big changes they had planned for 2016 Swift caravans. And to see other Sterling caravans for sale, click here.
More than anywhere else in this caravan, you really do notice the new, wider body in the Sterling Elite 530’s full-width end washroom
Pitching & Setting-up
The 2015 Swift Conqueror (the Sterling Elite’s spiritual predecessor) may have lacked an obvious niche within the range (it was hard to see what it offered over and above the much-cheaper Challenger SE), but this latest model is self-evidently a premium tourer. There’s an all-new-for-2016 bodyshell, and its spec makes for fascinating reading.
In essence, it’s pretty much a Continental shell built to Swift’s SMART HT timberless construction methods. All panels, including the new five-layer composite floor, have GRP inner and outer skins, and what Swift refers to as a ‘patented cold bridge within the aluminium side framing’ is claimed to prevent the build-up of condensation.
The new front and rear panels are heavily influenced by the Continental, too, with the latter incorporating new LED lights (to go with the LED marker lights). The body is wider, too, stretching the tape measure to 2.26m (7ft 5in) overall.
As you’d expect, the chassis sports heavy-duty corner steadies, the winding bolts for which are easily reached front and back, and most of the exterior services are kept out of the awning side. Those that remain on the nearside conceal exterior access to the bedding locker beyond and exterior mains and gas barbecue points.
Climb aboard any current Elite, and you really do find it hard to believe that there’s an even more luxurious and opulent caravan range above it. Simply put, it feels about as first-class as it’s possible for a tourer to get.
The décor won’t be to all tastes, of course, but we’ve always rather liked the dark, high-gloss wood and, in this latest model, new ‘Ronda’ soft furnishings in starkly contrasting brown and cream. There’s more cream to the central chest of drawers and roof locker doors, too, and there’s a definitive (and rather attractive) Seventies vibe going on with that seriously fluffy lounge over-rug.
Naturally, there’s a panoramic rooflight (widened considerably for 2016) in addition to the three front windows and the further addition of a large sunroof further back creates a whole that’s positively flooded with light, even on gloomy days. By night, there are four adjustable reading lights to choose from, plus hidden ambient strip lights running along the top of the locker doors and a central stack of lights between the speakers in the panoramic rooflight surround. If you find yourself squinting into the gloom in this caravan, then chances are there’s a light-switch you’ve missed, somewhere.
The 530’s settees are certainly king-sized, too – having the entrance door aft of the axle-line means there’s ample room for six to sit down in there (more, if your guests are well-acquainted) in absolute comfort, thanks to a new bevelled back rest, and you can pipe in relaxing music through the fitted CD/radio, into which you can plug your MP3 player. There are only two speakers, though – they sit directly overhead.
The obvious TV point is the low dresser just ahead of the side dinette, where you’ll find two 230v (and one 12v) socket, plus somewhere to plug your aerial into. The door beneath opens to reveal a slide-out wire basket, too, which is ideal for storing CDs and DVDs.
And of course, there’s additional seating for two in the nearside dinette, though we suspect most owners will treat this as a separate dining area.
We’ve marked the Elite 530 down very slightly here purely because we think that a caravan at this price level should perhaps have a full-sized true fridge-freezer. This is possibly a little unfair, given that other 2016 Sterling Elite models do warrant a bigger fridge. However, if you opt for the 530, you only get a 110-litre Dometic compact fridge, rather than the 149-litre slimline tower warranted by the 480, 570, 580, 560 and 565 models in the Elite range.
Elsewhere, though, the 530 hits every base square on. For one thing, worktop provision is absolutely huge. There’s no extension flap, simply because there’s no need of one – run out of food preparation room in here, and it’s possible you need to be a little tidier. And besides, you can always migrate to the side dinette table behind you. The worktops are finished in a new ‘Fenix’ solid laminate, too, which is, Swift claims, resistant to scratching.
Additional standard equipment extends to the expected full domestic-style cooker, complete with dual-fuel hob and separate oven/grill, plus a fitted microwave oven at eye-level. There’s plenty of high- and low-level storage, too.
The 2016 Sterling Elite 530’s washroom deserves a five-star rating. More than anywhere else in this caravan, you really do notice the new, wider body in the Elite’s full-width end washroom, which opens up ample floor space for dressing and undressing. And you won’t be shivering as you step out of your pyjamas, either, even in the depths of winter, thanks to the presence of the large Alde radiator next to the swivel loo.
A fair amount of the washroom’s space is taken up by the corner wardrobe, but it doesn’t dominate the area at all. The central washbasin/vanity unit sits in the centre of the rear wall and sports classy-looking in-built strip lights either side of the mirror, together with decent storage beneath, and the separate shower in the nearside corner is absolutely huge. Naturally, the cubicle is fully lined and comes complete with a water-saving EcoCamel shower-head, fitted downlighter and even a fixed rail for drying your towels.
The Sterling Elite 530 is marketed as a four-berth caravan, and certainly, the layout suits this sort of use extremely well. At bedtime, you simply fold out the cantilever bunk above the side dinette, pack the children away, draw the privacy curtain and return to your good book and glass of wine in the main lounge area. These offside beds measure 1.88m x 0.67m (6ft 2in x 2ft 2in) for the side single and 1.76m x 0.59m (5ft 9in x 1ft 11in) for the side bunk.
That said, we reckon the Elite 530 is probably going to appeal most to couples in need of occasional sleeping accommodation for visiting grandchildren. Used in this way, the 530’s huge settees convert quickly and easily into a pair of single beds, and Swift even claims they’re long enough for the bolster cushions to be left in place and used as mini headboards. If you use the sofas as twin beds, the front nearside single is 1.78m x 0.67m
(5ft 10in x 2ft 2in) and the front offside single is 1.88m x 0.67m (6ft 2in x 2ft 2in).
If you prefer a double bed, then pulling the slats out of the base of the central chest of drawers and flipping the settee bases and backrests creates a double that, while of a slightly odd size (the offside settee is longer than the one opposite) nevertheless provides palatial sleeping accommodation, measuring 1.98m x 1.78m (6ft 6in x 5ft 10in).
As ever, there’s a handy flip-side to those super-sized lounge settees: excellent storage potential beneath. The offside void is compromised by sundry plumbing and electrical equipment, but the nearside one is largely clutter-free and can be accessed from outside.
There are all manner of spacious roof lockers dotted around the caravan’s interior (though none over the front windows, thanks to the panoramic rooflight), and further space beneath the seat bases in the side dinette, both of which have interior access doors.
We’ve already touched on the kitchen’s generous storage provision, but haven’t yet mentioned the additional storage unit beneath the far end of the worktop area, creating a sort of ‘floating’ second shelf. The result is as practical as it is stylish.
Given its sheer size, it’s perhaps no surprise to learn that the wardrobe offers a huge amount of clothing room and ample hanging space, while the double-door locker beneath the sink turns out to be much more accommodating than it looks.