As caravan design becomes ever more daring with every passing year, it’s quite refreshing to come across a caravan that’s very much of the old school and harks back to a simpler time.
Amazingly, the only directly comparable mainstream rival to the 434 on the market at the moment in terms of layout, weight and price is the Explorer Group’s own Xplore 435. The Bailey Pursuit 560-5 comes close, but is quite a bit heavier, and the Eriba Touring GT Troll 530, quite apart from its eye-watering price, is rather less mainstream than its rival from Consett.
The Xplore 434 won’t win many fans for its washroom, although most families with similar caravans spend most of their time on full-facility sites, so this isn’t much of an issue. Despite this, it has enormous appeal in every other respect.
The lounges are so generous that it’s borderline absurd for such a small caravan, and the sleeping possibilities are surprisingly flexible, whether for two, three or four people.
The kitchen surprises with its generous work and storage space. And do you really need a four-burner hob in a caravan?
When you remember the good-value price and low towing weights, this is one caravan that young families need to consider.
Two double beds
Generous kitchen worktop space
Good value for £15k
Roof vent in the washroom
Huge mirrors in the loo
Light to tow and manoeuvre on site
Washroom is very cramped
Washroom/shower walls are not lined
No gas strut for gas locker
These days, budget caravans tend to look and feel anything but budget. This means that manufacturers contesting the lower end of the market have their work cut out for them.
The bad old days, when manufacturers built a basic tourer, skimped on kit and slapped on an eye-catchingly low price, are long gone. Today’s caravan-buying customers demand more and, if makers want their money, they have to come up with the goods.
As such, it’s no longer unusual to see a cheap tourer packing a trendy layout and surprisingly high levels of kit, without your having to break the bank to buy one. The latest addition to the Xplore ranks, the 434, certainly conforms to the latter requirement. As for the former, well, it seems to be rather a retrograde step.
Seriously, twin dinettes? Didn’t they go out with the Ark? Not at all. We may be living in an industry increasingly awash with caravans sporting fixed beds of some description, but families still crave lounging space as much as sleeping space, and a caravan with a pair of spacious lounges fits the bill perfectly.
This not inconsiderable van tips the scales at just 1022kg. You’ll need a tug a touch over 1400kg
Pitching & Setting-up
Even fully-laden, the Xplore 434 weighs less than 1200kg, so manhandling it onto your pitch should be a pretty straightforward affair. The front and rear grabhandles are large and easily gripped, while it’s a breeze to connect your steady winder with each of the four bolts; those up front in particular warrant their own guide holes cut into the side skirting.
The nearside wall is reassuringly devoid of any service points, so there’s no chance that your awning will be cluttered by trailing mains leads or bulky fresh- and waste-water containers. And you won’t have to carry a toilet cassette past your freshly-served dinner.
The battery box contains the hook-up point. The water inlet sports an unusual sliding cover rather than the usual hinged affair, which can so easily become dislodged – no more ‘waving trafficator syndrome’!
The gas locker lid opens wide to reveal space aplenty for a pair of gas cylinders and all the usual camping gear, such as drain pipes and levelling blocks. A clumsy door prop in lieu of the usual gas strut is a stark reminder that this is a caravan that was designed to be cheap.
That said, there’s a final design flourish that you may not expect from a bargain-priced tourer: foot holds sculpted into the A-frame to make cleaning the front panel and window that much easier.
Those smart alloy wheels, incidentally, are part of the optional SE pack, which also brings with it a steel spare wheel and carrier, and a wheel-lock receiver; the lock costs extra.
Low weights may always have been one of the Xplore’s key selling points, but it still comes as rather a pleasant surprise to discover that this not-inconsiderable four-berth caravan tips the scales at just 1022kg unladen. Use the full 171kg payload allowance, and you’ll need a tow car weighing a touch over a modest 1400kg to stay within the 85% of kerbweight limit recommended for new caravanners.
You can’t expect ATC at this price level, but since we’ve yet to see an Xplore without the optional SE pack, you’re unlikely to find one without an Al-Ko AKS 3400 hitch stabiliser fitted to it. As long as your tow vehicle is a good weight-for-weight match and the caravan is sensibly laden, we don’t anticipate that the Xplore 434 would demonstrate anything other than impeccable manners while in transit.
This is unquestionably the 434’s greatest selling point: two welcoming, well-lit and spacious lounges. Curiously, the 4ft 6in (1.37m) rear settees are an inch longer than those at the front. Nevertheless, the immutable fact remains that you could – just about – squeeze up to 12 people into this caravan for some serious socialising. Try doing that in your near-£31,000 Buccaneer Cruiser!
And don’t think that just because this is an entry-level caravan it’s all doom and gloom inside, because nothing could be further from the truth. As with many of its rivals, the front panel is dominated by a single front window, which, together with the opening Heki 2 rooflight further back, creates a bright and airy living area.
After dark, twin bright LEDs in the roof combine with a pair of adjustable reading lights to make everything pleasantly cosy. The on-trend plain soft furnishings are allied to scatter cushions and curtain tie-backs with a definite and rather pleasant whiff of the 1970s about them. They create
a whole that’s very welcoming.
Another little design touch you might not expect at this price level is the dedicated TV station on the washroom wall.
It comprises a fitted metal mounting bracket, together with 230V/12V sockets and an aerial point. Locating the Whale boiler and ambient temperature controls here is a good idea, too. Look closely, and you’ll spot an additional power point near the front window.
If we have any gripe at all, it concerns the table stowage beneath the TV. It’s certainly conveniently located, but the
old, familiar letterbox slot of an opening won’t impress anyone whose fingers aren’t as dexterous as they used to be.
It’s much the same story out back. We couldn’t find a second freestanding table, but it does have the same small folding flap as fitted up front. Top marks to Explorer for equipping this lounge with a dedicated power point and blown-air heating vent.
It would take a genuine pedant to find much wrong with the 434’s central kitchen; considering that this caravan is just 4.72m (15ft 6in) long inside, the available worktop looks pretty generous, especially with the folding extension flap deployed.
In bald equipment terms, cooking facilities comprise a combined oven and grill and a spark-ignition three-burner hob above, but no microwave (a £169 option). Stowage space is much better than average for this class, with large overhead lockers and an abundance of drawers and cupboards beneath the work surface. The fridge slotted beneath the wardrobe opposite, meanwhile, can swallow up to 110 litres of groceries.
There’s a single light in the kitchen proper, but it’s a powerful LED, and so more than enough. Two power sockets are sensibly located high on the wall, well away from cooking splashes.
This is probably the only area that betrays the 434’s über-budget status within the Explorer Group family. The washroom is an all-in-one affair that has most of the essential kit, including a separate mixer tap and riser for the shower – no cheapie pull-out riser-cum-basin-tap here. However, the walls are not lined and the shower tray is truncated by the presence of the offside wheelarch.
On the plus side, the double mirrors create a welcome illusion of space and a pop-up roof vent ensures the swift dispersal of shower steam.
Twin dinette caravans have long appealed to both couples and families, thanks to their inherent flexibility. Most, we suspect, will be sold to young families; small children can just about bed down on the single settees, but both lounges are most likely to be flipped into large double bedrooms, with the resultant mattresses a healthy 6ft 7in long. The occupants up front arguably get the slightly better deal, because they can watch TV from the comfort of their duvet, and each gets plenty of space to store books, glasses and the like – one on the good-sized shelf beneath the main window, and the other on the TV station.
Those out back, on the other hand, have nowhere to put things, unless the small table flap is folded out. They do, however, get a proper metal TV mounting point, although there’s no obvious mains socket or aerial point nearby.
There’s a third way, of course – it’s not unheard of for couples who feel a fixed double is an overly decadent waste of valuable floor space to keep the rear bed made up almost constantly, until they need to accommodate family and friends on a social basis. This way, the 434 can be used as a sort of over-sized two-berther.
As the panoramic rooflight juggernaut rumbles on relentlessly, you could be forgiven for believing that the wraparound roof lockers of old are a thing of the past. Not so here. Only one has a fitted shelf to effectively double storage capacity, and the one opposite is part-filled by the stereo back box and aerial equipment.
The void beneath the nearside settee is massive and almost completely clutter-free, but the one opposite is largely occupied by the battery box, main control centre (the fuses can be reached from the front via an access flap) and heating ducts.
Access to the double-fronted wardrobe is hampered slightly by the seemingly needless vertical divider, but the void is large, uncluttered and fitted with a removable hanging rail.
Both rear bedding lockers are broadly empty (the offside one is hampered only a little by blown-air ducting) but once again only one of the roof lockers benefits from the addition of a shelf.