Andrew McPhee

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The experts at Practical Motorhome review the Auto-Trail Frontier Arapaho Hi-Line – is it worth the money?

Design

At almost nine metres long, the Arapaho is one of the big chiefs in the seven-strong Frontier range. It is also available as a Lo-Line, with a slightly less prominent overcab housing overhead lockers instead of a double bed. The Arapaho has as its stand-out feature a large, U-shaped rear lounge with panoramic windows on three sides. While this eats into external storage space, it does make for a spectacular living area with wonderful views and great potential for entertaining.

Externally the GRP-clad side walls display Auto-Trail’s signature sweeping, feather-head-dress graphics which, with the discreet grey skirts, project a sleek, elegant-looking whole – even the overcab blends neatly into the roof line. The rear wall carries an easily accessible spare wheel and the case containing its jack is secured under the passenger seat. A colour-matched roof rack, access ladder and rear corner steadies are standard.

Winterisation is only tested to 0°C but the impressive levels of insulation, the excellent heating system and the option of installing heaters for the fresh and waste water tanks mean that touring in colder climates should not cause too many problems.

Our testers found the nearside gas locker to be very user-friendly. It houses two 13kg tanks, has no lip and sits just 35cm from the ground, and its opening catch is located in the cab. The nearside also houses an external gas barbecue point, conveniently placed for easy access to the kitchen. Another, smaller locker contains the 110-amp leisure battery, with space for an extra one if required.

The waste water drainage position is fine for drive-through dump stations but at small service points, waste water will have to be bucketed away, unless you have a long drainage hose or an external collection tank. The waste water capacity is a tad stingy at only 68 litres, compared to the 136-litre fresh tank.

The central nearside habitation door is accessed via a fully automatic step which effectively sub-divides the ’van – a division which is 
re-enforced by the full-length concertina partition adjacent to the kitchen/dinette. That’s perfect for packing the children off to bed at one end while the adults relax at the other.

Automatic courtesy lights illuminate the entrance area, which also benefits from a small roof light and a three-quarter-length mirror.

On the road

The Arapaho is built on the Fiat Ducato 40 Heavy chassis and is fitted with an Al-Ko extension. And this sub-9m 'van is powered by Fiat’s 
2.3-litre MultiJet engine with a six-speed manual gearbox. We found its 130bhp and 236 lb/ft of torque to be acceptable rather than ample. It cruises comfortably at 60mph but needs some determined downshifting through the gears when going uphill. Considering that our Arapaho was nowhere near fully loaded, it was concluded that the 3.0-litre, 157bhp engine upgrade (£1302) would prove more satisfactory.

We achieved an average consumption of 22mpg. The handling and manoeuvrability were a delight, and it was easy to forget the 28 feet of ’van following behind – our only problem was finding a space large enough to park in. The tag axle rode serenely over speed humps with barely a rattle from the cupboard contents.

The rear seats are more comfortable than those in the cab and, as a bonus, they provide a fantastic view through the huge side window. However, we did have a safety concern regarding the solid metal bar, part of the seat-belt frame, which rises between the seats and has only a thinly upholstered cover. We’d like to see a thicker layer of padding installed before children are allowed to sit anywhere near it.

The standard cab equipment is impressive: adjustable swivel seats with armrests, electric windows and mirrors, central locking, removable carpets, capacious storage pockets (including a slim, lockable version), a mains socket behind the driver’s seat, pleated blinds on all windows, cruise control and twin airbags.

Although we found the through-view to be good, thanks to the large back window, we didn’t like the wide vertical division of the side windows, which encroach into the sight of the nearside mirror. There is a reversing camera included as part of Auto-Trail’s SE Pack.

Lounging & dining

The U-shaped rear lounge is perfect for relaxing or entertaining (up to eight or nine adults can be seated here), or simply gazing at the view through the three enormous windows. We were wowed by the sumptuous seating, pleasant Buckingham upholstery and elegantly moulded Acer cupboards and matching wallboards, but would change the leg-bruising handles on the under-seat storage doors.

A drinks cupboard is positioned above a corner unit of lockable drawers, atop which is space (and sockets) for a free-standing television.

By day, the interior is bathed in natural light thanks to the panoramic windows and large, rear, roof light. At dusk, a ‘rope’ of LED strip lights, plus directional spotlights, supported by dimmable mains lighting provide gentle, ambient illumination throughout.

Nocturnal bathroom visits are aided by a discreet LED strip below the washroom door. Flush-fit Seitz windows with pleated blinds and insect screens have fully fashioned curtains hanging from brushed-alloy rails, which complement the slim cupboard handles all round. A floor cupboard in the kitchen area houses a freestanding table for use in the rear-lounge or outside. We felt that the cupboard could have been a little closer to the lounge, for convenience's sake.

Opposite the kitchen is the double dinette, with comfortable seating for four, and a dining table which clips easily onto a side bar. An extra folding leg here would allow it to be used externally, too. Any extra diners would have to eat in the rear lounge or outside, though, as the swivel cab seats do not contribute to the dining facilities. In fact, the driver’s seat swivels to squarely face the barrier between cab and dinette.

Kitchen

The kitchen is equipped with a glass-lidded Spinflo cooker, an electric hotplate and three gas burners with spark ignition, a grill and separate oven. The hob has a side splash-screen and accommodates four pans with ease, while the discreet extractor fan, combined with a three-speed roof ventilator, provides good air circulation. Access to the oven is slightly awkward, though, due to the limited space between its doors and the dinette seat opposite.

The AES 150-litre Trumatic fridge has a small freezer compartment and is easy to stock and clean. Above it, a tambour door reveals an eye-level cupboard equipped for a microwave, which raises the eternal question over the safety of removing hot food at head height.

The sink is stainless steel, with a single-lever tap and a small drainer with two neatly interlocking covers (but these are homeless when removed). The placement of the sink, by the caravan door, is ideal for handling the detritus of al fresco dining, and the mains socket located there is convenient for both indoor and outdoor use.

Storage is readily available, too. There are shelved aircraft-style lockers up above and a couple of lockable drawers for cutlery and the like. Cavernous floor cupboards ensure no-one will go hungry for lack of food storage space. Although the overhead lockers don’t lock, the strong hinge mechanisms keep them tightly shut while in transit.

Sleeping

The rear lounge bed is made up by sliding out the centre slats and re-arranging the cushions. It is a whopping 2.10 x 2.0m, and big enough for young teenage sleepovers. And the masses of lights and shelves make this a superb sleeping space. The dinette bed is also child’s play to make up, and very comfortable.

The Arapaho’s overcab bed would not be the first choice for some. Despite being the easiest of all to make up, its two spotlights are rather bright, there's a lack of shelves and the igloo-like roof – with a maximum headroom of 65cm – makes getting in and out awkward, and sitting up quite uncomfortable.

A definite plus point is that, even with all the beds made up, occupants still have access to the bathroom and kitchen.

Washroom

A small step leads into this central space, which has an array of thoughtful touches such as LED light strips in both the washing and showering areas. The shower has a strong, removable hanging rail, plastic bi-fold door, easy-clean walls and adjustable shower head. However, the shower tap has no hot/cold indicator and the water temperature can be variable. A thermostatic mixer tap might be preferable.

Because the electric-flush, swivel Thetford loo hugs the wall, it prevents thorough cleaning around its base. But the washroom is good on the whole, thanks to the well-lit mirror, plentiful storage cupboards (with fitted baskets), door hooks, toilet roll holders, toothbrush mug, opening roof light and blown-air heating ducts.

However, the peculiarly shaped washbasin is a let-down. Its narrowness and proximity to the clear-glazed window mean that water splashes everywhere. The washroom door also lacks a lock – alright for two, but it might become an issue with six people on board.

Storage

The 70cm-long, lidded, external plastic storage box is a good touch, suitable for muddy boots and wet weather gear, and it's well placed close to the external shower point. The garage also wins approval for its LED lighting, but the space is quite shallow.

The full-length wardrobe, with its integral courtesy light, comes in for strong praise because its location above the Truma heater ensures clothes are kept well aired. The eight overhead cupboards and the under-seat storage in the rear lounge, meanwhile, offer an embarrassment of internal storage riches.

Lifting the dinette seats reveals yet more storage space, with only a little lost to seat-belt anchorage points. Both seat ends have a map pocket and, as if that were not enough, there are three more lockers above the panoramic window in the dinette area, one of which is dedicated to the ’van’s control panel, TV and Freeview box (part of the SE Pack).

Technical specs

Sleeps6
Travel seats4
MTPLM5000kg
Payload1130kg
Length8.73m28′8″
Width2.31m7′7″
Height3.07m10′1″
Waste water68L
External Options
GRP sidewalls, Integral awning, Electric step
Kitchen Equipment
3-burner gas with electric hot plate, Oven, Separate grill, Extractor fan
Washroom
Thetford C-250 toilet, Separate shower cubicle
Heating
Truma Electric/Gas Blown air heater
Security
Immobiliser

Verdict

Beautifully crafted, with a cost-to-quality ratio that more than justifies its hefty price tag.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Panoramic windows on three sides of lounge; well placed gas locker; kitchen storage space.

Cons

  • Engine a little low on power; worrying design of seat-belt frame on rear travel seats; washbasin is oddly-shaped and poorly positioned.
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