Andrew McPhee

See other motorhome reviews written by Andrew McPhee

Check out the Practical Motorhome Auto-Trail Frontier Dakota review

Design

We loved our test Dakota’s attractive silver cab, skirts and bumper. It marries the cab and living quarters beautifully, but these good looks will cost you: they come as part of the £599 Platinum Pack (which also includes graphite-grey interior locker doors and an Auto-Trail branded brolly). Collectively, we reckon it’s worth it. Auto-Trail has offered the chance to specify a low-line or high-line body style, at no extra cost, for a number of years now. One of the most exciting new innovations for 2011, however, is the option of a third variant: a super lo-line mould. The shape is more aerodynamic and less bulbous than the current lo-line (as fitted to our test ’van), and it incorporates a large, panoramic sunroof. We reckon it’s an option you should consider.
Standard external kit worth noting includes a 4m-long integral awning, alloy wheels, cab and caravan-body central locking, an auto-retract entrance step, a rear roof ladder and a rear-mounted spare wheel in a moulded carrier. Come summer time, you’ll want to make use of the external gas barbecue point (sensibly sited on the nearside), and perhaps hose-off walking boots and the like on the driver’s side with the exterior shower unit.
Both fresh- and waste-water tanks are underslung. The former is wrapped with insulation; the latter drains to the driver’s side via a rigid, wide-bore pipe and tap.
The keyless gas locker on the nearside can be opened by pulling a lever behind the cab passenger seat. There’s an external locker (75 x 30cm) giving access to the huge underbed storage space – within which the Combi boiler is sited and sensibly boxed-off – and there’s also a three-pin plug socket here, should you want access to al fresco mains electric. On the driver’s side, the skirt hinges upwards to reveal the mains hook-up point, the leisure battery and storage suitable for boots, ramps and outside kit.

On the road

We found the standard 2.3-litre turbodiesel engine sufficient to power this four-tonne ’van, allied to a six-speed manual transmission, but others may prefer the extra horses under the bonnet that come with the 3.0-litre 160 MultiJet upgrade (at a £1848 premium). Don’t forget, there’s also the option of Fiat’s Comfortmatic auto ’box, available only with the 3.0-litre engine, at £1386.
Although Auto-Trail no longer lays fixed carpets and mounts the furniture on top of it to reduce noise from the living quarters on the road, it still has the useful knack of producing motorhomes that are supremely quiet and rattle-free.
Standard cab kit includes air conditioning, cruise control, electric windows and mirrors, and pleated blinds to all the cab windows. We found the graphite and brushed-metal fascia inserts an attractive addition, too. Both of the cab seats swivel, are fully comfort adjustable and get twin armrests.
As well as the Platinum pack, our model was fitted with a second ‘luxury’ pack, the Media Pack (£999), which includes a 15-inch drop-down colour TV monitor over the cab, and a new ‘double DIN’ radio/CD player with 7-inch touchscreen and built-in Freeview. The touchscreen is a revelation, with a big, fat-finger-friendly interface. When you engage reverse gear, an infrared camera comes into play, displaying a sharp rearward view.

Lounging & dining

With the cab seats swivelled, the facing sofas in the lounge make for a very sociable arrangement. (Remember, though: should you want a Dakota that will accommodate four passengers and sleepers, you can always go for the no-cost overcab option, as well as the half-dinette with belted seats; the latter is a cost option.) The backrest cushions have backboards to prevent the build-up of condensation on the walls in colder climes, but we would have preferred to see cushions press-studded or Velcroed in place, so they don’t slide off in transit.
Rearward of the front lounge is a midships L-shaped kitchen, facing fridge/freezer and a table storage locker.
The cab seats are served by a circular, occasional table on an L-shaped arm, but at mealtimes the larger, free-standing table comes into play.
The habitation windows are neatly dressed with curtains on poles, and there is a pair of directional reading lights for each sofa occupant.
Our testers thought the dimmable LED striplights were a hit, especially given that these can be operated with a remote control, thanks to the clever new control panel. Don’t get this remote confused with the one for the DIN or the one for the drop-down TV, though... This panel now records leisure capacity in volts as well as indicating amperage draw via a digital bar-chart display. Opt to make use of the solar panel pre-wiring, and it’ll also show you how much input the panel you fit is having.
Headroom throughout is a decent 1.97m, and the lounge is pretty well served with three-pin plug sockets, including one on the nearside sofa box and two in the kitchen area.

Kitchen

Kitchens have always been a design strong point for Auto-Trail, and our testers were impressed with the graphite-effect L-shaped worktop. Set into it is a circular bowl sink, with a small draining board, complemented with split cover lids that match the worktop.
A microwave is fitted as standard, and the domestic-style cooker, with three gas burners and an electric hotplate, separate oven and grill, are more than enough for culinary needs. Then there’s the massive auto-energy-selection Dometic fridge/freezer across the galley, which has a 190-litre capacity.
The kitchen splashguard is a stylish and thoughtful touch, and there are ample wire racks and shelves for all your food, pots and pans. The LED striplight on the underside of the worksurface is the icing on the cake.

Sleeping

The premium bed is, of course, that rear double. With its padded headboard and at just a shade under 80cm in mattress-to-locker headroom, it’s great for fans of night-time reading.
We measured the mattress at 188 x 130cm at its widest, and 90cm at its foot, which one tester found too narrow for comfort, but which others found par for the course with French bed layouts. There are also mountings for a TV at the foot of the bed, and a handy concertina privacy curtain, should you have guests.
Up front, the sofas are too short to act as single beds as they are, but it’s quick and easy to slide the sofa bases together to form a transverse double, measuring 2.1 x 1.2m at its widest point. The backrest cushions fill in to make up a flat sleeping surface.

Washroom

We’ve always preferred opaque washroom windows, but Auto-Trail opts for a transparent one in its transverse rear washroom. There’s plenty of room to manoeuvre around the swivel-head toilet, sited in the corner of the washroom, and there’s a large vanity mirror above the basin here. There’s a second vanity mirror, facing the double bed, outside the washroom door, so there need not be any unsightly scenes in the morning rush to get ready.
Elsewhere in the washroom, there’s the usual assembly of towel rail, coat hook, cupholder and toilet-roll holder. The shower is tucked around the corner, directly behind the double bed, and is a massive, fully lined cubicle, measuring 1 x 0.64m. Ventilation is above the toilet rather than the shower, though, and the shower tray has just one drain plug.

Storage

Even in lo-line form, the Dakota is strong on storage. Working from front to back, there’s a large overcab locker for bedding and the like, a full complement of overhead lockers in the lounge, including one with clips for the all-important wine bottle and glasses, and flaps to the seat-box storage areas.
We’ve already mentioned the pull-out wire baskets, drawers and locker space ferreted away in the kitchen area, but further back, the premium storage space is, of course, beneath that large double bed.
Handily, the mattress and its slatted base raise easily on gas struts, and are self-supporting when elevated, so you can effectively step in to the storage area underneath to remove heavier items more easily if need be. This area can also be accessed from outside the ’van through an external locker door.
The wardrobe is sited between the kitchen and the washroom door, and offers decent hanging space for the clothes of a couple, as well as four useful drawers underneath. There are more overhead lockers around the French bed, too.

Technical specs

Sleeps2
Travel seats2
MTPLM4005kg
Payload455kg
Length7.6m24′11″
Width2.31m7′7″
Height3.07m10′1″
Waste water100L
External Options
Awning light, Electric step
Kitchen Equipment
Dometic Fridge, 3-burner gas with electric hot plate, Oven, Separate grill, Microwave
Washroom
Thetford C-250 toilet, Separate shower cubicle
Heating
Truma Electric/Gas Blown air heater, Truma Electric/Gas water heater
Security
Immobiliser

Verdict

The Dakota is an accomplished two-berth with a truly luxurious layout, and its body style and interior layout can be customised to taste. What’s not negotiable is Auto-Trail’s trademark build quality and the quietness of its on-road performance. Some may find the interior styling and colour schemes a bit staid, but others will love its homeliness.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Sociable lounge; storage; build quality

Cons

  • No velcro or press-studs for seat cushions; plethora of remote controls;
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