Nigel Donnelly

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The Practical Motorhome Auto-Sleeper Topaz review – find out what the experts make of this VW Transporter based 'van

Design

You can’t argue with the smart VW Transporter base, which continues to look fresh and modern despite only having received one face-lift since its debut in 2003. Our Topaz came in a rather fetching metallic silver (metallic paint is standard). Thanks to the longevity of the Transporter, the Topaz hasn’t changed much on the habitation side, retaining the same well-made, well-integrated GRP high-top with a cut-out in the back to allow the tailgate to swing upwards. It’s based on the window-van Transporter, rather than the panel van, which means you get glass windows all round, rather than plastic, improving security and appearance.
Inside, the upholstery and furnishings bear all the hallmarks of quality that one would associate with an Auto-Sleeper ’van, and the ambience is predictably warm, homely and traditional. Those seeking a cutting-edge conversation piece will need to look elsewhere, but we think Auto-Sleepers has judged its audience well.

On the road

The Transporter offers the best blend of refinement, comfort and driving pleasure of any small commercial vehicle out there. It deals competently with road imperfections, although it can clatter over severe potholes. The 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine – which is Euro V-compliant – is gutsy at almost every level of its powerband, although the single turbo means that it can suffer from palpable lag (something entirely absent from the Transporter’s top-end twin-turbo 180bhp engine). Sadly, this isn’t available as an option with the Topaz, and we have to wonder why. You also don’t get the option of VW’s excellent DSG dual-clutch automated manual gearbox, although the six-speed manual unit that comes as standard is about as sweet-shifting and undemanding as you could hope for with a commercial vehicle.

Lounging & dining

The Topaz’s lounge doesn’t require swivelled cab seats – the side-facing sofa and forward-facing rear passenger seat are more than sufficient for two, although when you’re on-site you’ll probably want to swivel the cab seats sooner rather than later, because they’re needed for the bed.
Once the cab seats are swivelled, it really is a comfortable lounge for two – it offers loads of feet-up lounging space.
Two tables are provided; both are two-piece maritime-style units, made up of a tabletop and a circular leg. The main dining table slots into a hole in the middle of the lounge, and provides enough space for three diners. It effectively prevents passage through the ’van, though.
There’s also a second, smaller table, which slots into a bracket located just within the nearside sliding door. Use it for quick cuppas, or even light meals – it’s a particularly pleasant place to eat when the weather’s nice enough for you to leave the sliding door open.
The tables aren’t that easy to put away, though. The dining table clips into the storage area above the cab – it can be annoying to have to remove items stowed there in order to get the table in and out. The tea table, on the other hand, goes into the large cupboard in the washroom and is slightly easier to retrieve and stow.

Kitchen

The Topaz’s kitchen is split into two units, which face each other across the ’van’s central corridor. The far side unit houses the sink and fridge, while the nearside unit houses the grill and the two-burner hob.
There isn’t much work space, and you won’t achieve any big gourmet feasts, but the grill and twin-hob combo are just right for light meals at teatime.
In terms of storage, there’s one locker above each unit; the nearside one is ideal for foodstuffs, while the far side one is almost entirely taken up by Auto-Sleepers’ special crockery set. The cutlery tray is located in the cabinet under the sink, much of which is taken up by the sink unit itself. The tray is suitably spacious, but it’s an uncharacteristically flimsy piece of design, which pops out of its plywood brackets far too easily; especially when it’s fully loaded.
Alongside the under-sink cabinet is a set of slide-out racks with clips for two wine bottles, and under the grill is a large cupboard that should take all your pots and pans.

Sleeping

The lounge area in the Topaz can be made up into either a large double or two single beds using the lounge seating and swivelled cab seats. Making it up involves flattening the single seat and sofa, and positioning fill-in cushions to deal with the gaps and unevenness.
For a lounge bed, it’s not difficult to assemble and Auto-Sleeper has kept the number of fill-in cushions to a minimum. However, it’s not great for tall people or for those who like perfectly rectangular beds.”
Despite the number of gaps between the different parts of the bed, we felt that it fitted together tightly enough to ensure that elbows aren’t lost between cushions in the midst of slumber.
Making the Topaz’s bed into two singles takes slightly less time and allows both sleepers to easily access the washroom in the middle of the night.

Washroom

The Topaz stands or falls by the quality of its washroom, which is likely to be the main draw for couples contemplating this motorhome. We found it to be a well-designed area, making very good use of the limited space. Along the nearside wall are a tip-up sink, mirror and bench toilet. The shower cubicle provides all the available floor space and the far side wall is occupied by two storage areas: a large cupboard at waist-height, with hanging rail, and a smaller locker at eye-level. There’s storage for toiletries behind the mirror, while toilet chemical bottles and a spare loo roll can go in a handy cubbyhole located behind the bench toilet. The shower curtain can be fiddly and there isn’t much floor space, but otherwise this is a perfectly respectable washroom, especially in a camper this size.

Storage

The large washroom cupboard is useful for storing outdoor gear; it’s taller than it is wide, however, so its contents can easily degenerate into a messy tangle. We would prefer it if the door swung out 180 degrees, which would make it easier to access the cupboards from outside. As it stands, if you put a hook-up lead in there, for example, you’re going to struggle to reach around the door to get it out.
Storage for folded clothing is in short supply – you could use the locker above the cab, but you’ll need to move the clothes every time you want to use the dining table. There’s space under the side-facing sofa, but you’ll need to be comfortable with having your clothes in a disorderly heap. There’s also room under the front-facing passenger seat, although considering its proximity to the entrance you may prefer using that for footwear.

Verdict

The Auto-Sleeper Topaz is lovable, and works perfectly for couples seeking as much of the British coachbuilt experience as they can have in a van conversion. However, the price is extravagant and the lack of an options list is poor – rivals do better in both departments. You really have to want a Topaz to see it as a clear-cut winner in this market segment.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Quality of build
  • Custom-fit crockery set
  • Standard equipment

Cons

  • Awkward cab blinds
  • Not much floor space in shower
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