Andrew McPhee

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It's roomy and luxurious, but how does the Auto-Trail Frontier Comanche perform in the tough Practical Motorhome review?

Overview

Island bed motorhomes probably offer greater sleeping comfort and luxury than any other motorhome, thanks to big double beds in rear en-suite ‘bedrooms’.

It’s no surprise, then, that luxury marque Auto-Trail has an island bed ’van in its flagship Frontier range, called the Comanche (known until 2010 as the Cheyenne 840D). At nearly 9m-long, the tag-axle giant is nonetheless a two-berth, with a premium on luxury and space.

Design

In keeping with Auto-Trail’s tradition of allowing great levels of customisation, the Comanche is available in three body styles, a no-cost option for the buyer. The first two – ‘high-line’ and ‘low-line’ – have been around for a number of years, and involve overcab sections of slightly different heights, the former with an overcab bed and the latter without. Similarly, in the living quarters, you can specify belted passenger seats instead of side sofas (an £800 option).
Auto-Trail launched a third option for 2011, dubbed the ‘super lo-line’. It’s a more eye-catching, sleek low-profile habitation moulding which, when coupled with Auto-Trail’s elegant graphics and eye-catching (but optional) silver cab paintwork, it makes for one of the best-looking ’van ranges to roll out of a UK factory.
Auto-Trail ’vans generally have their facilities on the offside, but the design of the Comanche’s washroom means that the toilet cassette locker is on the nearside. The gas locker design is the best in the business – low to the ground and opened via an internal lever. We loved the rear-mounted spare wheel, an Auto-Trail trademark – there’s no need to scrabble under the motorhome for the spare should you get a puncture.

On the road

The AL-KO chassis, with its twin rear axles, ensures that the Comanche is well planted and manageable on the move. The long overhang can make the Comanche a challenge to manoeuvre in tight confines, but overall it’s undemanding to drive.
The 157bhp engine gives reasonable acceleration even in sixth gear, and all six wheels are fitted with disk brakes, too, so even when fully loaded, stopping shouldn’t be a problem. In terms of fuel economy, we managed 21.4mpg, but there were only 678 miles on the clock when we started, so the engine wasn’t fully run-in. We’d expect this figure to improve.

Lounging & dining

The Comanche has a classic facing-sofas lounge, with a freestanding table for dining. Unfortunately, this table stows in one of the wardrobes in the bed area, meaning it has to be lugged across the length of the ’van every time it’s needed. It’s a light, compact table, though, and our testers found it easy to fit between the two facing sofas. The flipside to this, of course, is that it’s a little short on surface area, and so even though the Comanche’s lounge can seat up to nine people, only four will be able to dine there.
The top of the small cupboard next to the nearside sofa can be used as additional table space – for mugs, books and the like – and those who are still left wanting can specify an additional, circular lounge table on a boom arm for occasional use.
We really liked the asymmetrical sofas, with their plush, optional leather upholstery – they’re very comfortable. They’re certainly great for lounging, but unsuitable as travel seats, and end up restricting this to a two-berth ’van with benefits. Thankfully, Auto-Trail allows customers to specify a dinette instead (an £800 cost option) with two proper belted travel seats, so the Comanche will be able to carry as many people as it sleeps. In pure lounge-lizard terms, though, the facing sofa version is king.

Kitchen

The L-shaped kitchen sits amidships, between the lounge and the washroom cubicles. We strongly approve of the attractive overall design, with its granite-look work surfaces that blend well with the (optional) graphite-effect trim panels. It’s also a well-equipped kitchen – another particular talent of Auto-Trail ’vans – with a full cooker and microwave as standard. We liked the sink and its integral drainer, but bemoaned the lack of food preparation space.
Despite the compact size of the kitchen there’s plenty of storage space. The semi-circular door below the sink opens to reveal deep shelves and alongside this three pull-out wire baskets. The large crockery locker is well placed, right above the cooker. A small foot locker beneath this houses the gas taps and an electric socket for the fridge.
The concealed lighting is attractive, too, a design theme that also runs through the lounge; it’s both effective and generously bright.

Sleeping

This is one area in which the Comanche has to score a decisive victory to make a good case for itself – job done, as far as we’re concerned. We loved the roomy, comfortable island bed, and the well-designed generous storage provisions in the rear bedroom.
There are bedside cabinets at either side, each with a drawer and cupboard beneath. There are also two corner storage units, one of which has been cleverly fitted as a laundry basket and the other as a shelved cupboard.
The bed can be screened off from the rest of the ’van by means of a concertina screen, leaving the washroom accessible to those sleeping in the lounge bed, or the whole area can made into an en-suite by pulling the washroom door across. In the lounge, the two sofa bases pull together without even the slightest squeak of dissent, to form a big double bed for guests.

Washroom

Sadly, the Comanche doesn’t fare quite as well in this department. Space is key to a luxurious washroom and it’s precisely what this ’van’s washroom lacks; it’s hard to blame Auto-Trail’s designers, though, since this layout demands a split washroom, and split washrooms by their very nature are profligate with space, since there are more walls and doors to cram in.
There’s only one drain point in the shower cubicle, so if the ’van isn’t completely level the water tends to collect in the base. The toilet cubicle also feels very small and cramped and storage seems lacking. Still, having a separate cubicle does mean that the toilet is available when the shower is in use.
We were quite impressed by the shower cubicle and its bi-fold door, too. However, there’s no escaping the fact that with a little tweaking - replacing the (inexplicably clear rather than frosted) window with a smaller unit and deleting the shelf over the toilet, for example – the Auto-Trail’s toilet could be improved.

Storage

Thanks to the heavy-duty base vehicle, the Comanche’s payload runs to a very healthy 925kg, which means it should be ample for the needs of two to four travellers. Auto-Trail’s designers have also worked in enough storage space to make use of this carrying capacity. The bed area scores high marks for its two wardrobes. Despite the location of the boiler under the lift-up base of the island bed, there’s loads of storage left over for spare bedding and so forth.
On the outside, there’s a large storage locker running the full width of the ’van, with access from either side. There isn’t enough headroom for a full-sized cycle, but it’s still very large.
An offside external locker, revealed by lifting up a portion of skirting, has space for levels, hoses, cables and so forth, and conveniently enough this also houses the hook-up point.

Technical specs

Sleeps4
Travel seats2
MTPLM5000kg
Payload925kg
Length8.73m28′8″
Width2.31m7′7″
Height3.03m9′11″
Waste water68L
External Options
Awning light
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

Verdict

We’re big fans of the Comanche’s practicality, luxury and quality. Our only major gripe concerned the motorhome’s size – when you’re travelling in a ’van of this size and weight, pitching up is less spontaneous, as you need to give greater consideration to the roads you use and where you camp. If you want a luxurious two- to four-berth low-profile and don’t mind the hassle of going big, though, then the Comanche certainly merits your attention.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Spacious, comfy bed

Cons

  • Poor kitchen workspace
  • There's only a small waste water tank
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