Rob GanleySee other motorhome reviews written by Rob Ganley
Based on the T5 VW campervan, read all about the Bilbo's Design Nexa in the Practical Motorhome review
To some, Volkswagen is still the only badge worthy of bedecking a campervan and in many respects the T5-based Nexa lives up to the weight of expectation and doesn’t disappoint.
Surrey-based Bilbo’s Design has been converting Volkswagen Transporters for decades now and has managed to stay ahead of the pack through the use of thoughtful layouts. When comparing the build quality of the Nexa to other conversions on the T5 base, the Nexa scores highly. Volkswagen’s own California range is good, too, but many of the available extras cost more than in the Nexa. For example, a satellite navigation system costs about an extra £600 – at £1703 – in the California range.
An easily-cleaned type of lino replaces carpet on the floor in all areas bar the cab, although rear carpets are available in the optional Winter Pac. The touchable surfaces throughout are made from a hard-wearing coated wood.
The available space has been well used, with drawer fronts cut to eccentric shapes and any extra nooks being turned into cupboards. The build quality is impressive, too, with the chunky push-button door locks feeling as if they would last an age.
Placing the rear seats at the centre front of the ’van ensures optimal weight distribution, which may be a by-product of design but was something that we liked.
Externally, the choice of colours helps set the T5 apart from the others in its class, while the sleek, low, line of the GRP roof makes the ’van look aerodynamic and stylish. It could be that younger couples might picture themselves driving the Nexa, even if they couldn’t envisage owning a high-top or a coachbuilt.
The design also means that this motorcaravan can be slotted into a normal car parking space, making the Tesco run that bit easier.
Alloy wheels are a £480 option, but we actually prefer the factory wheel trims. Not only are they virtually indistinguishable from the alloys, but they are also made from a tough poly resin. This also means they are a lot cheaper to replace than alloys.
We also liked the size of the front door apertures. These large entry points make climbing into the Nexa struggle-free, and also give the cab an airy feel.
Visibility around the Nexa is good, and even with standard-sized mirrors you can see most of what is around you. There’s a slight blind spot toward the rear but all in all the ’van proves easy to drive.
On the road
When moving away we found that the clutch bit earlier than expected, leading to a couple of kangaroo starts. However, once we had become more familiar with the ’van the gearbox proved a delight to use, with a direct and intuitive action. The same cannot be said of the handbrake on the floor: it was a stretch to reach, especially when wearing a seat belt. Maybe VW should consider a return to the umbrella-handle type?
The way the steering wheel is tipped away from you is reminiscent of VW campervans from the past. The steering itself – although light due to the power-assistance – provides the driver with a good ‘feel’ of the road.
The ride quality surprises, with little of the bounce often associated with this class of ’van. This is thanks in part to independent strut suspension, all the way around.
Road noise is slightly above average, though we think that the rumble that echoes around the living area would be reduced by simply fitting some carpet over the hard floor. There is always the option of trying to drown cab noise with the stereo but surprisingly this unit has a rather dated cassette player. It’s been a while since any new motorhome came with one of those.
The switches, dials and instruments are well above average for this type of vehicle as they are the same as those fitted to VW cars. The binnacle lit up with a serene blue glow, while the pointers are marked out in red. Although the dials were slightly further out of the driver’s line of sight than we might have liked, there can be no denying that VW has come a long way from the meter-under-the-stairs look of previous models. Ventilation was good, too, with the powerful fan making light work of a steamed-up windscreen. Finally, the heat and fan speed dials are different shapes, making it easier to tell them apart without having to take your eyes off the road.
Lounging & dining
Twisting the captain’s chairs required a little know-how to prevent fouling the arms on the doors, steering column and dashboard but once practised, it took only a minute to get the chairs into the right position for lounging.
Four mini fluorescent lamps provide interior lighting, while additional ambiance is provided in the dining area by a brace of angle-poise spotlights.
The dining area is adequately sized, with a table by the sliding door mounted on an L-shaped pole. Two brackets allow the table to twist either inside or outside the ’van and it took just seconds to fold it out of the way altogether. The opposite side of the ’van boasted a neat dinette table that stowed away when not in use. John and Rosie liked the way that four could eat in relative comfort, even with the door closed. In fact, having a living area that doesn’t obstruct the kitchenette is right at the core of the Nexa’s design philosophy.
The nearside window is a standard-issue Transporters sliding unit. Sadly, ours was leaking around the seal – a known VW problem that can lead to a mouldy pane.
Another minor gripe was the location of the mains sockets, which are behind the rear nearside seat. They could do with being an inch or two higher, for ease of use.
Below the worktop sits a grill and warming-oven with Piezo ignition and an electric light.
The fresh water tank holds 35 litres, which was a useful size, but we were less pleased with the location of the filler cap. Situated just under the work surface overhang – on the furthest rear unit – it was difficult to fill with a bottle. You’d really need a filter funnel. The filler neck is situated there to prevent any possibility of accidentally filling the water tank with diesel, but we agree it was far from ideal.
The Waco Coolmatic compressor-type fridge did far better. Its 50-litre capacity is a useful size and we also liked it being at waist height. The fridge also impressed with the time it took to reach the correct temperature: after being switched on for just an hour or two, it was chilling our provisions nicely.
We liked the space that separate beds afforded, while the contemporary, warm, appearance of the trim and curtains also impressed.
Making and folding up the beds is simple enough, and merely requires the release of a catch on the base. The bed’s base then hinges forward, allowing the squab to be lowered forward into its place, though it is necessary to remove the head restraints first. There is plenty of room for bedding under the chairs.
The Nexa has the option of another couple of bunks in the roof but they were not fitted on our test vehicle.
The cassette-type Porta Potti 435 with electric flush fits into the stowage compartment with no space wasted. It’salso easy to slide it through the back door, meaning the pan doesn’t have to be carried through the inside of the motorhome. For dignified use on site, we’d recommend that you invest in a toilet tent. This could be stowed easily at the rear, next to the folding dinette table.
There is storage under the forward-facing seats for bedding and blankets and there is a half-height wardrobe sufficiently ample to house all the shirts, skirts and shoes you might need on tour.
There are some hidden places, too. When the roof is elevated the cavity can hide a couple of suitcases. Also, the dinette table clips into a tight spot between the fridge and the tailgate. The gas bottle storage space has room to spare, too. Our testers found yet another cubbyhole when the offside bed was built - an unseen door on the side of the unit, previously covered by the seat back. It would be handy for putting the headrests in there when you remove them to make the bed.
Should this level of hidey-holes prove insufficient for owners’ needs, then they can also opt for a range of extra storage. Added bunks, roof rails and a mountain bike rack are just some of the options listed by Bilbo’s Design. If this is still not enough and you require extra space, any model T5 has more than enough grunt to pull a trailer.
Waeco Compressor Fridge, 3-burner gas hob, Combined Oven/Grill
This VW can go anywhere that a large family car can, and it's a pleasure to drive. However, the lack of space means the width of the single beds are compromised. We’d also like the Webasto diesel heater to be standard. These gripes aside, the Nexa represents superb value for money, especially as it’s a viable main vehicle. Despite costing more than most cars, it will depreciate far less than an equivalent saloon or hatchback.
- The VW T5 base vehicle; clever design that has kept the kitchen and lounge apart; plenty of storage; quality
- Leaking side window (a known VW problem); awkward fresh water filler; location of the power sockets