Bentley Motorhomes has one of the best pedigrees of any UK manufacturer, since it was created by the Autocruise founder and former managing design director Gordon Bentley and his son Richard, along with former Autocruise chairman John Cockburn.
The company is based very close to Autocruise’s premises in Mexborough in Yorkshire. Since its arrival on the scene last year, the line-up has been expanded to deliver some of the most individual and luxurious coachbuilt motorhomes in the UK.
When the Bentley brand was launched at last October’s NEC, it had only one range – called Artisan – with three models. All were based on the Renault Trafic, which is a compact light commercial vehicle smaller than the Fiat Ducato, comparable to the Fiat Scudo.
The three ’vans in the range were the Cobalt (front lounge, transverse rear washroom), the Indigo (end kitchen, corner washroom and front lounge), and the Ochre (rear twin-sofa lounge). All measure around 6.1m (20’) in length, and the interior width of each is 1.98m (6’6”) – a few inches narrower than most coachbuilts. Bentley recently announced a new model in the Artisan range, the Cerise, which has done the rounds at some of the smaller shows in the run-up to the NEC.
Bentley didn’t rest on its laurels after last October’s show, and its second range, Signature, was launched at the February 2011 NEC show. This new line-up was made up of more conventionally sized compact coachbuilts, but instead of going with the ubiquitous Fiat Ducato, Bentley elected to build on the excellent new Renault Master/AL-KO chassis. The Signature range is made up of the 6.65m-long Cadwell (with a front lounge and a rear washroom), the 7.16m-long Donington (with a front lounge and a rear corner washroom) and the 7.77m-long Oulton (with a fixed bed and a full-width rear washroom). The range will remain unchanged for 2012.
What you need to know
Having worked at a breakneck pace to get its ’vans to market, and to expand its stable to two ranges, it’s unsurprising that Bentley has less to announce at this year’s NEC show. It now offers the six-speed Quickshift automatic option across its range – one of the big benefits of choosing Renault base vehicles.
The big news is the Artisan Cerise, which is the first of Bentley’s ’vans to feature a rear entrance door. It’s got a spacious facing-sofa lounge that converts into a big double bed, a rear corner washroom, a split kitchen located amidships, and a straight corridor running from habitation door to cab.
The Artisan range’s compact dimensions can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, these are some of the most easily manoeuvrable and back-road-friendly coachbuilts on the market, but on the other hand, the interiors end up being quite constrained, particularly width-wise, since 1.98m (6’6”) isn’t very much to work with.
The Cerise goes a long way towards solving this problem, though, thanks to its rear habitation door, a feature that makes much more sense in a narrow ’van, since the straight central corridor creates a greater feeling of spaciousness. The facing-sofa lounge is found throughout Bentley’s Artisan range, and the swivelling cab seats in the Cerise mean that you can lounge even when the sofas are made up as a bed, which is another space-efficient bit of design. The kitchen is very useable, too, thanks to the split design that locates the hob, sink and much of the storage on one side of the ’van, and the fridge, microwave and worktop on the other.
The most interesting aspect of the Cerise, however, is the design of the rear corner washroom. The entire back end of the habitation area is cordoned off by a wall behind the kitchen, with a door to an ‘antechamber’, next to the washroom. Just behind this is the habitation door. To exit the ’van you go out through the door to the washroom area, and then out again through the main habitation door. When both doors are shut, the ‘antechamber’ functions as a changing room for the washroom. The washroom itself is small as a result, but we think it’s workable, and we like Bentley’s use of tile-effect trim to lift it and prevent white-cubicle syndrome.
Must-see new ’van: Artisan Cerise
The latest and, to our minds, most exciting of Bentley’s Artisan range, the Cerise has a rear entrance door to the living quarters, a spacious facing-sofa lounge and a clever washroom design, with a full-width rear area completely separate from the rest of the ’van.