The Volkswagen T5 is a popular base for motorhomes and rightly so. It provides a more car-like driving experience compared with many of its commercially derived rivals and VW’s quality is second to none.

We’re used to seeing plenty of clever compact conversions based on the T5 but this highlights its major drawback: the standard chassis is not up to coping with a larger coachbuilt conversion.

Enter the Al-Ko chassis. We have seen this German-made extension used in many other motorhomes since 1979. One advantage of an Al-Ko galvanised steel chassis is its longer wheelbase, which enables it to shoulder a larger coachbuilt body.

Auto-Sleepers has been championing the Volkswagen T5 as a base vehicle in the UK for many years, during which its popular Clubman and Gatcombe models have been flying the VW flag and finding favour with buyers. Now, it’s the all-new Sandhurst that takes the VW that logical step further by combining it with the Al-Ko chassis. This is the first time a British motorhome manufacturer has combined these two elements, and we were there first to try out the Sandhurst.

Nicely sized Our initial impression is that the Sandhurst is well proportioned. It may be 1.55m longer than a standard VW T5 or Caravelle model but the extra length in the wheelbase means that there is no ungainly, large, rear overhang.

The coachbuilt body is 2.41m wide so threading your way down rural lanes to your favourite campsite may at times prove awkward. Not only that, but the Sandhurst’s 6.44m length means that it is not a practical option for use as daily transport in place of a car.

The glass-fibre coachbuilt body is finished to a high standard. Alloy wheels lend an added air of sophistication, but as a £1175 option we might be tempted to stick with the standard steel wheels. Auto-Sleepers’ attention to detail with the bodywork shows up in neat touches such as the step moulded into the rear bumper, to help with cleaning or fitting a bike rack, and the recess in the bodywork which prevents the waste water pipe from catching underneath.

In the cab The cab is standard VW fare so there are firm but supportive front seats with a sufficient amount of adjustment to enable most drivers and passengers to get comfortable.

The driving position is far superior to that of the Fiat Ducato/Peugeot Boxer range, and the T5 is more like a family saloon or MPV in feel thanks to a wide range of adjustment for the steering wheel. All the controls fall readily to hand and dashboard instruments are easy to read.

All is not quite perfect in the front cab of the Sandhurst, though. VW fits the handbrake to the left of the driver’s seat and it can catch on your shin as you tackle the narrow walkway to the living area, via the gap between the front seats. You will also have to stoop to avoid bashing your head on the low roof, due to the large overcab locker. This problem was exacerbated in our test vehicle due to the optional (£497.50) flat-screen television mounted in the cab’s ceiling.

Our one other gripe with the front cabin is that it uses curtains at the windows: they do not block out light as effectively as the blinds fitted to the rear windows.

On the road However, the Sandhurst compensates when you drive away. The 128bhp five-cylinder turbodiesel engine has 251 lb/ft of torque at only 2000rpm, so working your way through the six-speed manual gearbox is rewarded by decent performance.

The engine is smoother than any of the four-cylinder turbodiesels in VW’s 2006 Fiat or Peugeot rivals, though some of Ford’s new diesels run it close. Also, Fiat’s new Ducato engines are far smoother than their predecessors.

The T5’s gear lever is easy to reach and the clutch has a light pedal action. Combine these elements with a positive gearshift and steering that feels far more wieldy than a Ducato’s, and the Sandhurst is considerably better to drive than rivals based on the Fiat.

If you want a more relaxed drive, you can specify the Sandhurst with Volkswagen’s Tiptronic automatic gearbox for an extra £1175. You can also opt for the more powerful 172bhp turbodiesel engine, which has a brawny 295 lb/ft of torque at 2000rpm for effortless cruising.

Choose the more powerful engine and we reckon you should be able to get very close to the standard VW California motorhome’s 32.8mpg fuel economy. The smaller engine has to work a bit harder in the heavier and less aerodynamic Sandhurst, but it should not be far off the California’s 33.6mpg.

Living in the Sandhurst When you park up for the evening, you can enjoy the fact that the front seats swivel to face the living area. The Sandhurst can seat six adults in comfort, so it’s an ideal space for entertaining friends. Bear in mind, though, that there are no seatbelts attached to the rear seats so your friends will have to travel separately. The lounge has a light, airy feel thanks to sizeable windows on either side and the large rooflight. Access to the lounge and the rest of the cabin through the side door is easy and there’s an electrically operated side step to aid entry and egress.

Four overhead reading lights illuminate the lounge and there are overhead lights to the front and rear of the rooflight. The dining table has drop-down legs that are easy to work and it provides enough space for four to eat without jostling elbows. Fold the table away and it stores neatly in the rear wardrobe when not needed.

Other storage options in the Sandhurst include the large over-cab locker and overhead cupboards above the lounge sofas. There’s also some space underneath the sofas, though the left-hand cubby houses the fresh water tank and the right-hand one is compromised by the gas locker.

Sleeping arrangements You won’t need the dining table to make up the double bed as the two sofas’ bases slide to meet in the centre of the floor. It’s a quick and simple operation and means you don’t have to waste precious holiday time making up and folding away the bed. Our test model was only configured with the double bed, but there’s now the option of two single beds. Not only is this arrangement easy to assemble, it’s also very comfortable, and there’s enough width for a six-footer to sleep without feeling cramped.

Taller motorhome users considering a Sandhurst will have no problems in this coachbuilt machine. There’s plenty of space throughout and the Al-Ko chassis does not raise the floor height unnecessarily.

The chef’s station Whatever your height, the kitchen in the Sandhurst is generously proportioned for a two-berth ’van and reflects the fact that this motorhome can easily be used for extended trips away. There’s a large sink, hob with three gas burners and an electric ring, while underneath the hob is a Caprice 2040E oven and grill. On the other side of the ’van from the oven is the fridge, which sits between the side door and washroom wall and provides a useful work top. It’s easy to reach the fridge when cooking, and Auto-Sleepers will hinge its door on the other side from that on our test model in future to make access even easier.

Other changes from Auto-Sleepers are afoot for the Sandhurst. The pull-out chopping board that extends from under the sink’s draining board is being deleted, while the cocktail cabinet mounted above where the fridge sits gains two more bottle holders.

As well as the cocktail cabinet, the Sandhurst’s kitchen has plenty of other storage, including overhead lockers and a crockery cupboard above the sink and hob, and a cutlery drawer underneath the sink. Below the cutlery drawer are one small drawer and a larger one with internal racks that are ideal for storing tins and jars.

Washroom Beyond the kitchen, the washroom is situated at the rear of the Sandhurst and uses up the full width of the ’van. Again, this shows that Auto-Sleepers has put a lot of thought into making this vehicle capable of extended trips away from home. There’s enough space in the washroom for one person to shower while another uses the basin.

The shower is also due for some modification for customer vehicles because the base is to be slightly repositioned, the door altered to make it slide more freely and the blue colour is being dropped in favour of plain white. The washroom is well appointed and is also home to the generous wardrobe.

Verdict There are other two-berth motorhomes that offer similar levels of comfort and luxury, but the Sandhurst makes a convincing case for itself thanks to the VW base. This makes the Auto-Sleepers Sandhurst much less of a strain to drive on long journeys. Of course, the starting price is £42,644, which, on the surface of it, appears a little steep. Nevertheless, for the quality, attention to detail and year-round ability of this ’van, we reckon it’s fair value as that VW base vehicle elevates the Sandhurst from the herd.