Chausson pulled the rug out from under the competition with the debut of the radical Welcome Suite. It won the gong for Best Compact ’Van in our 2010 Motorhome of the Year Awards and had punters queuing up to fill Chausson’s order books.

The low-profile ’van had an island kitchen smack in the middle, a full-width rear washroom, and an electric drop-down double bed over the lounge.

Not wanting to let that success fade from memory, Chausson’s 2011 model launch saw the Suite lifted from the Welcome series and plonked in its own range, comprised of three models – the Suite Mini, Suite Maxi and Suite Garage. All three are nearly identical towards the front, with electric drop-down beds, island kitchens and circular lounge set ups, but as you get to the rear things start to differ. The Suite Mini is essentially the same as last year’s Welcome Suite, while the Suite Maxi is a lengthened version, with a longitudinal instead of a transverse rear washroom. The Suite Garage adds another double bed to the equation, set transversely at the rear, with a garage beneath it, and a compact side washroom just in front of it.

We opted to take the Suite Maxi on tour to the south of France. With the Maxi, Chausson has taken the original Suite and ramped up its practicality levels, using extra habitation length. It’s a full 70cm longer than the Mini, but although it loses the compact sub-6m proportions of the original, it gains a lot of storage space.

The washroom is sited longitudinally, which frees up space in the rear nearside corner of the ’van. Part of this has been used for a full-height slide-out shelved cupboard, handy for food or clothing. The other portion of this newly available space has been used for something much more interesting. It’s a large external locker – nearly the size of some traditional rear garages – but has a strange shape. It’s taller than it is wide, which means that items have to be stacked on top of each other to make full use of it.

This might seem silly at first, but the final piece that completes the puzzle is a new motorised bike rack from Fiamma, a cost option we’d heartily recommend at £769. When the button on its dedicated fob is pressed, the rack’s securing straps spool out and it slides down and out of the ’van – with your help. Once it’s protruding far enough out of the locker you fold down a pair of strutted wheels – a board is provided for them to rest on, should you be on soft or uneven ground. Then keep pressing the button, and it will roll on the ground until fully extended horizontally. Load your bikes onto the rails, strap them in and use the fob to wind in the rack until it’s vertical. The bikes slide in and up until they are stowed, perpendicular to the ground.

Once you get past the bizarre sight of your bikes balanced upright on their back wheels, this makes a lot of sense. It’s a clever way to use the height 
of the ’van to stow awkward items, and your bikes stay hidden behind a locked door, rather than on display on an external rack.

It’s not perfect – the wheels that keep the rack on the straight and narrow sometimes squeal alarmingly as they slide on their rails, and you have to be careful that the rack and bikes don’t hit the locker walls or foul the straps.

In other areas the Suite Maxi is nearly identical to its smaller sibling, and functions in much the same way. On the road it’s a compliant drive, albeit noisy on rough roads. The washroom and kitchen are both excellent and the space for microwave and gas ovens is welcome. Space heating is provided by a diesel-fired Webasto unit, which works well.

The double bed over the lounge is easy to use and comfortable, and can drop all the way down to knee-height – but then you can’t use the single lounge bed.

One problem with the electric bed is that because it’s suspended by straps it might rock when you’re in it, bumping the walls. Our tester woke up twice because he thought someone was knocking on the door. It also bumps and rattles slightly on the move. We never noticed this problem with the original Suite. The lounge bed is serviceable for two small children or one adult.

Overall, although it has a pair of lap belts, the Suite Maxi is decidedly a couple’s motorhome that aims offers 
a better alternative to compact garage ’vans for those with two bicycles to carry. We think it’s a resounding success.