Every now and then a small converter injects new ideas into a tried-and-tested formula and comes up with something special. That’s what family-run firm Hillside Leisure in Derby has achieved with the Ashover and its Ashover CS variant: it has taken the traditional VW Camper layout of driver-side kitchen and rock and roll sofa bench, and tweaked it.

The firm started converting campers around five years ago, working mainly on Mazda Bongos, but as the supply of the Japanese import began to dry up, it turned its attention to working on other base vehicles. Hillside now produces around 80 new and used conversions each year, and currently converts the Birchover on the VW T5.

But it’s the Toyota Hiace-based Ashover, Hillside’s first camper converted on a new, UK-sourced base, which it exhibited at the 2010 February NEC show that really caught our attention.

The snub nose and chrome grille give the Hiace a bold external appearance, and the Reimo-sourced roof gives it a flush, sleek profile with the roof down. On site, this roof is rear-elevating.

The side kitchen and rear forward-facing seat with mattress to the rear are offered in the standard Ashover, but there’s also the option of the Ashover CS, which has an L-shaped seat. The L-settee helps turn the lounge into a much more sociable arrangement, with the cab seats swivelled, and the table (which clips to the kitchen unit behind the driver seat when not in use) erected in place on its leg.

In standard Ashover guise, the Porta Potti is sited in a ‘buddy box’ which sits behind the passenger seat with a rubberised, non-slip base to hold it in place in transit. We prefer the CS version.

It’s a decent drive too, with a throatier diesel engine than VW alternatives and a floor-mounted gearstick; it is responsive in traffic and has car-like acceleration through the gears on the open road. And it has a rear windscreen wiper, which is always a boon in camper conversions.

It was shortlisted in our 2010 Motorhome of the Year Awards for the best high-top van conversion.