When you’re reviewing vehicles, companies tend to impress you with the highest-spec version of the latest model, but buyers often opt for something a bit more mainstream. We were reminded of this looking at the Malibu Van 640 LE RB GT Skyview.

The ‘RB’ in the nomenclature of the Malibu Van 640 LE RB signifies the ‘First Class – Two Rooms’ layout – a novel design of washroom and end bedroom, about which more later. 

In standard spec, the ’van is £52,750 OTR; that’s on a par with, say, an Adria Twin. Even with the Charming GT Skyview spec on this model – which gets you the sunroof, among other things – the price only goes up to £56,680.

But all of the extras included here raise the price to £80,855 and add 310kg to the unladen weight, leaving you a user payload, for a vehicle with an MTPLM of 3500kg, of just 345kg, rather than a potential 655kg. If you have the right licence, you might want to consider the £525 chassis upgrade to 4000kg.

It’s often said that German firms tend to offer so much choice in extras, it can be overwhelming, while British ones might restrict your choice, but make life simpler. That’s certainly the case here. So are all of the extras worth it? Let’s see.

Exterior and cab in the in the Malibu Van 640 LE RB GT Skyview

Our test ’van came in Fiat’s Baltic Orange metallic paint, a £665 option which is distinctly striking and makes it stand out on a campsite. The two attractive porthole windows at the rear (a £435 extra) add a touch of style to the outside.

What is not obvious at first sight is that it also comes with a (£3530) raising-roof. Unlike almost any other van converters, Carthago (which owns Malibu) has developed this raising-roof itself. 

The roof has been impressively hidden behind black runners along the sides and across the top, to conceal the gap. They also virtually eliminate any whistling noise when you are driving.

The cab is standard Ducato, but our model also came with a £2735 engine upgrade to 160bhp, and featured Fiat’s nine-speed automatic gearbox (£3090). So even given the extra-long wheelbase, we simply glided along. 

The captain’s seats in the cab match the upholstery elsewhere. The £845 reversing camera (which can only be fitted if you also opt for the £1195 media centre) was a help. But you don’t strictly need it, as the First Class – Two Rooms layout is designed to let you see right down the back through a rear mirror.

The hook-up is towards the rear on the nearside, away from any awning. The water inlet is also at the rear.

There’s a very cosy feel to the interior of the ‘van that was shortlisted for the best van conversion over £50,000 at the Practical Motorhome Awards, thanks to the plentiful use of real wood cherry veneer, even on the sliding door. 

Two heating vents will help keep this area comfortably warm
Two heating vents will help keep this area comfortably warm

Our model came in the Cherry Style finish, which means you get high-gloss ivory overhead lockers, as well as matt ivory locker undersides. Together with the (non-opening) sunroof, part of the GT Skyview package, this helps to brighten the upper part of the interior, which is uninterrupted all the way from the windscreen back to the washroom.

Our model had high-gloss ivory overhead lockers
Our model had high-gloss ivory overhead lockers

The Palermo leather and textile upholstery is a £320 extra. With standard spec, you get a choice of five fabric-only finishes. The carpet is a £310 extra, too, although it is easily removable, thanks to not having any poppers. You might wonder whether you need it at all, once you discover that it covers up a useful cubbyhole under the table.

Our test model was also fitted with the £1010 Main Cabin Pack. Along with a microfibre insulating cover for the ceiling, this includes additional ambient lighting, to complement the existing circuit and the LEDs under the lockers. In other words, three different ways to light a lounge, in a van conversion.

The clip-on table is very robustly constructed, and includes a circular extension to reach out to whoever might be sitting in the swivelled driver’s seat. 

There are two well-placed heating vents located under here to keep your toes warm. The 24-inch TV (£1100 including the connecting kit) sits neatly above the travel seats, from where it can be seen by anyone in the cab seats. 

Two speakers next to the LEDs under the overhead lockers should provide you with excellent sound, too.

The two single beds at the rear remain as singles; Malibu does not provide means for turning them into a double, partly because to do so would interfere with access to the storage below.

Twin single beds at the rear are a generous size
Twin single beds at the rear are a generous size

But they are still generously sizeable singles, both over 90cm wide and the offside one over 2m long.

Malibu has included ‘headboards’ in the rear windows, so you can rest your head without worrying about any damage to the concertina blinds. These are welcome, but taller people might wish they were a bit higher.

There is plenty of light back here. The raising-roof only covers the front two-thirds of the ’van, so there is room for a Heki in the ceiling. At night, you get two individually switched reading lights at this head end, while the three LEDs that run down either side under the lockers are all controlled by a single switch – which the person sleeping in the offside bed could even possibly reach with their foot. 

There is loads of space for spectacles and mobiles, with a small shelf running down both sides under the lockers, two triangular shelves higher up at the back and cubbyholes built into the corners.

You get cubbyholes built into the corners
You get cubbyholes built into the corners

That partition doesn’t quite seal off the front – a little bit of light does get through the top, and if you have a draught coming in through the Heki, it can rattle. But it is still nice to think that in effect, you have a second room. With the roof bed, you might even think there are three rooms here.

The roof is one of those old-fashioned trapezium shapes, with canvas walls all around, rather than a triangle. That means there is more room for the large double bed up there. You get two LED lights here, too.

We were particularly impressed with the securing system, when you need to bring the roof back down again. 

The runners on the outside will help to prevent any of the side walls getting snagged, while on the inside, two Velcro straps help tuck the front panel away. The fixing points themselves are metal clasps that you have to twist tight. 

Compared with some raising-roof ’vans we have seen, where the main fixing points feel a little on the flimsy side, this was reassuring.

Kitchen in the Malibu Van 640 LE RB GT Skyview

It might seem odd that a van conversion costing upwards of £80,000 only has a two-burner gas hob – no oven, grill or microwave. Such items are not even included in the list of extras.

Smart kitchen provides a two-burner gas hob
Smart kitchen provides a two-burner gas hob

However, this is not unexpected in a Continental motorhome, and there is much else to like about this kitchen. The 90-litre compressor fridge opens out at the end of the kitchen peninsula, so can easily be accessed from outside or from the awning, if you have one. 

The sink is only a medium size, but it comes with a split cover, part of which doubles up as a small chopping board. 

The additional 37cm of space in Fiat’s extra-long wheelbase means that in this kitchen, instead of a pull-out flap that potentially obscures the doorway, you get a sizeable permanent workspace. As a result, although there is only one mains socket here, there is plenty of room for a kettle.

Lines on drawer and cupboard fronts make the kitchen feel huge for a van conversion. It’s well lit, too, with one LED under the locker and two above.

Washroom in the Malibu Van 640 LE RB GT Skyview

The washroom is where the First Class – Two Rooms concept comes into play. In daytime mode, you would probably leave this area as a conventional side washroom, providing a triangular basin with a small locker below and a large well-lit mirror behind, plus two useful recessed shelves. 

You would probably leave this area as a conventional side washroom in daytime mode
You would probably leave this area as a conventional side washroom in daytime mode

The opaque window is only included in models with a raising-roof, because the structure for that blocks out what would otherwise be a roof vent.

Come the evening, you can shut the world off, because the washroom door folds out to seal away the rear section completely. The wall panel to the left of the door can also be folded back. 

You then have a washroom/dressing room that stretches across the ’van and includes part of the rear of the kitchen, forming in effect a small changing area with a hanging wardrobe.

To make the shower, meanwhile, you use a foot pedal to swing the toilet into dedicated space below the nearside bed, unroll two tambour doors and take down two flaps that protect the window and the toilet recess. You are then left with a large area for showering that includes a separate shower head and usefully, two drainage holes.

You get a large area for showering
You get a large area for showering

The beauty of this elaborate system means that in theory, one person could be getting dressed in the dressing room while another uses the shower. For those who value their privacy, it should also be possible to shower and dress at the back of the ’van while other occupants are using the front lounge area. Does it work in practice? On the whole, yes. But we did have two niggles. 

First, the light switch for the whole washroom is outside on the front wall, so you have to open the partition to get to it. And we did find it surprising that, with all this sophistication, there is no towel rail in here at all.

Storage in the Malibu Van 640 LE RB GT Skyview

Storage areas are very well distributed throughout this ’van. In GT Skyview spec, the two overhead lockers in the front lounge are complemented by two more either side of the cab.

The area under the travel seat includes a large drawer, and the space behind this is almost as easy to access by simply lifting up the seat base – you don’t have to remove the cushions. 

You get a large drawer under the travel seat
You get a large drawer under the travel seat

If you remove the carpet, you’ll find a handy cubbyhole for shoes immediately under the table. And if you decide not to spend over a grand on a TV, a set of shelves goes here instead.

In the rear bedroom, there is a large hanging wardrobe under the end of the offside bed, which can be accessed either by a door or by lifting the slats – and they stay up. 

After you've lifted them, the slats stay up
After you’ve lifted them, the slats stay up

Under the nearside bed is a further space for clothing, and a larger area that is just accessible behind it.

Alternatively, you could lift the main parts of both beds, strap them in position and unbolt the steps for the bed, to create a huge rear garage area that could easily accommodate a bike. The double floor in our test model is a £110 optional extra.

When it comes to the kitchen and washroom storage, you have a choice: the rear section of the kitchen includes a set of upper and lower cupboards that are partitioned off when you open the washroom door. 

As the lower set of cupboards includes a second hanging wardrobe, it probably makes sense to use these for storing clothes, although you could possibly mix and match with other shelves.

Further up towards the front, beyond the partition, there is a column of three drawers, which would be large enough for medium-sized pans, and there are also a couple of overhead lockers here. Given that there is no oven in this ’van, you probably won’t have a huge amount of kitchenware to stow away.

The only storage in the washroom itself is a small cupboard that opens out underneath the handbasin.

The washroom storage
The washroom storage

Equipment

It’s tricky to talk about equipment in this vehicle, because so much has been added as optional extras. 

With everything added, the only thing that is glaringly missing here is an oven and possibly a microwave. 

That is something of a surprise with the £80,000 price tag, but it would even be surprising at the base price of £56,680; many van conversions at this price would at least provide a combined oven and grill. 

Still, it is admittedly quite difficult to see where such a feature would go, without compromising on some of the innovation to be found in this ’van. Our test model came with Truma’s D6E diesel and electric heater, a £1110 extra. For a diesel heater, it was quiet and efficient; although if you do go for this, you might wonder why you are carting two 11kg gas canisters just for one two-burner hob. 

In standard spec, the ’van is fitted with the Truma 4 gas boiler. As for the Truma system, we were surprised to find you have to remove most panels in the rear garage, including the steps, to reach the frost control. But given the limits of a van conversion, it is hard to see how this could be improved.

Verdict

A van conversion costing more than £80,000 seems pricey, but with all the extras, the Malibu offers levels of comfort that you would probably need a much larger coachbuilt to enjoy. And adding those extras mostly individually, rather than in packs, gives you more opportunity to pick and choose what you really need, so you could quite easily bring the price down by removing unnecessary bits of kit.

If you’d like to find out more about the different options out there, you can also take a look at our guide to the best campervan converters.

Highs 

Clever washroom, bedroom and raising roof design
Huge beds for a comfortable night’s sleep
Spacious front lounge

Lows 

No oven or microwave
High price once all extras are added

Buy if… 

You’re looking for a van conversion but still want the sense of a home away from home, and you want to be able to customise the ’van to your specific needs.

Technical data

Base vehicle

Chassis Fiat Ducato XLWB

Engine 160bhp, Euro 6D Temp

Power [email protected]

Torque [email protected]

Transmission Nine-speed automatic

Features Standard features include ABS, ESP, Hillholder, Traction Plus and Hill Descent Control. Options fitted on our test vehicle include Chassis pack, featuring parking aid, cab air-con, cruise control, passenger airbag (£2645); Driver’s assistance pack, featuring emergency brake assistant, lane departure warning, headlight assistant, traffic sign recognition, rain and light sensor (£1375); LED daytime running lights (£275), media centre including sat nav and DAB+ (£1195), reversing camera (£845 option),
Baltic Orange metallic paint (£665) 

Conversion

Floor, walls and ceiling insulated with RTM hard foam, windows double sealed with blinds and flyscreens, extra-wide electrically operated entrance step, mechanical self-closing aid for closing sliding door with reduced noise

Lounging and dining

Clip-on table with extension in front lounge, LED and ambient lighting

Kitchen

Two-burner gas hob, 84-litre compressor fridge

Sleeping

Rear nearside single 1.89 x 1.02m; rear offside single 2.03 x 0.90m; roof bed 2.01 x 1.30m

Equipment

Truma 6DE heater, 24-inch LED TV (£1100), USB socket package (£135), additional 80Ah battery (£350); main cabin package featuring microfibre ceiling and extra LED ambient lighting (£1010)

Or you could try these…

Ford Nugget – It’s a stylish ‘van that we found great to drive.

Jöbl Kampa LE– This is a clever new conversion that is ideal for a weekend away and daily driving.


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