Peter Baber
Reviews Editor

See other motorhome reviews written by Peter Baber

Our team of testers takes an in-depth look at a two-berth van conversion that combines an L-shaped kitchen with the Symbol's popular front lounge.

Overview

In an ideal world, 'van manufacturers would work out which models and layouts have sold the most, and why, then put the best bits from each together to make a world-beater.

This idea seems to have informed Auto-Sleepers in creating the Symbol Plus. The new model takes the L-shaped kitchen and rear washroom from the Stanway, and adds it to the Symbol's front lounge. Auto-Sleepers' customers like the rear layout in the Stanway, but weren't taken by its front lounge - one reason why it has been discontinued. 

So the thinking is that you enjoy the front lounge from the Symbol, with its side-facing sofa and nearside forward-facing travel seat, tacked to the stanway's rear, on the 6m, long-wheelbase Peugeot Boxer. 

It certainly appealed to our Motorhome of the Year 2019 judges, who awarded the Symbol Plus first place in the high-top van conversion category. But on a three-day trip to Sussex in December, how did it fare? 

Design

Auto-Sleepers offers you the choice of four external colours for the Symbol Plus, including three metallic finishes. The Champagne colour our model came in was a restful change from the usual blanket white or black.

This model features a rear kitchen and washroom, so there is no access through the barn doors. Instead, you are greeted by an expanse of panelling when you open them, although there is a window that makes a useful serving hatch if you have outdoor tables at the rear.

The barn doors are designed to open 180 degrees, although we can't imagine when you'd want to do so, as cupboards, lockers and the cassette toilet hatch are all easily accessible with the doors at 90 degrees.

The Symbol Plus does come with an exceptionally good awning light: a row of LEDs stretching down the opening for the sliding door.

There is an external gas point and a useful, externally accessible mains socket on the outer edge of the travel seat. Because the 'van includes a 25-litre underslung gas tank, and the cassette toilet access is hidden inside the barn doors, there is little else to disturb the exterior.

Our test model came with the £2500 Premium Pack, so it included an Omnistor awning and 80W solar panel.

On the road

The Peugeot's 160bhp engine was sprightly on the road. If you prefer automatic transmission, the Symbol Plus is available on a Fiat Ducato with a Comfort-Matic gearbox, but only with the 130bhp or 150bhp unit.

The Premium Pack gives you a lot in what would otherwise be a fairly basic cab, including air-con and cruise control. It would also give you a sat nav with DAB radio and a reversing camera, although our test model was so new that it hadn't been fitted yet.

Unusually for this price range, the Premium Pack also includes Al-Ko's Air Top Suspension. This is designed to improve roll and road-holding stability. It did that when we made a dash along the winding roads over the Surrey Hills, but didn't do much to improve the ride on the stretch of the M25 around Junction 9, where the surface is less than good.

The rear travel seat is padded and wide, so should be comfortable. The Symbol Plus's Drive Safe regulator means that your passenger can be kept warm, too.

A gauge located between the driver's-side door and the steering wheel tells you how much is left in the LPG tank, so you should be reminded to fill up when necessary.

The electronic step by the sliding door slides in automatically when the engine starts. It also has a manual switch.

Lounging & dining

Although the view from the side-facing sofa is partially obscured by the travel seat, the sofa is comfortable, and you can take your pick of four scatter cushions.

Our test model came in a beige, amber and cream striped pattern known as Sagrada, one of two options alongside a blue and floral pattern, Casa Mila. The original purple and grey Catalan is also available.

A well-positioned heating vent under the cab step keeps you warm, and a sizeable rooflight brings in more light in addition to the windows, which are heavily tinted in the lounge.

Three individually switched and directional spotlights light the lounge at night, although the cab remains a bit of a dark zone. There is an individually switched LED in the ceiling and a non-directional spotlight that comes on with the awning light.

The whole area is well connected in terms of electrics. You can still reach the mains socket that connects outside, even with the door shut, and there are two more near the floor at either end of the sofa, one with a pair of USB sockets next to it.

The control panel for all electrics is immediately above the door, next to a useful cubbyhole for key fobs and mobile phones. It's an own-brand Auto-Sleepers panel, and easier to use than some we've seen.

Up here you will also find a 12V and TV socket. A TV there would be great to view from the sofa, but not quite so great from the travel seat or the passenger cab seat.

A small pedestal table (stored in the wardrobe) sits between the two cab seats when they are swivelled. It's large enough for snacks and a drink; possibly not for a full meal.

There is a step between cab and lounge, so it is too high for anyone sitting in the lounge. For the same reason, the foldaway table, stored in the small shelf above the cab, is probably too low for the cab seats..

Kitchen

The novel kitchen could be said to be the Symbol Plus's reason d'être, and it does live up to expectations.

With the L-shaped top, and a further pull-out shelf above the fridge that creates a pleasing mini-bar, total workspace is incredible for a 'van that is only 6m long.

In terms of overall equipment provided here, you get a three-burner gas hob, with a combined oven and grill.

The sink is triangular shape, and no, it hasn't been installed incorrectly - it's deliberately been positioned askew to maximise usable workspace and still make room for the tap.

The small, half-height fridge is perfectly adequate for two, and it's an AES model, so you never have to worry about switching from electricity to gas and back. You also get a Russell Hobbs 800W microwave.

You're well served when it comes to dry-food and kitchenware storage, too. A huge drawer under the oven is easily large enough, possibly even for a wok, while the smaller locker under the sink is still big enough for a couple of average-sized pans. There are two more good-sized cupboards under the offside part of the worktop, and a total of four overhead cupboards, two at the back and two at the side, all with glass fronts.

One of the pair at the side includes a couple of bottle holders and four crystal wine glasses and holders. In case you think that isn't enough space for booze, there are four more bottle holders in a small locker under the travel seat.

The kitchen is well lit, with ambient light under the worktop and three striplights. You get two mains sockets and a 12V socket on the offside.

One of these connects to a coffeemaker that comes as standard - but don't get too excited. This is only a percolator, not one of the newer bean-to-cup or capsule machines.

Finally, this whole area is supremely toasty, thanks to the heater being on the floor under the sink - the vent next to this pumps out heat.

Sleeping

Moving an easily accessible catch turns the travel seat into a bed, with the help of an extension flap kept on a shelf just behind it.

Creating the offside single is just a matter of removing the backrest and adding a second extension flap, stored on the same shelf, in the space between the sofa and the driver's seat.

If you prefer a double bed, you only need to pull out the platform under the sofa and insert a foldable infill cushion/ This is supposed to live in the wardrobe when not in use, but takes up a fair amount of room, so you might prefer to leave it in the cab while on site.

Partly because of the padding in the cushions, this doesn't make the most comfortable of doubles, so you might find that you want a mattress topper.

All Symbol Plus models come with the £2000 Winter Pack fitted, unless you specify otherwise. This good-value pack includes concertina cab blinds, rather than a curtain, and these really did keep out the light.

Washroom

The corner washroom is narrow, with a large amount of the floor taken up with the wheel arch - although Auto-Sleepers has made a virtue of the moulding by turning it into a handy shelf.

The washbasin is small, but you do get a toothbrush mug, and the mirror next to it is lit by an LED.

There is a small mirrored cupboard over the toilet at the back, with a toilet roll holder. The shower area may also look small, but we thought that it was roomy enough, even for taller people.

You might find it easier, however, to dry yourself outside the washroom; particularly because the wardrobe in front of the washroom on the nearside includes a handy mirror on one of its shelves, complete with theatre-style LED lights surrounding it, but still with plenty of space to store small items.

There's also yet another mains socket if you want to use a hairdryer.

Auto-Sleepers' designers have included a partition here, which you can fold out from the inside of the wardrobe to create a proper dressing area. But as it only extends halfway, it's not the last word in privacy.

Storage

Storage is a real plus point in this motorhome, and considering that the Symbol Plus is a two-berth van conversion, it's seriously impressive here.

Even with the platform for the bed under the sofa, we found there was enough room to stow a double duvet and a rucksack in the area underneath - and the slats stay up while you're putting all of this away.

There is a small cupboard with a glazed door above the travel seat, and a smaller trapezoid one with a shelf immediately behind it.

Even when it's storing the infill cushions and the table, there is still a good amount of hanging space in the offside wardrobe.

The nearside wardrobe, with its five shelves, is positively luxurious. And if you're still stuck, there's space in the overcab around the foldaway table, and even some room under the travel seat if you slide it forward.

This layout means there is no compartment where you can store big items such as outdoor furniture But you could always stash those things down the aisle while you are on the move.

Equipment

If you go for the Premium as well as the Winter Pack, this is a pretty generously equipped motorhome.

Equipment in the kitchen on its own is perhaps a little basic for this price, but with the upgraded heater, Air Top Suspension and the awning, you should be sailing away.

We are impressed with the amount of electrical connections, too, while having an underslung gas tank means there's no locker intruding into the main interior - an important point in a van conversion.

Technical specs

LayoutVan conversion, rear kitchen
Sleeps2
Travel seats3
MTPLM3500kg
Payload525kg
Length6m19′8″
Width2.26m7′5″
Height2.64m8′8″
Fresh/waste water69L / 40L
Leisure battery85 Ah
Number of gas tank compartments1
External Options
Integral awning, Awning light, Electric step, External mains socket output
Kitchen Equipment
3-burner gas hob, Combined Oven/Grill
Heating
Truma Combi heater

Verdict

The Symbol Plus marries a worthwhile rear-kitchen idea with a front section that has been proven to be successful. It's the clever combination of two impressive elements that makes the Symbol Plus very likeable. 

It offers a good amount of flexibility in that layout, too: the ability to choose single or double beds is a welcome one, and it's also handy having that third belted travel seat, particularly if you plan to use this 'van as a daily driver. 

Some of the design touches, such as the dressing-room partition, are perhaps rather better in theory than in practice; but, with the two option packs added, we think that you should be more than well prepared for anything on tour. 

Conclusion

Pros

  • The nearside wardrobe has a handy mirror on one of its shelves, well lit by a surround of theatre-style LEDs
  • The cleverly designed kitchen is smart and stylish, with workspace that is incredible for a 'van that's only 6m long

Cons

  • The corner washroom is narrow, with much of the floor space taken up by the wheel arch.