Peter Baber
Reviews Editor

See other motorhome reviews written by Peter Baber

This new, updated version of a popular campervan makes the most of the latest wireless technology and looks stylish inside and out.

Overview

Danbury is still perhaps best known among campervan fans for producing conversions on the old T2 Transporter, imported from Brazil.

But it's aways had a good line in modern conversions based on the latest T6. And this year - along with taking on a range of Fiat-based van conversions from its new French masters at Pilote - the Bristol-based company has managed to bring out a new, up-to-date version of its Surf, currently just called the Special Edition. We went for a spin in the nearby Forest of Dean.

Design

VW's Transporter is such a favourite base vehicle for campervans, they are almost too familiar. So all credit to Danbury for sporting up the look of the trusted vehicle with this latest version.

Our test model came in Acapulco Blue, which contrasted well with the off-white fabric sides of the pop-up roof - fabric that felt considerably tougher than some pop-up roofs we have seen. The roof struts open out in an 'X' at the back, for slightly more room upstairs.

As it was fitted with the £3990 Sport Pack, our model also came with Eurosport alloys by Wolfrace. Danbury has also included sidebars between the wheels on this model, and they look super-stylish.

On the road

It's easy to see why the VW Transporter has remained the most popular base vehicle for campervans, despite not being anywhere near the cheapest.

Even with the standard 102PS engine and only five manual gears, our test model floated happily along on motorways and country roads. We were impressed with its turning circle: in the Forest of Dean there were a few hairpin bends we thought might need a three-point turn, but the 'van handled them with ease, thanks also to the sensors and great visibility through the middle windows.

The cab is a standard VW set-up, with a cupholder to the right of the steering wheel. Being a T6, the vehicle has a host of safety features fitted as standard, including antilock braking, automatic post-collision braking and hill-hold assist.

Our model had a reversing camera and those parking sensors, but no sat nav.

One thing we would say about the T6 dashboard is that it still doesn't include any stable nook where you can leave your mobile if you use it for navigation.

The RIB bench in the rear has two fully belted travel seats. But the bench doesn't slide forward or back, and the distance between the bench and the cab seats is more than an arm's length, which could be a problem if you are travelling with a fractious child.

We weren't, but we were surprised the base cushions are so ample that a 1.78m-tall adult in the back couldn't put his feet on the floor.

We were glad to see that Danbury has included a tambour door around the fridge. If you don't understand why this is important, you haven't experienced a fridge door flying open when you drive around a bend and spilling its contents before you have time to stop. This shouldn't happen here.

On-site, you'll find the hook-up connection is on the offside. But unusually, the straps holding down the roof are removable - in fact, you have to remove them to raise the roof.

We can see the advantage of this, because it means there is no danger of the straps getting caught in the roof fabric or the mechanism as it goes up and down, and it's easier to pull them tight. But you have to find a safe place for them - we used the pocket in the driver's door.

Lounging & dining

Both cab seats swivel, but as this is a VW, the handbrake is in the middle and you have to release it to swivel the driver's seat.

The fold-out table is a bit of a struggle to retrieve from its storage position in the sliding door. We found it had just about enough space for four, although it is set a little low for any adult who might be sitting on the rear bench. Remove the table, and the bench is comfortable enough to spend many hours on.

This is a wonderfully lit lounge. The small shelf in the kitchen is the only place in here that might serve as a location for keys and fobs. A small light comes on below it and by the sliding door as soon as you switch on the 12V supply using the control panel above the kitchen.

But with the 'van hooked up to the mains, you get three more strip lights - two down the nearside, one on the offside. These are all individually switched, with buttons illuminated in blue to help you find them in poor light. If you have the optional roofbed up (as you probably will most of the time), two similar strip lights, either side, light the ceiling.

The branded splashback in the kitchen also has dimmable illumination.

The lounge area is well resourced electronically, with a mains socket on the nearside of the bench, and enough room to fit a cable between it and the door. You can easily use the two sockets in the kitchen.

With the Audio Pack, you get a pair of Bluetooth speakers, too. The controls for them are next to the other controls above the kitchen worktop. They come with a USB socket and were surprisingly easy to use.

We found the sound a bit tinny, but the volume was good and the position of the speakers - either side of the bench - was excellent. You wouldn't have to bring a portable device with you.

The area is heated by a vent from the Eberspächer diesel heater underneath the driver's seat.

Kitchen

Any campervan kitchen is going to be a compromise because of lack of space, and in this one, you only get two gas-burners - there's no oven or microwave.

There is a small sink with cold water but, because Danbury has fitted stylish metal runners to the right of it that make up a sort of permanent drainer, the only workspace you get is on a lower level to the right, under the controls.

As the two mains sockets are here, you'd probably be sharing this space with the kettle or toaster.

That said, storage in the kitchen isn't bad - Danbury claims there is 80 litres of it in total. There is a 50-litre compressor fridge, with a small freezer compartment, and a cupboard to the right of this with a shelf inside and enough room for most pans. There is a smaller drawer above this cupboard for larger kitchen utensils, and next to this, a small drawer for cutlery.

Under the workspace with the sockets, there is a locker where you could store a minimal amount of dry food.

Sleeping

Bed provision is one area where the new Surf really does excel.

The RIB bench turns easily into a double bed, using a lever on the side, which you can just about keep hold of to let the base cushions come forward, and a bar that you raise to bring down the backrest.

It's a long double, too, at 1.85m, with plenty of space at the bottom if your toes stretch a little further, and 1.20m wide where it matters at the head end.

Lie back here and you discover other goodies, including a sizeable drinks holder, a wireless mobile phone charger pad, and a spotlight on either side that you just tap to turn on.

Although the spots have adjustable necks, they aren't long enough for these lights to be much use when the bench is in the upright position, so are only useful for a night-time read.

Each light has a USB slot, too, so even if your phone isn't modern enough to cope with the wireless pad, you can still charge it.

Also unusually, as we have already mentioned above, the Surf has two strip lights in the roof area as well.

For day-time ventilation and light up here, there is a mesh window on each side and a transparent plastic window at the front. All have inner opaque linings, and there's an opening vent as a safety precaution.

The roof bed folds down in two parts and can take a maximum weight of 200kg, so two adults could easily sleep here if you are a party of grown-ups.

There is no ladder, but really, why would you want one? There is more than enough to step onto in the 'van itself on the way up. A ladder would probably just get in the way.

We would recommend bringing along a fairly hefty pillow with you, because there's not much of a headboard for either bed.

Finally, when it's time for lights out, you don't need to worry about those blue switches on the strip lights keeping you awake.

As soon as you turn off the 12V controls on the panel - a bit of a stretch from the downstairs bed - every light in the 'van goes off. After a short while, so too does the background lighting in the control panel itself, leaving you in the restful dark.

Washroom

Most campervans, including the Surf, have no washroom. You can use the sink in the kitchen to wash, although it is cold water only.

On the plus side, this 'van does have an external shower at the rear offside corner - again it's cold water only. On the minus side, because there are two large drawers under the rear bench, there is nowhere in the main part of the 'van to store a Porta Potti, should you want to.

Such equipment could only be stored in the boot at the back, where it would be possibly less useful during the night.

Storage

One advantage of a layout like the Surf's - even if it doesn't include a dedicated washroom - is that you get plenty of space behind the bench for storing larger items, and that area is easily accessible through the tailgate door.

You can't move the bench forward here, but there is still room for a large suitcase at the bottom, while the top end of the bed acts as a shelf for another large bag on top.

If you have skis, fishing rods or other long terms to take with you, Danbury has even included a small hole in the base of the rear bench, which should hold them if you remove the drawer in front of it on the other side.

That could be a laborious job and you might prefer not to sacrifice so much space anyway, because these two drawers - this one and the larger one to the right of it as you look forwards - are big enough to hold any bedding you might want to put away during the day.

The wardrobe in the van's offside corner has a rail, and a surprisingly large drop for a campervan.

The sole snag is that it's only accessible through a tambour door from inside the 'van, not from the rear.

Equipment

The Surf doesn't have an on-board grey-waste water tank. You could say that's a good thing, because it means valuable space isn't taken up with something that possibly wouldn't be used very much, there being only cold water in the 'van.

But unless you are happy to let what little water you use trickle out under the vehicle (which we would never recommend), you will need to bring some kind of waste tank with you - and that will require storing somewhere. Another minor hitch is that we had issues slipping the one we were supplied with under the 'van's sidebars.

You will also have to do without an oven, because there's no really obvious place that one could be fitted in the kitchen.

On the other hand, having a Bluetooth radio in here is a real bonus, and the smart lighting scheme is one of the most impressive we have seen in any campervan.

Technical specs

LayoutCamper without washroom
Sleeps4
Travel seats4
MTPLM3000kg
Payload673kg
Length4.89m16′1″
Width2.29m7′6″
Height2.04m6′8″
Engine (capacity)2000
Fresh water60L
Leisure battery105 Ah
Kitchen Equipment
Waeco Compressor Fridge, 2-burner gas hob
Washroom
Porta potti
Heating
Eberspacher space heater

Verdict

The new Surf is very much a 'van for the brave new world of wireless technology, with its USB sockets and wireless charging pad. It looks great on the outside, and is comfortable to live in, and it's good that Danbury has done more than just add a bed upstairs. There is extra lighting there, too.

Storage isn't bad either. The boot is large enough to hold bulky items, and the wardrobe - to use an estate agent's phrase - is deceptively large.

We might have liked to see more kitchen workspace, and perhaps a rather higher spec there to match the excellent provision elsewhere - but there is only so much you can do in the confined space of a camper. Otherwise, this is a very attractive model.

Our test team's notes

CLAUDIA DOWELL: "I love the look of the campervan. With its Wolfrace alloy wheels - and they are proper alloy wheels, not pretend ones - sidebars and discreet branding, it's a 'van I would definitely want to be seen with."

SARAH WAKELY: "Putting raising roofs up, and in particular fastening them back down again, can often be more complicated than it looks. With the system in this 'van, it was simplicity itself - as long as you remember to leave the straps somewhere safe when the roof is up."

PETER BABER: "The folding spotlights, drinks holder and wireless charger at the back of this 'van just encourage you to spend long hours reading in bed. Not good in terms of current thinking on sleep, but nice all the same!"

Conclusion

Pros

  • Bright lights everywhere
  • Extra fridge security means there should be no unexpected opening and spillages

Cons

  • Kitchen workspace is not the most generous, even for a campervan