Benjamin DaviesSee other motorhome reviews written by Benjamin Davies
Get more on the Auto-Trail Excel 600B in the Practical Motorhome review
There are high-level road lights on the front low-profile section and the rear wall panel. The latter is moulded instead of being flat and has a high-level brake light, too. A neatly integrated awning is fitted as standard. Perhaps most noticeable, though, is that the lo-line mould is sleek, following the rake of the Ducato’s windscreen, in the style of French motorhomes.
The Excels have a GRP-clad roof, pod, sidewalls and rear panel, at a thickness of 40mm (walls and roof) and 44mm (floor), the same as on all other Auto-Trail ’vans. This gives them a minimum heating classification of grade two, meaning they can maintain an average interior temperature of at least 20˚C when the outside temperature is zero.
The water tanks are underslung and the fresh tank is fitted with an insulating wrap, enabling editor Rob Ganley to enjoy the Excel in sub-zero temperatures in February (see ‘Running Report’ on p122 of our May issue). The services are well sited, with the dirty-fingers work (the Thetford cassette locker and wide-bore waste-water drain valve) on the driver’s side, with the fresh water inlet and gas locker on the passenger side, and a recessed doorwell rather than electric entry step.
On the road
It’s surefooted thanks to Auto-Trail opting to use the low-frame, wide rear-track-version of the MWB Ducato chassis cab, and in the last few weeks it has averaged better than 29mpg on the road with us, the standard cruise control playing a major role in this. Editor Rob Ganley also made a point of reversing three times up a 1-in-8 incline and detected no judder at all from the Ducato’s transmission.Among the standard kit are electric windows, cruise control and driver and passenger airbags, although the radio head unit is very basic and sound quality is poor. Auto-Trail does seem to have a knack of building ’vans with rattle-free blinds to the cab windows, and living quarters that don’t sound like an on-the-road aviary.
The swivel cab seats are upholstered in the same Le Mans fabric as the rest of the living quarters, are height and tilt (but not lumbar) adjustable and both have twin armrests for comfort.
Lounging & dining
The table is large (95 x 54cm) and can cater for five at a push. Its top stands an optimum 72cm high, with 17cm clearance from the flat sofa squabs to the underside of the table – plenty of thigh room underneath. Those in the cab seats can dine comfortably.
Natural light in the lounge is excellent thanks to an overhead skylight and windows above both sofas. The 10in TV that comes with the Sport Pack hinges down from the cabin ceiling, making the driver-side sofa the best seat in the house.
LED lighting is fitted throughout, but the ceiling strips and single directional reading lights above both sofas don’t generate the kind of warm light that halogens do. The passenger-side window opens horizontally, and all habitation windows have curtains, blinds and flyscreens, including the windowed entry door. Opinions on the merits of this differed, however.
“The window on the door could be a security risk with just two clips that are easy to pull open from the outside,” said Martin.
The testers’ most-voiced criticism has been the provision of only a single mains electric plug socket, above the sink in the kitchen, making it tricky to use multiple electrical devices.
Oddly, a moulded cutlery drawer sits beneath the oven grill, behind a locker door. Even with both the hob and sink lids in use, work space is limited (1.03 x 0.59m).
Chef doesn’t have a great deal of room to manoeuvre either, with space between the kitchen and corner back a maximum 50cm, which narrows to 40cm at the washroom door. An LED strip over the preparation space and a skylight overhead provide light, and a window above the sink unit offers ventilation. Pots and pans can be stashed in a locker under the oven/grill, although this is next to a mains plug socket, which provides electric to the fridge.
It’s a very comfortable mattress, but a substantial cutaway reduces the 1.17m width to just 95cm at its foot. Also, the 600B would benefit from a simple privacy curtain in the event of sharing the ’van with guests.
Up front, the slatted sofa bases slide to meet, supporting themselves on legs. The squabs and backrests form a reasonably flat surface across the width of the ’van. To widen the foot of the bed, an extension flap hinges out from the nearside sofa box, and a separate piece of ply helps to fill the space, along with an infill cushion stored in the wardrobe. This isn’t the most stable-feeling extension, though. Extended like this it measures 2.03 x 1.2m, tapering to 1m at the foot – which is larger than the fixed double bed.
A couple of minor niggles here: stick-on plastic trim came unsprung in the early weeks of our having the 600B, around the top of the washroom door frame and around the frame separating toilet and shower. And the only mirror in the motorhome is located in the washroom – testers said that a second, perhaps on the wardrobe door, would be welcome. A towel hook, shelf and overhead locker, with a striplight on its underside, share the toilet space.
The sealed shower cubicle has a partition door and is a generous 77 x 62cm, although it shares this space with a small washbasin and a large mirror. The tap doubles as the shower head, fixed into a high level-bracket, and water drains into a single plug hole in the floor. A roof vent and LED strip provide lighting in the shower.
The premium storage space is under the rear double bed, which can be accessed from within by raising the base on its supporting leg, allowing you to step into the storage space and lift out heavier items, or through the external 70 x 40cm locker. Both sofa boxes provide usable storage spaces, too: they can be accessed by lifting the hinged sofa bases, or through the locker flaps on the front of the sofa box. The driver-side sofa can also be accessed through an external locker, and the battery tray is housed in the floor here. A small wardrobe accommodates hung clothes for two at a push, and there are ample overhead lockers plus elasticated magazine nets on the habitation entry door.
Dometic Fridge, 3-burner gas hob, Combined Oven/Grill
Thetford C-250 toilet, Bi-fold shower door
The Auto-Trail Excel 600B really is a top-quality motorhome product sensibly positioned at the right end of mid-market pricing. Put simply, we believe the Excel brand was the best launch in 2008 bar none.
- Good looks, impressive specification and spot on pricing
- All-in-all an excellent package.
- The washroom area suffers the most because of the spacious front lounge and fixed bed.