Andrew McPhee

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Check out the Practical Motorhome Pilote Explorateur P715 FC review

Design

As we’ve come to expect from Pilote, its motorhomes look stylish from the outside. Not only do the white GRP panels sweep fluidly into the Renault cab (with no stray sealant or other faults on view) the ’van feels solid, too. There are aluminium skirts to protect vulnerable sidewall bottoms, plus polyester front and rear bumpers. A sharp tap on the sidewalls resonated with a pleasingly dull sound, hinting at thick insulation and solid build quality.
What really impresses, though, is the storage. There are a number of external lockers, including an offside one which enables access to the Truma combi-heater and boiler, which could prove really handy for maintenance work.
We’re also impressed with the garage, which has access from either side of the ’van.
There is an outside shower fitted inside the garage which looks perfect for washing down walking boots (or a mucky dog).
The Explorateur range also benefits from a double floor with storage space. It helps to insulate the ’van and stops the waste-water tank from freezing, too. The modest payload of only 345kg can be increased to 645kg if you opt for the no-cost chassis upgrade to give a gross vehicle weight of 3800kg (as on our test model).
As you step into the ’van you see the spacious, sumptuous-looking island bed. The rest of the interior is a hit, too. We like the light and airy feel of the interior, thanks to the three roof lights spaced along the length of the ’van. The units are also very attractive. The beech panelling with its curved lines and the cream-coloured faux suede upholstery all go together to create a feeling of quality. However, we have reservations about how practical this colour fabric would be.
Despite these doubts, the overall design of the interior is smart, especially the en suite bedroom area created by the washroom and bedroom sliding doors. Even the lighting smacks of thoughtful, stylish design. The way that the spotlights in the lounge, dining area, kitchen and bedroom are flush-mounted in beech panelling is a nice touch, for example, and the easy-angle, shapely reading lights in the lounge and bedroom were handy at night time, too.
All the windows and roof vents have flyscreens and concertina blinds and there are attractive, modern curtains in the bedroom and lounge. The cab has proper, concertina blinds too, ensuring extra privacy, warmth, and early morning darkness for a lie-in.
Above the habitation door there’s a comprehensive control panel. It’s confusing at first: initially it seems over-complicated, with a bewildering array of LED lights. However, once you understand it, the information provided on water usage, battery status, waste water and more is useful. What impresses us most though, is the enormous fresh water tank with its generous 140-litre capacity. There are also fast drainage points for both tanks underneath the vehicle and the waste water dumps in seconds thanks to a sensibly wide valve.

On the road

With the 2.5-litre engine kicking out a meaty 150bhp, the ’van feels sprightly. It has a six-speed manual gearbox, but the sixth gear feels useless as soon the route deviates from flat ground. Even the slightest incline forces you to switch down. It cruises nicely on the motorway, though.
The Renault base has ABS and traction control, which would definitely prove useful when pulling away from a muddy campsite.
The Al-Ko Flexo chassis feels sturdy and the wider track made for a smooth ride with very little body roll when taking corners.
The cab is comfortable, with its firm, fully adjustable captain’s chairs. There’s very little road noise - the only rattle comes from the grill and the oven shelf, which is something that can be easily cured with a tea towel. We also like the way in which the handbrake rests in a lowered position when it’s applied, so it’s easier to swivel the cab seats.
The cab has a good level of specification with electric windows, door pockets for maps, further useful storage pockets on the dashboard, and a map holder. The remote central locking also includes the habitation door – something that is often overlooked.
The dashboard layout is sensible and clear, but we’re not keen on the mock walnut trim and the lack of cab air conditioning. Driver visibility could be better, too - the wing mirrors are electrically operated and heated but they would definitely be improved by the addition of a magnifying section to provide a wider view. However, there is a reversing sensor, which, as there is no rear window, really helped with parking.
Finally, despite claiming to be a four-berth ’van, there’s only one belted travel seat outside the cab. This is made from the nearside bench seat, but it’s hard to figure out how it is assembled. There is provision for an additional forward-facing passenger seat but it is not mentioned in the manual, so it’s not clear how to build it.

Lounging & dining

The lounge/dining space, situated to the right as you enter the offside habitation door, seats four around the fixed table. In its closed position the table is ideal for two, but can easily be extended to accommodate more guests. With the cab seats swivelled you could squeeze in another two diners but the total of five quoted by Pilote is more realistic.
An extra half-moon crescent section swings out from below the table top. It is easily released by using the pull-down handle. However, when the extra surface is extended it feels quite wobbly and makes the rest of the table less stable. Space around the table can feel a little tight at times and, when sitting in the offside cab seat, it’s easy to bash your head as you rise. Even if you remove the table top to gain extra space when lounging, it’s still all too easy to stub your toe on its screwed-down base.
Then there’s the impracticality of the beige seat covers: we really like the look of the beige suede, but we’re worried about ruining the fabric when sitting down to eat. We can’t help but think that it will soon get grubby-looking.
However, despite these cosmetic niggles, the deep seat bases and backs are extremely welcoming and comfortable.
For lounging, there’s leg room for four, but the table still gets in the way slightly. It’s telescopic but only drops to the level of the seat bases (for assembling the bed).
There’s a drop-down cabinet opposite the kitchen with an extendable arm for mounting a flatscreen television, enabling loungers to see it from nearly every lounge seat. Beneath the cabinet is a three-shelved cupboard that provides useful extra storage, although we had reservations: there’s no way to secure items to stop them rattling.
The look of the lounge is helped by removable carpets and attractive, beaded curtains. Ultimately, it all feels homely and well built, although slightly short on space. There’s a sense that the area has been ‘squeezed’ to accommodate extra room around the island bed, which makes the lounge feel more like a dining area.

Kitchen

The best features of the Explorateur’s kitchen are the good level of specification and the masses of storage space. Equipment includes a 142-litre Dometic AES fridge, a three-burner hob with hot-plate, grill and oven, and an extractor fan – it works really well and its light provides a nice gentle glow in the evening.
There’s plenty of storage space in the fridge, and the AES system brings a certain peace of mind that an AES version brings.
The plentiful storage space is spread about with two overhead lockers above the sink and a useful locker below the oven, for pans. There are two generously-sized drawers: one for crockery, and another with a plastic infill to keep your cutlery from rattling. The crockery drawer has a section built into its front to store a couple of bottles of wine, but there is no way to secure plates and bowls.
Above the fridge there’s a small locker which houses a socket for the TV aerial, a 12V socket and a two-pin French mains socket.
The biggest disappointment is the lack of food preparation space - there is only the sink cover and the surface of the small cupboard beneath the TV cabinet. The narrow worktop around the sink is further reduced by the bin, which is recessed into the worksurface behind the sink. It would be a better use of space, and more hygienic, if the bin was fitted to the habitation door.
The ergonomics of the space were frustrating, too. As well as a removable sink infill, there is also a removable draining board – but nowhere to put them when you’re not using them.
Despite the limited amount of worksurface and tiny bin, UK buyers will appreciate the grill, oven and storage space in this well-specified kitchen.

Sleeping

The island bed is the star of the show. It has a slatted base and a Bultex foam mattress, which is extremely comfortable. According to the brochure, the bed is a lavish 2m long but this is true only at its longest point; this is a bit of a problem taller occupants - the foot of the bed is curved, which has the effect of reducing the overall length, so taller sleepers can feel rather draughty around their feet. Nevertheless, the advantages of an island bed are clear – you can get up in the middle of the night without disturbing one another.
Aesthetically, attention to detail makes the bedroom feel grand and opulent. There is a separate, removable carpet, an offside waist- to head-height mirror and a padded headboard with directional spotlights for reading. And, with the bedroom door closed, it is such a cosy sleeping space that you could be forgiven for thinking you were tucked up in bed at home.
The main differences are that the step up is easy to trip over, and you’ll hurt your feet if you step on the rail on which the door slides if you are not wearing your slippers. Another negative is the lack of plug sockets in the bedroom.
Further forward is the assembled bed, which, Pilote claims, will sleep two. We reckon it is only really suitable for one adult due to its lack of width. The bed is assembled by dropping the telescopic table to meet the level of the side-bench bases. The mattress is made up by using the side bench cushions, plus two larger cushions (carried separately). However, the user manual provides no assembly diagram, so it can take time to work out where the cushions should go.

Washroom

The nearside washroom has something of a homely feel thanks to the sliding door that sections it off at the bedroom end of the ’van. It feels like a dedicated en suite and, although there’s not a lot of leg room around the Thetford, the roomy, separate shower makes up for this lack of space.
The separate shower has bi-fold doors, so there are no horrible, clingy curtains to get stuck to your skin. Practical fittings such as this make this washroom a favourable alternative to on-site showers.
The washroom feels big considering that it is tucked between the bedroom and the lounge. There is lots of storage space, too: in the under-sink locker, the mirrored wall cabinet or the corner wall cabinet.
For electrical appliances there is a 12V socket and a mains socket. It’s the only other socket in the ’van apart from the one in the kitchen, so if you need to plug in, say, a phone charger, the washroom is where you have to do it.
There is a generously-sized washbasin, attractive lighting and fittings. However, when washing at the basin, you have to take care not to hit your heads on the edge of the mirrored cabinet, or on the soap dish that is attached to the wall above.
The separate shower is a delight, but the rest of the washroom is a little short on space as a result.

Storage

The obvious place to start is the garage, which has access from either side of the ’van. This provides lots of storage space, although it’s not quite big enough to carry adult bicycles. It seems that space in the garage has been sacrificed to give more headroom over the island bed.
That said, though, as the Explorateur hasn’t got a rear window, it would be easy to fit a high-mounted cycle rack.
Further external storage comes from a series of exterior lockers, while there is plenty of storage space in the lounge. There are cubby-holes built into the low-profile front, plus four overhead lockers, two of which have space-saving sliding doors. There is also a large, hidden, wet locker in the floor between the lounge and the kitchen.
You'd expect a lot of storage in the bedroom, especially a fair amount of room beneath that large island bed. Well, there is a good amount of storage space around the bed: wardrobes either side and two overhead lockers (care is needed when opening the wardrobes, though, because the doors slide flush over the bedside tables and it is easy to spill bedside drinks). However, under the bed doesn't give as much space as you might think, however - it is compromised by the 140-litre inboard fresh water tank housed there. There’s just about enough space beneath the mattress to store the heavy, suede bed cover.

Technical specs

Sleeps4
Travel seats3
MTPLM3800kg
Payload645kg
Length7.21m23′8″
Width2.3m7′7″
Height2.89m9′6″
Waste water95L
External Options
GRP sidewalls, Awning light
Kitchen Equipment
3-burner gas with electric hot plate, Oven, Separate grill, Extractor fan
Washroom
Thetford C-250 toilet
Heating
Truma Electric/Gas Blown air heater, Truma Electric/Gas water heater

Verdict

The Explorateur P715 FC is an extremely comfortable island-bed model, perfect for two to travel in luxury on a long-term basis. For three or four, though, its lack of a fourth travel seat and difficult-to-assemble extra bed make it an impractical proposition.

Conclusion

Pros

  • The island bed; the 142-litre fridge/freezer; storage space inside and out

Cons

  • Lack of kitchen worksurface; tiny bin; few power points; the mock-walnut dashboard fascia
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