Andrew McPheeSee other motorhome reviews written by Andrew McPhee
Read Practical Motorhome's review of the large, six-berth Compass Avantgarde 180
The Compass Avantgarde 180 is easily the biggest ‘van in the famous British marque’s budget range. At a shade under 24ft long, it offers six genuine sleeping berths, six travel seats, a massive U-shaped end-lounge and a decent-sized overcab bed.
The 2007 model benefits from a fabulous front-end facelift and improved underpinnings thanks to the new Peugeot Boxer 2.2 HDi chassis cab. Apart from the new base vehicle, the model has not changed significantly since its introduction a few years ago – but why break a winning formula? The Avantgarde has a reputation for high quality at an affordable price. When the Explorer Group (which owns the Compass and Elddis brands) decided to streamline its range by offering a badge-engineered high-end selection of models and a budget range, it has been the latter, Elddis Autoquests and Compass Avantgardes which have proved a hit for the Group. With the benefit of a British manufacturer’s aftersales service and a wide dealer network for servicing, anyone in the market for a ‘van of these generous proportions at this bargain-basement price will be well catered for. But can the 180 compete when you could buy a second-hand ‘van with a more luxurious level of specification for a similar price?
There are just three external locker doors: one for the Thetford cassette, one for the leisure battery and hook-up socket, and another for the gas locker. The last is sited at waist level over the nearside rear axle, which is fine for operating the gas valve without having to crouch, but lugging a gas bottle up there in the first place might twang one or two back muscles.
The fact that there’s over 20kg situated so high up the side of the ‘van did worry us – heavy weights should be as low as possible to aid stability.
The freshwater tank is slung between the axles, and the waste tank is located behind the rear axle. Both are a miserly 45 litres, yet it was a neat, simple touch to colour-code the drain taps blue and grey appropriately. The caravan step is manually operated – just one example of cost-conscious design – but it’s easy to pull out.
The motorhome has a generous payload of 628kg, which allows for plenty of gear for two to four people. However, careful planning would be needed to avoid overloading if the full complement of six people were to be carried.
A worrying exterior detail was the Boxer’s exhaust pipe, mounted very low to the ground. It wouldn’t take much of an undulation on a grassy campsite to ground it.
Inside the ‘van, first impressions count: it’s very light and airy, due to the large, opening, kitchen skylight, the three large lounge windows, the ash woodwork, light green upholstery, cream wall coverings and curtains, and straw-coloured loose-lay carpet.
All windows, including the rooflight, have flyscreens and silvered blinds to make the motorhome cosy at night. The cab area has a curtain which tracks across the front of the seats to promote warmth and privacy in the living area.
The separate dining and lounge areas proved a big hit: it allows for different activities to be carried out in different parts of the motorhome – or give occupants some privacy from each other every now and again. However, that light-coloured upholstery might not stand the test of time if you’ve got sticky-fingered children travelling with you.
Another potential pitfall for the durability of the dining seats is that the cushions overhang the seat base and so, in time, may become distorted and worn.
On the road
It’s easy to be wary about driving a motorhome with such a large Luton sticking out over the front, but the overcab is pleasingly proportioned to the rest of the motorhome and doesn’t overshadow the driver’s vantage point. The large rear window makes for excellent through-vision when you’re on the road, too. The Avantgarde is light and easy to drive, with an easy clutch and a steering wheel diameter appropriately matched to this size of ‘van.
The instruments are well laid out, but although the white mph markings are nice and clear, the red-coloured km/h numbers are difficult to read – a minus point if you often tour abroad.
Operating the handbrake can be a bit of a stretch for some to fully release (borne out by the frequent warning ‘beeps’ from the console if you drive off with it partly on). However, the pair of triple-spray windscreen washers and the wipers were excellent.
We also like the sprung map holder that pops up from the top of the dashboard, which could prove particularly useful for solo drivers.
Under the bonnet, the large radiator and two electronically controlled fans that fill the motorhome’s bulbous nose should mean there would be no danger of the Avantgarde overheating on long mountain climbs. It’s also easy to easy to access the oil- and water-filling points.
We’re impressed by how little engine noise filters into the cabin; some of this must be down to the thick soundproofing mat in the cab area. At 60mph, the only real sound intrusion comes from wind noise around the front of the overcab, and a rattle from the grill-pan inside the oven.
On the dual carriageway, the 100bhp 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine, in partnership with the five-speed manual gearbox, performed admirably. It gives more than enough encouragement to consider heading off across the Channel to put the Avantgarde through its paces over a few Swiss mountain passes. The braking system, with its ABS-controlled discs all around, feels reassuringly positive, too.
At 7.2m long, the Avantgarde is quite a long vehicle – and, with 2.12m of rear overhang, tight manoeuvres and reversing could be an issue.
Lounging & dining
The four seats are deep and comfortable, with the cushions so well designed that you don’t notice the four seat belts and their mountings.
The 240V socket in the right-hand corner of the cooking area is well placed for an electric kettle, but can also be used for a TV mounted on the drop-down shelf in the overcab. However, the adjustable spot lamps are poorly sited because the beam can’t be swivelled into a suitable position for reading. They also become very hot and could burn anyone trying to adjust them.
The deep foam seating on all three sides of the end lounge is very comfortable, but the back wall seat is narrower and more suited to a child than to an adult. Unlike the side seats, this has only a thinly padded back support.
The hinged, TV shelf has power and aerial connections nearby, but appears a little too high and could only be viewed in comfort by four people – others would have to sit on the floor.
There is a swivel spot lamp in each corner of the lounge and these, unlike those in the dining area, could be focused on the page. However, these lights become very hot, too.
On the heating front, there’s no blown-air distribution system so the Truma gas fire will have its work cut out keeping the motorhome’s interior warm on a cold day.
There’s no draining board, so dishes and pots must be washed, then dried immediately and put away. Also, there is no fan over the kitchen area to extract cooking smells. It’s difficult to imagine hungry people cooking and serving for six in this kitchen.
The cupboard next to the fridge has a slide-out cutlery drawer that appears more suitable for two to four people, rather than the potential maximum of six occupants. The same could be said for the fitted plate rack in the cupboard above the sink, and the storage space provided for pots and pans. There is also no provision for a waste bin.
The sink has a wide-bore waste pipe that allows it to drain quickly, but at the end of the system the grey waste outlet has only a small-bore tap, so emptying a full 45-litre waste tank could take a while.
All five kitchen/dining room upper cupboards have standard, sprung hinges but no positive-locking catches.
The rear lounge bed is easy to make up: simply pull out the slatted centrepiece before using the side cushions as a mattress. At 1.37 x 2.05m, this is the largest bed in the motorhome and feels the most like a domestic bed. The cushions provide a firm but comfortable rest. The only downside is that the blinds leave a gap at the bottom of the window. This is great for ventilation, but it lets in the morning sunlight even with the curtains drawn – not great unless you like waking up at sunrise.
The third bed, in the dining area, has the similar arrangement of a pull-out slatted base covered by two loose cushions. Two hinged side bases provide extra width and are covered by two additional, loose cushions.
However, using this third bed with a full complement of six people on board would mean that choices would have to be made in order to overcome the space limitations of the Avantgarde 180’s design. If the ladder is needed to access the overcab bed then the dining area bed cannot be fully extended from its 96cm width to 126cm, using the hinged wings. Without the ladder, whoever sleeps in the overcab bed would need to use the lower bed and the corner of the kitchen sink as steps.
In the washroom, the shower curtain tracks around the door and toilet area to prevent water spillage. It provides around 85cm of elbow room in which to get showered – that should be enough to prevent the horror of ‘the clinging shower curtain’.
We like the nicely designed mixer tap/shower head, but there’s no spray facility with the tap, which means that it cannot be used as a hands-free shower. There is only one drain hole, which can cause problems unless you’ve levelled your ‘van perfectly.
The sink is just about large enough to allow a proper wash, and below is a large storage cupboard that would be more useful if it had an additional shelf. Next to the sink is another, smaller cabinet which was useful for all the bits and pieces associated with ablutions. Other fittings, such as towel ring and toilet roll holder, are sturdy and attractive. Our only worry about the design is the white, plastic wheel arch cover – it appears to be quite flimsy and could easily be damaged if stood on.
The lack of an external locker, through which to access the storage area beneath the rear seats, is also a big omission: while there’s a good amount of suitable storage space inside the motorhome, having to move equipment through the living area isn’t ideal. It would become annoying, and it’s frustrating because it’s obvious that the perfect location for a door is on the offside, to the rear of the ‘van.
3-burner gas hob, Combined Oven/Grill
On the negative side, there were one or two instances of poor finishing on this test model. However, there are also many excellent features that you may not expect in a motorhome with a price tag as low as this. In the final analysis, this would be an exceptional family vehicle for four people, but it simply isn’t practical for six people to tour in comfort.
- Easy-access battery locker; great cooker/hob; great on-road visibility; quiet engine; almost rattle-free living area
- No external door to beneath the rear lounge seats; no catches on upper cupboard doors; pull-down blinds let in light; access from overcab bed when dinette bed is fully extended.