Andrew McPhee

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Find out how much French style and flair has gone into the Pilote Explorateur 685 FG with the Practical Motorhome review

Overview

Being a French ‘van, you would expect the Pilote to have lots of style, but would that only be skin deep? In fact, a good number of what we had first thought of as styling points turned out to be well-designed, useful features.

The construction was typical of this — beneath the attractive GRP body shell, there’s an aluminium alloy, Duralinox body skeleton, similar to that used in Pilote sister brand Le Voyageur’s super-luxury A-class.

Design

This French-built motorhome of course has style. The moulded skirts certainly have something to do with it, along with the basic low-profile shape and the hard, sculpted edges over the cab. The dramatic graphics are based on the compass rose — always an evocative image for those of us who love travel.
Outside locker doors all fitted well and details such as handles and locks were well designed and added to the feel of quality that gives owners pride in their vehicle.
Pilote has spent time and effort making sure that all parts of the ‘van’s exterior are finished in exactly the same shade of bright white. Obvious as this may seem, it’s still surprisingly rare.
We use a Wastemaster to collect grey water, but the waste-water outlet dumped directly onto the suspension damper making it difficult to catch it — an extension waste hose will be needed for anyone using waste drains that you can’t drive over.

On the road

Plenty of engine power and a low profile make this a good cruising motorhome. The Renault Master 2.5 turbo diesel has always been one of the most pleasant base vehicles to drive, only recently eclipsed by the new Ducato.
The little dashboard mounted six-speed gear lever is so smooth and positive, it could definitely teach other manufacturers a thing or two.
The seats, however, despite lots of adjustments, were a disappointment. We just couldn’t get the settings right to turn them from ‘adequate’ to ‘really comfortable’.
Rear visibility was the biggest problem. The blackout blind cassette on the driver’s door was directly in my sight line to the door mirror – I needed to move my head forward to get a clear view behind. There was only a tiny amount of visibility through the rear window.

Lounging & dining

‘Spacious’ is the word to describe this ‘van. There is lots of room to pass each other in the central area between table, kitchen, toilet and rear bed.
We sat four comfortably for drinks and snacks around the beautifully designed oval table, which adjusts and moves smoothly in all directions.
Seating is comfortable, but as so often with rear-fixed bed layouts, the bed is the only place to stretch out during the day. The cab seats revolve easily to offer extra seating at the dining table.
The inside of the ‘van is just as stylish as its exterior with lots of curved walls and the lighting is truly superb.
One notable missing item was a mosquito screen for the door and surprising when the windows and large roof-vents all have such good flyscreens.

Kitchen

The kitchen, too, is stylish and who says the Continentals don’t have ovens and grills? This has both and the oven even has a rotisserie. An excellent light and extractor fan sits above the four-burner hob.
An adequate worksurface area is helped by a portable moulded drainer. A neat rack over the round sink keeps things tidy and a lift-off lid gives access to a small, removable waste bucket that keeps the small worktop clear.
Slide-out trays and racks provide good storage space for pans and food and there is a large fridge and freezer.
A disappointment is that there were only two mains sockets, but there are plenty of sockets for 12-volt appliances.
The ‘van also, has a dedicated baguette storage bag and even a tiny ‘wine cellar’!

Sleeping

The large and extremely comfortable rear fixed-double bed is easy to climb into thanks to a single, wide step. Lighting is good and a curtain closes off the sleeping area from the rest of the ‘van. There is a good range of lockers over the bed, too.
The dinette converts into a single bed using the oval table as a base for the mattress that is stored in the rear garage.

Washroom

There is more elegance in this department, too. There’s a large cupboard below the sink with another eye-level one behind the mirror.
The shower had plenty of room and the high-pressure pump makes it a real power shower.
Full marks too for the glass doors that seal away the shower, and we liked the two large drains that keep the shower tray clean and dry.
The toilet is a fixed bench design, and the new-style Thetford cassette can be rolled to the disposal point.

Storage

Any ‘van with a rear under-bed garage has a head start in offering lots of storage space.
It makes the most of that space with good access to the shed space from inside the ‘van as well as two exterior doors.
The lounge has only two eye-level cupboards, but plenty of shelf storage and a cupboard in the overhead pod. The bed area also has four useful eye-level cupboards.

Technical specs

Sleeps3
Travel seats3
MTPLM3500kg
Payload450kg
Length6.89m22′7″
Width2.3m7′7″
Height2.89m9′6″
Waste water95L
External Options
Aluminium sidewalls, Awning light
Kitchen Equipment
4-burner gas hob, Oven, Separate grill
Washroom
Thetford C-402 bench toilet, Separate shower cubicle
Heating
Truma Gas/Electric heater, Truma Electric/Gas water heater

Verdict

The Pilote is impressive – although you’re close to A-class prices and it's in close competition with classy rivals. It’s a stylish and well-built motorhome, demonstrating the very best of Gallic style and flair. It gets high marks and we felt comfortable and at home it in from day one.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Kitchen and wine ‘cellar’
  • Storage
  • Equipment
  • Use of space

Cons

  • Awful rear visibility
  • Position of the waste water point
  • There's no flyscreen to the door
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