Andrew McPhee

See other motorhome reviews written by Andrew McPhee

Swift motorhomes have a great reputation, so read on to discover how the Ace Airstream performs in the Practical Motorhome review

Overview

Sitting on the forecourt at the Swift Group headquarters in Hull, the new Ace low-profile looks as mean as an eagle ready to pounce.

The design is so striking that it takes you by surprise when you see it. Motorhomes don’t usually look so sexy: practical and stylish yes, but never before sexy. Swift’s new Ace, Bessacarr and Swift low profiles are not your run-of-the-mill motorhomes, they are the vanguard in a revolution in British motorhome design that use the radical shape of the new Fiat Ducato cab to create ultra-low profiles. We have never been in a motorhome that turned so many heads. Everywhere we took the Ace Airstream during its five days with us there were approving glances and positive comments from people who usually never look twice at a motorcaravan. And that reaction was multiplied ten-fold by enthusiasts, who couldn’t wait to see it close up. We certainly got close up and personal with the top-of-the range fixed-bed model, the 680FB, which for £39,975 comes with the Fiat 130 Multijet engine as standard on its Ducato Special chassis. The ‘Special’ moniker refers to the ultra-low-line chassis produced specially for motorhome manufacturers by Fiat, which has allowed Swift to create an equally low-profile design that gives the vehicle such a remarkable stance on the road. Our mission was to see whether or not this stylish new exterior is matched by the driving performance and living experience – in the past, an area in which the Continentals have excelled and British manufacturers have had to play catch-up.

Design

The Swift Group is taking a big risk by deciding to take on mainland European manufacturers such as Knaus. The German firm has won many awards for its rakish, luxury two-berth low-profile Sun Ti which shows that Knaus certainly knows what it’s doing. To challenge this is a particularly dangerous move – unless you can deliver a design that is genuinely ground-breaking and as modern as the interior of the Sun Ti. And in this respect we have no hesitation in giving the Ace top marks.
The Airstream’s designers have pulled off a masterstroke, managing to combine the trend-setting looks of the Ducato cab and it’s generously-sized front bumper with a seamless roof-pod design that continues the line of the windscreen to create a beautiful swept-back profile with arched roof bars.
At the front of the ‘van there’s a large skylight flanked by front pods containing driving lights. The new-style dark windows around the living area look every bit as modern as the rest of the body. There are grey side skirts on the Ace model – white on the Swift Bolero and Bessacarr E500 versions – to match the grey front grille panel and this gives it a distinctly more youthful look than any previous Swift product.
The rear panel is equally dramatic, with a massive Ace graphic which mirrors the shape of the windows, stylish upright lighting clusters, and space on the top GRP moulding for a reversing camera (an option in the Diamond extras pack).
The Ace is built on Fiat’s special ultra-lowline chassis – designed exclusively for motorhome manufacturers – which makes the whole design possible because it is 140mm lower than the standard version. That means more room is available and higher effective loads are possible in the habitable space.
It’s also lightweight and extremely sturdy. The new Ducato has a 3.80m wheelbase which helps the Ace look squat as well as aiding stability on the road.
The front section’s dramatic look is extended down the flanks with one-piece aluminium sidewalls finished in gloss white, with restrained blue and grey graphics. This test model didn’t have alloys wheels although these will be available, at extra cost, in 2007.
The good news continues on the inside as the Ace cleverly integrates the Fiat’s new dashboard design with a wrap-around roof moulding upon which sits a specially designed pod for the optional DVD screen and cockpit lights.
What strikes you most is the high standard of the Ace’s plastics. They match those of Fiat’s, which are automotive standard. And this is a massive step forward compared to the cheap looking and feeling brittle plastics of the past. It confirms that Swift genuinely understands that you should expect motorhomes to be manufactured every bit as well as a car. Also, using technology it pioneered in the touring caravan market, the Ace employs plastic frames as furniture mountings which means that all the fit and finish is spot on.
The Ace benefits from a linear, elegant style, a new seat design, and a new fascia along with redesigned door panels. The cockpit is very light and ensures outstanding visibility thanks to a huge glassed area. And, all the criticisms of the old cab now seem to have been answered with a completely new design of dashboard and surround.
The new cab also benefits from many features which would have been charged as options on the previous model, or simply unavailable. These include ABS brakes, EBD (electronic brake force distribution), driver’s airbag, remote central locking and electrically adjustable and heated wing mirrors. It’s an impressive specification and the cab looks and feels far more upmarket than ‘white van man’ would demand, and indicates just how important Fiat considers the motorhome market to be. But more of that, later, when we hit the road. What is clear is that the cab and living area have been well integrated, with a modern look highlighted by the brushed chrome-effect panels below the aircraft-style cupboards, and grab handles by the door.
While perhaps not as radical as the Knaus Sun Ti, the Swift is very modern and a step up from the Group’s previous interiors, with neat touches and clever design ideas. For instance, the fixed bed runs fore and aft with a cut-out to allow enough room to get to the washroom.
Overall this motorhome is a stylish and great-looking product which integrates well inside and out.

On the road

From the moment you get behind the wheel you know that the new Ducato is a world away from the driving experience of the previous version, with a much more car-like driving position, more space and vastly improved controls layout.
The car-like design of the driving position is facilitated by the increased length of the cockpit length, longer lengthwise travel of the driver and passenger seats, increased slant of the seatback and a more comfortable, vertically mounted steering-wheel.
Visibility is excellent and the generously sized wing mirrors ensure excellent rear visibility, also thanks to the electrically adjustable wide-angle. However, these mirrors will be expensive to replace if damaged because they include the indicators and radio aerial.
There is plenty of storage space in the form of drawers, cabinets and shelves, a housing for a computer, and a chilled compartment which can accommodate a 1.5 litre-sized bottle.
The well thought-out arrangement of driver and passenger seats provides ample room to be able to move with ease between cab and living space. The seats can be equipped with a double armrest and are mounted on revolving plates produced and type-approved by Fiat.
The 130 Multijet engine is mated to a new six-speed gearbox and has enhanced power and improved response compared to the previous version, with torque values from 184 lb/ft, to 295 lb/ft available at low revs. On the road this means brisk pick-up and smooth power delivery which makes driving very easy and surprisingly rapid through the gears.
Fuel consumption is claimed to be 23 per cent less than the 2.8 JTD engine, and during our tour we managed 27mpg. Maintenance costs have also been cut, with longer service intervals (every 28,000 miles, or 25,000 miles in the versions equipped with the 100 Multijet) and the adoption of ‘for-life’ timing chains.
Once on the road, the Ace is a touring tour de force and you’ll find yourself covering ground in a way you never thought possible in a motorhome.
The acceleration, combined with a superbly commanding driving position, means that you’ll not only be able to keep up with traffic but also overtake with confidence, within a safe margin.
The Fiat Multijet engine is stunningly quiet – even when compared to the sound levels of the previous model which in itself was pretty good. And, in the cab, there is very little wind or engine noise. In fact, it is so quiet that you will be amazed how fast you are travelling, such is the lack of noise intrusion. The six-speed gearbox is a blessing on motorways because it’s so precise. At 70mph in top gear, the engine is only turning over at 2400rpm.
The handling is a revelation, too, with the wide track and low centre of gravity contributing to excellent stability at speed. The variable power steering is very accurate and positioning the 6.23m-long motorhome on the road is effortless. It’s easy to get comfortable in the driver’s seat it’s height- and rake-adjustable, and has two armrests. After covering 130 miles in one stint we got out feeling relaxed and not at all tired.
The cab seats swivel around completely and there’s a new arrangement of seat belts that works better than those in the previous Ducato. The latest belts are more comfortable for taller drivers because they adjustable.
Air-conditioning is standard and the criticisms of the previous Ducato models’ ventilation systems have all been met by having a much better heater and increased number of vents.

Lounging & dining

There is one drawback to the ultra low-line chassis and that’s the difference in floor level between the lounge and the rest of the ‘van: there’s an annoying 4in-high step. You get used to it, but it is easy to forget and trip up.
We’re a fan of parallel sofas and they work brilliantly here, in conjunction with the two front cab seats which swivel to make this a very sociable space. The seat cushions are deep are comfortable. However, we feel that the foldable table is too large for this space and makes access difficult when people are seated.
One innovation is in the shape of a small fold-out coffee table on a metal pole at the side of the sofa. Opinions were divided as to how effective this was but we found ourselves using it a lot during the tour when working on a laptop or writing notes. The table stores neatly away behind the driver’s seat.
In the bedroom area, the flatscreen TV bracket is a standard fitment. It extends outwards to allow the screen to be visible from the lounge.
The 680FB we tested has an auxiliary heater fitted as standard, so when we arrived on site wedidn’t have to endure that awful wait for the blown-air system to get working before the living space became nice and cozy.
The massive Heki rooflight, together with the front glass panel, make the Ace a lovely light place in which to sit, and the big side windows mean that you can enjoy a great view when relaxing. At night, the lounge is well lit by a central light built into the side of the skylight, and four halogen reading lights above the sofas.
The beige colour scheme with blue trim is modern but certainly not cold and gives this radical new motorhome a very British feel, which is no bad thing.
There is no doubt that Swift has upped its game as far as its interiors are concerned and the Ace is clearly a winner in this area.

Kitchen

There are some great touches in the L-shaped kitchen. One, the curved kitchen worktop extension, incorporates a stylish, practical storage carousel. You’ll even be able to get boxes of cereal into it.
Other delights in the kitchen include a 180-litre SES fridge (Smart Energy Selection) with digital controls and a neat wine-storage area. There’s a removable drainer on the sink, with it’s own dedicated storage place, and a food-grade nylon chopping board which fits over the circular sink. There’s also a Stoves dual-fuel hob with 800W hotplate and three gas burners. Space is provided for the (optional) microwave oven.
Worksurface area is adequate, given that you’ll only be catering for two people as a rule, but it’s not massive if you are using the drainer. The chrome-finish mixer tap is designed so that you can get a kettle under it.
As well as the kitchen window an extractor fan is provided, so cooking smells disappear fast.

Sleeping

The Ace is strictly a two-berth, and fulfils it’s brief perfectly. The deep, sprung mattress allowed a good night’s sleep during the test.
The breadth of the Ace allows the bed to be 1.32m wide, which is adequate for two adults. At 1.90m long, taller sleepers will not feel cramped.
The bed space has two well-positioned reading lights and the built-in headboard matches the upholstery in the remainder of the vehicle. There are also two spacious eye-level lockers in the bedroom area and an uncluttered wardrobe space which is adequate for two people.
There’s a skylight above the bed so the levels of daylight and ventilation are good. On a sunny morning, the daylight will not disturb you thanks to concertina blinds in the front cab, which are nicely fitted, work well, and appear to be high quality.

Washroom

The only drawback of the 630FB’s layout is that the washroom has had to be accommodated in the space at the back of the motorhome, along with the bed.
The shower is the middle of the area with pull-across doors that seek to prevent the Thetford toilet from becoming soaked. The arrangement is successful as far as it goes but it is a compromise – so, if you want a big, spacious washroom in which there’s room to get changed, the 630EW model is the Airstream for you because the entire rear of the vehicle is given over to a shower and a wardrobe.
The floor of the shower is lined with a wooden washboard so that you can stand comfortably on a flat surface while the water is allowed to drain easily away. Elsewhere in the washroom nicely fitted units are provided and there is one for toiletries, beneath the washbasin with its mixer tap. All the washroom fittings are chrome effect.
The washroom door is wide and opens outwards into the bedroom. It is notable for its domestic-style and substantial-feeling chrome handle – just one of the things that help to reinforce the impression that in choosing the Airstream you have bought a good quality motorhome. Features such as this do matter to buyers and are likely to stand the test of time.

Storage

Given that this is a luxury two-berth motorhome you’d expect there to be enough space for its privileged occupants to keep their belongings. The Airstream certainly delivers in that respect with a substantial level of storage space beneath the fixed bed and an exterior-access locker door. There’s a hydraulic strut to help you lift the bed base to gain access to the storage space below, from inside.
More storage space is provided beneath the two sofas and there are six eye-level cupboards in the lounge area. The lockers are deep and the space-frame construction means that you can put a central shelf inside every cupboard.

Technical specs

Sleeps2
Travel seats2
MTPLM3500kg
Payload450kg
Length7.04m23′1″
Width2.36m7′9″
Height7.04m23′1″
Waste water68L
External Options
Aluminium sidewalls, Awning light
Kitchen Equipment
Thetford Fridge, 3-burner gas with electric hot plate, Combined Oven/Grill, Extractor fan
Washroom
Thetford C-250 toilet, Separate shower cubicle, Bi-fold shower door
Heating
Truma Gas/Electric heater, Truma Electric/Gas Blown air heater

Verdict

The Airstream is not so much an evolution but a revolution in British motorhome design. The new Ducato makes a perfect base for a stunning design and, because it’s a luxury two-berth, there are few compromises in a superb layout. Our 330-mile tour proved that the new Ace Airstream is as good as we’d hoped it would be and takes the level of British-built motorhomes to a new high.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Styling; fixed double-glazed glass panel on the front; quality of mouldings; stylish, practical kitchen carousel; stainless steel circular sink looks smart and is practical

Cons

  • Table seems too big for the space; limited kitchen workspace if you use the draining board at the same time; eye-level storage space limited if you fit optional microwave
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