Read Practical Motorhome's review of the Hillside Leisure Buxton, a clever conversion that squeezes an awful lot into a VW campervan

Overview

Want to know how to squeeze a washroom, a fully equipped kitchen and two double beds into a VW camper? Take a look at this clever conversion by Hillside Leisure.

Price from £54,846 (as tested) Sleeps Four Belts four Base Volkswagen T5 Engine 2.0-litre turbo-diesel L/W/H 5.29m/1.9m/2.9m (17’4”/6’3”/9’6”) MTPLM 2700kg Payload 500kg Water fresh/waste 68 litres/40 litres Leisure battery 2 x 100Ah Gas 20-litre bulk tank (approx 10kg)

Hillside Leisure is a young company based in Derby that specialises in producing campers with classic layouts on VW’s popular T5. The new Buxton, however, breaks the mould with a high-top conversion that’s unique in British-built ’vans. In fact, Buxton seems to take its inspiration from Westfalia’s similar Club Joker, winner of our Best High-top Camper Award for 2013 (reported fully in Practical Motorhome, November 2013 issue, with the winners of our Motorhome of the Year Awards reported here: http://bit.ly/1l17JXA).

The Buxton is based on the long-wheelbase version of the Vee-dub, which offers a range of engine and transmission options from sub-100bhp motor and five-speed manual gearbox to a near 180bhp engine with DSG – seven-speed dual-clutch auto gearbox. Even four-wheel drive is on offer with VW’s 4Motion system. The test ’van was fitted with the 140bhp engine along with the DSG, making for a potent but sensible ensemble that promised good performance and a near effortless drive.

The guts of the conversion offers a front lounge, centre kitchen and full-width rear washroom, with a double bed in the GRP high roof.

Design

Especially commissioned by Hillside, the high roof is nicely moulded and well married to the vehicle that sits beneath it. The external fit and finish is excellent, establishing the look of a high-quality leisure vehicle, albeit one that’s rather tall and narrow.

A tour around the outside reveals an LED strip awning light, a Fiamma wind-out awning and high-quality double-glazed windows. This is a panel van, but Hillside has added black panels to the van’s flanks, creating a window-van look that makes it more akin to a sophisticated people carrier.

The vehicle’s underside has been used well, with fresh and waste water tanks, heater and bulk gas tank all mounted down below, freeing up precious space for the internal living quarters.

Inside, the furniture is nicely executed in medium-dark-toned wood-grain, while upholstery is covered in hessian-style material. The fit and finish is very good; however, the cloth has a rather soft texture and only time will tell if it will wear well. Curtains enclose the cab area for nighttime privacy, but their brown colour seemed rather at odds with the lighter hue of the upholstery.

On the road

The latest version of the Transporter provides genuine car-like performance and handling while travelling in a cab that’s reminiscent of VW’s Golf. Useful items of note include power-folding mirrors – great when parking in supermarkets’ crowded car parks – and cruise control – perfect for enjoying a long journey on uncrowded French autoroutes.

Here, the 140bhp engine and DSG auto make a great combination, with smooth and near-seamless ratio changes. The clever gearbox uses two clutches and computer control to pre-select the next ratio, hence the smooth changes. Unlike a traditional auto this is a fully mechanical unit, but you’d never know it. The result is traditional auto smoothness, but with the good fuel economy of a manual transmission.

Downsides? Well, there is a tendency for up changes to occur very early – probably to help further improve fuel economy. However, select sport mode and change points occur higher up the rev range. And you can also use the box in manual mode, simply tapping the lever to swap gears.

The rest of the T5 is super and small enough to drive in town and squeeze into
a standard parking space. Of course, this camper is tall, so be mindful of height barriers. Its lofty stance and narrow width will be likely to see it affected by side winds on exposed sections of fast roads.

As the back of the Buxton is blind there’s a camera fitted, served by a sharp-pictured monitor mounted on the driver’s interior mirror. This gives a great view to the rear and is very useful while reversing.

Lounging & dining

Swivel the cab seats which, unlike in some Volkswagen-based conversions, is a reasonably easy operation, and they face two RIB crash-tested, forward-facing, belted travel seats.

With the high roof above there’s loads of standing headroom, while the seating – all with twin armrests to aid comfortable sitting – is quite spacious for four. And sitting is what you do in this lounge: flopping out and lounging around is not on the menu, but there are other options, more of which later.

There’s seating for four, but only dining for two.

The table is stowed alongside the offside travel seat and is easy to get at. It rail-mounts on the offside wall at mealtimes. This table isn’t big, but it’s large enough for a couple of dinner plates, plus the cutlery, cups and condiments to serve them.

Lighting is pretty good, with windows and a big rooflight providing natural illumination, and LED strips and downlighters doing the honours for artificial light. However, reading lamps and lights in the cab are lacking.

Kitchen

This compact motorhome packs a lot into its living area and never more so than in the cook’s department. There’s a step up into the kitchen where you’ll find loads of storage space and a proper-sized oven.

The hob/sink arrangement is compact, but classy with two gas burners and a nice little stainless steel bowl set against glass. The hob-top is nicely illuminated by an LED strip lamp – its light falling onto one of the big drawbacks in this kitchen, namely a dearth of work-top. The usual glass-topped sink and hob arrangement would have been useful here.

Storage space includes a neat, stainless steel-clad trough above the hob and big drawers and cupboards. And the two-door number above the oven can be replaced by a mains-operated microwave if your penchant is for easy-to-heat ready-meals.

The oven is pretty good. It’s the latest from Thetford and features a door that opens and slides out of the away into the body – a good thing, as the kitchen’s aisle is not the widest. Below the oven, the fridge is a compressor-type – so
uses no gas – and is neatly contained behind a curved door which is shelved on the inside, handy for small items.

Sleeping

In the lounge area both a double or two single beds can be made.

Singles first, and this is where that chance to lounge comes in. Each bed uses the squab of a swivelled cab seat as its foot; the squab of the seat behind folds over to meet it with the rear seats backrest hinging down to make the bed. Using the cab seat backs, it is possible to put your feet up daybed-style. Rectangular infill cushions fill the gap behind each rear seat to complete beds and extend their lengths.

An alternative double can be made, as the rear seats are engineered to slide sideways and meet in the aisle. The cab seats turn 90 degrees to provide the foot and complete a reasonable double. However, achieving all this proved to be a bit of a faff, to say nothing of the fact that the upper bed access ladder – which must stand in the aisle – is now rendered useless. You don’t have to be a genius to realise that this bedroom area works best with two singles.

It all gets rather clever upstairs. The transverse wall of what appears to be an overcab locker with tambour doors slides forward. Behind the doors is the double bed. Retrieve the ladder from its stowage rail on the forward end of the oven unit, climb in and install a mattress section at the foot – an easy job – and the bed is made.This pod-like sleeping space is comfy and served by
the essential ventilation-providing rooflight and LED downlighters with touch-sensitive switching.

Cosy and comfy, this is a pretty good double, and very different to others in conversions, which often drop down from above. Concerns include the fact that pulling the bed out sees its base sliding on the side ledges that support it – ledges that are covered in carpet: how long before the carpet wears out? Also, the bed has a solid base, which may create condensation under the mattress.

Washroom

Hillside’s ‘packing loads in’ approach sees a washroom installed across the rear - unusual in a panel van conversion.

The fact that this ’van squeezes a heck of a lot into its internal space is demonstrated by the discovery that several of the main kitchen unit’s drawers will not open with the ablutions’ curved tambour door closed. That’s aside from the bottom one, which is obstructed by the shower tray; the drawer’s front is hinged and can open to give access.

The washroom floor is formed as a large neat shower tray with one outlet. The moulded-in Hillside logo shows it to be bespoke and demonstrates the amount of detailed development that’s gone into the Buxton.

The toilet is Dometic’s version of the swivel-bowl device, complete with electric flushing and wheeled cassette. In the corner a pull-out tap head hooks onto a wall bracket to provide showering. The tap is a clue, as there will be a small washbasin here in production models.

It’s an impressive feature in such a small motorhome and works well, although shoulder room is at a premium, both when standing at and sitting on the toilet due to the shape of the rear of the vehicle and a transverse shelf.

Providing a shower in such a small camper is impressive, but maybe just a toilet room would be better. Camper showers are rarely used and the space saved might be used to make the kitchen bigger.

Storage

All that storage in the kitchen includes a tall, slim cupboard alongside the fridge, that although it lacked a hanging rail, seemed likely to be a small wardrobe.

However, campers such as these demand folks to travel light and with clothes that can be kept in squashy, holdall-type bags. So where do you put them? The answer is in the overcab bed area – even when it’s in the stowed position there’s lots of room.

The same goes for bedding; sleeping bags, duvet and pillows can live in here, too, all enclosed neatly behind those tambour doors.

Down below, there’s room under the nearside rear seat – seemingly the best place for hook-up lead, hose and the like.

One of Buxton’s most surprising designs provides a home for outdoor kit, but is as much a clever feature as it is storage space. Lift the tailgate to reveal two floor-level drawers that contain a pair of camping chairs and an alloy-slat table top. The chairs unfold, while the table-top rolls out to attach to the top of the opened drawers. An alfresco dining room for two people – more with extra chairs – is created, while the opened tailgate provides some shelter and lighting, thanks to the presence of LED downlighters. Creative, clever, practical, and one of the nicest camper design ideas around.

Camper van storage is often lacking in providing adequate space for two items: bedding and outdoor furniture. The Buxton scores lots of points in both these important areas.

Technical specs

Sleeps4
Travel seats4
MTPLM2700kg
Payload500kg
Length5.29m17′4″
Width1.9m6′3″
Height2.9m9′6″
Waste water68L
External Options
Integral awning
Kitchen Equipment
2-burner gas hob, Combined Oven/Grill
Washroom
Dometic toilet
Heating
Eberspacher space heater

Verdict

£54,846

The Buxton is an impressive camper and shows Hillside Leisure’s commitment to providing something new in VW camper conversions. Installing the full set of living facilities inside the confines of the long wheelbase Volkswagen T5 is quite an achievement, and it all works quite well. It's not cheap at £54,846, but you get what you pay for. We rate it 4/5.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Price (£54,846 as tested) and build quality are good
  • Sliding roof bed and slide-out alfresco dining set show flair and practicality.

Cons

  • Space is tight in the washroom
  • The kitchen is small and could do with a glass lid-topped hob and sink to provide an extra worktop.
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