Read Practical Motorhome's review of the 2014 Bailey Approach Autograph 765, an innovative six-berth that might leave rivals struggling to respond
When Bailey entered the motorhome market in 2011 with its Approach SE coachbuilt, we were confident it would be successful. What we weren’t prepared for was how significant that success would be. Bailey’s ’vans shook up the established order by entering at a unique price point – somewhere between rivals’ mid-range and entry-level offerings – and offering a spec level more associated with pricier models. The company also hit upon the ingenious tactic of using Al-Ko chassis and extra-wide habitation bodies to differentiate its products.
For 2014, Bailey has introduced two all-new motorhome ranges to replace the Approach SE: Approach Autograph and Approach Compact. By replacing the SEs all at once with a two-tier product stable, Bailey is signalling that it’s in the motorhome game for the long run, and expects to do well without the help of novelty value.
The Approach Autographs were launched a couple of months ahead of the Compacts, and they’re the like-for-like replacement for the SEs. Most of the models in the range have the same layouts as outgoing SEs, but with a higher equipment level that includes Alde wet heating, as well as new chassis and habitation designs that allow for double floor sections. There are also a couple of all-new layouts. The most exciting is this, the six-berth rear lounge 765: the UK’s first drop-down-bed low-profile.
Bürstner was the first company to fit drop-down beds in a low-profile back in 2008, and since then the design has spread to most other Continental manufacturers. So far, UK manufacturers have eschewed them, despite the fact that they have almost totally displaced overcab coachbuilts in Continental motorhome ranges. Bailey’s bold move to introduce them here will further differentiate the Bristol-based brand from its competitors. But is its debut drop-down-bed model any good? Read on to find out.
Bailey has also switched to a colder blue-white for the habitation body, rather than the creamy white used on the SEs, and it swapped the Peugeot Boxer cab colour from silver to striking graphite. Overall, it looks more contemporary, although we wish they’d altered the ungainly rear bumper moulding and light clusters, which are carried over from the SEs.
Step inside and you’ll find broadly the same ambience to the interior, but with modifications that add up to a big overall improvement. Worktops are now glossy and curvy rather than sharp-edged, and locker doors now come in cream. There’s also a new leather-look upholstery option.
The biggest changes are under the skin. The 765 is 2.79m tall – 20cm shorter than Bailey’s Approach SE low-profiles. Yet it also offers more internal headroom, at up to 2.1m. Bailey has achieved this by modifying the Al-Ko chassis, to make them even lower. This also contributes to the 765’s purposeful stance, although it could make it easier for equipment hanging from the chassis, such as the drain taps, to strike the ground.
On the road
Bailey restricts you to a single-engine choice, Peugeot’s mid-range 128bhp unit, which is potent enough to haul the Approach Autograph 765 around without feeling overwhelmed, although it can huff and puff on inclines. The 765 comes with a 3850kg MTPLM, so those who took their driver’s tests after 1997 will need to upgrade their licences to be able to drive it. This makes sense, though, when you consider that this is a six-berth with lots of heavy equipment installed.
Lounging & dining
Thanks to the extra-wide habitation body, there’s lots of room in both lounges. The rear lounge is especially palatial, which is important, because it’s the only area in which all six occupants can sit at the same time, making it the default dining spot. It suffers from the same setbacks as any other U-shaped lounge – those seated in the middle will have to annoy everyone else if they want to get up mid-meal, for example – but besides these inevitable compromises, it’s pretty much perfect.
The dinette isn’t as comfortable as the rear lounge, for two reasons. Firstly, because of the need to accommodate the kitchen across the corridor, it ends up being a little narrow. Secondly, the drop-down bed is located directly above it, which reduces the amount of headroom. This has the effect of cutting into the feeling of space that you find everywhere else in this motorhome.
There have also been a few equipment upgrades. The sink is now a large, circular unit with a separate chopping board and drain cover – Bailey’s customers expressed a preference for circular sinks over the rectangular ones fitted to the SE, and the company duly complied. The cooker is also new: a Thetford unit with a built-in oven and grill, three gas burners and an electric hotplate. A microwave oven is still included as standard, and is hidden behind a locker door to improve kitchen unit aesthetics. The only potential weakness of this kitchen is the 103-litre fridge, which may prove too small to hold supplies for six.
To our surprise, the Bristolian firm has positioned the drop-down bed longitudinally, taking up only half of the vehicle’s width, so a corridor is retained through the ’van even when the bed is lowered. Bailey has been able to do this thanks to its uniquely wide habitation bodies. This won’t be an easy act to follow.
This makes the 765 not just a UK first, but a European first: the only transverse drop-down-bed low-profile. The bed is lowered electrically, controlled by a dedicated switch near the control panel. As is usual for electric drop-down beds, there’s a safety cut-off in the form of a cylindrical key, to ensure that the bed never lowers by accident. It’s a spacious and very comfortable bed, equipped with excellent Froli plastic bedsprings. However, it’s only accessible via a ladder, since it lowers about halfway down the height of the interior in order to retain sufficient headroom for the dinette bed underneath it.
The dinette bed, while comfortable and easy to make up, is probably the least appealing set of berths in this ’van. The lumpy cushions – which are contoured to be more comfortable in travelling-seat mode – and the relative lack of headroom due to the bed above both eat into its appeal. However, taken on its own merits, it’s actually a perfectly good bed, and better than most dinette beds we’ve encountered.
The rear lounge bed is the most spacious in this ’van, and the one most likely to be occupied by grown-ups. It’s comfortable and very easy to put together: just slide out the slatted base extension from between the lounge seats and reposition the cushions. It’s only special in one respect – its size. The extra-wide habitation body has allowed Bailey to make this bed into a massive 2.2m x 1.79m.
Bailey’s designers have managed to avoid this, while ensuring that the washroom doesn’t take up too much space. They’ve done it by making the washroom taper towards the rear of the ’van, so that the central corridor widens slightly as it approaches the rear lounge.
The wider, front-most portion of the washroom is dedicated to the toilet, while the narrower rear section houses a separate shower cubicle. Intriguingly, the sink is located in the shower cubicle, which is a clever space-saving solution – although it does mean that you’ll often have to get your feet wet to use it.
The new chassis design allows for double floor sections across certain portions of the ’van, and while these have been used mainly to house facilities, some of it is devoted to storage. The best example of this is the locker that runs under the rear lounge, which is accessible either from inside the ’van, or from outside via a locker door built into the rear panel.
By housing many of the facilities between the floors, Bailey’s designers have freed space for storage within the habitation. This is most noticeable under the dinette and rear lounge seating, both of which offer loads of space, although the space under the dinette seating is obstructed by the seat-belt frame.
The slatted seat bases all lift up on gas struts, which is an excellent touch, although we found that whenever we absent-mindedly grabbed hold of the bases by their slats and not their frames, we ended up wrenching the struts free from their plastic housings.
As standard, these ’vans now include dual-fuel Alde Hydronic Compact 310 wet heating with programmable timing. While Bailey isn’t the first UK manufacturer to offer Alde heating – Elddis and Swift beat it to the punch by a couple of years – it’s the first one to offer the combination of wet heating, Al-Ko chassis, double-floor sections and wood-free sidewall construction in a single range. Thanks to the Al-Ko chassis and the 3850kg MTPLM, payload is a respectable 630kg.
The new double-floor design has allowed Bailey to improve the configuration of its facilities, particularly the plumbing and electrics. Heat and water are now carried through the vehicle without obstructing storage spaces, and even the leisure battery – now upgraded to a 105Ah unit – gets a special storage cubby under the dinette floor. Thoughtfully, Bailey has built in space for a second battery here (although you only get one battery as standard).
The Approach Autograph 765 is very well equipped, but there is a downside: in order to improve its economies of scale, Bailey doesn’t offer very many options. You can have a matching bedding set and upgraded leather-look upholstery, but that’s about it.
|Fresh/waste water||100L / 100L|
|Leisure battery||105 Ah|
|Gas tank size||10kg|
|Number of gas tank compartments||2|
Dometic Fridge, 3-burner gas with electric hot plate, Combined Oven/Grill, Microwave
Bailey has taken a good range and made it even better, and the innovative Approach Autograph 765 is a worthy flagship. The competition simply doesn’t offer as much for the price. Comparable models from Swift’s Bolero range and the Elddis Aspire range costs considerably more than £50,000, while the 765 stays comfortably under that mark. And these competing ’vans aren’t even that comparable, since they won’t sleep six.
Bailey hasn’t just made the UK’s first drop-down-bed motorhome, it has made one of the best drop-down-bed motorhomes in Europe. The 765’s unique, innovative layout makes it one of 2014’s standout new ’vans.
- The heavy-duty chassis
- The motorhome's 630kg payload
- The improved habitation body design with rounded rear corners
- Clumsy rear light design
- The fact that in order to save space, the sink is in the shower