There's plenty to love about the Swift Esprit 494, including its new body and wallet-friendly price, says Practical Motorhome's expert in this full review

Overview

Swift's decision to retire its established Sundance range for the 2014 season was a good one, as its replacement has gone down well with the UK motorhome fraternity. With Esprit sales 35% higher than the final season of Sundance, the new line-up has clearly struck a chord. Will the transverse bed, increased spec and smart interior of the 2015 Swift Esprit 494 win over buyers?

Swift re-energised its mid-market coachbuilt range by adopting a cheaper-to-manufacture bodyshell and packed the new models with an improved specification. Prices weren’t massively lower than they were for Sundance, but there was clearly an improved value proposition and buyers’ response was positive. 

Esprit is back with a bang for the 2015 season. New Fiat Ducato cabs and timber-free habitation area build lead 
the changes, but Swift has grasped the chance to add 
a raft of spec bumps that will tickle the motorcaravanner’s buying bone. 

There are two new models: the 424, a 5.99m-long end-washroom two-berth, and the four-berth 494, which features a transverse island bed on a body of less than eight metres in length. To find out how good the larger of the two is, we took a demonstrator unit to the Camping and Caravanning Club’s Chertsey site to test it. 

Design

The Esprit’s new look isn’t confined to the sharper-looking new Fiat Ducato cab. The width has been increased and the height lowered, which gives the vehicle a more purposeful look. A full-width skylight sits in the cab roof, its tinted finish complementing the matt black surround between the new GRP roof moulding.

Swift continues with last season’s Esprit graphics 
and grey and burgundy colourways. Single-piece aluminium-skinned sidewalls have matching caps and skirts in brilliant white, while at the rear, visual interest is provided by a moulded GRP panel with extrusions that make a U-shape, and stylish-looking automotive light clusters.

Inside, Esprit receives Swift Group’s new standard wood finish for 2015, the mid-toned ‘Aralie Sen’. 
This combines well with the biscuit-coloured upholstery with grey edges. These cues are referenced by the curtains and tie-backs, which have a silver/green pattern. Mocha-coloured drop-in carpets complete the internal colour palette.

On the road

The new Fiat Ducato does offer an enhanced driving experience over its previous version, in no small part thanks to the increase in driver aids in the cab. We particularly like the new instrumentation, which has been redesigned to appear less like a commercial vehicle and more like a car. This works, with the letters refaced in a new font and a pleasing cluster of warning signs. One of the most useful of the new features is the gear-change indicator that suggests when to change gear and should encourage more economical driving.

Power steering makes light work of manoeuvring the 494 at low speeds, and the handling and ride felt 
as assured as the fifth-generation Ducato. On our 20-mile round trip to and from the campsite our testers found there was no excessive road noise from either the engine or the habitation area – the oven and grill is a new unit that’s been re-engineered to rattle less in transit and it certainly seems to have fulfilled this aspect of its design brief.

At just over 7.7m, the Esprit 494 is a long vehicle with a pronounced rear overhang, so care will be needed using ferry ramps. There is a recess at the top of the rear panel for a reversing camera, which at £599 factory-fitted would be 
a very sensible addition.

Lounging & dining

The 494’s half dinette will seat up to six people at mealtimes, using the nearside sofa and rotated cab seats. A folding leg table provides the lounge’s focal point; this can be extended to reach those sitting on the nearside of the vehicle and stows in the wardrobe nearest to the kitchen.

The lounge seating is firm and comfortable with good back support and there’s plenty of natural light available, thanks to two side windows and the rooflight above the driver’s cab – being full-width, it really does flood the area with light.

For evenings, a pair of 
LED spotlights is located 
on the underside of the lounge’s nearside overhead lockers, and ambient lighting runs along the 
top edge of the overhead lockers. Downlighters 
are fitted in the sunroof surround, and each cab seat has a flexible reading light.

Kitchen

The nearside galley is well equipped, and it looks good, too. Dual-fuel hobs offer 
a handy fallback if the gas supply is running low and 
sit atop the new oven and grill unit. As well as being re-engineered to be quieter during transit, it has a facelifted front panel including a new design for the controls. Up above, at head height, a microwave oven offers a further option for heating food, but our testers would have preferred this to have been mounted lower down, for safety.

The preparation area isn’t extensive, but the addition of a tip-up flap at the end of the kitchen unit adds space, augmented by the cooker cover when left in the lowered position. A sink cover is also included, and stows with the drainer in the narrow cupboard between the cooker and dual-fuel fridge. The round sink gets 
a new chrome tap design for 2015; taken with the smart illuminated splashback, the kitchen has a pleasing look.

Practicality points were awarded for the double plug sockets at the right hand side of the galley; these 
are sensibly mounted at 90 degrees so that cables won’t be fouled by the worktop. These sockets are encased 
in a smart chrome-effect surround – another enhancement for 2015. If using a stove-top kettle, then there are two usable plug points in the kitchen – enough to run appliances like a toaster and coffee machine simultaneously.

An Omnivent above the galley, and the window in the splashback, will allow steam and cooking odours 
to escape the ’van quickly.

Sleeping

The main attraction in the Esprit 494 is its transverse island bed, seen by many 
as the epitome of luxury: occupants can get out of bed during the night without disturbing their partner. Measuring 1.85m x 1.33m (6’1” x 4’4”), the bed is big enough to accommodate taller motorcaravanners, and its Duvalay memory foam mattress – a Swift Group exclusive – scores on comfort.

The bedroom is a civilised place, with a headboard design to match the curtain fabrics; an upholstered panel referencing the headboard material takes up the empty space on the end wall of the motorhome. A pair of reading lights is mounted above either end of the headboard, and a small shelf in front of the wardrobes flanking the bed will be ideal for books and spectacles.

A vanity unit at the left-hand foot of the bed features a half-length mirror and a deep shelf that will take a large flatscreen TV; two plug points, plus 
the necessary aerial connections, are provided.

Another double bed is available in the front lounge, made up from sliding out the nearside seat frame, dropping the lounge table and bridging the gaps with seat cushions. This measures 2.13m x 1.23m, tapering to 1.04m (7’ x 4’/3’5”).

Washroom

The 494’s washroom is a 
sea of woodwork, thanks 
to extensive cabinetwork and the oak-effect floor covering. The white swivelling cassette toilet 
and oval basin provide some contrast, augmented by the beige-coloured worktop and off-white washroom wall.

With a 7.75m body length to utilise, the shower and toilet areas have been kept separate, which will please buyers not keen on more compact wet rooms. A half-length mirror is fitted above the basin, which gets a new chrome-effect tap 
for 2015. Two task lights and over-locker lighting provide artificial light; a rooflight will suffice for daytimes.

The shower compartment is a moulded plastic unit, with a bi-fold door to prevent spray contacting the adjacent wooden finishes. An EcoCamel shower head is standard-fit; this mixes air with water to increase the flow and uses less water than a conventional shower head. It’s operated by a mixer tap on the left-hand side as you enter; there 
is a recess underneath for shower gel and shampoo. The offside wheel arch intrudes into the shower compartment, providing 
a low shelf to sit on.

Storage

With its cavernous under-bed storage in the rear, plus an extensive selection of alternatives, the 494 is well equipped for storage. The fixed bed has a lightweight aluminium frame and lifts easily on gas struts, although two cross-members cut the space into four.

Unusually, this space is not accessible from outside the ’van, where you’d normally expect to find a hatch, 
so everything must be taken into the ’van and top-loaded in the bedroom.

There are eight overhead lockers in total (four in the lounge, two in the bedroom and two in the kitchen), plus two wardrobes, three drawers and four cupboards in the bedroom. The washroom has two cupboards and there is one cupboard in the kitchen. Further storage is available in the nearside lounge seat box, although the gas locker takes a bite from the space.

Equipment

As standard, the Esprit 494 has concertina blinds to the front and side cab windows, drop-in carpets, a 25m-long hook-up cable and 100Ah leisure battery. Cassette blinds and flyscreens are fitted to all windows in 
the living area, and the habitation door features 
an integral waste bin and concertina flyscreen. LED lighting is fitted throughout; this includes the dimmable spotlights, ambient lighting and awning light. Beech slats underpin the lounge seat benches and fixed bed.

A dual-fuel Truma Combi 6kW unit provides water and space heating, and is operated by controls above the habitation door. Grade 3 insulation means the 494 is a genuine four-season tourer; further peace of mind is provided by the included Winter Pack, which adds fresh and waste water tank heaters, underfloor waste pipe insulation and fridge vent covers.

Options available include the Lux Pack (£995), which adds cab air-conditioning, cruise control and TV aerial. Specifying this pack offers access to Fiat’s Comfort-Matic automatic transmission with 2.3-litre 130bhp engine (£1695). Further extras include a full-length roll-
out awning (£750), stain-resistant easy-clean 
‘Impala’ fabric (£450) and reversing camera (£599).

Technical specs

LayoutTransverse rear island bed
Sleeps4
Travel seats4
MTPLM3700kg
Payload544kg
Length7.75m25′5″
Width2.38m7′10″
Height2.7m8′10″
Engine (capacity)2300
Fresh/waste water90L / 68L
Leisure battery100 Ah
Gas tank size13kg
Number of gas tank compartments2
External Options
GRP sidewalls, Integral awning, Awning light, Directional TV aerial, Manual step
Kitchen Equipment
3-burner gas with electric hot plate, Combined Oven/Grill, Microwave
Washroom
Thetford C-250 toilet, Separate shower cubicle
Heating
Truma Electric/Gas Blown air heater, Truma Electric/Gas water heater

Verdict

Island beds offer considerable creature comforts and used in a transverse configuration, they save valuable body length to be used elsewhere. In the Swift Esprit 494, buyers get a generous galley kitchen and a decent washroom with separate shower compartment – all for well under eight metres in length. Design and specification-wise, this new Esprit model looks great (we love the sunroof!) and has lots of desirable kit, fitting into a range that’s been remade with new Fiat cabs and timber-free construction. The Esprit 494 will give you change from £50,000, and added value from its four-season touring credentials and 10-year body shell warranty will propel it to the top of many wish lists.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Transverse island bed in the rear
  • Separate shower cubicle
  • A galley kitchen you can really use

Cons

  • It's quite a long motorhome to fit on the driveway at 7.7m (25'5
  • There is no external hatch into the underbed storage area
  • The long overhang might hit the ground when you drive up ramps onto a ferry
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