A compact coachbuilt with a rear tailgate and a large end lounge, innovation abounds in the Swift Rio 340 – read our review to find out if it works

Overview

Rio was very much a toe-in-the-water exercise for the mighty Swift Group when it whipped the covers off the two inaugural models just in time for the 2015 model year. We’ve heard of motorhomes packing sporting aspirations before, of course, but the new Rio really set out its stall in this respect by packing a full-height opening rear tailgate.

There are obvious bragging rights with this sort of daring design, but the beauty of the idea is considerably more than skin-deep. For one thing, it offers shade for al fresco relaxing or dining without having recourse to the expense and additional weight of a roll-out awning. And for another, it allows you unprecedented access to the invaluable space within, the better to store bikes or skis – or even those unfeasibly long flat-pack items of furniture.

Which brings us to another of the Rio’s appealing features: at just 6.4m long and less than 2.3m wide, this is one ’van you wouldn’t balk at taking into a reasonable-sized car park. And with the 340 having those all-important additional travel and sleeping berths, it can be used as a second car, too.

The question is: does the concept work?

Design

The Rio is marketed unashamedly as Swift’s ‘sporty’ brand, and it certainly fulfils its brief admirably from the outside. The glossy white body is broken up by minimalist graphics, which are artfully done in such a manner as to disguise the forward side and cab side windows. We’re not entirely sure whether Swift’s designers intended the result to look not unlike the former Stig’s iconic racing helmet, but that’s what’s happened – and we rather like it.

Elsewhere, the new, slimmer-looking Fiat cab is enhanced still further by colour-coded bumpers, LED daytime running lights and glossy black trim to the radiator grill and panoramic sunroof. This latter in particular serves to mask the motorhome’s height and give it a lower, sleeker appearance from the front. We like the smart alloy wheels, too.

On a more practical level, awning lovers probably won’t take kindly to the sight of the large gas locker on the nearside wall, but the hook-up point and toilet hatch are banished to the opposing side.

Out back, the trademark hatch isn’t obvious at first, and while opening it is easy enough, it’s a bit of a stretch for anyone under 5ft 10in or so to reach up and close it. Full marks for the step here, however.

On the road

Even all the marketing in the world can’t really convince the determined cynic that anything built on a commercial vehicle base can be inherently ‘sporting’. And yet, the Swift Rio 340 makes a good fist of trying to live up to its reputation.

For one thing, this is not a large motorhome by any means. And for another, it sits on one of the all-time great driver’s van platforms, with a Euro 5+ 2.3-litre engine under the bonnet and the option of either the standard-fit six-speed manual gearbox, or Fiat’s excellent ComfortMatic automatic.

The engine is a long-proven revvy little unit that endows the 340 with genuinely enjoyable get-up-and-go, yet fades away to a distant thrum at cruising speeds once in top gear. The manual gearbox is the one to go for if you enjoy driving as much as we do, but the ComfortMatic is probably better suited to your needs if your travels are regularly long-distance affairs. Just remember that opting for the self-shifter cuts your payload allowance by 17kg.

Our test model came fitted with the Lux Pack, which brings with it, among other things, cruise control and air conditioning. It may be a cost option, but we doubt many will leave the factory without it, as they’re unquestionably desirable and in addition will help with resale values.

Lounging & dining

The end lounge is definitely the place to be for ultimate relaxation, thanks to its comfortable three-seater settees, obvious TV station (on top of the wardrobe, where you’ll find a mounting bracket and adjacent power/aerial sockets) and general ambience enhanced by rich-looking woodwork, three large windows and six LED downlighters.

It’s not obvious that the rear panel is, in fact, a door, either, and we love the fitted rear speakers and jazzy fabric window surrounds. In an ideal world, we’d have preferred slightly taller backrest cushions, but to be fair to Swift, there is a reason for this – and, indeed, for the seemingly unfathomable lack of a rooflight of some description – which we’ll come to later in the test.

Impressively for such a small motorhome, the half-dinette up front is also a thoroughly pleasant place to be; the half-dinette seats are rather upright, as is always the case with this layout, but the swivel cab seats are supremely comfortable. Then there’s all that daylight admitted by the panoramic rooflight.

Dining is possible in either area, but on balance, we’d probably choose the half dinette for its closer proximity to the kitchen.

Kitchen

Given the Rio’s size, you could forgive Swift for lapsing into some sort of compromise in the galley area. But in reality, it performs really strongly.

The amount of worktop space on offer, for instance, frankly beggars belief. And there’s even an extension flap to the right of the cooker if that isn’t enough. High and low storage space is better than average, too, and fitted equipment extends to a 110-litre fridge, complete with removable freezer box, the latest Aspire Mk2 oven and separate grill and a hob top that sports an electric hotplate. Plus there’s an eye-level microwave oven, and while it may have no obvious practical use, we remain big fans of the backlit splashback.

The supplied twin power sockets are located sensibly well above worktop level and are fitted sideways to allow each to be used without the leads fouling each other.

Sleeping

Having established that this is a motorhome that may have travel and sleeping accommodation for four, but which will in all likelihood be bought mostly by couples (with smaller families coming a distant second), we come to the killer ace hiding up the 340’s sleeve.

At first glance, all seems as per usual. The rear settees are clearly not long enough to serve as adult single beds, but the tape measure reveals that they make up into a generous-sized 6ft 4in by 4ft 2in double. All well and good, then, but where are the additional two berths?

If you’re having nightmarish visions of having to somehow convert the half dinette into the sort of lumpen, complicated and thoroughly half-hearted affair you occasionally find in Continental motorhomes, then don’t despair. Simply insert the isolator key into the slot in the kitchen, press the adjacent button and watch as a hidden 6ft by 3ft 11in drop-down bed descends from the ceiling.

You can halt it in two different positions, depending on whether or not the double beneath is in use; it comes with its own slide-out access step for when it’s at its lowest setting and a ladder for the higher position. Admittedly, it’s slightly smaller than the one beneath, but it should be fine for most average-sized motorcaravanners.

Better still, you can even use it as a second giant single, thereby neatly offsetting the thorny issue of disturbing your other half should you need to spend a penny in the dead of night.

Washroom

The 340’s kitchen may have dodged the compromise bullet, but in doing so it only deflected it into the littlest room opposite. And nowhere else in this motorhome is it more obvious that this is a vehicle designed to appeal to couples who need occasional accommodation for visiting grandchildren or guests.

All of which makes it sound like the Swift Rio 340’s washroom is awful, but this is not the case. The door opens (a full 180 degrees – you’d be amazed how many manufacturers get this detail wrong) to reveal a pleasant all-white washroom enlivened by contrasting turquoise to the locker door and washbasin splashback.

There’s no separate shower in here and the walls are not fully lined, which, together with the pull-out mixer tap-cum-shower-riser, betrays the fact that this is a washroom intended for only occasional showering. That said, the shower tray itself isn’t a bad size, and there’s plenty of room around the swivel toilet.

Storage

Again, the Rio does a good job of belying its overall size by offering surprisingly generous storage space throughout the ’van.

We’ve already spoken about the kitchen (whose upper lockers, incidentally, comprise dedicated crockery storage on the left and a huge storage void on the right), but the washroom locker opens to reveal a pair of surprisingly deep shelves, and the roof lockers, while a little smaller than you’d find on a full-size coachbuilt, are nevertheless spacious and clutter-free.

Only one of the rear bedding lockers is properly usable (the other is filled with boiler equipment), but while the wardrobe is a little hampered by the presence of the dining table within, it offers good hanging space.

And of course, all that interior floor space is unusually accessible thanks to the presence of the opening tailgate.

Equipment

Assuming that your Swift Rio 340 is equipped with the Lux Pack (and we can conceive of no reason why it wouldn’t be), then the cab pretty much has it all, including Fiat’s latest CD/radio, complete with Bluetooth phone and MP3 connectivity. Twin airbags are also provided, along with cruise control, air conditioning and concertina window blinds, which, unlike cheaper curtains, don’t cut off the cab area after dark. Both cab seats are multi-adjustable and swivel to face the half-dinette.

We’ve already touched on the salient points regarding the Rio’s kit list, but finding a drop-down electrical bed, a microwave oven, two main TV points, a panoramic sunroof – and that crucial opening tailgate, of course – all thrown in as standard, at this sort of price point is pretty impressive. That air con and cruise control are the only major options customers can specify pretty much says it all about how well this motorhome is specified.

Technical specs

Sleeps4
Travel seats4
MTPLM3500kg
Payload535kg
Length6.4m20′12″
Width2.26m7′5″
Height2.78m9′1″
Engine (power)130
Engine (torque)236
Fresh/waste water90L / 68L
Leisure battery75 Ah
Gas tank size7kg
Number of gas tank compartments2
Heating
Truma Gas/Electric heater

Verdict

This is a bold move on Swift’s part, but one that appears to have paid off. The opening tailgate has many practical uses, not least of which is the feat of bringing the outdoors indoors.

There are compromises – the only part-lined washroom springs to mind, but the lounge backrests are also necessarily low thanks to the drop-down bed. The sleeping arrangements are beautifully simple, though, and the kitchen is unprecedented in a ’van of this size.

Best suited to couples who need semi-regular additional accommodation, the Swift Rio 340 is roomy enough to feel spacious, yet compact enough to use as a second family car. It’s good value, too. And to see other Swift motorhomes for sale, click here.

Conclusion

Pros

  • The tailgate eases access to storage areas and brings the outdoors inside
  • Its compact dimensions make it usable every day
  • It's a well specced 'van

Cons

  • We'd expect a washroom with lined walls at this price
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