The two-berth 2016 Vantage Gem is a high-spec high-top van conversion with an unusual layout – here's Nick Harding's Practical Motorhome review and verdict

Overview

Psssst. Want to save yourself £3000 on a brand new Vantage Gem? We’ll let you in on a secret... later. 

For now, if you’re in the market for a new two-berth, high-top van conversion, you visit Vantage. Just don’t turn up on spec. Many visitors are collecting new ’vans they’ve already bought, and the queue appears to be non-stop. After the personal, intensive handovers, customers are expected to stay at least one night on the local campsite. This group is joined by those who’ve booked to browse. 

Part of Vantage Motorhomes’ success is that it keeps things simple. Production neatly bridges the gap between the bespoke offerings of some near rivals and factory manufacture. 

Boss Scot Naylor builds vehicles that he and wife Jane test. The only downside is that Vantage has only one sales outlet, and that’s in Leeds. That’s a long drive for many who want a proper look at the range before investing. 

The company’s only been going since 2006, but there’s a lifetime of motorhome experience behind it all. Or, as owner Scot half-jokingly puts it: “Vantage Motorhomes is the result of a hobby that turned into a vocation.” You can read about the Naylors’ touring background at the Vantage company website.

Design

The Gem joins a portfolio of six other Fiat Ducato-based van conversions with overall lengths of 5.4-6.4m.

Keeping things simple also means that just one exterior colour is offered: metallic silver. It helps standardise not just production but also gives a consistency to the Vantage product that will pay dividends at trade-in time. It reduces costs because the bumpers don’t have to be colour-matched.

On the road

The new Gem sticks with Vantage’s self-imposed restriction of building only two-berth models, but it is still a valiant attempt to offer something different within the compact 5.4m of this medium-length 2.3-litre 130bhp Fiat Ducato high-top.

Lounging & dining

What you get is a commendably large front lounge comprising a fixed settee behind the driver’s seat. Note that the bench’s leading edge has a cutaway to allow the driver’s seat to swivel round more easily – a typical Vantage detail. Across the aisle, the sofa next to the sliding door
can be extended.

Kitchen

Beyond this is a kitchen that is more campervan than motorhome, with its two-burner gas hob supplemented by a compressor fridge. A flip-up extension can be used as extra worktop or to place a freestanding microwave.

The adjacent sink is deep and but not so large that filling it will drain the 70-litre fresh-water tank.

Sleeping

At bedtime, you have the choice of twin singles or a decent double with a modicum of extra effort. This involves pulling the ‘Easy-Glide’ seat bases together. Either arrangement allows direct access to the toilet.

If you make up the sofas as a double bed this will be 1.87m x 1.83m (6’2” x 6’0”), or if you choose to use the sofas as unequal single beds they will be 1.87m x 0.91m/0.76m (6’2” x 3’0”/2’6”).

Washroom

The kitchen shares floor space with the end washroom. Draw round the full-height tambour door here and you create a shower and toilet area. It’s a clever feature.

Storage

As well as the usual overhead lockers in the lounge, you'll find excellent clutter-free storage in the nearside sofa seat base. It's beautifully finished, with trim around the wheel arch in there. Very much designed for couples, the kitchen has only a small fridge, with a drawer under it, so you'll need to shop as you go or eat out rather than stocking up on groceries.

The rear doors of the van open to the washroom and when they're closed there's space just inside for your folding chairs, mains lead, levelling ramp and other outdoor kit while you're driving along.

Equipment

Although kitchen and washroom space are at a premium, there’s no compromise on quality anywhere. Try pulling the furniture and you’ll find that it is fixed in place rock-solid, while the last-a-lifetime foil-faced locker doors have hinges that mean business.

Other highlights include heavy-duty vinyl flooring covered by loose-fit carpet that is cut so perfectly it looks fixed.

Standard specification has been well-chosen, from the solar panel to the permanent gas tank, but the optional stereo head system in our test ’van, costing some £350, is not suited to a front-lounge model like this.

With all this, you’ll probably only need to factor another £1000 into your budget to cover added essentials, such as reversing sensors (from £250), exterior paint protection (£250), upholstery protection (£100) and other treats from a sensible list that won’t cost the earth.

Technical specs

LayoutVan conversion, rear washroom
Sleeps2
Travel seats2
MTPLM3500kg
Payload600kg
Length5.41m17′9″
Width2.05m6′9″
Height2.6m8′6″
Engine (capacity)2300
Engine (power)130
Fresh/waste water70L / 50L
Leisure battery105 Ah
Secondary leisure battery105 Ah
Gas tank size25kg
Number of gas tank compartments1
External Options
Aluminium sidewalls
Kitchen Equipment
Waeco Compressor Fridge, 2-burner gas hob
Washroom
Thetford C-402 bench toilet

Verdict

Vehicles as meticulously made as the Gem will never be the cheapest – but it’s out in the field where they really prove their worth – as they do on the road. If you’re narrowing your range of new motorhomes, take a test drive. You’ll find Vantage’s products are just that bit more hushed, a direct result of the sound-deadening qualities of the insulation it uses.

What about that saving of three grand? You can have your Gem on a Citroën Relay base, with slightly superior cab equipment levels, from just £44,950. 

However, such is Fiat’s standing that I fully expect most folk to pay the Ducato premium. For one thing, it gives you the altogether more impressive 2.3-litre engine – compared to the Citroën’s grumpy 2.2.Vantage Gem van conversions are built up to a quality and not down to a price. It’s only built on the medium-length base vehicle, but the lounge will appeal to many, while the shower/toilet area is an innovative piece of thinking. 

Conclusion

Pros

  • Full washroom in a MWB van conversion!
  • Nifty 2.3-litre Fiat Ducato base vehicle
  • Superb fixtures and fittings
  • Solar panel and gas tank as standard
  • Generous standard spec

Cons

  • Expensive (but worth it)
  • Small fridge
  • Two-burner gas hob
  • No oven
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