Nick Harding

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If you like classic VW camper layouts, look at how much more you'd get with this 2016 Hillside Leisure Castleton, based on the Ford Transit Custom Limited

Overview

Visit Hillside Leisure’s considerable manufacturing and retailing set-up in Derby and the chances are that the place will be jam-packed. That’s not just with new and used vehicles for sale, but also with a host of base vehicles awaiting conversion.

These include Renault’s latest Trafic, the Nissan NV200, Volkswagen’s T6 and, now, Ford Transits. Not only that, but Hillside boasts a pretty full order book, which bodes well for a company that is very much on the up in the world of campervan manufacturing.

Design

Welcome, then, to the Castleton. This is the higher-spec version of two initial prototypes made by Hillside, so there are a few tweaks to come – notably the nearside storage aft of the sliding door is to get USB outlets and a change of configuration from the current cubbyholes and lockers. Nevertheless, this is a 'van that overcomes one of the problems of converting the Transit: its prominent rear wheelarches.

This Castleton takes the Limited version of the Transit Custom as its starting point – an upgrade that costs £2800, but Hillside predicts that it will emerge as the most popular model.

As reviewed, it costs £37,995 – and that price compares favourably with anything VW-based.

So what does Hillside make of turning all this into a camper? The company has honed its conversion skills using arguably the best-engineered elevating roofs – from Germany’s SCA – and RIB rear seating, courtesy of France’s Scopema.

That’s not to say either product is without criticism. You need more than a bit of muscle to pull the roof back down to travel mode and the rear seat is fitted so high that shorter passengers will be left dangling their legs.

On the road

Frankly, there’s a fair bit more of the Ford that bears comparison with any VW T6. For starters, Ford gives the cab the kind of ambience you’d expect to get in a modern leisure vehicle. The cab is anything but plain, taking plenty of styling cues from its car stablemates in terms of overall appearance, switchgear, chrome detailing and more.

The Limited gets heated seats with 10-way adjustment, cab air conditioning, a DAB stereo radio, a locking glovebox, cup and bottle holders and plenty more.

The example we reviewed is in Tectonic Silver (from a choice of nine colours), complete with colour-matched rear bumper, door handles and mirrors. Just to ram home its advantage, the 125bhp engine comes as standard. The only downside is that the option of automatic transmission is still some way off.

Lounging & dining

Stored behind the driver's seat is a pedestal table, in a dedicated holder. If you're a tall driver, you might find that the table prevents you from pushing your driving seat back as far as you'd like.

The table itself is a practical one, though, with its single leg fitting neatly into a port in front of the rear bench seats. The front passenger seat swivels, too. It might be a bit tight for all four people to dine around the table at once. On sunny days you'll be able to enjoy cooking and eating with the sliding side door open.

Kitchen

The conversion pretty much follows a standard camper formula, although there’s a bit of a twist. That L-shaped main unit allows for a clever sink/ hob combination, set at right angles to the rest of the cabinet work. It also leaves a long run of worktop to the chef’s right. Although the Transit’s tumblehome makes overhead lockers infeasible, there is open shelving here.

A standard-fit SMEV grill sits over the compressor fridge (a larger than average 65-litre model). Its location makes it easier to reach in from outside and grab that chilled beer you so deserve.

Sleeping

One design feature that may draw criticism is that the seat doesn’t make a particularly large bed. At least there are a few vital inches to the sides of the mattress, as well as lots of foot-overhang space, especially for whoever sleeps along the nearside. the lower double bed is 1.82m x 1.19mm (6' x 3'11").

A longer, but narrower, double bed is in the elevated roof and measures 1.97m x 1.1m (6'5" x 3'7"). It’s a thin, one-piece mattress but it’s on plastic supports that really do add comfort. Plus, there’s a bit more height at the foot end than rivals can provide.

The front mesh helps with ventilation, and it gets a zipped blackout cover – as do the acrylic side windows. Unfortunately, there’s no reading light up here.

Washroom

In common with most rival campervans, there is no washroom in the Hillside Leisure Castleton. However, you do get an under-seat locker space, designed specifically to hold the portable toilet that is part of the Castleton’s standard specification.

Storage

The table sits plumb centre on its single pedestal leg but an offset, allowing it to pivot so you can pass, would be more practical. The top and leg are stowed behind the driver’s seat.

There’s a wardrobe at the end of the furniture run. The cleverest of a number of neat storage ideas is the section over the rear seat which, when the roof is up on site, acts as divided open shelving. Roof down and it’s all sealed off safely.

There’s room for luggage inside the tailgate. Keep the rearmost section of the bed horizontal if you wish to store things under it and out of sight. Alternatively, it is hinged to be kept upright.

Equipment

Standard equipment in the Hillside Leisure Castleton includes: a Smev grill and an integrated Smev 2 ring hob and sink with fitted electric tap, also a 65-litre Waeco compressor fridge with ice box. There's an under-slung fresh water tank. It comes with a Porta potti, and the front passenger seat swivels.

The 'van has remote central locking, LED lights, a leisure battery with split charging system, an external 240 Volt electric-hook up, an elevating roof, electric windows and more.

Technical specs

LayoutCamper without washroom
Sleeps4
Travel seats4
MTPLM3100kg
Payload850kg
Length4.97m16′4″
Width1.99m6′6″
Height2.08m6′10″
Engine (capacity)2200
Engine (power)125
Fresh water40L
Leisure battery110 Ah
Gas tank size3.9kg
External Options
Aluminium sidewalls
Kitchen Equipment
2-burner gas hob, Separate grill
Washroom
Porta potti

Verdict

This is more than just a promising start. Apart from a few production tweaks to come, Hillside has nailed it with the Castleton. Ford fans will queue for it; those remaining to be convinced by the latest Transit are advised to look closer.

We've awarded the 2016 Hillside Leisure Castleton a four-star rating.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Cheaper than a VW campervan
  • Practical layout
  • Four berths
  • Front passenger seat swivels
  • Compact to drive
  • Ford Transit base vehicle

Cons

  • Narrow double beds
  • Check you can climb into the roof bed
  • Rear seat passengers' legs may not reach the floor
  • it takes strength to pull the roof back down
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