Nick Harding

See other motorhome reviews written by Nick Harding

Known for high-quality, bespoke ’vans, has Shire Conversions done it again with its stylish two-berth Phoenix ML Black Edition? Read on to find out!

Overview

Could this be the start of better big things? Shire Conversions boss Darryl Healey is happy to admit this ML Black Edition started out as a bit of a one-off, designed for a specific customer.

But he’s so happy with the outcome, that now the plan is very much to go into production!

Based in West Yorkshire, Shire is celebrating eight years as a specialist van converter and retailer. Although Darryl goes back a lot further, boasting a career that includes stints at other leading van converters.

There’s certainly a lot of expertise in vehicles carrying the Shire badge, with a premium edge to them and pricing that’s actually very competitive.

This two-berth ML Black Edition uses a Fiat Ducato Maxi base in extra long format, with lots of trimmings.

That includes the 150bhp engine and ComfortMatic automatic transmission in this instance, plus niceties in the cabin including air-con, silver trim around the air vents, a padded steering wheel with controls and a stereo upgrade with sat-nav.

We should also explain that the ‘Black Edition’ moniker is a bit of a misnomer. In truth, Shire is happy to work with Fiat Ducatos of any colour, and will supply an interior finish to complement.

Design

Step down from the cab and it's a flat floor throughout the Shire Phoenix ML Black Edition. As you walk through, the kitchen is to your right and the washroom on your left, with the lounge towards the rear.

This ’van certainly lives up to its name inside, as the finish to the living quarters is black (or, rather, a blend of blacks and dark greys). But it’s not as overpowering as it sounds.

Instead, the mix of a high-gloss finish for the washroom and locker doors, woodgrain for the main furniture, anthracite-coloured upholstery, light-grey carpeting and an even paler shade of grey for the walls and ceiling works well.

It’s certainly not a claustrophobic-feeling space, the windows and rooflight helping out in this regard.

Only the off-white surrounds for the concertina blinds/flyscreens at each window are incongruous.

All upholstery work is undertaken in-house at Shire, with subtle differences between the leather-trimmed cab seating and the all-fabric rear lounge.

Lounging & dining

Swivel the cab seats and you get a small seating area at the front, with somewhere to perch a cuppa, thanks to the slide-out tabletop. But to really kick back and relax, you'll need to head towards the rear of the ’van.

Here you'll find a double-aspect lounge, which comprises parallel sofas and a table on a pedestal leg.

We felt that the table was a little on the small side, however it's one of two sizes being offered at the design stage, so this mightn't be an issue. What is good, though, is that you get a tripod, meaning you take the table outside for al fresco dining.

This table is stowed over the cab, which means you have to carry it through the ’van to use it.

If you buy one of these ’vans, the lounge won't look quite like what you see here. We found the backrests to be rather too short and upright, and higher-level fixed backrests will feature on production models. Four scatter cushions up the comfort levels.

Bright white LEDs illuminate this area. However, despite downlighters at each corner of the lounge, it lacks a couple of adjustable reading lamps.

And you do need those bright LEDs because although the two side windows let a good amount of light in, the solid, dark-coloured rear wall (due to the garage/storage area) can make the lounge feel a little dingy.

Kitchen

Kitchen kit starts with a Thetford Triplex cooker (three gas rings of different sizes plus a combined oven and grill).

The sink is to the left of the cooker, and has a smoked glass lid incorporating a small drainer, with some worktop space on the left. You also get a worktop extension flap.

Storage-wise, you only get a single overhead locker. However, the kitchen unit has a large cupboard which houses a slide-out waste bin, plus there are three decent-sized drawers and a further cupboard directly under the cooker.

There's also a handy double mains socket here, a splashback and an electric vent overhead to let cooking smells escape. And, of course, you get Shire's signature wine chiller – with a seven-bottle capacity!

Over on the offside, but easy to hand, there’s a Dometic 85-litre fridge with a removable freezer box. Above this is the wardrobe.

Finally, it is pleasing to see that Shire hasn’t fallen into the trap of so many converters in letting the kitchen intrude too much into the aperture for the sliding door entrance.

Sleeping

Come bedtime, it is easy to convert the lounge into a double bed.

All that's needed is to slide the seat bases together and to perform a straightforward reconfiguration of the sofa cushions, and you've got a 1.84m x 1.30m (6’0” x 4’3”) transverse double bed.

Washroom

Access to the Shire Phoenix ML Black Edition's washroom is via a hinged, one-piece door, although a sliding door is under consideration, for production models.

Inside, the combination of a fold-down basin over a Thetford bench toilet might seem a bit old hat, but just you try cleaning properly around the back of a swivel-bowl toilet!

Again, there's some thoughtful detailing in here, such as the separate shower with a curtain, and the white, lined walls. A rooflight would be welcome, but then this isn't Shire's final offering.

Storage

Key to this Shire Conversions ’van is a sizeable garage storage zone across the back.

It's designed for a Vespa-style scooter or equivalent, with an electric winch (not fitted here) being considered for lifting your two-wheeled transport on board. Without this, it is quite some lift beyond the otherwise useful lower-level storage points.

This is in addition to the other aforementioned storage options.

Equipment

It's clear that Shire doesn't stint on quality. It's a feeling throughout this motorhome, from the PolyVision flush-fitting windows and the Cello TV to the heavy-duty hinges and the fitting of the seat bases.

You also get Remis blinds throughout, including in the cab, and a solar panel. And Shire’s flexibility extends to adding retainer plinths to the overhead lockers, if desired.

Every Shire conversion gets Individual Type Approval, hence the company retains the ability to make significant adaptations like this, at any customer’s behest.

Technical specs

Sleeps2
Travel seats2
MTPLM3500kg
Payload550kg
Length6.36m20′10″
Width2.05m6′9″
Height2.6m8′6″
Engine (power)150
Fresh/waste water100L / 60L
Leisure battery110 Ah
Secondary leisure battery110 Ah
Gas tank size25kg
Kitchen Equipment
Dometic Fridge, 3-burner gas hob, Combined Oven/Grill
Washroom
Shower curtain

Verdict

The Shire Phoenix ML Black Edition is a beautifully finished ’van, with a layout that offers something different, as well as a versatile garage storage area.

And, as it is from Shire Conversions, there’s the facility to tweak the design, to meet your requirements and suit your tastes.

Conclusion

Pros

  • High build quality and thoughtful design are in evidence throughout
  • The garage is a great, flexible storage space
  • The kitchen is well-equipped

Cons

  • The lounge could be better lit
  • Without a winch, it's quite an effort to lift larger/heavier items into the garage
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