The popularity of the Spanish-built Benimar range of motorhomes has been no surprise to its New Zealand dealership, TrailLite. Marketing manager Ashlee Rose says TrailLite believes Benimar is the best-spec’d value motorhome on the market internationally.
Most of the motorhomes in the range available here have Fiat Ducato underpinnings. With a Ford Transit 170 cab chassis, the Tessaro, however, is the exception. Not having driven one lately, I decided it was time for a spin.
The 481 has a body length of just 5990mm and a tare mass of about 3000kg, making it quite a small package. A combination of fibreglass composite walls and mouldings makes it reasonably streamlined. Double-glazed acrylic awning windows are used all round and the Skyview hatch window above the driver’s cab certainly catches the eye.
The Euro-style door and the adjacent window can be open at the same time, which is notable since not all manufacturers seem to be able to achieve this. Surprisingly, for a small motorhome, there is not one but two external storage compartments - a smaller one behind the passenger door and a much larger one mid-offside.
The size of the larger compartment is not quite as good as it appears since the spare wheel and bed ladder are also found here, but there is still room for camping gear. The compartment is also accessible from inside the motorhome, which is handy but, unfortunately, the ladder can only be retrieved via the external door.
The first thing catching the eye when entering the Tessaro 481 is that there is no fixed bed, despite it being listed as a four-berth. That’s mostly because it uses a mixture of old and new design technology.
Upfront, the dinette can be folded down into a 1900mm x 1200mm bed (old) and above the dinette, ready to be electrically lowered, is a 1900mm x 1400mm to 1200mm drop-down bed (new). All very simple and effective.
Note that if there is no one sleeping below, the bed can be lowered down further, negating the need for a ladder. Fitted into the rest of the motorhome are a rear nearside kitchen and a rear offside bathroom - all very compact and in a light timber and beige/brown scheme.
Upfront, there is plenty of seating, nicely finished in matching upholstery. Both the cab seats swivel and there are sideways-facing lounge seats on both sides plus a seat-belt-fitted forward-facing seat towards the rear.
It looks a bit like there isn’t any leg room for the passenger nearest the wall, but one of the seat cushions can be removed for that purpose. The table between the seats can be shifted around as required and is large enough for four people to sit in comfort.
A small television mounted on the cabinetry behind the rear seat is best seen from the front seats and, depending on pillow placement, also from the drop-down bed. Tucked into the rear corner, the kitchen area is surprisingly un-European, in that it is relatively well-sized and comes with a microwave oven, fitted above the 149-litre Thetford fridge.
Included in the benchtop are a Thetford three-burner hob and grill, a round stainless-steel sink, plastic drainer and a nominal amount of benchtop space. Two drawers and one cupboard are fitted below bench level; two overhead lockers and shelves are in the space above.
I suspect a little adjustment is needed with the fridge position because the clearance for the adjacent drawers was a bit tight. A single power point and a USB charger outlet are fitted below bench level and one double power point is located, slightly awkwardly, behind the microwave oven.
You might expect a combo bathroom in a motorhome of this length. But, instead, there is a separate shower cubicle - not oversized, mind you - a Thetford cassette toilet and a small vanity washbasin. Above the opaque window is a handy shaving cabinet.
Two other features of note are the towel rails in both the shower cubicle and on the wall and a space heater outlet, which will be very useful in winter. It’s quite compact but certainly user-friendly and, best of all, it’s a ‘dry’ bathroom.
On the road
The 2-litre 125kW turbo-diesel delivers the goods very confidently when the right foot is pressed. There’s no doubt that the six-speed select-shift auto gearbox, being a torque converter rather than the jerkier dual-clutch system, is a smooth performer. It’s certainly better than Fiat’s ageing AMT gearbox.
The Ford turbo-diesel does require an AdBlue additive and a ‘starter kit’ is supplied with the vehicle. The Transit’s cabin is much like a sedan vehicle. All the controls and instrumentation are where you might expect them. But showing its British heritage, the dual mph/kmh speedo readings are much easier to see in mph, which can be a little confusing.
Benimar’s Tessaro 481 is a winner. If a fixed bed isn’t at the top of your shopping list and a smaller motorhome is, then the 481 has much to offer. The Ford Transit underpinnings make it fun to drive, and its length makes it just as much at home on the open road as manoeuvring around car parks in town. Above all, it demonstrates that European penchant for clever design that uses space effectively.
- Ford Transit underpinnings.
- Front lounge layout.
- Bed operation.
- External bin capacity.
- User-friendly kitchen layout.
- Kitchen power point access.
- Bed ladder stored in outside bin.
- Dinette bed fiddly to make up.
- Small television
Benimar Tessaro 481 specifications
|Engine||Ford 2-litre 125kW turbo diesel|
Approx overall length
|Approx overall width||2300mm|
|Fresh/grey water tank||120/105 litre|
|Gas||2 x 9kg|
Price as reviewed: $138,000
Find out more on this model at traillite.co.nz