Time-out for Two

By: Lawrence Schäffler


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Six years after its debut, the British-built Swift Bolero has become one of Europe’s most popular fixed-bed motorhomes – partly due to its quality fit-out and homely interior – but especially because of its easy, car-like handling, writes Lawrence Schäffler.

Time-out for Two
Time-out for Two

Thanks to its low-profile, aerodynamic lines and flowing graphics, the Bolero 680FB (fixed bed) is easy on the eye. It looks sleeker and less imposing - and thus more confidence-inspiring - than many of its competitors, and that sentiment's reinforced as soon as you drive it. So it will be particularly appealing to those considering a motorhome holiday for the first time: it's a fuss-free, friendly ally for tackling the road less travelled.

As suggested by the FB designation, it's designed for a couple and it succeeds admirably. While the two bench settees in the lounge can be converted into another double berth for children or overnight visitors, squeezing in extra bodies detracts from the comfort, functionality and, of course, the vehicle's inherent romanticism...

But more on all of that in a minute.

Behind the wheel

For me, the Bolero's top attraction is the way it handles. It's light and agile, and after half a day in the seat, you've all but forgotten you're driving a 6.8m vehicle. Like many motorhome manufacturers, Swift has elected to use the popular Fiat Ducato chassis and power plant. It's a 'wide track' chassis (2.35m) that delivers exceptional stability and sure-footedness.

A three-litre, four-cylinder turbo-charged diesel develops 157bhp (at 3500rpm)and 400Nm of torque at 1700rpm, so there's no shortage of grunt. It's mated to a smooth, six-speed automatic gearbox with Tiptronic (also available as 2.3-litre, six-speed manual), and together they make short work of hilly topography and winding roads. In our tour around the central North Island, I never once felt the need to engage Tiptronic.

With power steering and front-wheel-drive configuration, it cruises smoothly and effortlessly at 100kph (2200rpm), and if you do find yourself coming into a corner a little too hot, ABS brakes and EBD (electronic brake force distribution) are there to help.

Cab ergonomics are excellent: multi-axis adjustment on the seats (my wife reckons they're the best of any she&'s experienced); double armrests; and controls within easy reach. The view from the driver's seat is expansive, and although there's no rear window, the large side mirrors offer a pretty good view of the action behind.

A rear-mounted camera brings up a wide-angle view on the cab's LCD screen as soon as you engage reverse - very useful for manoeuvring into cosy picnic spots or tight camp sites.

Those clean, aerodynamic lines (even the side awning is cleverly recessed into the bodywork) provide a relatively modest drag-coefficient and decent fuel economy. Our trip comprised a mix of urban crawl (an hour to escape Auckland's motorway madness!) and rural country touring, and returned a consumption of 8.5km/litre. That translates into a range of around 750km from the 90-litre tank, plenty for exploring remote locations- and taking advantage of the abilities of the dash-mounted GPS.

Self-contained

The Bolero carries 90 litres of fresh water, a 68-litre waste water tank and a Thetford cassette toilet. There are twin 7kg gas bottles to feed the two-burner hob/oven and deliver hot water to the bathroom/kitchen.

A 95-amp-hour house battery powers the 175-litre Thetford fridge/freezer, lights, stereo and DVD player. There isn't a solar panel (though the wiring is factory-fitted so it would be easy to install one), and a large display panel above the main door makes it easy to monitor batteries and tank levels.

The Bolero is fitted with duel fuel central heating (gas and/or electricity), but I suspect it would only be required in really chilly regions of the South Island. The thermal insulation (built to Europe's Grade III EN 1646-1) is complemented by double-glazed hatches and windows, and we found the interior almost too warm.

Ambience

The designers have created a homely, inviting ambience with warm timber cabinets, decorative wall panels, thick carpets and earthy fabrics. The Bolero has excellent headroom and plenty of large windows and skylights, making for a light, airy interior that is enhanced by the free-flowin layout. A north-south double bed at the rear creates a natural division between bedroom/bathroom and lounge/kitchen.

The 680's kitchen is well-equipped, with a three-burner (and one 240-volt plate) hob and oven/grill, supported by a microwave and fridge/freezer. Under the kitchen sink is one of the Bolero's smartest features: a revolving carousel in a curved locker. This is true form-and-function design: it looks great and is sufficiently spacious to hold everything from crockery and cutlery, to cutting boards and cleaning products.

Dinner is served to a free-standing, fold-up table (stowed in a purpose-designed locker between bedroom and fridge). It fits perfectly between the two settees in the lounge, and can also be used outside for al fresco dining. The bathroom doesn't have a separate shower but it is divided by folding acrylic doors. They function well, but the retaining clips that hold them in place (while driving) are not up to the task. Unlike the rest of the Bolero's sterling quality, they are a little flimsy and the doors 'escape' after a few minutes. Jamming a few towels and bags against them stops the banging. There's no shortage of storage lockers, and the one under the bed (accessed from outside) is particularly cavernous.

Entertainment

The Bolero offers a comprehensive entertainment package. It comes with a satellite receiver and the TV/DVD screen is mounted on a fold-out mechanism against the bulkhead at the foot of the bed. When renting the Bolero, there is also a stand-alone hard drive pre-loaded with 173 movies, so if the weather goes sour on you, fire up the popcorn and settle in.

I also appreciated the CDs that Iconic Motorhomes (Bolero's New Zealand agent) had thoughtfully provided, as radio reception along some of the country's more remote routes is often scratchy.

We thoroughly enjoyed the Bolero - it quickly became familiar and intuitive to use. There are a few design niggles but they're overshadowed by the superb, pragmatic functionality. It's a 'smart' motorhome - easy to live in, easy to use and, above all, easy to drive - a perfect, romantic getaway for two. 

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