KEA 7.35m Inspiration

By: Lawrence Schäffler, Photography by: Supplied


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KEA Campers, one of the country’s most popular rental motorhome brands, has expanded its new Craft range. The range is designed for buyers wanting new rather than ex-rental KEA vehicles and the latest addition – the 7.35m Inspiration – will be well-received, writes Lawrence Schäffler.

KEA 7.35m Inspiration
Kea 7.35m Inspiration

Until late last year, anyone interested in owning a KEA motorhome had to settle for an ex-rental vehicle. The company operates a fleet of around 400 in New Zealand (with a similar-sized operation in Australia), and the motorhomes are replaced after 2.5 years. After a thorough 130-point service and maintenance check, they're offered to private buyers.

"This system has served us well and it continues to do so," says KEA's national sales manager Steve Lane, "but our research pointed to a significant number of buyers who wanted a new KEA, not an ex-rental. Last year we began building new vehicles for sale, and that move's gained a hefty impetus from our recent joint venture with CI Munro."

CI Munro (the manufacturing arm of Tourism Holdings) builds a variety of campervans, including Maui, Britz, Backpacker and Explore More. Earlier this year, in a bid for both companies to lift cost efficiencies, it closed its Hamilton factory and combined resources with KEA's Auckland factory. Around 100 craftsmen now work at combined production facility.

KEA's Craft range was introduced late last year with the launch of the 6.2m Origin. The new Inspiration measures 7.35m, and a third, bigger model – the Legend – is under development. With an island bed in the back it measures a shade under eight metres and will be released later this year.

Inspiration

Designed for four, the Inspiration is a solidly-constructed vehicle with an open, spacious layout, sensibly-appointed for extended freedom camping. Our review vehicle – the fourth off the production line – is the first to be built on a Mercedes Benz 516 chassis. Two of the earlier models used a Fiat Ducato chassis, and one a Ford Transit chassis. At the time of writing, four more Transit and two more Mercedes-based models were on the production line.

Steve says from now on the company will build the Inspiration only on a Ford Transit or Mercedes chassis. "The vast majority of our buyers prefer rear wheel drive vehicles (the Ducato is front wheel drive), and the Mercedes is particularly popular because it has dual rear wheels for superior traction."

Between them the two models also offer the choice between a manual (Ford) and automatic (Mercedes) five-speed gearbox. While the motorhomes are identical in every other respect, the Transit-based Inspiration is about $20,000 cheaper than its Mercedes sibling.

The Mercedes also comes with a choice in engine size. This Inspiration is fitted with a 2.2-litre turbocharged, four-cylinder engine. It develops 163hp and is perfectly adequate for hauling the Inspiration's 4490kg GVM. But if you plan to venture into uncharted territory you might opt for the three-litre V6 engine (same chassis), also with an automatic gearbox.

Despite the production line environment, buyers of Craft motorhomes are offered a limited degree of personalisation. Lane says this extends to features such as upholstery and minor tweaks to the layout.

Freedom camping

KEA's client research has also identified a strong shift to freedom camping – adventurers who prefer to spend time in splendid remoteness rather than motor camps. To that end the Inspiration has been designed for maximum independence.

Standard features, for example, include energy efficient LED lighting throughout, a 62-watt solar panel on the roof (upgradeable to a 124-watt unit), twin 75 amp-hour deep cycle batteries (maintenance-free) and a 9kg gas bottle. The motorhome carries 130 litres of fresh water (with a same-sized wastewater tank) and a 20-litre cassette for the Thetford toilet.

Those keen on touring in winter will take heart from the diesel heating system, the double-glazed windows and the Styrofoam-insulated walls, ceilings and floors. The review vehicle was also fitted with a reverse-cycle air conditioning unit. It's an optional extra, though, and as it runs off 240-volts would only be used when visiting a motor camp.

Sleeping accommodation is split between the fold-out bed in the lounge/dinette at the rear (1380mm x 2170mm) and the over-cab Luton (2150mm x 1300mm). A clever feature of the rear bed is its ability to be deployed as two single beds – providing an added degree of flexibility. The luton hinges up when not in use, offering easier access to cab.

The Inspiration has particularly spacious kitchen area, serviced by a four-burner hob and oven, a large stainless steel sink with mixer and expansive, easy-clean surfaces. Opposite is a 175-litre Dometic fridge/freezer (three-way), with a 240-volt microwave oven. The dinette's table is infinitely adjustable (on three axes), and easy to set to its optimum position.

I really liked the built-in barbecue: a pull-out model permanently mounted in a dedicated locker on the side of the vehicle – quick to use, easy to clean, no fuss.

With both seats in the cab swivelling through 180 degrees, the area immediately behind the cab becomes an comfortable day-lounge. The only niggle I have with the layout is the lack of a curtain across the rear of the cab. The Mercedes' cab doesn't have window blinds/shades, and without a draw curtain across you might find yourself a little exposed. Rigging one should be relatively straightforward.

You have a choice of two 19" TVs (one viewed while seated in the cab's swivel seats, the other when in the bedroom). They're connected to a self-seeking satellite dish on the roof, with a Freeview decoder and slot for a Sky card.

KEA's designers have done a good job with the recessed lighting. They are classy fittings (I particularly liked the LED light in the grab handle at the entrance – makes entering the motorhome after a party a lot easier) and create a warm ambience.

Driving

It's a comfortable drive with effortless power steering, cruise control and ABS braking, and that grunty Mercedes engine warbles along without complaint. Environment-conscious buyers will be pleased to know the engine meets the latest Euro V emission standards. In fifth gear, at 100kph the engine is turning over at 2900 rpm. I can't give you any details on fuel consumption, but the 75-litre tank should offer a reasonably generous range.

Visibility is excellent with clear sight lines to the side mirrors. And for those you don't feel entirely comfortable trusting a reversing camera, the Inspiration has a rear window and a rear view mirror. It is nevertheless also equipped with a reversing camera (with a screen in the centre console), so negotiating tight berths shouldn't be a problem. That rear view mirror, incidentally, is a combo unit – it's a touch screen model, and also contains the GPS (a standard feature).

With its $189,000 price tag, the Mercedes-based Inspiration will be very competitive in its market segment. It carries a five-year warranty on interior construction, three years on exterior fibreglass, and three years/100,000km on vehicle manufacturer's warranty. All appliances are covered for 12 months.

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