Wheel Estate: UCC Brunner

By: Malcolm Street, Photography by: Malcolm Street


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Malcolm Street makes a quick pass of Arthur’s Pass and Lake Brunner while trying out the aptly named UCC Brunner.

Wheel Estate: UCC Brunner
Wheel Estate: UCC Brunner

Lake Brunner, just in case you were wondering, is a large body of water roughly halfway between Arthur's Pass National Park and Greymouth. It also happens to be a place you can visit if you are trying out (before you buy) a UCC motorhome, which just happens to have the same name. That's not a surprise really because all the UCC motorhomes are named after New Zealand lakes and the Brunner just happened to be the motorhome that UCC's Rob Florris had arranged for this reviewer. Being Christchurch based, a quick trip across Arthur's Pass from UCC's headquarters didn't take long at all.

One of the reasons for the swift journey is that the base vehicle for the Brunner is a Mercedes Benz Sprinter 516CDI cab chassis, with a 2.2-litre, 120kW, 360Nm turbo-diesel motor, five-speed automatic gearbox and stopping power provided by ABS disc brakes. From a safety point of view, the Benz does come with all the safety features that are expected in a normal passenger car, including air bags as standard for both passenger and driver.

On The Road

Although the 2.2 litres might sound small to many ears, the common rail motor delivers a surprising (and relatively economical) punch. It performs as well as, or better, than its contemporaries but anyone desiring a bit more grunt for mountain country could opt for the three-litre V6 turbo-diesel.

Unlike just about every other light commercial vehicle, the Mercedes Benz Sprinter comes with a fully-automatic gearbox. Everyone other vehicle's gearbox (except the Transit, which only has a manual shift) comes with the Automated Manual Transmissions (AMTs) which work fine as an automatic changing system but leaves some drivers, who desire snappy shifts every time, wanting.

Along the road, while there were a few normal squeaks and rattles as with any motorhome, they weren't excessive.

The Gross Laden Weight (GLW – maximum legal loaded weight) is 4490kg, so the vehicle can be legally driven on a New Zealand driver's licence and the tare weight comes in at 3600kg, giving it a load capacity of nearly 900kg, depending on the accessories fitted.

Construction

Like many a motorhome build, the Benz has its roof and rear cut out to accommodate the internal cab access. That's actually how the Sprinter leaves the Mercedes factory, as a 'motorhome' specced model – even including a bleed off the main diesel tank for the motorhome's diesel-fired heater. About the only modification that UCC does is to extend the chassis at the rear.

Construction-wise, all the exterior of the motorhome body is fibreglass. The walls have a fibreglass exterior, aluminium framing, with insulation inserted with ply for the interior, all of which is vacuum-bonded together. Above, the roof is a full-composite structure.

Entry is via a Camec security screen. Triple-lock and tinted sliding glass windows are used all round. There are three external bins fitted, not including the dedicated ones: one at the offside rear and two on the opposite side.

One 9kg gas cylinder sits in the gas locker. It depends how much gas is used but there's an argument for having two smaller cylinders (ie always having a spare) rather than just a single which can run out.

One thing about a 7.4m motorhome is that it gives plenty of interior space. In a shorter motorhome body, it's difficult to fit an island bed without cramping everything else. In this layout, the island bed has been fitted into the rear bedroom area. This still leaves space for an offside kitchen, nearside combined bathroom and a front lounge area.

The general decor is quite simple and while the timber look is quite prevalent, it doesn't dominate and there are some tasteful touches, like the curved locker doors and the timber partitions at either end of the kitchen bench. Roman blinds are fitted to all the windows. LED lights are fitted in all the relevant places and the 240V power points are mostly well distributed too. Out of sight but definitely an asset is the diesel-fired Eberspacher space heater – it works very well!

Sleeping

Starting in the rear, the island bed measures 1.8 x 1.35m, which is long enough for most people but anyone taller than the average might need to request a longer bed length. Overhead lockers run along both walls and across the back wall. They are supplemented by two side wardrobes and bedside cabinets, with a gap in between for shelf space and an under-bed drawer.

Keeping Clean

Unless a large bathroom area is desired then this one certainly is of adequate size, with all the necessary features: variable-height flexible hose shower, Dometic cassette toilet and a corner wash basin, with cupboard underneath. A frosted window supplies both natural light and ventilation. Completing the bathroom fittings are a towel rail and internal wall mirror and, handily, there is also a mirror on the outside wall of the bathroom too.

Lounging And Dining

Up front, both driver and passenger seats swivel around (an option) and mesh in well with the sideways-facing lounges on both sides, creating quite a comfortable lounge area and also giving a view of the outside world. Having the cab roof cut out makes getting to and from the cab seats quite easy.

Supplying the dining part of the lounge area, a Lagun swivel-mounted table is fitted to the front of the offside lounge seat and can therefore be utilised in several different ways, or simply pushed out of the way altogether. Naturally, there are storage areas under the seats.

The flat-screen TV mounted on the front wall of the bathroom can be seen quite easily from the front seats. In our review motorhome, the TV came connected to the optional roof-mounted satellite receiver.

Catering

In a motorhome this length, with an island bed, something is going to be squeezed a bit and that has happened with the kitchen, as with the bathroom, but that's a compromise that many will be happy living with. That said, getting together a decent sort of meal in the Brunner kitchen isn't going to be difficult.

Along the bench top sits a stainless steel sink (without drainer) and a four-burner Smev cooktop with grill and oven underneath. Having the latter two does mean that even without mains power for the microwave oven, a good variety of cooking can be achieved. Speaking of the microwave oven, it is located in the overhead locker area but set lower, so it is at a more user-friendly height.

Above the microwave is a small compartment, while alongside are two wine bottle holders. The adjoining locker houses the usual storage space, plus the electrical panel with 12V switches, water tank gauges and battery monitor. Also handy but tucked out of sight is the radio/CD player.

Under the bench, the Dometic 117-litre three-way fridge takes up most of the space, but alongside it are four drawers of different sizes – no cupboards, though, but I think this is good because they are often difficult to use efficiently space-wise.

The bench top area can be enlarged, courtesy of the slide-out shelf which sits above the fridge.

Summing Up

I've looked over quite a few motorhomes and the UCC Brunner shows quite a few years of both user and builder experience in its design and construction. It is certainly a well-appointed motorhome, but I should point out that our review model did come with quite a few options fitted, like the awning, swivel seats, solar panels, satellite TV and oven.

With this design, UCC has achieved what many desire in a motorhome layout: an island bed. It's a bit of a break away from the more traditional New Zealand Back, which is a club lounge/dinette surrounded by windows, but that's the way to get an island bed into what is a very liveable motorhome layout.

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