Tribute 720

By: Lawrence Schäffler

Tribute 720 Tribute 720
Tribute 720 Tribute 720
Tribute 720 Tribute 720
Tribute 720 Tribute 720
Tribute 720 Tribute 720

Anyone thinking about entering the RV lifestyle for the first time will surely take heart from a UK-built Tribute motorhome. Among the most affordable in the country, these vehicles are nonetheless welcome proof that cheap doesn’t necessarily translate into nasty.

Tribute 720
Tribute 720

The six models in the Tribute stable range between 6.23m and 6.95m. They're built by Auto-Trail, a manufacturer more renowned for its distinguished and handsomely-appointed motorhomes... and the prices for these upmarket creations understandably tend to lean toward the handsome end of the scale.

Tributes, by contrast, are aimed at budget-buyers. Despite that, much of the Auto-Trail gene pool is carried into the design-and-build process, so you're getting a product that's a little less exotic, but perfectly livable and, for an RV newbie, at a price that won't make your eyes water.

The six models in the range (essentially the same vehicle with different floor plans) have only two prices – $107,000 and $119,000. Much of the pricing is a function of the chassis: all six models are built on an identical Ford Transit chassis, sporting a fuel-injected, four-cylinder, 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine and a six-speed manual gearbox (auto gearboxes aren't an option).

Thanks to electronic smarts and tweaks to the engine management system, the horsepower varies between models. So the latest Euro 5 engine in the smallest Tribute (the 6.23m T-615) delivers 125hp and 350Nm of torque. For the larger models (the 6.95m T-715, T-720 and T-725), the engine delivers 140hp and the same amount of torque.

Ford Transits are immensely popular as a base for motorhomes; partly because of their relative affordability and cheaper servicing (compared with the mainstream European manufacturers), and partly because of their rear-wheel drivelines. Interestingly, the Tributes are built on front-wheel drive Transits.

Whangaparaoa's Kiwi RV Imports – which until now has specialised in US-built fifth wheelers and toy-haulers – has just secured the exclusive Auckland agency for Tributes. There are two other Tribute distributors in New Zealand in the form of the Taranaki RV Centre in New Plymouth and the Ashburton RV Centre in the South Island.

The acquisition also marks a different kind of change for Kiwi RV Imports; as this issue was going to press the company was moving to new, larger premises in Silverdale. Additionally, in a nod to the collaborative structure between the three distributors, owner Milton Kilgour has rechristened his company Silverdale RV Centre. He says the new yard will also become a service centre, providing maintenance and the fitting of accessories to its vehicles.

So what the Tribute like? At $119k, pretty damn impressive.

Value for Money

Our test vehicle was the T-720 – ostensibly the second biggest in the range but nevertheless 60kg heavier than its top-of-the-range T-725 sibling (the only difference is in the rear bed configuration).

Given the price, you'd be forgiven for expecting to find low-end fittings and bland appliances, but I'm happy to report it's quite the opposite. It's a well-appointed, nicely-styled interior with plenty of natural light and 1.95m of headroom. It sports a light veneer on the joinery and a somewhat neutral décor. Energy-efficient LEDs are used throughout, including strategically-positioned strip-lighting that adds ambience to evening cocktails. The lay-out is practical and easy to use.

The T-720 is marketed as a four-berth motorhome, with a double bed (futon) over the cab and an east-west settee/double bed in the rear. But it's a lot more versatile than that: the little dinette just behind the driver's seat also deploys into a double bed. So while it's classified as a four-berth (dictated by the four, fitted seat belts), it can actually sleep six. Unexpected visitors imbibing too much and having to stay the night is a definite possibility with this model.

Having a lounge/bed in the rear and a separate dinette up front also works well from a practical perspective. Late-sleepers can remain tucked up while the early bird fixes breakfast and sets the table. That will be an easy task too, as the kitchen is a compact but perfectly adequate working area. Space on the bench-top is maximised thanks to the triangular shapes of the sink and three-burner cooker (both sporting glass lids).

Tucked below are an oven/grill and a three-way fridge. The only grizzle this arrangement may cause is the size of the fridge; where many motorhomes are opting for 160-litre models, this one only boasts 80-litres, something that may cramp the chef's flair. What the kitchen lacks in fridge space, though, is more than offset by an abundance of lockers for crockery, cutlery, pots and pans.

Opposite the kitchen is a large locker with a large (3kW) Truma gas heater below, and the bathroom. The latter is reasonably spacious and features a swivel, electric-flush toilet and a vanity, with a shower (one-piece cubicle) alongside. Bi-fold acrylic doors separate the shower and toilet. That gas heater, incidentally, is a "dual-mode" unit: plugged into mains power its output increases to 5kW.

As suggested, an attractive feature of the Tributre is its flexibility. This is well-illustrated by the swivelling cab seats which turn the front dinette into a suite, with seating for six. It also means two lounges can be maintained – one for the children at the rear, perhaps.

Fresh air and natural light flood in through a variety of roof lights and windows. All are equipped with blinds and flyscreens. Not in the cab though; there you have to use a loose, fold-out screen (it fits up against the windscreen) to maintain a bit of privacy.

To maintain the warmth generated by the Truma heater, window blinds are thermally-insulated. This complements the vehicle's sandwich construction, equipped with 45mm and 40mm insulation in the floor and walls/roof respectively. In all, it keeps everything nice and toasty.

Sport Pack Upgrade

Geared to affordability, standard Tributes don't come with items such as bike racks, LCD TVs or solar panels – they're all optional extras. But what will be standard on all Tributes at no extra cost, Kilgour has decided, is an optional Sport Pack upgrade. This sees the inclusion of a number of items including an Omnistor awning, a rear spoiler, TV aerial and removable carpets.

Another upgrade prospective buyers might consider is a heftier house battery. While the Tribute is fitted with LED lighting, its battery is a relatively modest 70 amp-hour model. It may struggle with the load once you start running TVs and DVD- or MP3-players, particularly if your preferred mode of adventure involves lengthy breaks from sites with 240-volts mains power.

The vehicle carries 80-litres of fresh water (with a corresponding 80-litre waste water tank), and two gas cylinders (1x13kg and 1x7kg). You'll also find a reasonably-sized exterior locker which uses the space under one of the rear settees. It can be accessed from inside by lifting the settee cushion.

Drive Time

Ford Transit owners love them for their drive-ability. This model gets full marks for safety: the rear wheels extend to the full width of the body, enhancing stability. Together with cruise control, power-assisted steering, ABS brakes and EBD (electronic brake-force distribution), it's a no-fuss drive.

With its open layout, the mirror provides a good, clear view through the rear window, but the large side mirrors are even better for keeping tabs on developments around the vehicle. Jockeying the Tribute into a tight spot shouldn't pose any difficulties.

To keep you fresh you have features like a multi-functional trip computer, radio/ CD player, an auxiliary MP3 connector and controls on the steering wheel to set things just the way you like them.

All up, this is a well-constructed, cleverly-designed motorhome that should strike a deep chord with its target market. Sure it needs a few modifications (a bigger battery would be a priority) but there's plenty of scope for customising. With the Kiwi dollar hovering at an all-time high, there's never been a better time to sign up.

For more information ph 021 336 698

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