Motorhome test: Dethleffs A-Class Esprit

By: Lawrence Schäffler


Dethleffs A-Class Esprit Dethleffs A-Class Esprit
Dethleffs A-Class Esprit Dethleffs A-Class Esprit
Dethleffs A-Class Esprit Dethleffs A-Class Esprit
Dethleffs A-Class Esprit Dethleffs A-Class Esprit
Dethleffs A-Class Esprit Dethleffs A-Class Esprit

While Germany’s Dethleffs is Europe’s largest (and one of its oldest) motorhome manufacturers, its vehicles are relatively unknown in this part of the world. Happily, that is about change following the appointment of an Auckland-based dealer. The wait, writes Lawrence Schäffler, has been well worth it.

Motorhome test: Dethleffs A-Class Esprit
Dethleffs is Europe's largest motorhome manufacturers. The A-Class Esprit is based on the trusty Fiat Ducato.

The new (2013) Esprit A-class is only the third Dethleffs motorhome the new agent (Howick's Acacia Products & Services) has landed here, but if it's received with anything like the enthusiasm that greeted the first two (and it will), finding a new owner won't take long.

Precision workmanship, quality appliances, price and sheer presentation put this 7.55m vehicle in the well-above-average category - the driving experience alone is superb. This is partly due to its smooth, easy-drive Fiat Ducato ALKO chassis, but mainly because of the large, panoramic windscreen and expansive dash area. What a view!

The ALKO is a low-frame chassis contributing to the Dethleffs' exemplary road manners. It lowers the motorhome's centre of gravity and, together with a wider-than-normal rear axle and independent rear suspension, it offers good stability, a sense of sure-footedness and a rattle-free ride.

Unlike many motorhomes built on the popular Ducato chassis (where a 'body' is adjoined to the existing cab), the Esprit A-Class gets an entire 'coach-build', presenting a seamless, integrated alternative - a streamlined structure with friendly aerodynamics.

With a maximum weight of 3850kg, the Esprit A-Class isn't the lightest vehicle in its class, but this one has plenty of grunt under the bonnet to compensate. The standard vehicle is powered by a 130hp, four-cylinder, turbocharged Multijet engine, with optional upgrades to a 150hp or the über-powerful three-litre, 180hp plant (all are the latest eco-friendly Euro 5 models).

This one's fitted with the latter (the dealer says he's only importing the 180hp option). While this makes the motorhome a little more expensive, the extra dollars are well worth it. It's mated to a six-speed ComfortMatic gearbox and at a 100 km/h cruising speed the engine's ticking over at a modest 2000rpm. There's plenty of mid-range torque and she cruises effortlessly, digesting twisty routes and hills without fuss.

Not everyone's a fan of the front-wheel-drive Ducato, but it's difficult to argue against the sheer enjoyment of the driving experience. ABS and EBD (electronic brake distribution) keep things under control in panic-stop situations, and Fiat's excellent dash is filled with plenty of controls for optimising the drive. I also like the surround-sound speakers.

The vehicle does, however, have one idiosyncrasy: the cab doesn't have a driver door. Entry is via the passenger door (or the main entrance further back). This takes a bit of getting used to. I'm not entirely sure I like it (difficult to teach an old dog new tricks, but there is one advantage - you won't have to alight into passing traffic after you've parked - you simply step onto the kerb.

Interior

The Esprit A-class sleeps four and is available in four different layouts: variations of twin-single beds, an offset double bed or an island bed, all in the rear. All have a second, pull-down double berth up front, in the roof of the cab. It's a flawless piece of design - if you didn't know it was there you'd never guess. Equipped with a spring-loaded mechanism, it deploys effortlessly and quickly.

Depending on the layout, the bathroom is either right at the back or, with the island double bed and the twin-single variations, just forward of the beds. This is the I17150-2 - the island bed model. I much prefer it as it gives easy access to both sides of the bed, and it's equipped with separate toilet and shower compartments (either side) just forward. Other variants have one-piece, integrated bathrooms.

From a space-efficiency perspective the separate toilet/vanity and shower compartments also 'work' better. Both have curved, louvre doors that run in tracks, and when retracted (unoccupied) these lend a greater sense of space to the rear suite. For added privacy a slide-out door separates the suite from the rest of the vehicle.

There is a further advantage to the island bed/forward bathroom configuration - it creates a particularly large, full-width storage garage under the bed (accessed from outside), easily able to accommodate a few bicycles or an inflatable boat.

Overall, it's a stylish, warm and welcoming interior, with rich timber veneers and insets complementing the cream ceiling with the tan/grey vinyl upholstery. Dethleffs has done a particularly neat job of the lighting. It's an LED installation, with a difference.

In the forward section of the motorhome the lights are mounted on discreet, snap-fit 'rails', allowing you to unclip individual lights and to move to other parts of the lounge to optimise the lighting for your needs. Very neat, very simple.

The kitchen is another clever piece of design. At first glance it may seem a little compact and lacking in work surface area, but the hinged glass covers over the sink and cooker are divided into three separate sections. In effect, this allows you to use one, two or all three plates on the cooker (or none), thereby tailoring the cooking/food preparation area to the demands of the meal's complexity.

The oven is mounted below, and the slide-out pantry locker offers plenty of storage space. Directly behind is a 190-litre Dometic fridge/freezer, and just alongside is a neat cabinet for wine glasses, with its own recessed lighting. Classy.

Two twin-seat settees and a fixed pedestal table make up the dinette. But the table is adjustable on multiple axes so its position can be optimised for larger parties. This is particularly useful given the cab's seats swivel through 180o and are easily incorporated into the seating arrangements.

Freedom camping

The Esprit A-class is well equipped for extended adventures, though I'd be inclined to swap the standard 95amp/hr AGM house battery for something a little beefier, particularly as there are two 65-watt solar panels on the roof to help with charging duties.

She carries 166 litres of fresh water (with a 100-litre waste tank) and two nine-kilogram gas bottles. Gas-heating is reticulated throughout, and with the double-glazed windows and heavy-duty insulation underfloor, you'll be toasty on winter tours.

A 19" LCD screen is mounted near the main entrance and best viewed from the cab seats (swivelled to face backwards). It's connected to a semi-automatic VuDome sat dish on the roof.

Dethleffs offers the Esprit in four colour schemes: bright sand, laguna blue, milky green and cacao grey. The body is covered by a five-year warranty (Fiat's components have a two-year warranty).

I enjoyed this motorhome very much. It's a stylish with a sensible layout and the cab/dash/windscreen arrangement is the nicest I've seen, even without a driver's door. The vehicle feels solid and well-constructed, and it's a pleasure to drive.

I can't say why it has taken so long to find representation here, but with a base price of $177,200, I suspect this Dethleffs motorhome will be a healthy competitor in the European import market.

For more information on the Dethleffs Esprit A-Class, call Jonas at 09 534-0823 or email sales@buycampervan.co.nz.

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