Wheel estate: Bürstner T640

By: Bill Savidan, Photography by: Bill Savidan and Jill Malcolm

Burstner T640 Burstner T640
Burstner T640 Burstner T640
Burstner T640 B�rstner’s design skills could improve the galley Burstner T640
Burstner T640 Beds have a very comfortable cold-foam mattress over wooden slats Burstner T640
Burstner T640 The dining table seats also have seatbelts Burstner T640
Burstner T640 The new Brevio has an even better bed system Burstner T640
Burstner T640 The bathroom is generous and practical Burstner T640

Having owned a panel-van motorhome in the past, Bill Savidan was eager to try out the similarly-designed Brevio t640.

Wheel estate: Bürstner T640
Behind the scenes at Bürstner

Our German adventure began on a warm, cloudy morning in Strasbourg, France. A grey Audi was waiting outside our previous night's accommodation, the bright red Hotel du Dragon, ready to whisk us across the Rhine to the Bürstner headquarters at Kehl. My wife Jill Malcolm and I had been invited to attend a conference showing the new Bürstner product range for 2014 and I was to review the Brevio t640 motorhome.

The twenty-minute journey crossing from France into Germany gave me time to reflect on the fascinating history of the countryside we were in. One-hundred-and-fifty years ago Strasbourg and the Alsace Plains west of the Rhine were part of France. Victory by the German States over France in the war of 1870 resulted in the French Alsace becoming part of Germany. Germany's defeat at the end of WW1 saw these territories restored to France. In 1936, Herr Hitler's National Socialist Germany sent the German army over the Rhine and, once again, the French Alsace became German, but not for long, as, once again, it was returned to France (for the final time) after Germany's defeat at the end of WW2.

The Bürstner conference was an informal affair but informative, nevertheless. It focused on product innovation — an aspect Bürstner believes is the main reason its products have remained popular with buyers through the recent economic downturn. Since the low point in production in 2009, its annual production has steadily increased so that in 2013 it is approaching the previous records achieved in 2007. Better still for Bürstner, it has increased its share of the overall market. Next year it plans to release two brand new model ranges, and fifteen new or revised layouts in the twelve model ranges.

Willie Leupolz, Bürstner service manager introduced us to the Brevio t640 with a comprehensive briefing on what was where and how everything worked. I was glad he did, as the t640 was quite different from any motorhome I had seen. Bürstner is part of the Hymer group of RV manufacturing companies. The t640 is based on a concept developed by Hymer that offers a motorhome built on a cab/chassis with the same external dimensions as a panel van, but with a greater internal volume because it has vertical sides. The panel-van motorhome is popular in the UK and Europe because residential parking spaces and driveways are tiny, many of the roads are narrow and city parking spaces are small. As it is less labour intensive to built a motorhome than it is to install furniture and fittings inside a panel van, the retail price of a t640 type of motorhome is similar to the panel-van-based motorhome. The unique t640 Brevio feature, the top hinged rear door, to my mind provides a nostalgic panel van connection. Having owned a panel-van-style motorhome I was interested to see how the t640 compared.

First obvious difference: the habitation access door is a hinged door, not a sliding door. Upon entering, the dinette is opposite the entry. Cab seats are to the right, kitchen bench to the left. Opposite the kitchen is the bathroom and down the passage heading aft is the sleeping/storage compartment.

This is where the t640 differs from other motorhomes. The t640 has a single bed each side that can be folded up against the sides of the vehicle when not in use. In the sleeping position they are a little below chest height and a short ladder is provided for access. Each bed has a cold foam mattress over wooden slats and is very comfortable. Folding them up allows access to a number of cupboards and drawers in cabinets below each of the beds. One of these lockers (vented) stores two LPG bottles (12kg each in Europe). Another houses the house battery while the rest are available for bits and pieces. They weren't big enough for our suitcases but all was not lost.

The floor space between these cabinets (around a metre wide and two metres long) is available for carrying gear and equipment that could not normally be carried either inside or in lockers, in a motorhome of this size. Down each side, set into the floor in front of the cabinets are tie-down eyes mounted in tracks so they can be moved to positions suitable for securing the particular load being carried. This interior configuration along with the Brevio's lift-up rear door offers the opportunity to carry significantly bulkier loads than most small motorhomes can, whether using the vehicle for leisure or as a trade/delivery vehicle.

Using the vehicle for its intended purpose for a few days certainly gave us a good insight into its strengths and weaknesses. The winning feature was the bathroom for Jill and me. At around 850mm wide the t640 bathroom is 150mm wider than the forward facing Thetford 200 series toilet it houses, and measures, fore and aft around 750mm from mirror to shower wall — a practical size for a combined toilet/shower stall. The handbasin is housed in a recess and swings out above the toilet when needed. At shower time the handbasin swings and the toilet slides into this recess aft of the bathroom and they are kept dry by a full-length shower curtain, leaving the shower stall clear and ready for action. We used the shower frequently, because it was large enough to enjoy a good shower and easy to clean up afterwards. A real surprise in an RV of this size.

On the other hand, the kitchen, while being functional, is quite small. The kitchen sink and two-burner cooktop take up most of the bench space. A folding benchtop extension is fitted but I found I needed to lower the cover over either the sink or the hobs to provide sufficient bench space for preparing and/or cooking food. We found the cupboard and refrigerator space was sufficient while we were touring. Buyers would probably fit cupboard racks for crockery and glasses. We used one of the two lockers over the kitchen bench for these items and put food in the other. The large wardrobe cupboard handled any overflow. There is a shelf over the cab that is useful for stowing small personal items like handbags, sunglasses, cameras and binoculars.

The dinette is another compact space we found both practical and useful. Mostly we rotated the armchair cab seats and used them at mealtimes, as well as when watching TV or reading. Occasional guests used the passenger seats beside the dining table and found them comfortable enough in spite of there not being a lot of room between the table and the seats. With the table removed and stowed away these belted seats provide better-than-average travel comfort for two passengers — a good feature when taking children away in the motorhome.

The Brevio t640 is built on a Fiat chassis. This one had the 150 multijet diesel turbo engine and an automated manual transmission (ATM) gearbox. It was a delight to drive and had more than sufficient power for all the situations we encountered. We travelled through the Black Forest on the German side of the Rhine and across the Alsace Plains and through a mountainous region known as des Vosges in France — lots of narrow roads and steep inclines rising to around 1400 metres. Very picturesque and not overwhelmed with tourists.

Overnight we stayed in parking lots created by the local municipalities, specially designated for motorhomes. Known as 'stellplatz' in Germany and 'aires' in France, nearly all had facilities providing freshwater, dumping chemical toilet and greywater waste and some provided electricity. The charges were nominal; parking ranged from free to seven Euros per night, freshwater one Euro for 100 litres, and two or three Euros to dump waste, all paid at 'coin in the slot' control points. Mostly the signs were in German or French, but there was always someone willing to explain how they worked. Most of our initial contact with fellow motorhomers was made this way. In Germany we had a book (in German and we are not German speakers) that advised which towns provided stellplatz. In France we winged it. Initially, local tourist offices guided us to aires locations but then a tourist office provided us with a free aires directory (in English) for the French Alsace region which simplified forward planning. The Alsace is a wonderful region to explore by motorhome. We thought the Brevio was the perfect vehicle for us: compact enough to be easily managed; large enough to provide sufficient creature comforts; so elegant it drew admiring glances and enquiries; very economical on fuel. What more could you ask for? And compared to a panel-van conversion, the Brevio t640 gets my vote.

For more information contact Michael Becker at Smart Motorhomes on (09) 447 1087

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