You know the saying… you wait ages for a bus, then three turn up at the same time. It’s a bit like that in New Zealand with large van (think Fiat Ducato and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter) conversions at the moment.
Apart from the motorhome rental companies, to date there have been few available in the retail market, yet in very recent times I have looked at several within the space of a week, one of those being the Benimar Benivan.
To date, TrailLite, the importer of the Spanish-built range, has stuck to coach builds based on either Fiat Ducato or Ford Transit cab chassis, so the Benivan is a new thing for them too.
Currently there are two models available – the six-metre 120 and the slightly longer 6.4-metre 122; in this review we take a look at the 120.
Just a little footnote here – although the Benimar factory is in Spain, the company is part of the Trigano group and there were several bits of paperwork that suggested the Benivan was built in Britain.
The layout is simple but practical
It is a right-hand drive vehicle, of course, and the sliding door is also for right-hand drive, ie on the left-hand side. No surprises in the base vehicle department; it’s a Fiat Ducato Multijet 150.
Most Ducato vehicles out of Europe seem to have the 130 (96KW/320Nm) turbo diesel, but the Benivan comes with the more powerful 109KW/380Nm engine, which means it’s relatively lightweight and it gets away from the traffic lights and uphill in a very sprightly fashion indeed.
Don’t forget the disposable gloves for this little operation
In terms of the van fitout, there are double-glazed windows all round, including the sliding door and rear doors. Some Euro van conversions I have seen have a very small window area, but that’s not the case here.
There is one issue though; the rear nearside window’s opening intrudes into the opening space of the sliding door. My experience of early van conversions would suggest it’s extremely easy to damage the rear window when opening the sliding door.
There are two ways to solve this problem, apart from not opening the window, that is. One is to shorten the sliding door opening by fitting a bump stop, and the other is either a small window or a sliding window.
Access is quite easy, even with the kitchen bench extension
Ground clearance on this van is generally good, especially with the 16-inch alloy wheels, although it did seem to me that the grey water drainage outlet was a bit close to the ground, not only for driving reasons but when draining the tank – some dump point installers seem to have the funny idea that water flows uphill.
Inside, the Benivan 120 has a simple layout. Both the cab seats swivel around of course, and there’s a nearside kitchen bench, an offside bathroom cubicle and two sideways-facing seats that can be formed into a double bed.
The front seating area has a small table and a nice bit of shelf space
Up front, there’s a pole-mounted table that sits between the seats. There is also a step up to the front cab area, so the layout is not quite a flat floor design. The table is just large enough for two without being awkward to handle.
Another interesting feature of the front area design is the small cupboard and overhead locker that sit behind the driver’s seat. They are designed so you can use the space effectively without getting in the way of the swivelled seat.
It’s often a favoured design technique to have the shower cubicle butted up behind the driver’s seat, thus negating the benefit of the seat being turned around.
Unlike most Euro-built motorhomes, this one has a microwave oven
Lovers of smaller kitchen benches aren’t going to be disappointed; this unit is designed to provide all the essentials while not taking up valuable space.
Fitted into the benchtop is a combo two-burner hob and stainless steel sink. In a break with European tradition, a microwave oven is fitted underneath the hob.
The drain valves do sit a tad low to the ground
Two drawers and three cupboards are fitted into the under-bench area, and the benchtop space can be extended by using the hinged flap at the forward end.
The kitchen bench does extend into the sliding door space, but given the size of the doorway, it’s not really intrusive.
The wash basin folds out of the way when it’s not in use
Only a combo toilet and shower cubicle is going to work in a van this size – and that’s what you get. A Thetford cassette toilet sits close to the flexible hose shower.
At first glance, it looks like there isn’t a wash basin, but under the shaving cabinet is a moulded-in basin that folds out when you need it.
Rear dining and sleeping
You just shift the cushions around to make up the rear bed...
In the rear are two sideways-facing settees, a good length at nearly 1400mm. Hidden in one of the cupboards is a second table, also pole-mounted like the round table,
and one that makes for a roomy dining area.
Overhead lockers are fitted above each seat and there are two LED reading lights on each side. The settees are also used to make up a 1854mm x 1370mm double bed, done by fitting the bed base and using the removable seat backs to fill the gap in the middle.
... and you get a great view.
This is a mixed blessing. The upside is you get a double bed, but unless you’re happy to just use the front seats and round table as a mealtime arrangement, then the bed has to be made up every night.
If you’re happy with single beds, then the Benivan 122, which has a similar layout but is about 400mm longer, might be a better option. The single beds can be left made up but you still get to use the beds as seats during the day.
Getting to the water/air heater is easy too
The power system in the Benivan is quite simple yet sophisticated. The 100AH battery has, in addition to the mains and vehicle charger, a 100W solar panel when the motorhome is standing still.
All the essential controls, that is the Truma iNet panel and the touch panel for the 12V system, are handily located above the sliding door. There is one oddity about the 12V panel. If the engine is running, then the 12V ‘house’ system won’t function.
That might not sound like much, but if the house battery was flat and you needed to run the motorhome engine to, say, operate the water pump for a quick shower or turn on the house lights, then that is not going to happen. It might just be a software adjustment matter, but it’s worth checking out.
The Benivan has opening windows and hatches all round
For those who like a compact motorhome, then the Benimar Benivan 120 is it! It’s certainly ideal for single travellers, being totally self-contained and very easy driving.
For couples it’s great too, but I suspect that the slightly longer 122 model may create more interest. Whichever, TrailLite has done well in bringing these little Benimar vans to New Zealand.
Benimar benivan 120
Fiat Ducato Multijet 150 2.3 litre turbo diesel
Six speed AMT
Approx overall length
Approx overall width
Fresh/grey water tank
Highly manoeuvrable motorhome
Excellent in small spaces
Two different sized tables available
Kitchen bench size
Rear nearside window easily damaged by sliding door
12V touch panel doesn’t function if engine running