A home from home for all the family

Taking a giant motorhome on holiday is a great way to see this country – or Europe, but as wheelworldreviews Editor DAVID HOOPER found out, they don’t much bigger than Auto-Trail’s Arapaho.

The Auto-Trail Arapaho pictured by Bamburgh Castle.

WITH more and more people holidaying in the UK during the recession, caravans and motorhomes are a popular alternative for foreign holidays, especially with the current exchange rates.
I took an Auto-Trail Arapaho away for a few days to the North of England, having collected it from the company’s factory, on Genesis Way, Europarc, Grimsby.
The company is run by joint managing directors Stuart Turpin and David Thomas. Auto-Trail’s Grimsby factory is part of the Trigano Group, which has its headquarters in Paris, as well as other factories in Spain, France, Italy and Germany.
The Grimsby site builds hundreds of motorhomes a year, with a similar amount being imported from Italy. The combined total accounts for around 20 per cent of the UK market.
When I arrived at the factory to pick up the six-berth Arapaho, I was taken aback by the enormity of it. Built onto a Fiat twin-axle chassis, it weighs in at four-and-a-quarter tonnes and has a gross vehicle weight of five-and-a-half tonnes, which means anyone who passed their test after 1998 would need to do a further test to be able to drive it.
After a detailed handover from development manager Steve Moverley and a couple of cautious laps of Europarc I was away, taking great care not to prang a vehicle worth around £60,000, depending on the specification.

The comfortable interior was like a home from home.

Not much wider than a van, it was the length of the thing (28ft 7in) that demanded care, particularly, as Mr Turpin had explained earlier, the back end extended roughly six feet behind the back wheels and could swing sharply in a tight turn and possibly catch another vehicle.
Taking my time, and checking the mirrors regularly, I soon settled in.
That evening, we seemed to transfer most of the contents of our house, including pots and pans, into the enormous motorhome – and spent the next few days trying to remember where we had put them. Everything but the kitchen sink went in –  it had one of those.
I was joined on my motorhome adventure by my wife and son, my parents and two small dogs, so as you might imagine, every bit of space was needed, including the large “boot” which runs the width of the vehicle underneath the rear seats.
With everything stowed and locked down, off we set up the A1, heading initially for the Caravan Club’s Berwick-on-Tweed site near the Scottish borders.
Once I got used to taking a wider line than normal around small corners and roundabouts, the Arapaho was easy enough to drive, with my passengers almost fighting over the other front seat for the good views afforded by the high seating position. The remaining passengers sat in the dining area. The two forward facing passengers had a seatbelt each, which complies with the law, but those facing the rear of the vehicle travelled unrestrained.

The rear seating area was enormous.

When we arrived at the campsite my dad was despatched to make sure I didn’t hit anything as I reversed onto our pitch, not fully trusting myself, or the reversing camera, with such a long vehicle. All that remained then was to connect the electric cable and that was us.
The Arapaho is luxuriously kitted out. It has a proper gas cooker (with an electric ring) a sink with a mixer tap and a draining board. A “bathroom” includes a toilet, sink, and shower room, with a coat hangar across it so it can double as a drying room for wet clothes.
The fridge/freezer is impressively large and runs on mains electric when you’re on site, the vehicle when you’re on the move, or gas if you park in a field. Next to that and above the fire is a wardrobe, complete with a light and a rechargeable Dustbuster, and beyond that is the large seating area at the back of the vehicle, big enough for six people to watch telly in comfort – either the built-in digital Freeview, or the normal five channels.
As my dad said, you have to learn to live in a motorhome, and get used to putting everything away each time you want to go anywhere, but after a few days, we were all getting into the routine, each with our own little jobs to do.

Even the kitchen area had plenty of room to prepare meals.

The nightly transformation of the rear seating area into my parents bedroom was something to behold as they battled with the cushions and sheets to make up their bed. (I suspect they would have preferred a fixed bed design). My wife and I went upstairs, well, a step ladder, to our bed above the cab, while our son converted the “dining area” for his bed. Smart LED lighting and dimmer switches helped to create a cosy atmosphere in the evenings.
During our stay in the borders, we drove up to Edinburgh for a day out, but struggled to find somewhere to park our enormous motorhome near the city centre. We were eventually directed out of the city and found a side-street to park in and walked from there.
The second half of the week saw us heading for Durham, stopping to visit the majestic Bamburgh Castle on the Northumberland coast on the way to another Caravan Club site just outside Durham. A park and ride service meant there were no motorhome parking problems in Durham.
The Arapaho I tested was powered by a 2.3-litre 130bhp turbo diesel engine, allied to a six-speed gearbox, a combination which averaged 18mpg during our trip. I know people who buy motorhomes don’t want to go dashing around, but it sometimes struggled to maintain 60-65mph on the A1’s undulations, sometimes losing 15mph on an incline. Auto-Trail offer an upgrade to a more powerful engine with 157bhp for its larger vehicles, and I think this would be money well spent.
But it was a visit to a National Trust property with a large grassy car park where our motorhome really proved its worth. Out came the picnic table from the dining area, and all the folding deck chairs from the boot. On went the kettle, the sandwiches were freshly made, the yoghurts, fruit and cold drinks for the kids were nice and cool in the fridge, and we could even do the washing up before returning to the campsite.
A motorhome provides a brilliant and highly versatile “base” for a touring holiday, be it in Britain or further afield. And once you get the hang of the “lifestyle”, they really can be a home from home.

The Arapaho is big vehicle, but there’s room for all the family.