It was with equal parts of excitement and anxiety that I approached my first official review as Deputy Editor of The Wanderer.
Excitement, as I was heading off on a gourmet food and wine adventure through the Yarra Valley with my mum, Ellen (a budding motorhome enthusiast herself), in a shiny new Auto-Trail Frontier Delaware thanks to Elite RV, but anxiety too, as this was my first time driving a motorhome.
Fortunately, my pre-trip nerves were somewhat soothed by Elite RV’s General Manager Craig, who assured me that, despite its size, the luxurious Delaware is actually a dream to drive. His parting words to me: “It’s not the length you’ll have to worry about, but the height!”
And so with one final – albeit shaky – wave to Craig, and a lingering glance at my beloved – and slightly more compact – Mazda 2, we were off.
TAKING THE HIGH ROAD
Easily hitting its stride once we got on the freeway, it was hard not to be impressed by the driveability of the Delaware.
We were cruising in the Lo-Line model, which is a little more than eight metres long and three metres tall. It’s by no means the largest motorhome on the market, but it’s still big, and while I was acutely aware of the size of the vehicle (especially after Craig’s sage advice), I was also struck by what a smooth performer the Delaware was.
The high level of comfort in the cab went a long way in ensuring such an enjoyable ride, with the swivel seats covered in soft, high-quality, stain protected upholstery. Considering I’m also on the taller end of the height spectrum at 184cm, the cab never felt cramped and there were more than enough ways to adjust, tilt, and move the seat to create your own optimal driving conditions.
From up in the driver’s seat I had complete visibility, which came in handy when weaving through Melbourne’s mid-morning traffic, and again when negotiating the Yarra Valley’s winding, often hilly roads. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t quickly begin to enjoy how big and powerful I felt compared to everyone else!
On the dash, the 5 inch touch screen radio/CD player, which comes equipped with an AM/FM tuner, Aux/USB/iPod connection, Bluetooth hands free system, and SMS reader, was user-friendly (even for someone who’s not so tech savvy, like my mum) and easy to reach from a driver’s perspective, while the colour reversing camera was a welcome and much-needed inclusion for a motorhome novice like myself.
The Delaware has a six speed AMT gearbox, which, despite needing a bit of a kick when travelling up a steep incline, was solid overall. There’s no doubting the power behind this motorhome, something that can be attributed to its 2.3L 130kW/400Nm turbo diesel engine.
Malcolm Street, our chief reviewer who certainly knows his way around a motorhome, agrees with me on this one. “The Delaware is built on a Fiat Ducato 180 Multijet cab chassis, and although other British and European manufacturers use the lesser powered Fiat engine, Auto-Trail has opted for the most powerful in the Ducato range.”
It’s the use of these type of quality elements, along with the knowledge that each Fiat chassis is purpose-built and designed specifically for motorhomes (unlike many other models which are built on truck chassis), that puts the Delaware one step ahead of the pack.
A PERFECTLY LIVEABLE ARRANGEMENT
A trip to the Yarra Valley, Victoria’s premier wine region and home to some of the state’s most indulgent local produce, calls for a stylish RV, and in the luxury interior stakes, the Delaware scores top marks. Upon opening the entry door,
which is located midway along the motorhome, I noticed an umbrella holder, complete with umbrella, built into the door. It’s a typically European feature, Malcolm advised, and it was the first of many welcome surprises that assured me no finishing touch has been forgotten when crafting the Delaware.
The lounge and dining area is located at the front, and there are two sideways lounges and a small fixed table.
As Malcolm explains, “this is one of those versatile designs that works well because it fully utilises the swivelled cab seats. In addition to the small round table fixed to the nearside lounge – which can swivel between the seats – there’s a larger freestanding one that is stored in a purpose-built cupboard beside the fridge when not being used”.
Topping off the cosy living area is the 18.5 inch Avtex widescreen TV/ DVD, which folds down from the ceiling between the front cab seats. It’s an “Auto-Trail trademark” says Malcolm, and while it is out of the way, unfortunately it can’t be seen from the cab seats.
The cooking facilities are split across the central aisle, with Dometic’s new 142L drawer fridge with integrated freezer on the nearside, and the L-shaped kitchen opposite. Both my mum and I found it to be a functional space, and with a four-burner cooktop, full oven and grill, stainless steel sink (with drainer), and Daewoo microwave oven, there’s not much it’s lacking.
Bench space was plentiful (preparing many an elaborate cheese platter proved that!), and storage comes in the form of multiple overhead lockers, cupboards under the bench, and a two door, 190L pantry that sits above the fridge/freezer and can be closed off with roller shutter-style doors.
According to Malcolm, the divided bathroom has all the desirable features you could need.
“The shower cubicle has a split door, instead of the more common single door, and although not oversized, there should be room for most users to turn around without too much trouble. On the opposite side, it’s possible to use the vanity sink and cupboard area without falling over the Thetford cassette toilet, and instead of shelves the shaving cabinet comes fitted with wire baskets.”
But the pièce de résistance of the Delaware? The rear bedroom, which includes a generous island double bed (my 6ft frame had no trouble bunking in overnight), overhead and underbed storage lockers, LED lighting, a sliding door for privacy, and two cupboards either side of the bed that are perfect for hanging your clothes.
And if that wasn’t enough opulence for you, there’s also pleated flyscreens and blinds for all opening windows, a large roof hatch that provides plenty of interior light, and (my personal favourite) removable, bound-edged carpets throughout. There’s nothing quite like carpet underfoot on a chilly morning, so this was a real plus in my books. However, considering the carpet was light cream in colour, I can imagine it wouldn’t take long – especially in inclement weather – for it to become soiled or marked.
For this trip though, the weather gods were on our side and we were lucky enough to experience three days of perfect mid-March weather – think sunny, clear days, and warm, star-filled nights. It meant we were able to spend plenty of time admiring the Delaware from the outside, too.
Structure-wise, the Delaware has been built using GRP high-gloss, aerodynamic fibreglass panels that, along with the metallic grey exterior graphics and chrome headlamp surrounds, keep things looking sleek and stylish.
Laminated construction is used for the 40mm walls, 45mm floor, and 40mm roof, which gives the Delaware a Grade three insulation – the highest industry standard achievable for a motorhome. This means that between outside temperatures of -15°C and 38°C the motorhome will always maintain a pleasant interior temperature of +20°C.
On the Delaware’s external storage, Malcolm says it is substantial, with a full width “garage” across the rear.
“It’s good for items like golf clubs, fishing gear, and folding bicycles, if nothing else. Additionally, there’s a set of low bins along the offside behind the driver’s door, mostly for house batteries, power cords, and water hoses. Behind the passenger door the gas cylinder bin has no external locks, and is released by a lever behind the door.”
At our Healesville base camp the wind-out awning certainly got a workout – as did my arms! It’s sturdy and easy to erect, and as my mum and I discovered, when you bring out the separate table from inside, add a few camp chairs and a bottle of wine, it creates quite a lovely outdoor living space – the perfect spot for Happy Hour!
THE BOTTOM LINE
For a couple of first timers on their inaugural motorhome sojourn, it’s safe to say my mum and I have well and truly caught the motorhoming bug – and the functionality, ease of use, and superb level of quality presented by the Delaware played a major part in that.
While it can comfortably sleep four people, and two extra seatbelts can be fitted, this is a motorhome aimed squarely at touring couples, who may have the odd overnight guest.
On that front, the Delaware delivers, and it’s a reassuring thought to know that whether you’re embarking on a weekend getaway or long-term lap, you’re handling a well-equipped and reliable RV that will get you there in style.
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