HOBBY PREMIUM VAN 65 GE
Peter Sharpe managed a sneak preview of this unseasonal Hobby, the Premium Van 65 GE that arrived on these shores as summer time was ending. One of the three models in the Premium Van range, this glossy contender is certainly aiming to get noticed.
You get a pretty much standard Renault front view of this 65 GE, characterised by that now-familiar cheesy grin from Renault's radiator grille. From this viewpoint, the low-profile cab top sits above the windscreen, looking like a very un-continental flat cap, flanked by strips of LED marker lights. Walk around for a side view, though, and you are treated to a design job that is ultra-modern, tastefully refined and deeply impressive. Every detail is purpose-designed to keep your eyes on the move and to disguise the space-efficient, but ultimately box-like habitation area.
By dint of a crafty piece of trompe l'oeil, you would swear that the rear corners sport rakish tail fins. Lower down, the rear lights are provided by strips of high-visibility LEDS. Glossy, highly reflective side panels merge seamlessly into matching black-out windows, that would never be allowed on any car but a presidential limousine. Razor-sharp, two-tone decals cut through every vertical line, resulting in a slippery looking vehicle that might look more at home at Santa Pod, rather than connected to a hook-up at a campsite. It could almost be a scaled down transporter of the kind used by race teams to take F1 cars to the circuit. If you really want to show off, you can press a button to make the Hobby logo glow blue in the dark.
The rear end sports what could loosely be termed a full-width garage, although it perhaps falls just a little short of some definitions. Each side has a top-hinged door, which lifts open with the assistance of oil-filled dampers. There is a lip at the bottom of each opening, which slightly inhibits loading, but which provides greater protection against water ingress. As with almost every example I can think of, it would have been nice to have had a few more securing points (why don't manufacturers provide these?), but there are a couple of cubbyholes with protective barriers.
So can the impact of these first impressions be continued into the interior? Owners of German motorhomes tend to be quite tribal, so that Hobby owners will praise the build quality, while some Hymer addicts might tend to deride it. There were one or two niggles with this demo version, although these will almost certainly be ironed out by the time it goes on general release. The wow factor was reasonably pronounced, but I thought there were a few areas where there was scope for improvement. As always, some of these opinions will be subjective, so it's a matter of observing them, then making your mind up.
The first query is whether the 2.3 litre (125 PS) diesel engine is really up to the job of moving what is quite a sizeable motorhome. It certainly provides plenty of torque (310Nm @1250rpm in both manual and Quickshift versions), which will certainly power you up steep inclines and zip you away from traffic lights, but might fall short when it comes to relaxed, long-distance cruising. A more powerful, 150 PS version is available, although with the inevitable price hike. If you do decide upon the former, then decide you've made a mistake, there are several tuning devices available to boost the power, but that is hardly the ideal route to take. It is quite astonishing how many people are prepared to spend such large sums on a motorhome without taking the precaution of a meaningful test drive - or even taking one at all. You should reasonably expect an average of just over 30mpg with the standard engine and perhaps just a little bit under with the upgrade.
The Renault's cab is quite a drab affair and I would have thought it reasonable to expect at least some superficial adornment in a motorhome at this price. It certainly isn't lacking in comfort and safety features, but I couldn't help thinking that that the swivel seats, with double arm rests but in grey cloth and vinyl, looked inferior to those that Renault issue as standard. The rear passenger seats are upholstered to match and although it's all a matter of taste, I personally found these disappointing.
Hobby also needs to do a bit of work on the seat adjustment levers: I puzzled over the swivel mechanism for about half an hour, then asked one of the site's resident campers to come over for a second opinion. This only left the two of us baffled and it wasn't until CamperUK Director, Alan Pickering arrived, that he confirmed that the mechanism in the demo model had been exceptionally stiff and that it will require a bit of remedial work. He quickly performed the task using considerably more brute force than I would have dared to exert on their nice new van, especially as the symbol on the lever a bit ambiguous. All such feedback from the demo vehicle is reported back to Hobby, so this problem shouldn't exist on production models. The driver's seat cushion had also become detached, but this vehicle was exhibited at a few summer shows, where it is not unknown for the public to be a bit over enthusiastic with their poking and prodding.
Swivel those seats round and you face a sliding, clip-on table with a swing-round extension. Should you ever require it, there are the means to seat five people in comfort here (six at a push), with a side-facing bench seat providing the extra capacity. All can sit within easy reach of their plates.
The two captain's chairs provide the best seats in the house, with the occupant of the driver's seat having the added luxury of being able to sit back with their feet up on the side bench seat - an essential item on my personal checklist. The person in the other seat will have to resort to swivelling sideways and laying their legs over those of their neighbour. Any other occupants will need to sit more formally, although there is always that rear bed available if everything gets just a little bit too tiring.
It was nice to see some really top-quality LED lighting employed here. For some strange reason, our closer continental neighbours seem slow to adopt the obvious benefits of this cool-running, energy-saving technology, preferring to persevere with the outdated halogen equivalents. These are really excellent lights, being turned both on and off and swivelled at the merest finger touch. They are bright too - easily powerful enough for comfortable reading. Standard heating and hot water is via a Truma Combi unit, but Alde central heating is on the options list.
Overhead is a skylight - heavily tinted. People have differing opinions about tinted glass, which is probably biased according to the amount of sunlight that you tend to experience. Typically dour British weather will be rendered with an added touch of gloom, but fabric bleaching, bright sunlight will be obediently tamed: perhaps that is also why they chose grey vinyl.
There is a lack of overhead locker space due to the swooping roof line, but you have to concede that those provided have a look of real quality. Here again though, I have to question the Hobby designers' decisions about storage requirements. Admittedly, that rear garage space will swallow up any truly bulky items, but the interior lockers will struggle to hold any item that wouldn't fit comfortably into a jacket pocket.
We have ways of making you cook
Turning to the kitchen, the most obvious omission is that of an oven of any kind. Most fans of continental motorhomes will be accustomed to this, but for others, the lack of anywhere even to place a microwave could be a serious difficulty. It has to be said that the main kitchen unit is quite beautifully designed, although the three burners on the gas hob are placed so close together that you might struggle to use all three at any one time. The black-granite-effect worktop is attractive and the matching, flush-fitting sink cover creates a usable work surface, supplemented by a very useful platform above it.
A slide-out section is equipped with sturdy wire baskets that create a handy wine rack, but could be put to all kinds of uses. Next to it is a shallow cupboard, with tapering shelves that seem to have been designed for saucepans. A purpose-designed cutlery drawer tops a four-drawer cabinet, that will hold anything from tea towels to plates, bowls and saucers. To the left is the Dometic 8330 Slim Tower, which can be expanded up to its full, 140 litre capacity by managing without its removable, 12 litre freezer box. It's worth mentioning that Hobby also provides you with a set of glass tumblers and acrylic wine glasses, laid out in an attractive display cabinet beside the main door.
I have to query the way in which the upper lockers are designed: the large lips will almost certainly eliminate damage from falling heavy items, but it is really quite difficult to get anything in there in the first place. Even then, the fixed shelves severely restrict what you can use them for. Hymer's bottom-hinged storage units are so much more practical in these situations.
The washroom is directly opposite the refrigerator, with the door hinged so that it opens out into the bedroom and backs onto the kitchen. It requires a little shimmy to waltz your way in, but it is a sensible arrangement so that when wide open, the curved door mates up with a retractable partition, that you can use either to close off the rear quarters at night, or to create a changing room, if privacy is required during the day time.
Make no mistake, it's a small washroom, but decidedly posh, thanks partly to the attractive and high quality housing for the basin and shower controls. Yet again though, I was left with the feeling that the designers hadn't really thought this through, letting style completely over-ride function. For instance, there is nowhere to hang a towel, nowhere convenient for the soap (liquid or otherwise) and not even anywhere sensible to hold your toothbrushes. A tall storage facility has several removable, plastic boxes, yet they are all the same size and too small, so that none of them are tall enough to hold most of the usual bottles and aerosols. You can just about squeeze some into a cupboard under the basin, but it is far from the ideal place to store them.
The basin is over the shower tray, but moves to create space by the expedient of simply sliding it sideways along a rail. Perhaps not as impressive as creating a separate cubicle with a basin on a swing-wall, but a simple, cheap yet effective solution, requiring only a simple extending waste pipe to accommodate it.
The admirable Thetford push-button, electric-flush toilet completes the
line-up. To be fair, it all looks very nice, but you get the feeling that
the designers have never actually used a motorhome washroom.
And so to the pièce-de-resistance, or perhaps, in this case, we should say stück-de-widerstand. This rear bed design has been around for a few years now and never fails to make an impression. The design is a bit of a compromise, being neither two single beds or a double, but being longitudinal, it is reasonably successful at overcoming some of the access difficulties that some people find off-putting in a lateral double. It isn't perfect, as to turn it into a queen-sized double, you need to retract a slatted infill panel and then fill the gap with the supplied, U-shaped mattress section. The problem with this is that it then covers the access steps, which you then require the less foot-friendly, clip-on ladder with which to disembark for night-time visits to the loo. I didn't find the ladder in this review sample and initially marked this down as a problem, but I am assured that one is provided.
If you don't want to go to all that trouble, but merely prevent your queen-sized
duvet from sagging in the middle, the mattress insert can be wedged in
there quite firmly without any additional support. You could then quickly
bash it out of the way at night, but remember not to take part in any
nocturnal activities where its lack of weight baring properties might
cause embarrassment - let alone injury.
Bedroom lighting is controlled from a central multi-switch at the head
of the bed. Apart from controlling the two swan-neck, LED reading lights,
it also operates the Romantica lighting strips that run in a continuous
line, not only above and below the lockers that run the full length of
the bedroom, but also in the lounge at both roof and floor level. I promise
you that you can't fail to be impressed by these.
sum up, the Premium Van is stunning from the outside, with a modern, luxurious
feel to the interior. A test drive under realistic conditions is advisable
for performance addicts considering the standard engine option.
CamperUK Leisure Park
Originally published in Motorhome & Campervan