KNAUS VAN Ti 600 ME reviewed on 2nd May 2013
When is a van not a van? When it's a 'Van', of course. Peter Sharpe takes a look at the Van Ti 600 ME, the latest incarnation of a concept first introduced by Knaus over five years ago and subsequently copied by other manufacturers.
The low-profile 'Van' concept has become unofficially established as a new category of slim, low-profile motorhome, pioneered by Knaus and then copied by Hymer and Hobby. Usually designed with just two people in mind, it provides the refinement of the coachbuilt body style, yet comparatively unobtrusive in town traffic and country lanes. The name could be intended to lure those who are eyeing up van conversions; to trick them inside, then stun them with the dazzling interiors before they realise they have been duped - well that's my theory and I'm sticking to it.
Knaus motorhomes have always stood out to me; they always looked as if they were placed about five minutes into the future and were slightly exotic, yet tasteful and elegant. Look at a five or six year-old used model and it will still look utterly contemporary. This longevity isn't achieved by gimmicks, but by consistently immaculate design. Seasoned observers might notice the newly designed facing for the Ducato cab, which has acquired cat's eye panels to house the daytime running lights. These are echoed in the new rear panels, where the same design is the housing for the hybrid light clusters. More familiar is the enigmatic company logo of the two swallows, still based on the original design created by Helmut Knaus in 1961.
After a brief flirtation with Renault, Knaus is now fully committed to Fiat, seemingly giving the full thumbs-up, post-judder, to the manufacturer's attempts to restore its reputation amongst motorhome buyers.
Know your Knaus
The standard engine for the Van Ti is the 2.0 litre, 95PS base model, yet both Lowdhams and Southdowns are supplying the now almost ubiquitous 2.3 litre, 130PS version as the default option. The upgraded 150PS version is also available and even the big 3.0 litre, 180PS unit, which seems rather brutal in this context, but does enable the option of Fiat's ComfortMatic automatic gearbox. Also part of the equation is Fiat's specially-developed Camper chassis, which lowers the height of the rear section and does away with the need for a slide-out entrance step. Another bonus is that it allows the construction of a double floor, which not only adds to the insulation, but which also offers useful extra storage at strategic points.
Another feature of the Van Ti is a garage section of impressive dimensions, although you might struggle to gain the full benefit of the interior dimensions due to the single, relatively small loading door. I wasn't equipped to make a physical check, but I suspect you might struggle to squeeze your bicycles inside. If you want to try a few options, Lowdhams stocks a selection of bicycles, including the folding variety and also some battery powered models for the really wild and reckless.
Also note what Knaus refers to as the 'service box', which can be heated when required and offers very easy access to the fresh water fill-up point and the waste water and boiler drain valves. There is also a 230V socket available and a little bit of extra storage for maintenance equipment.
The gas locker is designed two hold two 11kg cylinders, but be aware that some British designs are taller than standard continental designs and might prove to be a bit of a tight fit. Gaslow cylinders will fit with ease.
There has been no attempt made to disguise the commercial van origins by adorning the fascia with stick-on panels, but cab air-con and cruise control are included. It is good to see that although not listed in the brochure, a passenger air-bag is one of the extra items included as standard for the British market.
The cab sunroof seems to have become a must-have feature of late and it certainly adds to the experience of travelling. It can be opened and for extra ventilation on site, but I found the click-stop mechanism to be unreliable and I have to say rather flimsy looking. In practise, I doubt if it would be raised all that often, as the wind-up rooflight seems perfectly adequate for ventilation and is equipped with a bug-mesh blind.
I found the driver's seat to be superbly comfortable, with sufficient space available to tilt the backrest to the optimal position. However, I wasn't so sure that everyone would be equally as comfortable in the passenger seat. It is supposed to be height adjustable, but my eyes were almost level with the top of the windscreen and I couldn't find any way of bringing them lower. I didn't actually mind this, as it was at the perfect level to keep the sun out of my eyes, but I feel that shorter passengers might find their legs dangling and will need a foot rest for total comfort. Check this out in case I missed something - these mechanisms can sometimes be devious.
Both cab seats have twin arm rests and swivel to face a clip-on table with a swivelling extension. This presents itself perfectly to the driver's seat, although might be best used for snacking en-route, as when in use it acts as a barricade between the cab and the kitchen. The occupants of the two cab seats are presented with a perfect view of the television position, which is neatly concealed just inside the main door.
Those sitting in the rear seat will not be so fortunate: you nearly always get a double rear passenger seat in this type of layout as there is little else that you could fit in there to make better use of the space. At least in the case of the Van Ti, this makes practical as well as decorative sense, as with all that garage space, there is easily enough room to stow a complete set of camping equipment for two passengers. Beside the nearside lounge window, a slot has been provided against the bulkhead to insert small tray. This can also be used in a similar slot in the kitchen, but being positioned above the gas stove it needs to be used with caution.
I'll assume that you won't be expecting a fully specified kitchen, as in common with most motorhomes manufactured on the Continent, this German design offers only the basics. Admittedly it does it in style, with the swan-neck mixer tap looking particularly elegant, standing on a wood-effect worktop. You only get a three-burner gas hob to cook on, but it was nice to see that continental manufacturers have finally got round to fitting gas hobs with electronic ignition. The Dometic RM 8000 series refrigerator features the removable ice box - an eminently sensible idea which allows you to expand the refrigeration compartment to 106 litres - 100 litres with the ice box in place.
If I have one thing to criticise, it is the rather unimaginative allocation of storage space. Even though one of the shelves can be adjusted, the cupboard just isn't designed to hold most of the packets, boxes and bottles that you would tend to want close to hand. I thought that the only solution would be to remove the shelves altogether and nip down to Lakeland for some of their cupboard organisers. The cupboard in the kitchen unit will take pots and pans, but isn't ideally placed for retrieving everyday items.
A 230V and a 12V outlet are placed out of harm's way above the kitchen window, but there is limited amount of space to make use of them. I just about managed to position a kettle behind the mixer tap, but a toaster, for instance, would be perilously close to the sink. There is another socket placed low down under the table - ideal if you simply can't go away without your electric foot spa, but a bit of a risky position for a steaming kettle. At least you can get full value from your hook-up with the Truma Combi 6E heating and hot water system. This is another reward of the higher British specification, as gas-only heating is provided as standard for continental buyers.
The clip-on table is of the type where the extension swings round from underneath (released by a spring-loaded knob), bringing it within perfect reach for the driver and leaving the rest of the table for the passengers. There is a choice for buyers to make here: the default configuration is for two, individual rear passenger seats, although you can order a standard bench seat, which with the aid of an extra cushion (on the extras list), enabled you to make up a third bed at the front. Quite honestly, these individual passenger seats are so good, that I can't imagine many takers for the bed option. Not only are these seats contoured in much the same way as the cab seats, they also offer a degree of adjustment to the back rests and, best of all, the outer seat slides on a rail to provide a comfortable degree of separation.
Knooks and crannies
The washroom is entered via a sliding door, which at first glance might seem to leave the interior rather exposed. There is no need to be alarmed, however, as a second door slides across to isolate the entire front half of the motorhome, effectively creating a roomy en-suite at the rear. Blushes spared and a very worthwhile extra facility into the bargain.
Each season seems to bring a new variation on the swing-wall washroom and this is as neat as they come. The wall containing the basin swings to your left, with the basin's bowl relocating into a slot in the wall. All you then have to do is extend the shower hose from the mixer tap, then relocate it into its new position so that the water is directed towards the corner of what has now become a semi-enclosed shower cubicle. It's all rather clever, but this washroom is also big on storage, with a large shallow cabinet above the loo having the capacity to hold everything from toothbrushes to towels.
Although the Van Ti is available with a lateral rear bed, I chose to feature the twin-single- bed layout of the 600 ME. It might seem quite radical to some viewers, but similar layouts have been available for some time now - the Fendt K-Mobile 500 was the first example I came across, way back in 2008. One of the characteristics of this type of bed is that it has the potential to be made up into a double of quite enormous proportions. Hobby provides a slide-out, slatted infill section for their version, although Knaus now seem to be playing this down, offering two wooden bed boards instead.
Most people will settle for the twin bed set-up and it has to be said that from a practical point of view it is superb. The single beds are of different lengths, as indeed are most partners, so that seems fair enough. Both high-quality mattresses are a generous 32 inches wide, with lengths of 79 inches and 75 inches. A central cushion spans the divide at the head end of the beds, going some way to providing an effective compromise for those who like the convenience of twin beds, but regret the physical separation. It perhaps ought to be mentioned that there is plenty of room for two people to show their mutual affection in the 'play zone' towards the head of the bed, or even to stretch out side by side across the width of the van - should they feel so inclined
If you really want to live out your fantasies on a double bed fit for a Roman emperor, then two bed boards are there to span the gap at the foot of the bed. A custom made in-fill cushion stored under a floor panel, but when in place it makes the process of disembarking a bit of a nuisance, if not actually precarious. I would be surprised if anybody actually makes the bed up in this away, unless it is either to impress or perhaps even scare the kneighbours.
Knaus styling has always seemed modern and tasteful, seemingly less Germanic and more Scandinavian than many other products of its home country. Its main competition would seem to come from the Hobby Premium Van, which is certainly eye-catching, but with a darker interior that might not appeal to such a wide audience - especially on this side of the Channel.
To me, the 600 ME layout is almost perfect: I would have liked access to the garage from inside and it would have been nice if a microwave could have been squeezed in somewhere. I really couldn't find anything except a tilt adjustment for the passenger seat, so that is something for you to check out for yourself if the seat height might be an issue.
Check out the 600 MG (right) if you prefer a lateral rear bed and there is a more compact version of it at under six metres in the 550 MD. This latter model is designed to cope with winter skiing trips and is even equipped with an oven.
Van Ti Pack as sold
Originally published in Motorhome & Campervan
The lateral rear bed of the 600 MG