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  Owner Review - Autostar Athenor 536

 
 

On Mercedes Sprinter 2.7 CDi   -  A 'first thoughts' review ...

Second Home:  Never having been in the position of being able to afford the luxury of buying a brand new motorhome before, we were very careful before parting with our cash. It helped that our then new friend Marty (who later became the UK sole importer of the Autostar marque) had already done a lot of the research and legwork already as he had also bought an Autostar (An Aryal 9 - an A-class) after three years of looking for something to replace his previous vehicle, an American RV. We were very impressed with what he chose; the build quality was superb, the layout was just what they wanted, and it had clean, elegant lines. Added to which - although not widely known in this country - Autostar have a reputation for excellence in France, having been in existence for nearly 20 years. This sort of reputation isn't easily won. Well, we looked at all sorts of other marques - the A-Class being superb but too expensive for us, but on visiting the Paris Motorhome Show at Le Bourget a few months later, we met up with the complete range of Autostar vehicles, and found the Athenor was neither too expensive nor too much of a problem as far as size went, and had a rear bed which covered a great deal of storage space, and had a seating arrangement which we liked. In short, when we went into it, we knew we had found our 'second home'! 

Driving:  Having parted with our cash, the Athenor became ours and was delivered a fortnight before we were due to take our summer holiday. We took it up to the Lincoln Show and to visit relatives in Staffordshire, and thought that would iron out any little wrinkles we should know about fairly immediately. The seating position in the cab has to be all things to all people - or at least to both drivers - as my husband is 5'10" tall and I am 5'1" tall. Both the seat back and the squab adjust to suit the individual driver, and there is also an inflatable lumbar pad. Having recently sustained a back injury, I was as comfortable as I could be under the circumstances, and my husband said he found the seat very comfortable, once it had been adjusted to suit him. Driving a Sprinter is no particular hardship for people who spend their lives driving a variety of vehicles for a living - in fact, it's a real pleasure. Sprintshift and cruise control were added at extra cost, as was right hand drive (since this is a French marque after all), and the ability to engage cruise control helped me with my back problem tremendously as both feet were on the floor. Initially, I found this difficult to adapt to and felt that there might well be some basis in the apocryphal story of the chap who got up to make a cup of coffee in the back of his vehicle - from the driving seat; it's just so easy to think that the vehicle can look after itself without any help from you! But having got used to it, it made life so much easier on the long straight roads of France where we went for our first major holiday. Visibility to the rear is hampered by the interior fitments to some degree, but the side mirrors give a good view the length of the vehicle, and with the addition of a rear view camera it's easy to spot those who are snuggling into your exhaust pipe as well as to see clearly for reversing purposes. This again was added at extra cost.

The Interior:  We chose a blond wood finish; the interior cabinetry it is solidly built with a laminate finish, ideal if you have kids or pets, and longer lasting without them! There are just the two of us, but the seating area at the front is grouped around an unusual shaped table which can be pulled out atop its fixed single leg to accommodate five or six people (at a push) around the table, using the driver's and passenger's seats to swivel round to become part of the seating group. (Booster cushions are supplied to supplement the difference in height when using the cab seats as part of the seating group.) The table also pulls around far enough to form a useful preparation surface whilst cooking (if you have to!); it's something of a rarity to find enough room to spread out to do that. 

Sleeping:  The bed is quite firm, constructed on a solid base with slats above that, and a firm Bultex mattress on top. It is a good double size, and neither of us feels pinched for space. A permanent rear bed may not be everyone's cup of tea, but we find it a relief just to be able to crawl into it already made up after a hard day's sight-seeing or travel! The sleeping compartment is also separated from the living area by a bi-fold door with a mirror; handy if you have visitors in the van, and want to change without throwing them out. The only drawback is that the wardrobe door cannot be opened with the bi-fold door opened and in place. 

Storage:  More than enough; we haven't filled it all yet. In addition to the under-bed storage, which can be accessed outside from both sides of the vehicle as well as by raising the bed base, there is a ski-locker underneath the width of the van, and two smaller lockers further towards the front in the 'skirt'. Gas bottles are stored on a sliding rack inside one of the cupboards. Interior storage is tremendous; there are four overhead lockers in the bedroom, as well as two bedside cupboards - useful for the night reading matter and pills and potions to be taken before bedtime or on rising - as well as two large lockers at ground level, useful for shoes or dirty laundry, another cupboard with a drawer, and above that a TV cupboard. (Yes, we're still in the bedroom!). Working forwards, in the shower and toilet compartment, there's a small under-basin cupboard, and a locker with a mirror above the basin and toilet. In the kitchen area, I compromised the space slightly by asking for an oven to be put in as part of the "Pack Aldea"; this was done to the loss of a double-door cupboard. But there are two further lockers above the kitchen area, as well as a slide-out pan drawer underneath the oven, and a seat locker to the right of the entrance door. Above the dining area, there is another TV locker, and a long locker; above the cab seats are two forward lockers which take blankets and the booster cushions when not in use. A smaller locker above the seat next to the door completes the storage facilities, the under-seat storage being taken up with water tanks and gas bottle storage. 

'Services':  The van is fitted with an Alde heating system, which  is similar to a domestic radiator system for heating, rather than blown air. This is a brilliant system which works off electricity or gas, and can also use the heat from the engine via a heat exchanger to heat the rear of the vehicle so there is no noticeable drop in ambient temperature when you come to a stop in  colder weather. This again forms part of a 'package' - 'Pack Aldea' - which upgrades the vehicle. It also takes care of water heating, and is thermostatically  controlled. Cooking is done on a three-burner hob - no grill, as in most continentals, or in the aforementioned oven, which is big enough to get a fair-sized joint in.  There is a small sink with a draining board. The fridge is a decent size with a large freezer compartment, and is manually switched between gas, mains electricity or 12v. Washroom facilities consist of ample room in the shower, and clever use of the wheel arch to provide a seat in the shower. The shower has two drain plugs -  the water must surely run out of one or t'other! All the taps used in the vehicle are of the monobloc type; very easy to use and to set the water temperature and flow. There is also an external shower; useful for washing sand or mud off your feet before getting into the vehicle. The inboard water tanks have a capacity of 140 litres fresh water, and 160 litres grey water. Both can be emptied through electrically operated sluices. Electricity is supplied from 12v leisure battery source, aided by solar panel, and electric hook-up. 

Problems:  The van is - at the time of writing - less than a month old to us, and the only thing we have been disappointed in are bits of the veneer losing their 'stick' on the inside of the recesses of some of the locker doors. However, this was fixed by The Camper House who supplied the  vehicle, and - to be fair - were under some pressure to complete the PDI to get it to us in time for our holiday. We've travelled 1700 miles in it and have been extremely pleased with our purchase, and with the level of service from the  dealer.

Hilary Woodjetts


The Reviews

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Terminology

Coach-built; a 'caravan' style body added to a light commercial chassis with original cab. Often has an over-cab bed or store commonly known as a 'Luton' in the UK. The version without the Luton, as here, is called a 'low-profile'.

Sprintshift; a Mercedes proprietary auto-clutch gearchange. True automatic gearboxes are really quite rare on commercial vehicles - the basis of most motorhomes.

Rear view camera; a tiny video camera attached to the back of the vehicle and feeding a picture to a small monitor on the dashboard. They are used mainly to assist with reversing since it is quite impossible to see behind many motorhomes.

Permanent bed; traditionally motorcaravans had beds that were multi-purpose often doubling as seating groups. Many have found the daily conversion and bed making something of a chore so permanent beds are becoming more popular. They often have considerable storage underneath them.

Oven as an extra; few continental motorhomes come with ovens and grills as standard.

3-way fridge; one that works on 230v 'mains' when 'hooked up', on lpg gas when no mains is available and on 12v from the 'van while travelling.


Statistics

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