Driving Experience

Driving the “bus” for the first time was a stressful experience because of its size and my experience with maneuvering such a large vehicle (its somewhat different to a 54ft yacht – turns out). Having been driving the van for 3 weeks now I have a better perspective on the driving experience.

Our motorhome is built on a Fiat Ducato chassis, basically a Fiat van and the experience is very similar, i.e. not very sporting – but then this isn’t what you buy a motorhome for? The engine is ok, although it feels underpowered at 130PS (BHP), there is an upgrade to 180PS, perhaps we might need to upgrade at some point in future. The engine is mated to a Comfort-Matic gearbox, this is a semi-automatic or robotised gearbox.

The Comfort-Matic is a relatively easy ’box to use, once you get over the complexity of getting it into gear the first time. You tap it to the left to engage manual, to the left again to engage auto, then to the right again to revert to manual. But you also have to select down (+) to put it into gear. Far more hoops than a normal auto ‘box. A display on the dashboard tells you which mode/gear you are in. When you’re in manual you push the stick away (-) from you to go down the ’box and towards you (+) to go back up the gears again. We have only been using Auto mode up tot this point.

The Comfort-Matic does not care to be rushed it feels like there is a small pixie in the gearbox with a manual speedometer who, when the speed is right, tells a gnome to manually move a massive gear lever to change gear. But keep that in mind and you’ll find you’ll progress gently from one gear to the next. Down changes, whilst no smoother, are in fact less noticeable.

Building up speed on the road you often find yourself wondering how fast you are going. That’s because the speed is very hard, mostly impossible, to read as it’s not illuminated under normal conditions – this is a general fault on the Fiat dashboard – so aside from running with lights on all the time, there isn’t much you can do. Since it’s also quite small Lisa finds it hard to read while driving with her long-range specs, so we have taken to running a speedometer app on one of the phones and mounting that on the dashboard.

The dashboard as a whole is lifted from the Fiat Ducato with some minor embellishments from Carthago, there is plenty of storage space and we particularly like the tablet holder in the centre of the dashboard. The pilot seats for passenger and driver are very comfy both when rotated inwards towards the table, but also when driving, the seat-belts however are a real pain. Once you are in your seat belt and the van is moving the seat belt “locks” and it makes it very difficult to reach for anything for example the radio, the glovebox, etc. You can but you have to keep pulling at it. If you undo the seat belt completely it winds back in and locks and does not want to come out while you are on the move.

Unlike a car where the body is a single structural unit with excellent stiffness, a motorhome body is built of multiple panels and parts screwed and glued together, this means that its way less rigid than a car. If you are familiar with scuttle-shake on convertible you can multiple that by ten for a motorhome – shake, rattle and roll is the order of the day.

We are long, wide and high. This means encounters with trees, bushes and hedges while driving are frequently. Down narrow roads where the hedge overhangs the road we are often found to be hedge trimming using our near side mirror, even when running the offside wheel along the white line. It just one other thing to get used to, like the trees that sometimes rub along the roof at some car parks. Reversing is also a skill we are both developing quickly, we have two large coach-like “insect-mirrors”, a reversing camera and parking sensors, together they take care of most eventualities, if not Lisa sends me out to scout out the scene.

We don’t know the fuel consumption yet as we have not gathered enough information and the trip computer does not seem very helpful in this department.

All in all though the driving experience is fine and when you are on a smooth well tarmaced road, with a beautiful wild vista spread across the panoramic front screen you can feel quite relaxed.