WINNER: Caravan of the Year

WINNER: Layout of the Year

WINNER: Innovation of the Year

Caravan Magazine Awards, 2017

Innovations in caravan layout happen quite rarely; most conform to broad patterns. But from the Explorer Group, this year came something outstanding: a family arrangement that’s a real game-changer. And not just one caravan. This layout appears in three ranges.

And the reason why this invention in caravan sleeping and seating configuration is possible? The Compass Casita 866 and its same-layout cousins the Elddis Avanté 866 and Buccaneer Galera are 2.45m wide – that’s eight feet, hence the figure 8 at the start of the model number. And the name Casita? That means ‘little house” in Spanish – but in the case of the 866 it really should mean “caravan version of big family home”.

 

How would we put this great family caravan to a big family test? 

Solution: We invited two colleagues and their families, all of them used to static caravan holidays and tent camping. This test, though, was their first proper encounter with a tourer. The reaction?

The two young, teen girls were amazed at the amount of seating space around the central table. The youngest guest, Harry, in his first year at school, loved the cosily designed bunk bed pods and made straight for the kids’ seating zone at the rear with his Barnaby Bear.



And all four parents remarked on the astoundingly good value that the Casita 866 offers. A discussion about the price enticed the question “Is that all?”

The Explorer Group had despatched the 866 to our caravan and awning test location near Grantham for this review. The cover shoot you see in this month’s issue and, by happy coincidence, we’d already invited Bradcot to join us, with the newest airframe awning, the Modul-Air.

So we had the biggest air awning on the market and the largest family caravan on the market. We were set to have the most fabulous time. Nothing could go wrong. But it did. Steady rain for two days converted the blue-sky scene, for which we’d hoped, to grey cloud.

But the awful weather underlined something vital about the 866. Seven pairs of shoes were lined up under the caravan out of the rain and seven guests spread out in two of the 866’s three seating areas, munching chocolate biscuits as we discussed the considerable Casita’s merits.

At this stage, no-one had occupied the three-seater rear area. There was plenty of space for everyone in two of the three distinctly separate areas. On a wet day, when rain curtailed outside activities, two families were sprawled out inside the caravan. Not many – if any – caravans can come close to that.

 

Let's look at the details.

Showering

 

The shower room is longitudinally aligned, every bit as big as those which occupy entire caravan widths. Compass set spotlights into the ceiling; a washbasin stylishly sits on top of its cabinet. There’s a second cabinet on the wall. The shower is pretty much domestic-sized, at 80x63cm, and with a strong bi-fold door which runs on a track.

This shower room works well, and it’s truly family-sized. Its position, in the offside corner, may suggest it’s smaller than shower rooms that stretch the whole width of the caravan. Bit it isn’t. Only in an extra-width caravan would you find a full-sized shower room, a small table area and bunk beds all lined up across the rear of the layout!

 

Sleeping

The 866 is a six-berth. Two caravanners get those gorgeously cosy bunk pods. Two more get a full-sized double bed (1.34 wide and 1.9m long) in the centre area, created from the dining “room”, and there are single or double sleeping options in the front lounge.

The settees are 1.83m long. The lounge is 2.26m wide, which means the double bed you can make up here is also 2.26m wide. So, six can sleep with ease and plenty of space. Or, if you’re using an 866 as a four-berth, you can have either a permanent central dining area or a permanent front lounge. Caravanning sleeping arrangements don’t come much better – or bigger – than this.

 

Storage

And the same goes for storage methods. We’ll start at the back of the caravan. There’s the predictable vast space under the bunks, plus space under the rear seat (86cm wide). And there’s an innovative bit. The third seat in the rear area is also a storage box. You remove the cushion and lift the lid to reveal a space that measures 37x33cm and 27cm deep. That’s the perfect toy box!

The central dining area provides big spaces under the forward and rear facing seating, with both front and top access (the lids are self-supporting, on spring hinges). The same goes for the front lounge lower storage areas. Two central-front drawers, a cupboard beneath, plus seven top lockers (excluding those in the kitchen) all add up to enormous storage capacity.

 

Dining

The 866 excels on the topic of dining, too. There are three dining “rooms”. The small table, next to the bunks, is a perfect snack or breakfast area for three little caravanners. The designers catered for all needs with TV points close to floor level here.

The U-shaped central dining area is well capable of seating five, as we proved when our two-family, seven-strong guest gang joined us.

And the long lounge settees ensure spacious dining-seating here too.

 

Lounging

While seven occupants may be a stretch for the 866’s number of berths, this number far from filled the lounging space. Our wet-day “test”, with everyone inside, proved the value of the caravan’s extra width; it does feel spacious, with plenty of floor space for everyone to move around as well as offering ample seating options.

Lounging ambience in the Whale blown-air-heated 866 is delightful, too, with vibrant gold pattern and edging on grey cushions and curtains.

 

Kitchen

So, caravanning, big-style, is awesomely impressive regarding showering, sleeping, storage, dining and lounging functions. But how about the hub of family life: the kitchen? The word “big” is appropriate here, too, especially for the wide, domestic-sized fridge-freezer (and you can remove the freezer compartment to increase chill space if that’s more important to you).

And the kitchen storage capability? Four top cabinets, three drawers and three lower cabinets give oodles of space. The deep, forward cabinet is 38cm wide, with two shelf spaces. The one under the drawers in the centre is slightly larger. And there’s the usual space under the oven to factor in, too.

The microwave is above the fridge-freezer; most people would consider it to be at a convenient height. There’s a mains hotplate to give you the option of conserving gas. And surface space is up to the task of catering for six, with a 30-cm extension to hinge into position when you need it. Even though this intrudes into the entrance space, there is enough room to walk around it easily.

We love the large sink, 40cm in diameter and 12cm deep; that’s fully domestic sized, and designed to make 'big family' washing-up an easy task. When the sink isn’t in use, there’s a cover which matches the work surface, to augment top space.

 

Towing

Take it from us, towing an eight-feet wide caravan is not daunting. While you notice the difference, big-time, regarding livability, on the road, it’s hardly detectable, especially if you have the sort of extension mirrors which can be slightly pulled outwards to maximise the view.

The Casita’s test tow included some quite narrow single carriageway stretches as well as wider roads; throughout the journey, it was a joy to pull, its twin-axle active cornering characteristics making for comfortable driving.

 

Options to go for

Wraparound front seating at £210; of you go for this option you retain the removable chest of drawers.

 

Also consider

Elddis Avanté 866, same layout, same price, different fabrics, different look.