Frontlines latest campervan makes a change from the usual Toyota Hiace by converting the front-bonnet Toyota SBV van.
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY MALCOM STREET
If there is one thing in the campervan market that separates Japanese van-based vehicles from their European counterparts, it’s the ability to walk through from the back to the front. This has been a problem for those who were quite happy with a Toyota/Nissan/Mazda van, but really wanted a walk-through. : Well, the Toyota Hiace SBV with its front-bonnet 2.4-litre motor has solved that particular problem. Frontline have now capitalised on that in the design of one of their latest campervans. Our review vehicle was a sleek silvery-grey colour, which made a pleasant change from the ubiquitous white of so many vchicles. It has the usual driver and passenger doors, sliding door on the side and two `barn doors’ at the rear rather than a single lift-up door. Perhaps the only disadvantage of this arrangement (from a campervan point of view) is that a single lift-up door provides some shelter in the wet.
Climbing into the driver’s seat revealed controls and instrumentation in all the usual places. Both seats had armrests and front storage compartments, including a large centre bin underneath the radio. I thought perhaps the gear stick, in a reasonable location for the driver, might get in the way when getting into the back, but I did not ever trip over it. Behind the driver’s seat, there is a small storage bin that is good for storing maps, books and magazines. Although I did not travel a great distance in the Hiace, it was a reasonably easy and comfortable vehicle to drive. The external mirrors gave good rear vision and I had no problem manoeuvring in car parks. Both rear doors have individual wipers, ensuring good vision in the wet.
Giving a streamlined appearance, the pop-top fits neatly behind the front fairing. Raising the roof, so to speak, was merely a matter of undoing the four straps and pushing gently upwards. The canvas gusset has flyscreened windows on the front and both sides. It is a conventional campervan, with a kitchen at the front and a dinette/double bed at the rear. Immediately behind the passenger seat – and blocking the doorway somewhat – is a cabinet containing stainless steel sink, microwave oven and a cupboard. The sink is supplied by 12V pumped hot and cold water and the tap is fitted to an extension hose for use outside as a shower. The hot water is heated by a heat exchanger located under the rear offside bed. The cupboard under the sink, and the locker door for the under-bed storage area, is easily reached when standing outside the campervan door. However a shelf in the under-sink cupboard would not go astray. Quite conveniently on the doorway side, a hinged flap lowers to form an outside table. Perhaps a little high for a normal table, but useful for the wine, cheese and bickies or if you are just stopping for a cuppa somewhere. The kitchen arrangement is very simple – a twoburner Smev stove with Engel 240/12V fridge underneath. Naturally, there is very little bench space, so the smoked-glass stove cover is a welcome addition. On the right-hand side of the stove, there’s a double power point and a tea towel rail. Apart from the under-sink cupboard, there are two half height cupboards between the stove and the driver’s seat. A neat touch is the mirror on the inside of the top door In the rear the dinette table seats four people without too rnuch trouble. When folded down, it forms quite a wide bed at 5ft 3in ( 1600mm), with a usually standard length of 6ft 3in (1905mm).
Frontline have designed the seating in a `U’ shape, which results in a storage area across the van in the rear as well as the usual storage area under the bench seats. The offside area is occupied by the second battery and the water heater: The advantage of the rear seat area is that it can be accessed from inside the van via the usual storage lid, or from the rear by a hinged flap. There are definite advantages and disadvantages to this arrangement. If you are someone who likes to get in from the rear door then it may not suit. However for those who are happy to use the side door then it gives extra storage space, especially for items like deck chairs and an outside table. Perhaps it’sjust that C & M reviewers tend to climb in an out a lot. Although, I wondered if the rear flap might be too tempting to occasionally use as a rear step, and not be up to its unintended task? Internal lighting consists of two overhead I2V fluorescents and a halogen light above the kitchen sink. A couple of halogen reading lights above the dinette would not go astray though. As well as the double power point beside the stove, there’s another behind the passenger seat for the microwave. Although, I would imagine that this could be used for any appliances outside the vehicle.
Frontline’s use of the SBV van shows some potential for several design layouts. It will be very interesting to see how much interest it creates in the marketplace, especially with those who might otherwise favour the European-based campervans.