CARAVAN TEST: CONCEPT EUROPA
Step inside the Concept Europa caravan and you might never want to leave.
Concept Caravans quickly rose to become one of Australia's biggest-selling manufacturers after it was established in 2004. The Europa is the company's flagship, available in eight different layouts. Ours was the largest of the fleet. With an overall length of 9.48m (31ft 1in), it's about 800mm longer than its nearest rival in this test.
You could argue over to what degree size counts, but there's one thing that's sure: this Europa commands a lot of attention. And not just because of its stature. Concept has always put some thought into fit and finish throughout the range, and it's clear the Europa receives the same TLC on the factory floor as its Ascot cousin.
There's a touch of executive style about the Europa's interior. It's a classy caravan, not a bedazzled, overdone confection. The wood tones throughout are complemented by black benchtops and splashbacks, some leather here and some stainless steel there.
The smell of leather hits you as soon as you step inside. A spacious club lounge at the rear is wrapped around the so-called Tommy Table, a product imported exclusively for Concept vans that shifts this way and that (and even lowers) to create more midriff and elbow room at the dinette.
The lounge is surrounded by eight overhead lockers and one or two other storage nooks. And for a touch of ambience, the dinette is fitted with two LED multidirectional spotlights.
Access to the storage compartment beneath the lounge may prove a tad awkward: since no hatch has been fitted, you'll have to lift the cushions and their ply bases out of the way. Or you can step outside and use the external hatches.
The kitchen has sweeping benchtops on either side of the van. On the offside, there's 940mm of it, with a further 430mm aft of the nearside sink and 630mm forward, though this section sits nearly 100mm higher to accommodate the front-loading washing machine hidden beneath. For comparison's sake, I measured the workable kitchen bench space in my own home and came up with a total on par with the combined total in the Europa. Neither my wife nor I ever struggle at mealtime at home, so we'd
be laughing in the Europa.
It goes without saying that there are heaps of storage lockers in the kitchen, but how well they're integrated, and how everything lines up and sits square is worth noting. There are no unsightly gaps where other manufacturers might hope you won't look, either. I also liked how each locker has its own shelf, so there's no wasted space. I would, however, prefer to see a neater finish for the plumbing entry points in the floor beneath the sink and cooktop - silastic just looks messy.
A 186L three-way Dometic fridge-freezer is fitted on the offside, facing the washing machine cupboard. And what would a luxury caravan be without a wine cooler? In this case, the Europa gets a Waeco unit mounted in the cabinetry below the offside bench.
With the shower on the nearside and Thetford cassette toilet and vanity opposite, the bathroom separates the bedroom from the main living area, giving the bedroom a touch of privacy. A sliding door either side of the bathroom seals it off. The vanity is good and large, with a mirror above and plenty of storage beneath.
Meanwhile, the bedroom has a sense of exclusivity because it's so well separated from the rest of the van. The mattress measures 1.88x1.53m (6ft 2in x 5ft 2in) and the wardrobes either side provide nearly 900mm of hanging space, as well as a drawer and cupboard below. There are three overhead lockers, too.
Concept has also placed corner cupboards at the foot of the bed, on both sides. Because space is a little tight, the cupboards have been raised off the floor. But I wondered if, considering the vast array of cupboards throughout, whether they were needed at all. Omit the cupboards and make the bedroom a little more spacious.
I'm not a morning person. I never have been. I'm also not one to leave the hot-water service running overnight when I'm vanning. So I couldn't help but smile when I noticed that Concept had placed the switch for the 14L Truma gas-electric hot-water service beside the bed, within arm's reach. Hallelujah.
There's also a flatscreen TV mounted at the foot of the bed - the other is on a swivel arm near the dinette and JVC DVD player/stereo system - so you can watch the morning news while you wait for the water to heat up.
Other features include a healthy spread of LED downlights throughout (I counted 20), Antennatek aerial, integrated flyscreens/blockout blinds, and a Dometic B3200 air-conditioner. This unit is somewhat 'old-school' in appearance, but not in functionality. It blasts cold air like no tomorrow and, in fact, its ye olde look complements the elegance of the van around it.
Obviously all vans require care from the driver when under tow. But some need more than others, particularly when it comes to the tailsweep and cutting in around tight corners. The Europa is no different, but we nonetheless found it to be a smooth performer. As fellow tester Malcolm Street said: "Care on sharp corners is essential, like with any long van, but otherwise it is a pleasure."
With its alloy wheels and typical Concept profile, the aluminium-clad Europa cut a handsome figure on the long and winding Great Ocean Road. We had it behind a variety of 4WDs, from a Colorado dual cab to a Lexus LX570 (it's a hard life…) and the Europa was near-faultless.
It's not over-endowed with external features - this van's wow factor is highest on the inside - but it's not completely lacking either, nor does it mean you can't have it specced out in the factory.
Along the nearside is a fold-down picnic table, full-length Dometic awning, slide-out barbecue, and a couple of speakers. The 14in alloy wheels (with matching spare on the rear bumper) look great, as does the 290mm-high skirt of black composite aluminium instead of the checkerplate common to most new caravans.
A look underneath the SupaGal chassis reveals that the 6in A-frame tapers to 4in rails that run back to the mounts for the Al-Ko Roller-Rocker suspension. The whole plot rides on 6in main rails to which the 12mm ply floor is glued and screwed - a tried-and-tested setup.
Up front, you'll find two 9kg gas cylinders on the A-frame, along with the centre-mounted 8in jockey wheel and fresh water tap. In terms of storage, the Europa sports a gal-lined front booth with the Breaksafe unit, house battery, Ctek smartcharger and fuses inside
THE BOTTOM LINE
A large van doesn't always need a LandCruiser. The Europa is a case in point (you'd want to keep an eye on the ball weight, though). Although it tops 30ft in length from nose to tail, it has a Tare of 2444kg and ATM of 2844kg. That's still a fair amount of weight, sure, but I've seen heavier vans that are much shorter.
Overall, it is an attractive package that offers a vast amount of living space and most of the features required of any luxury caravan. Concept has built something pretty special here.
THE JUDGES LIKED...
· The sense of space
· Extensive use of LED lighting
· Strength and quality of cabinetry
THE JUDGES WOULD'VE LIKED...
· Stoneguard for A-frame tap
· Neater finish for plumbing entry points
Originally published in Caravan World #510, January 2013