Autotrail V-Line 540SE 130BHP Comfortmatic 2019 – A First Impressions Review

Kannon Fodda

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As a newbie to motorhomes, I’ve dived in feet first and acquired my nice shiny new PVC in early August. I’d seen many articles on the web about the van but most appear written in sponsorship or promotion, rather than offering a real user insight. Perhaps my (rather lengthy) views, as a novice singleton motorhomer will be of use to somebody.

I’d ordered the van at February’s NEC. Delivery took a little while longer than hoped, probably because I changed the spec post NEC to get the auto gearbox. Now, in less than a month I’ve clocked up over 700 miles bringing the home from the northern dealer, whilst stopping overnight on a couple of CLs, then attending my first Funster Rally in a field in Lymington before spending a long bank holiday weekend on a fuller facility site with EHU. In this short period I have put most of the toys through their paces.

This is the Autotrail V-Line 540SE based on the Fiat Ducato 5.4m length van, fitted with the 130BHP engine and Comfortmatic gearbox which includes cab-air con, cruise control / speed limiter. It was factory upgraded (show offer) with the media pack (Integrated sat-nav radio reversing camera, and an Avtex TV/DVD). I’ve also had a factory fitted towbar (to be used with a cycle carrier). The van itself has all the trimmings you might expect, and perhaps a few more in a compact rear lounge layout (converts to a transverse double bed) with 3 way Dometic fridge, 3 ring gas hob / oven, microwave, Thetford cassette toilet, shower, Trauma gas / electric combined water and space heater, rooflights, Remis blinds to all windows including cab, 100W solar, Gaslow integrated lpg tank, roll out awning.

Overall, I’m very happy with my mid life crisis purchase, although my bank manager may be less impressed. There is probably no such thing as a perfect build, layout and specification and perhaps there are some things I would do differently. Compared to many alternative manufacturers who’s base price is initially cheaper, but once a similar specification is listed becomes more expensive, the 540SE offers a good balance. It’s going to take me some time to work out how to get the most out the van, and I’m going to have fun trying.

The Driver Experience

I’ve only really driven cars, the largest a few years ago was an Espace. So this is a step up (more a clamber) to the driver seat. The rearwards seat movement is limited by the wardrobe panel behind. At a long legged 6’ I’m OK but do feel a little bit like I’m perched. The seat is OK, but has no lumbar support adjustment and the headrest is fixed. The height adjustment to the steering wheel worked OK (no front/back only up/down). At my height the driver’s door mirror is at it’s movement limit for my preferred view of the road behind.

The road ahead view is great, but side, oddly to the right driver side is poor with the door window reduced in size by the Remis blind housings, and the wardrobe bulkhead behind preventing an over shoulder look. This isn’t comfortable pulling out on some slip road and roundabout junctions. With the habitation door window on the left that oddly has a much better view. You rely on door mirrors there being no internal mirror. A reversing camera, in the radio sat nav screen (brochures incorrectly imply a display fitted to the screen) will come on automagically (if the radio / sat nav was on), although that is proving difficult to gauge distance to objects. There are no parking sensors.

The overall cab is adequate, but plasticky. One has to remember this was intended as a commercial vehicle. The toys I’ve become used to on a car aren’t fitted such as auto on headlights and screen wipers. Air con is manual control rather than climate control, and will work hard in even moderate sunny weather due to that large black dashboard area, and big glass windscreen, and won’t have the power to cool the habitation area.

The Comfortmatic seems to work OK, although can be a bit confusing to get into gear from neutral when you’ve been sat at lights and not wanted to ride the clutch. It seems odd (but you get a shed load of warning buzzers in neutral) to switch off the engine with the gears in drive or reverse (there is no “P” position). If the hill climb mode button is depressed the van seems to pull much better both on shorter steeper hills, as well as the lengthy motorway gradients. Hill starting takes some mastery and I’m not sure at what point (if it exists) the hill start assist would cut in, but a slight rollback in a traffic queue seems almost inevitable.

Performance of the engine seems OK, but I haven’t got much to judge from. You know it’s a heavy vehicle, but I believe there is plenty of power to accelerate in most situations. It’s a big vehicle so not designed to be thrown around and it does seem to have quite a bit of bounce in suspension as well as giving a sensation, especially on roundabouts, of wanting to understeer. It’s too early to know what mpg I’m getting. That first £100 tank fill was a shock compared to a car! Comfortable at anything up to around 65mph, wind noise from roof fittings becomes apparent above around 60mph, and that fuel gauge needle will seem as if visibly moving at 70mph.

Van Layout

This is a rear lounge / transverse bed arrangement. For a single person it works fine. I suspect two people would find it cramped and always be climbing around each other.

Storage space is at a premium. A 6m van would be a big difference with an extra 50cm overhead locker and undersofa storage on each side. But that length van wouldn’t have fitted the driveway. Every cupboard seems to have some piece of kit in it, whether a simple solar controller or switch, isolation valves and water pumps under the sink / oven, or the Trauma and leisure battery to the sofa benches. It’s the latter that is most awkward as even a moderate length foldup chair struggles to fit. There is a moderate hook provision in the shower room, but none elsewhere, so even spreading a towel to hang and dry is no easy. I’ll be fitting a holder for a kitchen roll soon. It pays to be organised and if you get something out to use it, put it away afterwards or you swiftly run out of floor, worktop or seat space.

Both driver and passenger seats swivel. But the driver’s seat will only turn 90 degrees due to the wardrobe, so really only the passenger seat is useable from the habitation area. But with the sliding door open, the lift up flap end worktop table lifted to rest your coffee cup, it’s a nice spot without having to make up the more formal lounge table area, even if your feet do dangle.

I had expected that once arrived at a site, I’d be so lazy I wouldn’t want to make / unmake the bed each day, and would rely on the front passenger seat. In practice I find I’m in the underseat storage too often so daytime as sofa benches is preferred. Making up the bed is reasonably swift but slightly lumpy due to the shape of the sofa cushions, and I’ll look to find a compact mattress overlay subject to storage. Four people would fit seated in the lounge, albeit with a squeeze.

I was pleasantly surprised the van stayed reasonably cool inside, despite the sun and 30 degree temperatures over the weekend. This was simply using the rooflights, side door, and rear door windows, along with cab blinds. The shower room warms up swiftly as the mushroom vent is ineffective once the door is closed (I may look at fitting some form of fan linked to the lighting). But the large lounge windows on either side aren’t practical to open, nearside would get taken out by the sliding door and offside is over the Trauma flue and fitted with a sensor that stops the Trauma working if this window is opened.

The shower room is inevitably compact. A flip down very shallow washbasin is over the toilet. Tip it up and the waste water drains away although there can be a couple of drips from the basin edge. You can’t see the waste outlet point, so can’t put a stopper in if a few odours start to rise from the greywater tank. A couple of wooden shelves are under the basin, shallow depth just enough to hold a spare toilet roll or two, but you need anti slip matting if the shelves are going to retain contents whilst driving along. I would have preferred the shelves to at least be plastic coated, even if a door wasn’t practical, so they can be wiped down. They’ll be in range of inevitable spray from the toilet use. Showering is fine, with a useful trigger to the shower head, albeit with a clingy curtain, you just have to be disciplined with water use and recognise that, the water can fluctuate cold if you stop start flow. But getting all water to drain that plughole is fun, needing a small mop or squeegee. The Thetford toilet seems fine with push button flush from your freshwater tank so you’ll quickly drain that to fill the cassette. You’ll feel fairly perched on high when seated and your neighbours will soon work out what you are up to as a small, noisy vent fan (Thetford’s equivalent to the SOG) starts up.

Equipment

The 540SE has a number of toys, most of which are fitted as standard, or part of the Media Pack upgrade. There are an incredible number of different LED lights with strip fittings over the sliding door and lounge, plus for the awning, further lights under the cab storage and entrance, over the cooker, and as individual reading lamps over the sofa. There are also 4 different locations of 230V socket outlets for when on EHU, but meanwhile only a paltry single 12V socket in the corner of the living room with the cab port disabled if the engine is not running. All habitation 12V power is off if the engine is running, the fridge served from the engine battery.

The kitchen is well equipped with 3 ring hob, oven / grill, sink unit and flip up worktop, plus the 3 way fridge of good capacity, although you’d soon run out if you try and fit a case of beer. That fridge has some quite bright blue LED lights, very noticeable after lights out. There is also a microwave, but that only works when on hook up, and I wonder if Autotrail should have offered that as an option in favour of another locker, still it makes a good bread bin. But the storage space limits come into play as you work out where best to keep plates, glasses, mugs as well as even your tea, coffee, and other essentials, let alone a fully stocked larder with pots pans and stuff. And surface area overall is limited which may affect anyone trying to do more than a small snack.

Hot water and heating is provided by the Trauma combined unit that runs from the gas, EHU or a mix. I first misread that as Trauma and know I was correct. It takes up half of one of the sofa bench seat spaces, along with various tubing, and even on water only keeps that under seat space a bit warm. As I understand it, it holds a small volume of water in the boiler ready for use, but that takes quite a few minutes to heat from a cold start. It’s not been cool enough to try the space heating mode. Apparently there is an app I can use on a smartphone for control and remote operation. The control panel loves to display error codes, so keep the manual nearby so you can realise it won’t start as a window sensor is open, or simply the 12V power is off.

Electrics are probably the weakest specification. 100W solar is manually switched between the leisure and engine battery, but the control suggests both may be charging? All is fed through a Sargent EC176 Power Supply Unit / 12V and 230V consumer unit with a 75Ah leisure battery (actually 72Ah according to Banner’s spec sheet). Autotrail indicate I could have had a second leisure battery (same capacity) but Sargent say the PSU is “fairly low end” and shouldn’t support more than 120Ah limited to a fixed 13.8V nominal 12Amp max charge rate. As it is a second battery would take up too much under sofa space but a bit more capacity for off grid when there is lower solar input would have been nice. Over a windy and cloudy weekend mid August the solar did appear to be replenishing overnight lighting, TV and related use so despite my misgivings Autotrail could argue the systems are sufficient.

Fresh and waste water capacity is a limiting 60 litre each. I’ll have to learn to use water better if I’m to reduce my fetch and carry with watering cans and buckets and survive a little longer off grid. The integrated gaslow undertank of 25litre is great but needs to be planned ahead for refills and unless the engine’s ignition is on there is no way to check how much is left. Turn the fridge up high on gas and it will chew through it, with Dometic warning that lpg may need the burner to be frequently cleaned.

Build Quality

There are many detractors on MHF and elsewhere who are highly critical of the Autotrail brand. I know some have had very poor experiences. I’m not putting my head into the sand, and whilst I have some minor gripes, so far I do consider these mere snagging.

Most awkward is the shower door which should latch top middle and bottom, but at present is middle only. There is also some trim to the centre rooflight which is pushed in place and tries to pop out with change in temperature. The grey and fresh water drain cocks seem to be push fit rather than glued so I wonder when they might fall off with the flexipipes under the van seeming to have only a single hanger clip fixing which might be vulnerable.

A wire to the solar controller wasn’t secured and caught when I removed something from the overhead locker. Easily tightened up for the loss of a 20A fuse. The steering wheel buttons for the radio needed to be programmed (every vehicle I’ve bought in 20 years these just worked). The WC cassette door needed minor adjustment to ensure latching (quickly fixed by the dealer during handover). The shower curtain should have four popper fittings to the wall panels, but those aren’t aligning.

My OCD does get a little miffed that the rear vehicle doors appear to be different widths, rather than truly centred, so that the bed cushions when laid out don’t align with the door frame, and the left door panel is slightly wider than the right. Similarly the rear windows have differing heights below and above the windows opening on each side of the lounge. Clearly this is by design and no doubt a result of the base vehicle, but it’s this sort of thing that I find annoying, whereas others would no doubt be concerned about some mysterious rattle (it’s a motorhome and everything has a potential to shake about if you don’t pack it down). But Autotrail really should have done better with the fridge unit, prominently labelled internally that the freezer compartment was removeable yet the cupboard bulkhead obstructing that outer door prevents that operation.
 
May 7, 2016
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The Comfortmatic seems to work OK
Good review.

I too am driving my first Comformatic, only 200 miles so far and finding the same issues. Why does the hill start not work on small gradients and why does it not drop back into gear after shifting to neutral? However I am liking the Conformatic more than I expected to after the traditional auto of my previous Mercedes chassis. Lots to learn but a better robotised system than the Citroen and Smart ones I have previously owned, but not a patch on my Wife’s Audi DSG one (I wasn’t expecting it to match the DSG).

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Jan 11, 2010
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Well that`s our 12th year & still loving it.
Excellent review, re your sofa cushions, perhaps if you switch them to the opposite side thus putting the raised edge against the van wall for sleeping you will have a more flat surface to sleep on.
MPG won't settle down for a few more miles, we use a watering can to make it easier to top up the water (ready made spout for pouring).
 
Apr 12, 2010
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An excellent and informative review. Whilst we have the Adria Twin 6.4 mtr which has a completely different layout, some observations and comparisons can be made as we have the same chassis, Ducato 130.
Your fuel consumption and power levels will improve with use, after around 5k it will feel more lively. I always say change gear more often and you won’t need more power on inclines etc, I don’t know the gearbox you have, but suspect it might have semi manual operation, much better in hill country.
I think we spoke briefly at Lymington and hope that you enjoy your pvc.
Phil

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Lenny HB

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Good review.
I wonder if your hill start problem is due to the 130 engine, we have 150 with 4500kg chassis don't have any problems & do mountains a lot.
The 130 has a standard turbo the 150 has a variable vane turbo which gives boost down to very low revs. The 130 practily dies below 1500rpm. Our first van was a 130 wouldn't have a 130 again.
 

Allanm

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Nice detailed review, but I can’t work out if you are pleased or disappointed with the van

I can see where your coming from with the OCD aspect with the rear doors and mattress alignment though....
 
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Kannon Fodda

Kannon Fodda

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Thanks for all the comments.

I am pleased with the van, it does everything and more than I want. It's fun and a whole new exciting experience, and very luxurious compared to tent camping (especially if I get up in the night to go to the loo - despite that Thetford fan that I suspect can't really be heard outside the van, but internally shatters any illusion of tranquillity).

I do write a lot of reports in my work and unfortunately find it easier to make critical comments that positives, so I can seem a bit negative at times.

Regarding the cushions, to create a mattress, they can only be laid out a certain way. The rear corner of the van is angled, and the cushions suit that. It's not uncomfortable, but you are aware of the slight ridging under your backside area, so an overlay mattress may help.

So far I've only filled water with a Colapze type watering can, plus collapsing bucket to reduce the number of trips. But the time I've found and unravelled a hose, driven near a tap, connected, filled, rewound the hose driven back, for 60 Litres, I've had a small bit of exercise and done it in probably the same time for less faffing about.

I think the 130 BHP engine for a 5.4m van under 3500 laden should be more than sufficient. It's not a race car. I looked long and hard at engines and would have accepted the 115BHP base vehicle, if not for the Comfortmatic. The 150 would be luxurious and no doubt had a better torque profile, but was a step too far in overall cost when I'd already more than blown any budgetary limits I'd set before the NEC (a very dangerous place).

I've had a number of different robotised auto gearboxes - Alfa Romeo's Selespeed around 15 years ago, the VW DSG on a Touran, Ford's Powershift in a C-Max. All have their quirks, you just have to get used to them. The Comfortmatic is at this stage a little more clunky. The hill climb mode definitely makes it more responsive changing up later when accelerating, and dropping down a gear much earlier. But I'm going to re-read the manual for the hill start as I definitely haven't the hang of that one.
 

Riverbankannie

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Hi, I’m sorry we didn’t talk at Lymington, we were in the blue IH.

It seem mad that you don’t have sliding window on the side of your door.
We have a roof extractor fan and I also use a small 12v fan in hot weather.
Extra hook space in our washroom is provided by these plastic pegs which hook over the shower curtain rail (useful when you want to wash out your socks and pants!) and can also be used outside on the awning rafters for a bit of towel drying.

Amazon product
You should find your lpg will last longer than you think. The level gauge won’t be at all accurate.
Fitting fridge vent fans will increase its efficiency enormously, ours left on lowest setting ( one blue light on the front) all the time last weekend when we were in an exposed field and internal van temperature at one time read 43 dec C. Ice cubes still ice cubes! I’ve got no idea why these are not fitted as standard.

Reading all your comments I’m glad we are able to have the extra length of the 6.3 which removes many issues and happy with our choice of IH as converter.

The main issue we are left with, is visibility when driving due to our height (certainly don’t have dangly leg issues and toilet a bit low).

Hopefully see you in another field sometime. :)
 
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Kannon Fodda

Kannon Fodda

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It seem mad that you don’t have sliding window on the side of your door.
The sliding habitation door has an openable window - top hung. But I suspect I'd just open the door, although using the window allows use of the fly screen where the doors don't have that.

All other windows to both sides of the rear lounge and both rear doors are also openable and top hung. But if you open the sliding door side living window you'd then take that out with the sliding door - there is a prominent warning in the van to that effect, so easier to not fall into that trap and never open it.

I'll have to take a look at those peg things (y)

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CWH

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Good, thorough review, KF, another Funster put me onto it as I'm looking to change my van if I can find anything that fits MY bill! - so, very useful, thank you.
I've driven Comfortmatic for 5 years now (and love it to bits! sadly Fiat are going to move to a true auto next year) so may be able to help a little with your issues.
The Comfortmatic seems to work OK, although can be a bit confusing to get into gear from neutral when you’ve been sat at lights and not wanted to ride the clutch. Just press the brake pedal to the floor and tip the stick gently towards you, it's the same as when you first start off.
It seems odd (but you get a shed load of warning buzzers in neutral) to switch off the engine with the gears in drive or reverse (there is no “P” position). I think that's standard in robotised manual gearboxes. The box then puts itself into neutral when you switch on. It's handy really, as if you're parked on a hill you HAVE to always have it in gear and this means you can choose forward or reverse to prevent rolling!
If the hill climb mode button is depressed the van seems to pull much better both on shorter steeper hills, as well as the lengthy motorway gradients. The "UP function" (hill climb) delays gear change-up so continues to give more power. I know some people have it engaged all the time as it doesn't affect flat travel. I rarely use it but if I'm in traffic on a steeper hill I'll kick it in.
Hill starting takes some mastery and I’m not sure at what point (if it exists) the hill start assist would cut in, but a slight rollback in a traffic queue seems almost inevitable. It only works if you're in gear and the slope is 10% or more. It won't work if the handbrake's on. It works forward and reverse.
I too am driving my first Comformatic, only 200 miles so far and finding the same issues. Why does the hill start not work on small gradients and why does it not drop back into gear after shifting to neutral? However I am liking the Conformatic more than I expected to after the traditional auto of my previous Mercedes chassis. Lots to learn but a better robotised system than the Citroen and Smart ones I have previously owned, but not a patch on my Wife’s Audi DSG one (I wasn’t expecting it to match the DSG).
HTH!
 
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Kannon Fodda

Kannon Fodda

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Thanks - I had thought the hill start was at 5 degrees - at least according to some of the Autotrail stuff I'd seen, 10 degrees is becoming quite steep. I'll admit on the previous Auto robotised gearboxes, Powershift, DSG etc all had a "P" button, hence my initial "how do I park up" confusion on the Comfortmatic.
 
Mar 29, 2011
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Good review.

I too am driving my first Comformatic, only 200 miles so far and finding the same issues. Why does the hill start not work on small gradients and why does it not drop back into gear after shifting to neutral? However I am liking the Conformatic more than I expected to after the traditional auto of my previous Mercedes chassis. Lots to learn but a better robotised system than the Citroen and Smart ones I have previously owned, but not a patch on my Wife’s Audi DSG one (I wasn’t expecting it to match the DSG).
Having been used to a VW DSG I hated the comformatic but as with everything I got used to it and make use of the manual part of it times, if anyone thinks lifes difficult when you start uphill in jam and the rollback mines a 7.2 ton motorhome and so life does get interesting when I take my foot off the brake and hit the accelerator hoping it does not roll back whilst also trying to keep the hand brake on until the last minute as well that is not much good on an Iveco chassis. In saying all that after a lengthy trial error period I have got on OK with it now

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Riverbankannie

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The sliding habitation door has an openable window - top hung. But I suspect I'd just open the door, although using the window allows use of the fly screen where the doors don't have that.

All other windows to both sides of the rear lounge and both rear doors are also openable and top hung. But if you open the sliding door side living window you'd then take that out with the sliding door - there is a prominent warning in the van to that effect, so easier to not fall into that trap and never open it.

I'll have to take a look at those peg things (y)
It seem mad that you don’t have sliding window on the side of your door.

I worded that sentence badly. I meant the window in the side of the van that has the sliding door should be a sliding window. Ours is and we also have a top hung one in the door itself.
 

CWH

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Thanks - I had thought the hill start was at 5 degrees - at least according to some of the Autotrail stuff I'd seen, 10 degrees is becoming quite steep. I'll admit on the previous Auto robotised gearboxes, Powershift, DSG etc all had a "P" button, hence my initial "how do I park up" confusion on the Comfortmatic.
Ah - you're right - I was going by memory only (always a mistake for me) so I've checked the manual and it's 5.
This bit is useful: "the ESC system control unit maintains the braking pressure on the wheels until the torque necessary for starting is reached, or in any case for a maximum of 2 seconds [.....] When two seconds have elapsed, without starting, the system is automatically deactivated, gradually releasing the braking pressure."
 
Mar 23, 2018
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A very honest review and it's always interesting to have comments from newbies. As someone who progressed from camping, to caravan, to motorhome, each 'upgrade' was a positive experience and everything is compromise.

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Jul 6, 2009
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We have the comformatic in our 2019 Burstner, one of the biggest annoying habits is it changes down every time you brake, even when just lightly checking the speed downhill

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May 7, 2016
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We have the comformatic in our 2019 Burstner, one of the biggest annoying habits is it changes down every time you brake, even when just lightly checking the speed downhill
I like that feature, saves having to keep your foot hovering over the brake pedal. It changes up again as soon as you touch the accelerator pedal. My Mercedes auto was very poor on engine braking.
 
Jul 6, 2009
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801
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I feel that sometimes when even a light touch on the brake pedal causes a change down engine is reving hard and the whole van jerks cannot be good for the engine mountings
 
May 7, 2016
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I feel that sometimes when even a light touch on the brake pedal causes a change down engine is reving hard and the whole van jerks cannot be good for the engine mountings
Not experienced a jerk, smooth change down as far as I am concerned. I haven’t experienced anything that I would not have done with a manual box.

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Kannon Fodda

Kannon Fodda

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Almost a couple of years later my original post attracts occasional attention. So it's worth summarising some of my experiences with the V-Line 540SE, which I very much enjoy.

I've been out and about a fair bit, clocking up so far around 8.500 miles (not sure if you would say that is high, low, average). Use has varied from shorter overnight and longer weekends fairly locally around the New Forest and South Downs, a number of Funster rallies, jaunts to the Peak District and Lake District, and a circumnavigation around the NC500 including onto the Orkneys. I've used the van (covid permitting) throughout the year from Summer and winter months including New Year rally.

The positives:

Driving: I get 31-32mpg, and have been happy doing 4 hour plus drives. I do limit to 65mph on motorways, preferring the speed limiter to the cruise control functions, great for average speed areas so you can watch the road, not the speedo. There are some rattles, mostly the cooker (use tea towels to pack the oven rack and a cushioned crockery draining type cloth between the hob and glass cover) , or probably the stuff I've poorly stashed in the cupboard underneath, and inevitably hangers in the wardrobe behind my head rattle. The driver's seat only just moved back far enough. Autotrail appear to have fitted lower base frames to the seats but they are still raised by the swivels, so you get an elevated view of the road, but my eyeline is only just below the windscreen top. Xzent radio is good volume, but DAB reception is quite variable, satnav fair (I think I prefer Tom Tom style). Air con can take a long while to become effective (it's a big space). I find the 130BHP engine with comfortmatic easy to use, recognising that this isn't going to be a racing vehicle. Couple of times it's screwed up, I think I confused it changing too quick from accelerator to brake and back to accelerator, but it did windy roads like the NC500 quite well. On longer motorway gradients the speed may drop back a little from the 65mph, even in the uphill mode, it's obviously just the wrong torque range.

Toilet: It's got one (yes OK so any decent motorhome has one). But coming from a tent background, no more midnight trips to the facility block is two years later a major luxury. Ok so the space is a bit compact for a bulky 6' bloke but that will be true of most motorhomes. Always used the Aldi type washing detergent sachets rather than the chemicals, absolutely fine for 3-4 days by which time the cassette is getting fuller. I think most dodgy smells are from the grey waste, which I put cleaner into every few trips and now just keep a plug over the shower trap. The shower function, even with limited on board water has also been great for Covid, and also allows use of much cheaper sites that don't have the shower blocks. Of course that shower curtain becomes clingy and it takes a bit of effort to wipe the area down afterwards as there is always some standing water left in the tray, however you park. I do find I still prefer staying on sites, albeit I now use those with limited facilities, rather than wilding.

Flexibility. I can just get up and go, with the van parked outside the house. 30 minutes to load some fresh food (and booze), items of clothing, and I'm off as everything else is already there. No faffing with getting camping gear and tents into a car, pitching and the reverse on return. The big advantage that you don't lose so much time, and a couple of days away is now so easy. It really has meant it's worth getting away Friday evening after work to the South Downs or New Forest, enjoy the Saturday before return Sunday and can be relaxed ready for work again.

Layout. It works very well for me. I do suspect two people might find the 5.4m slightly limiting and prefer a 6m with the option of two single beds rather than the transverse double. I find I arrive somewhere, pull most of the stuff I might need from under the rear bench seat (cables, collapsible watering can, outside chair, table, Cadac Safari Chef), stash that around the drivers seat footwell, and then make up the bed. Occasionally I'll pack bed away for the day if I really need to spread out for use of the table (work on a laptop), but usually on site I leave it made up, lie around on it for 40 winks and use the cab seat for most daytime use. I did get a mattress topper as the cushions laid out were a bit uneven. The hinged shelf on end of the kitchen area by the door readily makes a small table if you pull the passenger seat out (but you feet dangle a bit).

Temperatures. The interior doesn't overheat in the summer, especially if weather permits opening the rooflights, although the toiler with it's mushroom vent will get warm. But in practice you don't open either of the rear long windows (drivers side over the boiler flue has sensor for safety that will turn the boiler / heater off, passenger side will get clouted by the sliding door). I haven't used the van in continuous freezing weather but the Truma heating is quite efficient (even if the controls are easily upset), both on EHU and particularly gas, but it does need to balance the flaps on the duct outlets so more heat is sent to the front of the vehicle. During cooler weather I make use of the Truma blutooth smart phone app and set the heater whilst in bed to a lower temperature, to keep some comfort, and then set higher as I wake up as the van temperature does recover quickly. An external silver screen that covers the outside bonnet vents makes a lot of difference to the inside temperature and reduced a lot of condensation inside the screen compared to the fitted blinds (I prefer blinds in summer as the side screen when fitted cuts out a lot of internal cab light, even if you have the fold down type external screen). Some might desire an internal cover to the metal on the rear door centres but I haven't noted a problem. I did fit fans in the compartment behind the fridge which improved performance in warm weather.

Payload is great, but then it's a smaller van. Recent check whilst fully watered (only 60l), fueled, and with long weekend's clobber food and beer showed I still had 400Kg to spare.

The Limitations:

Storage. Effectively only one larger space for anything, one living area underbench space (at least that was made bigger when the battery was moved, see below). So no where for large items including your standard folding camper chair. I barely fit the EHU leads, watering cans, Cadac BBQ, Helinox rollup chair, small collapsible table and a couple of other oddments in there. It's a bit awkward to get to the cupboards under the sink and cooker (anyone who can't get up / down easily on hands and knees will struggle). and the kitchen drawers are also small. I note Autotrail changed the kitchen area units in 2020. I could easily do with the microwave (it is best used as a breadbin), which is useless unless you are on EHU (there is no inverter setup fitted) and that could easily have been another more useful cupboard space.

Wiring. Electrics were the Achillies heel. I suspect that Autotrail don't really envisage the v-line as much more than an overnighter use off grid. The 100W solar would recharge normal use, on a decent day, but get to Autumn with shorter days, or stay somewhere where there are lots of trees, and your recharge will be limiting. The 75Ah leisure battery, a Banner lead-acid thing is in fact 72Ah, so just about 35Ah regularly useable if you don't want to be affecting potential life. A bit of lighting, watch a few hours of TV on that cooler evening, perhaps radio, water pump, power the heater (even on gas there is power for the fans), and you can get through that. Then when driving the Sargent unit has a maximum recharge of 12A, so now you need to be driving for at least 3 hours to refil the battery if there was nothing coming from solar. There is a solitary 12V cigarette lighter point in the habitation area (further 12v in drivers' area runs of engine battery only if engine is on). With space limits a 2nd battery was impossible. Ended up forking out well over £1,500 for upgrades via Vanbitz for a 120Ah Lithium, B2B charger (so normal nightly battery use of say 30Ah would recharge in less than an hour's drive) , MPPT controller for solar (in May the solar recharged normally battery before lunchtime), battery master to top off the engine battery from leisure (great for keeping stuff going between uses off the solar when alarms and stuff drain the cab battery). The lithium leisure battery was fitted to the driver's side bench rear bench seat (next to the Sargent unit and Truma) that made the whole passenger bench useable, reusing the solar, and with the basic Sargent wiring left in place but engine relay connection disconnected, and using the Sargent EHU charger only for manual switched periods to recharge if the 12V has been used a lot as it doesn't have a lithium profile. I have since fitted a small capacity inverter (taking advantage of the Lithium) giving me flexibility to recharge an e-bike battery or use a beefy laptop.

Warranty & Failures: A couple of niggles, all resolved without too great a difficulty, albeit lesson learned to perhaps buy from a dealer a bit more local than one at the opposite end of the country. The trips up north, apart from perhaps cost of diesel haven't been too bad, as it's enabled use of the van and I've just booked weekends with stays nearby up nearer the dealer exploring that area. Fiat had a couple of safety recalls on the base vehicle, dealt with through the local professional garage. Autotrail did a recall (via dealer) for the fridge compartment which might not have been properly sealed (not a problem, and if there had been one I would have hoped the habitation check would have detected, and / or the fitted carbon monoxide detector). I've had a wardrobe door that started to twist replaced. The bathroom door, initially latching only on the centre was adjusted by the dealer on a quick stop off as I drove past on my way to the NC500. Towel hook on the inside of the bathroom door fell off (with screws less than 10mm into the very thin panels, hardly surprising that the heavy bath sheet towel I was using was too much for it and vibrations driving along. The flip down washbasin inevitably flips of it's own accord whilst travelling so I'm adding an extra little catch. Underslung lpg tank is great, the next size up capacity from 25l might have been nice if there was space underneath given the increasing challenges of finding a garage with working pump, but the gauge is hopelessly inaccurate.

Roll Out Awning. Easy enough to use and deploy. Get the added restraint straps. I go bright red too easily, even with factor 50 and the sun keeps moving! More significantly, and this will be common to any PVC, the front of the awning stops level with the sliding door front. If you want to use the awning just to shelter the door opening when it's showery so you can leave it ajar, the awning doesn't provide enough overhang.

Would I Buy Again?

I very much enjoy the V-Line 540SE. It was the right choice as my first van, recognising that when I was buying I knew nothing (apart from having spent time at a couple of shows looking at layouts). A prime factor in choice of vehicle was length as 6m just would not fit my drive. I do think Autotrail need to improve the installed electrics, not just battery capacity, but they have a lot of lighting bling yet the provision of a single 12v habitation area outlet is limiting, and the Sargent unit too basic. For the overall price range I believe it did offer reasonable value. It does everything I want, and has met my expectations without significant issues.
 
Nov 19, 2019
794
2,594
Funster No
66,935
MH
Challenger 287GA
Exp
Since 2020
I couldn't agree more. Great to hear some real-world opinions from an owner, especially when written in such a professional manner. Thank you for the update and I hope your van gives many more years of pleasure!
 

Jonno1103

LIFE MEMBER
Aug 27, 2017
848
869
Harrogate
Funster No
50,207
MH
F Line F70
Exp
Since 2012
Thanks Kannon Fodda, a very usable and informative review for those seeking to buy a PVC.

When off gridding keep in mind that your underslung LPG tank only fills to 80% due to expansion.

The off centre doors... no panel van is built straight, they all have around a 10mm tolerance. When lying in bed look around the roof, there's a lot of packing behind the eye level lockers so they're straight to the eye rather than the van.
 
Jul 3, 2008
1,087
911
Lincolnshire
Funster No
3,154
MH
Autotrail Apache 700
Exp
since 1998
With regards to sofa cushions, when making up the bed turn cushions so that back is used for sleeping on, you will find that it is a more flatter surface and use of an overlay will make it far more comfortable

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