Our Swift Elegance 560 Caravan
Introduction, Personal Review, Wishlist, Modifications and Additions.
After about 19 years away from caravanning it was time to return - this time with the aim of maximum comfort for two.
Before any caravan purchase, because we like to have our caravan readily accessible at home, I had to widen and extended the drive down the side of our garage for our storage space (being on a slope this meant me building retaining walls supported by reinforced concrete, infill and a lot of work).
Our old 1998 ABI Twinstar (see here) was a large twin axle (we bought it brand new with 50% discount as ABI bankrupt stock!). This time round we decided to downsize and started thinking about a luxury 2 berth, but then inevitably the permanent bed option beckoned and so the smallest caravans were eventually ruled out.
Getting the 'van into and out of its planned home would mean some fancy and precision large pirouette manoeuvring (nose first for aesthetics and extra security) so a motor mover was going to be essential. It was at this stage we also decided to stick with single axle - if we could find one with all the facilities we wanted.
We looked at what was available and quite quickly narrowed our selection down to range topping 'vans with a fixed in line island bed and a central washroom.
We ended up choosing the Swift Elegance 560.
Swift Elegance 560 Personal Review (pre-modification, so the "Before")
This is very much a personal view and is strictly in the context of our experience of buying and using the 'van as a 2 berth. We always use on-board facilities, even when sites have shower blocks,etc.
The styling of the exterior shouldn't be a game changer, but having looked at all the major brands the 2019/20 Elegance models do look stylish and modern, whether on site or on the road, and this did influence us - how shallow! My only real gripe with the exterior was the faded brown quilted effect graphic featured on this model, made from what looks like poor quality vinyl - very much a personal taste thing.
Most top of the range caravans made in the UK have a pretty similar equipment spec to be honest and the exterior had the usual array of inlets, outlets, etc, etc.
On our production model, the awning light was behind the fridge vents and not over the door as in the promotional photos - this wasn't the only difference between the Swift brochure pictures and the actual caravan delivered.
Interior as delivered (Numerous interior pictures are included in the "After" section further down):
The front cabin may not look huge, but we have found it has more than enough space for the two of us and we have never felt restricted or claustrophobic even on an extended stay. The seating is comfortable. Seating is fine for up to 2 guests, but after that space will be limited. The materials used in the Elegance make things look expensive (which of course they should given the price of this range). There are enough lighting options to cater for any mood you could imagine!
The front central pull-out occasional table is more than adequate as a main table for the two of us, so the stand-alone table (stored in a rear wardrobe) stays at home.
The 560 in the Swift 2019 brochure/website shows a TV mount by the entrance door. Using the standard angled mount the TV would definitely obstruct entrance and exit. I liked the TV position, but planned to make a custom low profile mount which would allow the TV to be left in place without causing any issues. Between ordering and delivering Swift changed the layout. The TV point was now on the front centre drawer unit and a very flimsy end back rest was added to the seat by the door to allow you to lean back while viewing the now forward traditionally placed TV. Just don't lean too hard as the afterthought panel is too thin, bends alarmingly and also made the area look cramped. After some negotiation our very helpful dealer (White Arches, Rushden) changed the panel back to the low profile version as in the brochure.
The brochure showed this.................. Swift delivered this...............
Storage in and around the kitchen area is fantastic, especially the large soft close drawer below the sink. I can't imagine anyone running out of space here - having the tall fridge opposite frees up a lot of space below the sink/worktop. Soft close cupboard doors are everywhere, even when not actually helpful.
The kitchen area has the usual bells and whistles and we do use the microwave (a lot) and it works fine.
One oddity; you can't open the washroom door with the grill door open. Can be viewed as a safety feature or an oversight.
In previous 'vans I had always fitted an over-hob extractor, but the standard Heki fan/rooflight above the cooker means I won't need to in this 'van.
The Swift Command panel is opposite over the door and has worked without fault - including the App on my Android phone. It is nice to be able to control the 'van from the bed!
We love the washroom and it works brilliantly for us. However, I can see that if you suffer from mobility problems and/or are a plus size you might find it a squeeze. It is compact, but everything is easily accessible and again there is plenty of storage. The shower cubicle in easily big enough for our needs. Before our first outing the washroom was the one area that did concern us regarding space (and the one area which made us look briefly at larger twin axle variants), but as it turns out, it was absolutely fine in actual use with no issues - an example where you need to use it to properly judge it.
The central washroom then has two separate solid sliding doors through to the bedroom.
The bedroom is one of the best parts of the design of this 'van. The bed is full length and does not need extending before using or an 8ft wide 'van to fit it in. Either of us can get out of bed without disturbing the other and should sleep evade either of us, there are two doors between the bedroom and the front cabin, so a proper multiroom layout. Brilliant!
The bedroom itself is again well laid out with more than enough storage. It feels very luxurious and the central TV mount is perfectly placed.
The layout overall makes you feel like your are in an apartment rather than a bedsit - it is personal preference, but we don't like the bedroom separated from the "lounge" by a flimsy plastic concertina curtain or similar which you find on many of the transverse bed layouts with the rear washroom.
Nothing unusual to report. The ATC wasn't activated (as far as I can tell) and the suspension did a good job with no evidence of items being strewn about the cabin.
The rear camera worked brilliantly. It was surprisingly useful on the motorway - well worth having and hard to imagine doing without it now. We always tow with a tyre pressure monitor - particularly important on a single axle.
Not so good:
I am sure that not all our findings are exclusive to Swift, but this is the 'van we have lived with, so this is what we found.
The overall design is excellent, the build of the main structure appears sound and good materials and fittings have been used, but the fitting out shows some signs of being rushed with numerous build quality issues:
Hinge screws were almost all overtightened meaning the hinges come loose.
The toilet back is not on straight (didn't notice for ages, but now it's obvious). Luckily you have to look carefully to see it, so I no longer look as correcting it could be difficult (fluid filler inlet might be an issue).
The front locker strike plate fell off - not surprised given it appeared to have been fixed with masking tape.
The sink waste leaked and the basin waste pipe was too short preventing the shelf in the cupboard from sitting correctly.
The plastic wheel arch liners were not properly sealed - noticed by a draught and a glimpse of daylight on the inner edges from inside the 'van.
Off side jacking support was not on straight - potentially a serious safety issue!
The silicone around the kitchen worktop is poorly applied - a clear example of speed first.
(All of the above - apart from the toilet - have now been remedied by me, because it was easier than two round trips to the dealer).
The sound quality in the front cabin from the built in DAB radio/aux amplifier is truly terrible. I can't believe whoever designed this has actually heard it in situ!
I end up modifying most things (see the website home page) and any caravan we bought would be for its potential rather than its delivery specification. The modern wood-free construction of the Swift Elegance range and modern design gave us at least a sense of a degree of future proofing. I have nothing against wood. It's the original carbon composite material and very strong - it's just that in a context where it could get wet without easy access or knowledge we prefer rot proof alternatives.
With this in mind the Elegance 560 was not perfect for us ex-factory, but is a very good caravan and for us it was the best choice.
Things we would like to change having used the caravan:
The inboard tank is all well and good for Arctic stays, but we mostly do fair weather trips. We found draining the tank down before moving on a nuisance (weight compliance) and did not like the onboard pump (its noise or its pulsing at low flow rate). What we want is a twin autochangeover aquaroll system with external pumps. Perhaps a wastemaster level indicator might be good too.
The shower mixer is basic and we often went through the Brr! too cold Oww! too hot cycle - which also wasted water. It needs thermostatic control and while we are at it, an extractor fan to deal with condensation.
We both find sleeping difficult if even slightly too hot - we want air conditioning. This would be a challenge given the distinct three room layout.
Levelling was OK, especially as my Hitachi drill can comfortably lift the 'van using the Milenco leveller (a great bit of kit if you have the right drill, a pain if you don't) and using the same drill the steadies take literally seconds to lower/raise (the fully adjustable torque settings a real bonus in use). However I do rather fancy the idea of hydraulic axle levelling for the following reasons:
Effortless side to side levelling on site.
Can take the weight off the tyres during storage and easier Alko wheel lock fitment.
Easy wheel changing.
And the most important reason, which didn't even occur to me until we went in a 'van with the system installed, the 'van feels rock steady, like being in a house. I hadn't appreciated the slight movement while on the suspension/tyres until it was no longer there. A revelation.
The sound system would need completely rethinking and the TV would need to go back by the door using a low profile mounting.
The narrow bore twin outlet drainage standard on most caravans would have to go.
I would like to lose the brown quilted graphics in an ideal world.
There is a radiator below the towel hook in the washroom, but an independent 240V towel rail (we always use hookup) would be better.
We have bought a nice porch awning but would like a light both inside the awning and one outside as well - a kind of porch light!
With all this extra stuff we will need to get the weight plate upgraded.
Modifications and additions - "After"
TV mount and sound system upgrade.
Mounting the TV by the door would mean we could view leaning against the proper cushion bolsters at the front rather than the afterthought flimsy panel by the door. To avoid entry/exit issues it would need to be mounted flat against the panel - preferably permanently - so also securely.
This was a relatively easy modification because the aerial mount and amplifier are in the cupboard behind along with a 12V supply.
Digital radio is available through Freeview, so the standard DAB module was not used and still works on its own through the roof mounted speakers (as badly as ever). To get decent sound quality I modified a 2.1 PC speaker system (2 small speakers plus a subwoofer) to run on 12V and made up a custom speaker grille to sit above the TV. This also allowed me to mount an IR repeater to run the 12V BluRay player which sits in the cupboard. Sky and other input refinements may come later, we'll see how we get on.
The result works really well and the sound quality is excellent. I didn't go for an overly large or powerful sub as I didn't want to subject caravan neighbours to hearing our music booming across the site.
I also improved the TV mount in the bedroom to allow the TV to stay in position during travel.
Shower extractor fan.
An extractor is my preference over a rooflight or standard roof vent. I wanted to have an anti-backdraught flap in the system to prevent cold air pouring into the shower cubicle when the fan was not running (otherwise no better than a normal vent). I managed this by routing the airflow sidewards into the same cupboard as the TV aerial and using the same 12V supply. I was able to use a small tangential fan and make a butyl rubber "one way valve" flap to sit on the outlet before it went up through the roof to a standard mushroom vent.
Shower thermostatic control.
Luckily there is an access hatch in the perfect place to access the shower pipework. It was then an easly job to plumb in a good quality Bristan thermostatic valve (these are widely used in care installations and have a good reputation - I would steer clear of cheap pattern part valves). A carefully placed vent allows access for fine tuning using an allen key. Minor adjustments are very rarely needed.
I did consider a "proper" thermostatic valve shower control in the shower itself, but the shower was constructed in such a way that I would need to dismantle half the caravan to get suitable access. Not ideal at the best of times and definitely not while still under warranty!
PICS COMING SOON
Like many I removed the 25mm system and fitted a 32mm system with proper falls leading to a single outlet. Water drains away quickly now without issues which was not the case with the standard system - even when brand new.
Water supply system.
The Elegance gives various options as standard. You can use the external pump to fill the onboard tank and then use the onboard pump to pressurise the supply.
You can also bypass the onboard tank and take water straight from an aquaroll, but again using the onboard pump.
I have already mentioned my issues with the standard system in the "review".
Twenty years ago in our last 'van I designed and installed an externally pumped twin aquaroll system featuring auto changeover which worked really well. I decided to install the same type of system on our Elegance.
Here you can see the main selector switch - you can choose Swift standard operation or my system. There are also two valves to change (which we leave set for the twin aquaroll supply). On the right you can see the control panel I made. It shows which aquaroll is being used and which has water in it.
Basically when one aquaroll is empty the system switches automatically to the other (you might notice a brief splutter if mid shower). The control panel alerts you to fill the now empty aquaroll at your leisure.
Here is the outside view. I had to add an extra water inlet and because I am sad, I even moved the existing inlets to line up properly (the fourth "inlet" is actually a shower outlet). You can see the cables for the float switches. These simply unplug when you go to refill. On a serviced pitch only one aquaroll is connected.
Wastemaster nearly full alert.
With a continous water supply we do end up using more of it and if not on a serviced pitch I found myself having to nip out and check the level of grey water quite frequently. My solution was another float switch (stainless steel) which clips onto the filler opening of the wastemaster. The cable and float store in an underfloor box when travelling.
Inside is a small panel which has a bright flashing red LED when the water level gets to within 100mm of the top of the filler opening. The switch disables the system.
PICS COMING SOON
Heated towel rail.
This simply meant routing a mains cable extension to supply a fused stainless steel towel rail (thinner walled and lighter than standard chrome ones). Even with the heating off we can enjoy the benefit of warm towels!
Second awning light.
This was fiddly as the location and wiring was behind the shower. Basically we have one light inside the awning and one just outside - a porch light if you will.
I just didn't like the brown graphics, so found a specialist to overlay much higher quality carbon fibre effect vinyl (to match the front locker cover). Much happier with this.
E&P Hydraulic Levelling.
I decided to spoil myself for the reasons listed earlier. However, would I go for the full system or just the axle levelling?
There are two factors which eventually decided it for me. Alko say it's fine, but Alko make the chassis and not the body, so lifting the front of the 'van by the floor panel a long way from any chassis supports I still find an uncomfortable proposition. Don't forget that it is this area of the floor close to the area Swift have been issuing recalls for and they don't offer E&P as an option, factory or dealer. If you have a caravan from a manufacturer who offers E&P as standard or an option I would feel much more confident.
I was in two minds. Then I watched a Buccaneer level itself on a loose gravel pitch and noticed that the owner ended up adjusting the corner steadies"manually". Apparently he did this on any loose surface to ensure proper seating - not necessary on firm ground. Well, given that as I have already mentioned I can raise/lower individual steadies super fast with my drill and "supervise" pad placement, I decided on the "compact" version. It still levels the axle and still tells me when the van is level N/S on the nosewheel.
There was no option for supply only so this had to be done by an E&P authorised installer.
You can see some pictures which show the system in the section below.
This was never going to be simple. The three distinct rooms of the 'van meant we would want A/C in the front cabin, AND in the bedroom (remember there is a washroom in between).
The simple, quick and easy solution would be a roof mounted unit to replace the Heki extractor vent. This would mean the only way to cool the front cabin AND the bedroom would be to leave all the internal doors open to cool the whole van interior. We would also lose the extractor and rooflight in the kitchen area and be unnecessarily cooling the washroom. Far too much of a compromise for me.
Ruling out a roof unit meant a concealed unit under the front seating (we chose the Truma Saphir Compact). As we don't have to store bedding up front there was no problem losing storage space (just the two of us). However, there is a major issue when it comes to ducting to provide the correct cooling effect.
A/C outlet vents need to be relatively high up or the cold air will just hang around your feet. Ducting which works effeciently and doesn't look awful was going to be a major challenge.
To get air to the right parts of the 'van the only way to go was down - under the floor. This meant using special closed cell 20mm wall insulated foam fitted around 68mm downpipe. Secure mounting, a freeflowing route, thick insulation and not fouling key chassis components added to the challenge. I spent a lot of time on my back under the 'van. You can also see the E&P system in these pictures.
Having got cold air the the right place at underfloor level was just the start. An aesthetic and functional solution to getting air outlets up high enough was going to test my design skills.
In the front cabin this was not as bad as I feared. There is already a gap behind the seat backs above the heating radiators. Also, I always thought the padded velour panels in the front corners looked good, but thought it rather mean of Swift not to have matching panels on the rear side of the windows (which they have done in the bedroom). I killed two birds with one stone (and some matching material from my dealer).
The washroom didn't need an A/C outlet and so it was straight on to the bedroom, where finding a way to get a high level outlet proved the biggest challenge. The only cupboards were at the very back which would mean an overlong and tortuous pipe route which would also be very vulnerable and visible from behind the 'van (with the insulation in place the ducting was 110mm in diameter!).
My solution meant a very tight squeeze past water and heating pipes and up the wall. Looks simple now it's all in place - trust me it wasn't!
Under the A/C unit itself I used more 100mm pipe to direct the hot damp discharge air well away from the air inlet.
Two extra inlet grilles were added inside the 'van.
The Truma Saphir Compact unit we used does hook into the control panel and Swift Command and so basic functions work from the app on my phone. I also routed a remote IR extender to allow me to access the full range of controls from the bedroom using the A/C remote.
PICS COMING SOON
The results are excellent. Even without cooling the moving air has a pleasant refreshing effect. With the cooling operating the results exceeded my expectations. Just don't expect it to get cool within seconds (car A/C units consume a lot of power and only have to cool a small air volume) just leave it running on auto and before two long you will feel the improvement. Despite the low power of the Truma unit, the air movement, air cooling and very importantly the air dehumidifying transforms the interior atmosphere.
Well worth the effort.
No doubt further tweaks and additions will follow....