Old name on a new van but do the numbers stack up on this six-berth offering?

When asked if I wanted to test the new Avida Birdsville, I wasn’t expecting a first-run prototype. The Birdsville is now in production, it’s just that this version I took away for a week was the first example. The C Class 7436 is an indicated six-berth model based on the popular Fiat Ducato cab-chassis. Our vehicle ran the 130kW, 400Nm, 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel Multijet engine as opposed to the 110kW, 380Nm option. The range of B and C Class Birdsville models are available with manual or automated manual transmissions (AMT) and the six-speed AMT ’box we had managed well, although we, like many, never had cause to use it in its manual mode. In case you’re wondering, C Class denotes a bedroom over the cab that the B Class doesn’t have. 

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Fiat Ducatos’ offer a cab that’s great for the driver in terms of space and comfortable seats. The pews have dual armrests that prevent tired limbs, good body support and the whole units swivel when it’s time to park up. Deep door pockets provide storage and the cab reflects commercial heritage by being useful in terms of layout and practicality since the cup holder oversight was rectified some time ago. Seating position and outward vision are great, so you can eat up the kays on big drive days. 

Smoother transition between the cab and the living area is aided by the fact that the bed above lifts on gas struts to lessen the headbanging of some brands. Stepping back here means you move off the carpet of the cab and onto the timber-effect surface prevalent in Aussie units but I still wish removable carpet would be offered – especially for use in winter. The Avida range of motorhomes is built using its sandwich panel construction that offers a floor thickness of a claimed 45-60mm with one-piece roof and floor and full insulation throughout; so they’re built warm, but carpet just adds that extra touch. 

The over-cab double bed is screened off via curtains, is lit from windows either side, offers a great place to store light items while travelling and is reached by a clip-on ladder. Now the ladder is mounted directly in front of the three-way fridge, which offers a real conflict of use of both. On top of the fridge stack – with microwave – is a cupboard, the top of which provides a bed-side table for the outer occupant of the bed. 

The fridge unit is beside the stairwell to the entry door and besides having a rack for magazines (or tea towels in our case) it offers a hinged, drop-down table that spans the stairwell to reach the cupboard opposite and make a very handy preparation bench. It’s great. The only downside one could see is a hasty entry from outside when it’s in place… 

The extra prep space is welcome, though, because the kitchen top on the driver’s side is made up of cooker, sink and drainer. The Dometic cooker has three gas rings, a hotplate and grill with only a small section of worktop to the right if all are in use. Beneath the kitchen is a great set of deep drawers, and a slide-out pantry. The kitchen wall has a large window and is framed above with cupboards and a rangehood/extractor. 

There are two more large Hehr windows on either side of the lounge area and all are screened with insect and privacy blinds; fabric curtains are for dressing only. All windows open outward. 

The lounge is the most confusing aspect of the Birdsville layout. Drop, or roll-down beds are supposedly space-saving features that allow you to travel with the bed made up, and are easily moved out of the way or deployed with a press of a button. But in this layout, with it installed directly above the lounges that occupy each wall, when it’s fully lowered it blocks access to the bathroom at the rear. In the simplest terms, it means the forward bedmate on the drop down has to roll over the other for a night-time convenience break, while anyone in the bed over the cab had also best be related to everyone else, should they wish to use the toilet during the night. It was indicated by Avida that the two lounges beneath the roll-down bed could be utilised to make up the six-berth application. 

All this activity precludes less mobile people. The roll-down bed in its lowest position needs a healthy step up and twist to get in. The lounges can be specified as single beds, but this then means you need a step of some sort to get into the roll-down to allow any headspace for those underneath – presumably kids. Avida told us that this model is the product of customer feedback. I am simply not convinced. The chains for the bed operation rattle in their cases constantly when on the move. 

In addition, the table that is in the central aisle when in use, despite being adjustable, gets in the way when moving through the vehicle, and it has no dedicated place to be stored. We were advised to stand it behind the passenger seat but if that is swivelled to face the rear, the table top would be in the way. Plus, if the ladder to the Luton bed is down then that too conflicts. This arrangement may work for some families but you would have to carefully consider your options. With the TV mount on the driver’s side, you are almost directed to sleep with your heads on the left side of the vehicle to watch Tele in bed. 

There is decent cupboard storage on both sides of the vehicle at the end of the lounges, which themselves have storage bins beneath the cushions. Interestingly, the prototype tag presented itself here, with the external access to the bins on the nearside being changed and apparently made smaller. This meant that the camping furniture supplied had to be brought out via the top instead of lifted out from outside. 

The bathroom runs full width of the rear, partitioned from the living area by a concertina curtain. The sink is stainless and recessed into the vanity and there’s a useful cupboard above the opening window on the rear wall (overseen outside by an optional rear-view colour camera system). The shower is spacious, and has a power vent but is let down by a plastic roll out screen door. The plastic seems easily scratched and in our vehicle was showing signs of wear. The Thetford swivel toilet had room around it but we think the towel rack and the large mirror should be swapped in positions. The mirror is insufficiently lit and provides more of a view of you on the loo than what you look like dressed. 

 

VERDICT

This Birdsville layout confounded. There are B and C Class versions with large slide-outs that are more practical. Indeed, there are models such as the Avida Ceduna that has the roll-down bed at the rear over the club lounge, meaning the kitchen and bathroom are accessible to all occupants all the time. The throughway of this model seems to be hampered. For a couple with family or kids occasionally sleeping up over the cab, then you’d be comfy, however, Avida reiterated that this is a vehicle designed in response to its customer research – so, maybe you know what you want!  

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