GERMAN AND PROUD
With a proud German history, the Carado T459 has a lot to offer the discerning motorhomer. MCD reviewer Paul Owen takes a deep dive into this luxury vehicle.
Back in 2004, when the great German motorhome juggernaut, the Erwin Hymer Group, decided to create two new more affordable brands, it found a large, mothballed tractor plant in south-east Germany. This was quickly rebuilt and refurbished, to eventually become what it is now: one of the most modern and most automated motorhome manufacturing facilities in the world.
The venture established a new company, Capron, at Neustadt, near Dresden, in the beautiful subalpine province of Saxony-Suisse, a region known for its skilled workers, many of whom were still feeling residual economic fallout from the reunification of Germany at the time. Capron quickly became an aspirational employer for the people of the large town near the border of the Czech Republic, and its more affordable motorhomes, born wearing the Carado Sunlight brands, soon became award winners for the way they offered decent quality and great value at more accessible prices.
When they first started rolling off the two separate assembly lines at Capron in 2006, the quality of Carado and Sunlight motorhomes were guaranteed by the generous bonus that the workers could collectively earn, provided the build of the vehicles consistently met the standards of the Erwin Hymer Group. That policy continues today, and in recent times Carado has shown a different kind of consistency as a perennial winner of many prizes in the annual motorhome awards presented by Reisemobil International, Germany’s popular RV magazine. Take just last year in 2021, for example, when Carado took first place in the affordability, price/performance, and customer loyalty categories, as well as the magazine’s overall award.
But it is obviously harder to be a global price-leading motorhome brand these days, as this Carado T459 proves when placed in a New Zealand market context, half a world away from Neustadt.
For the 2022 version of the T459 lists for $203,900, which is quite a jump from the $132,900 that the similarly sized, similarly 4-berth, similarly Ducato-based Carado T449 cost when this magazine reviewed it back in 2016. There’s plenty of good reasons for the Carado T459’s climb up the pricing ladder, of course.
Big leaps in shipping costs, supply chain disruptions, pandemic-related workforce interruptions, and the near-impossibility of maintaining the just-in-time component deliveries that make assembly lines more efficient have all obviously had an effect.
Carado isn’t the only maker of affordable motorhomes that has been affected in this way, and how long RV prices will be affected by lower economies of scale and instability of supply chains is anyone’s guess. Where the 2022 T459 sits in the New Zealand market is where most European motorhomes of this size, statue, and design will reside in the near future for now. The plus is that in this case, you’re buying Carado’s best semi-integrated model, made to the lofty standards of the Erwin Hymer Group.
IMPROVED DUCATO PLATFORM
There are several improvements for the model year that justify the higher purchase price of the Carado, and a lot of them are found in the Fiat Ducato that provides half the platform for all Capron-made motorhomes, including this T459.
Last year, Ducato’s new nine-speed automatic gearbox was the headline upgrade of the motorhome platform. This year, that superb selector and shifter of ratios gets mated to a new engine, and it’s a marriage made in diesel heaven.
For the new 2.2L 103kW (140bhp) turbodiesel is a fine example of Fiat’s leadership in compression-ignition engine technology. The Italian motor corporation has led the way for diesels for quite some time, developing key technologies like common-rail fuel injection and multi-jet delivery nozzles that improve combustion and increase efficiency to the point where they’re now adopted by all other makers of diesels.
The new ‘140’ is a better match for the refinement of the nine-speed ZF gearbox, with its improved smoothness, reduced noise, and quicker throttle response. Shift over, Volkswagen’s excellent 2.0L 177bhp, eight-speed automatic powertrain for Crafter-based campervans and motorhomes. The latest Fiat Ducato powertrain has the Vee-Dub beaten when it comes to smoother, quieter cruising.
As with just about all ‘semi-integrated’ motorhomes, Fiat’s involvement in the front-drive Carado T459 ends immediately behind the front seats, with the rest of the platform becoming the responsibility of AL-KO. The German trailer maker takes apart the Siamesed end-to-end Ducato cabs and powertrains that arrive at its Bavarian factory and begins to create two complete motorhome platforms out of each. They do this by adding a hot-dip galvanised aluminum ladder chassis with torsion bar rear suspension that is quite a bit lighter than the steel chassis and leaf- sprung rear end that Fiat fits to fully built Ducato vans.
Improvements to the Fiat/AL-KO hybrid chassis of the 2022 Carado T459 include the fitment of stabiliser bars to the front and rear suspension, resulting in reduced body roll and better steering while cornering while still retaining excellent ride quality. There are also new folding blinds fitted to the cab, and a new optional feature is to have the Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM – vehicle mass plus payload) downgraded from 3650kg to 3500kg.
Ticking the latter box will allow the vehicle to have a Warrant of Fitness checked every two years for around $50 instead of a Certificate of Fitness checked far more expensively ($150!) every six months. Be aware that the vehicle with a WoF will attract the upcoming new clean car levy in accordance with the New Zealand government’s commitment to reducing the impact of climate change.
That lower GVM allows the 3120kg Carado T459 to have a payload of 380kg instead of 530kg and should suit retired couples who will mostly use the third and fourth seat belts of the T459 for their grandchildren. Conversely, those looking to expand the T459’s freedom camping options by upgrading the stock 150W solar panel, 1000W inverter, and twin 95Ah batteries with extra panels, larger capacity batteries, and a more powerful inverter should probably stick with the higher GVM limit. If you plan to tow stuff with your T459, that higher GVM rating will be a no-brainer.
HOME SWEET HOME
Carado sticks to a well-proven formula inside and outside the T459 when it comes to everything they mount on top of the aforementioned cab-chassis. The roof and rear wall are fiberglass reinforced plywood (GRP), and the sidewalls are skinned with aluminum for extra durability, weatherproofing, and heat retention. There’s a 34mm-thick sandwich of foam between the inner and outer walls, which should provide plenty of insulation even in extreme weather. With twin 9kg LPG bottles, and a Truma Combi 6E boiler that can use both gas and electricity to heat the cabin and hot water, the T459 offers all the comforts of a home at your fingertips.
It’s a Germanic motorhome in more ways than just the location of the source factory, and the layout will be instantly familiar to anyone who has stepped inside any 7.4m long motorhome bearing a Teutonic brand. There’s a rear bedroom with a 195 x 150cm fixed island bed, the mattress located high enough to require a ladder to comfortably climb aboard it; there’s a lounge up front with face-to-face seating across the van and the ability to seat six once the front seats in the cab have been reversed to face the generously sized split-folding table. Above the lounge is a 195 x 140 cm drop-down double bed that can be placed into position super- easily. There’s no motor to winch it up and down, but the engineering of the bed’s tracks, counterweights and pulleys is such that it feels feather-light to move up and down.
In between the front lounge and rear bedroom are a workable kitchen followed by a bathroom divided into a shower on one side, and a toilet/wash basin on the other. A multi-tasking door provides privacy for both the bedroom and vanity/ loo areas. Good trick that: two doors for the price and spatial penalty of one.
The kitchen comes fully equipped with three gas hobs and a stainless steel sink on one side with an oven-grille mounted below them. Above and below the bench area are plenty of generously sized overhead lockers, drawers, and side cupboards, each with soft-close operation. A nice touch is the slider track near the sink with a couple of hooks which can be located as required for towels or essential utensils. Opposite this is a 167L three-way fridge with automatic selection of source energy and a 29L freezer compartment.
With its luxurious looking handles on the inside and outside of the side entry door, new 22” smart TV equipped with Bluetooth, Chromecast, and a satellite aerial, and the undeniable comfort of the lounge seats, not to mention the fully enclosed shower and wealth of energy- friendly LED lighting, it’s hard to notice any signs of cost mitigation inside the T459. The only clue that Carado is a more populous alternative to more exclusive brands is the lack of a second floor to put human traffic on a single level when walking through the T459. ‘Watch the step’ becomes a mantra mentally when accessing or exiting the front cab and the rear bedroom inside the T459.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Carado T459 might cost more than $200K these days, but equally you can see, hear, and feel where your money went. It’s German and proud.
FLOORPLAN Carado T459
|Make & model:||Carado T459|
|Chassis:||Fiat Ducato/AL-KO hybrid cab/chassis, front wheel drive|
|Engine:||2.2 litre turbo-diesel, 140bhp|
|Length/ width/ height:||7400mm/ 2320mm/ 2950mm|
|Fresh/grey water:||Fresh 122L/ Hot 10L/ Grey 92L|
|GVW/ payload:||3650kg/ 530kg|
|Unladed mass (tare):||3120kg|
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