Weight, Height, Width
Both A-class and Coachbuilt motorhomes come in all shapes and sizes. There are 9 meter long 3.5m tall Coachbuilt motorhomes and 5.5M A-class at the extremes. A lot of misguided people scatter their opinions all over the internet of A-class being bigger or Coachbuilt being shorter but the truth is; both come in all sizes long and short.
Base Vehicle / Chassis
Coachbuilt and A-class motorhomes share the same chassis or base vehicle. Many people will tell you about all sorts of differences between the chassis and base vehicle but there is no difference. If a motorhome is built on a Fiat Ducato, Mercedes Sprinter or Peugeot Boxer it will be the same whether it is Coachbuilt or A-Class. Fiat, Mercedes and Peugeot make a single design of base vehicle which could be a tipper truck, panel van, Luton box van, mini bus or any class of motorhome so you see, underneath it is the same machine as the builders’ van next door or minibus taxi that took you all to the airport, just with a different ‘top bit’.
Larger mirrors mounted higher give better visibility, they may be expensive to replace but so are the repairs when you hit something reversing so probably better having a mirror which gives the best view.
Space in the Cab
Much more space in the cab but not much extra useable space, looks impressive but that’s all. Having said that, the feeling of space and being ‘light and airy’ is enough for most people for it to feel like a benefit. The main advantage to all the extra space in the cab is the drop down bed.
A-class often only have one cab door, quite a few models don’t have any cab doors at all. This can be off putting for some people for reasons of convenience and concerns over safety if needing to exit the vehicle in an emergency
Windscreen repair / replacement
The stunning panoramic windscreen in an A-class is always much more expensive as they are custom made by the converter in low volume. The original base vehicle windscreens are mass produced making them much cheaper. This will not make any difference as your insurance policy with windscreen cover will have the same excess for a replacement.
Panoramic windows in the cab give an excellent view when parked somewhere remote and when driving. When facing into a campsite or walkway the downside is passers by will naturally look in giving you a feeling of being on display.
Engine Access is sometimes restricted in an A-class motorhome but not as bad as it seems to someone who isn’t a mechanic. Thankfully most motorhome owners never do any servicing or repair work themselves so not too much of a worry. A-class are just different, there are tasks which are easier in some A-class and some which are more difficult. For most tasks, it doesn’t make much difference whether you have A-class or Coachbuilt.
There is a premium on an A-Class and it is without a doubt significantly more expensive than an equivalent coachbuilt motorhome. An A-class motorhome is more expensive to design and manufacture but just like branded shoes and clothes, there is an extra premium just because an A-class is seen as higher end.
There are three groups of people form my experience. I think the bigger group are people who aren’t too bothered on the looks of the motorhome and are more interested in the layout of the habitation space. The other two groups are; people who love look of the A-class and think that any other motorhome looks like a builder’s van with a box on the back and the other group who hate the A-class look and think they are terribly ugly. I personally am in the group who is more interested in how the motorhome fits my needs and budget rather than what it looks like.
European vs British
There are very few British A-Class motorhomes which generally means that A-Class are associated with European building quality and style. European motorhomes tend to be fully winterised with a double floor, heated storage, thicker insulation and in-board water tanks and pipes. Because of this, A-class do usually have better insulation overall but increasingly Coachbuilt have equal quality of design and insulation for winterisation. As an example, a Burstner Argos (Coachbuilt) and Burstner Elegance (A-Class) has EXACTLY the same equipment and winterisation.
Over Cab Bed
This is what an A-Class is all about, the drop down over cab bed is the main unique feature that an A-Class has which a coachbuilt motorhome cannot have. The custom integrated cab creates space for the bed to be stowed completely out of the way when not in use but easily lowered with sheets, pillows and duvet intact when needed.
A-Class are slowly starting to lose their unique feature as it becomes common for coachbuilt motorhomes to have drop down beds over front and rear lounges. Some of the new layouts have large spacious rear lounges with good sized double electric drop down beds which slide down effortlessly when it is time to turn in for the night. The only real compromise with over lounge drop down beds is losing a lounge when one of the beds is needed.
Swivel Cab Seats
Some coachbuilt layouts compromise the swivel cab seats which provide valuable extra seating for entertaining and socialising. Most A-class motorhomes have an open lounge behind the cab meaning the swivel cab seats are fully useable. One thing to consider is that the swivel cab seats will be compromised when the over cab bed is in use in an A-class but they are still accessible when a fixed over cab bed is in use in a coachbuilt equivalent.