Malibu adds a touch of grand touring to its latest camper van
The Malibu Charming GT camper van may not meet the traditional definition of a "GT," but the van does exemplify long-distance touring comfort better than most any true GT out there. The new flagship in Malibu's van line gets brighter and more spacious thanks to a new cab-camper lounge. A flexi-bathroom, full kitchen and choice of bed make it a capable little camper ready to tour for weeks, months or even years. And if your heart is really set on the exhilarating ride promised by the "GT" in the name, you can always throw a mountain bike, surfboard, skis or other adventure gear into the spacious load area and get your fix outside of the van.
As car fanatics know, "GT" stands for grand touring — or gran turismo, if you prefer your cars in Italian. This class of car, typically a two-door, is fast and sporty but also comfortable and roomy enough for long-distance driving and travel. It's not as performance-oriented as an all-out supercar or track car, and it's not as luxurious or comfortable as a premium sedan, but it finds a careful balance between the two so that the driver and passenger(s) can thoroughly enjoy the long road ahead. Look at the luscious new Aston Martin DBS Superleggera below as a particularly stylish example.
Most any camper van meets the comfortable long-distance touring aspect of the grand tourer classification with aplomb. In fact, as a vehicle so comfortable you can live in it for extended periods, the camper van excels at that part better than any grand touring car.
But a fast, sporty performer? There are only a few vehicles on the road less deserving of that description than a 128-hp 7,700-lb (3,500-kg) rolling box loaded with furniture, rattling dishes and sloshing black water. Even if you drop a Porsche six-cylinder into a smaller, more classic VW pop-top, you still don't have the first, second or third vehicle anyone would pick to speed their way up and around a twisty mountain pass — unless they needed to van-camp at the top.
So Malibu quietly ignored the performance part of the GT equation while zeroing in on creating a larger, more comfortable interior space better for long-distance travel. And its work does in fact tie together the driving and long-distance comfort aspects of the camper van.
The big addition to the Charming GT as compared to older Malibu models is the redesigned driver cab roof area, which seamlessly transitions into the camper cabin roof. Instead of the separate roof over top the driver area, as on the typical camper van, the Charming GT has a high, arching roof with an extra skylight between the windshield and roof skylight. This configuration is not entirely unique, as other European camper vans like the Adria Twin have much the same design, but it is a nice touch that helps to better integrate the driving and living areas, creating a warm, spacious dining lounge filled with natural light.
The lounge area is further enhanced with a leather-trimmed headliner and a combination of direct and ambient electric lighting. A rear dining bench and extendable table combine with the swivel driver cab seats to complete the four-person dining set-up.
The Charming GT comes in two floor plans: the 250-in (636-cm) 640 LE with split longitudinal double bed in back and the 236-in (600-cm) 600 DB with transverse rear double. Each floor plan sleeps two standard and three with an optional third berth.
Up ahead of their differing bed layouts, the 600 DB and 640 LE look basically identical. The van center plays host to a passenger-side kitchen block and driver-side wet bathroom. The kitchen includes a dual-burner stove, 80-L fridge and sink.
Malibu puts a little space-optimizing ingenuity into its bathroom design to create something it calls the 3-in-1 flexi-bathroom. It's a compact wet cell, but a swivel-away toilet and folding shower door help to create a bit of dry bath-style separation between the toilet and shower areas.
Standard equipment for both floor plans includes a Truma Combi 4 heater/hot water boiler, 100-L fresh water tank and 80-Ah battery. The base van is a Fiat Ducato with 128-hp 2.3-liter diesel engine. Out back, the rear bed folds out of the way to accommodate bicycles and other large gear through the double doors.
The boxy Charming GT certainly isn't as easy on the eyes as an Aston Martin or Ferrari grand tourer, but it is more fashionable than average thanks to the window-wrapping accent paint and "around the world" touring graphic. The porthole windows behind that graphic add to the van's distinctive look, which we'd say is heavier on the "charming," lighter on the "GT."
Malibu launched the Charming GT for the 2019 model year, and we took our first look at the CMT show last month. The van bases in at €47,150 (approx. US$53,250) for the 600 DB floor plan and €49,500 ($55,925) for the 640 LE.