Caravan Kismet – Bailey Unicorn Vigo S3 Review, Warts & All!

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Why did we choose the Bailey Unicorn Vigo S3? Was it those windows? Or was it that smile?!

There are many reviews of the Bailey Unicorn Vigo S3, including this one by Practical Caravan. It tells you what equipment is on board and includes a video of the interior.

If, however, you would like to know what it is like to LIVE with a Bailey Unicorn Vigo S3, to use, abuse and tour extensively in her; World Wide Walkies brings you the ‘warts and all’ review!

‘How to Accidentally Buy a Caravan’ describes how, overnight, we unexpectedly became caravan owners for the first time in our lives – although to be fair, by then we had done a little groundwork.

When we saw Kismet lurking on the back row in a dealership, we had already decided that the caravan of our dreams would be a Bailey Unicorn Vigo!

Why the Bailey Unicorn?

Basically, it was the windows!

We have never owned a caravan before, so we knew nothing about the technical spec. The real ‘WOW’ factor of the Bailey Unicorn is the HUGE vertical picture windows at the front which flood the caravan with light and give you spectacular views of – well, whatever is out there that is worth looking at! In our travels, Caravan Kismet’s cathedral-like windows have attracted many an admiring glance and comment.

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The windows give you spectacular views of – well, whatever is out there that is worth looking at. Here, it’s the Adriatic!

The Unicorn is the top of the Bailey range. We liked the relaxed and classy colour scheme of the interior; ‘Mendip Ash’ lockers and the purple, cream and beige upholstery – which, since we have four dogs, we have had to cover with throws! The LED lighting is warm and bright – not stark or white. (Clinical, white, fluorescent lighting is a deal-breaker for me!)

We always planned to tour extensively, so we need plenty of storage space; we don’t use all the cupboards and lockers available to us in the Vigo. Other home comforts that appealed were the four ring hob, large fridge – and we don’t even have a microwave at home, so that was a bonus!

When we looked at the Vigo, we thought “We can live in that!”

Why the Vigo?

My husband is a freak.

He won’t mind me saying that. He is 6’6” (2m) tall so the Vigo’s transverse bed is the only crib configuration that can accommodate his extraordinary lengthiness. Actually, rather than ‘freak’, maybe he would prefer me to say: “Ain’t NO bed big enough for MY man..!”

The 6’1”, shaped island mattress supplied with the caravan went lumpy after our first season touring, so we replaced it with a cut-down, super-kingsize memory foam mattress, which fills the full 6’6″ width of the caravan.

We made our bed so we have to lie in it – we don’t bother to retract it during the day, so we do have to clamber over the bed to get to the loo, but it means that Mark’s feet no longer hang over the end of the bed! To be honest, even retracted, the space to squeeze around the bed was too small to be practical. Surprisingly, the memory foam mattress weighs the same as the mattress supplied with the caravan – so it doesn’t mess up the payload – and it is waaaay more comfortable.

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The dogs concur. The Super Kingsize memory foam mattress gives us more room & is waaay more comfortable…

Since we intended to tour extensively, space is always welcome. The Vigo is the largest size for a single-axle caravan.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want…

Everyone told us that you need to live with a caravan or motorhome before you know what you really want. They were right! All those ‘must haves’ often turn out to be ‘not important’!

Shower – Mark can stand up in the shower. We considered this an essential but in practice, we usually use the site facilities! The dogs have used the onboard shower more times than we have! (Other than in Germany, where most campsites charge at least a Euro for four minutes!)

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Kai demonstrates why the dogs have used the onboard shower more than us…

Winterisation – We were interested in insulation and one technicality that we did specify was an Alde heating system to keep us warm when we took the caravan skiing.

There is NO WAY we are EVER taking the caravan skiing! Never mind navigating icy hairpin bends, defrosting Whale Pumps and sweeping snow off the roof, we would never be able to dry four wet dogs and two people’s wet skiing gear in a caravan!

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There is NO WAY we are EVER taking the caravan skiing!

We found that it costs much the same as site fees to rent a centrally-heated apartment with en-suite facilities for the season! And that, dear reader, is what is known as a ‘no-brainer’!

You Get What You Need!

Solar Panel – We didn’t even know that we had a 100W Solar Panel as standard! The solar panel has saved us a FORTUNE during our travels since we are not reliant on EHU (Electric Hook Up.) EHU costs extra pretty much wherever you go – but the solar panel also means that we are free to use cheaper, less crowded sites which do not offer EHU. In summer, in Europe, we have never found a lack of EHU to be a problem – there is enough sunshine to keep the battery charged. We have a 12V TV and purchased a cheap power inverter to allow us to charge electrical items that can’t cope with a 12V supply.

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We didn’t know we had a solar panel – it has saved us a FORTUNE!

What Would I Change?

Having lived with Kismet almost full-time for 2 years, there is very little that I would change. A few small hacks and details;

  1. We unscrewed and flipped the bedroom blind upside down, so that the blind comes up from the bottom rather than pulling down from the top. This allows us to have ventilation AND privacy on a hot summer night!
  2. We unscrewed and flipped the built-in plate holder so that the plates are accessible from the side. The rack can now also be removed easily to clean underneath. Whoever thought a front to back fixed plate rack in a high cupboard would be easy to use and keep clean?!
  3. The size of the 4 ring hob means that unless you are using teeny, tiny pans, you can never use all four rings together. A 3 ring hob or a slightly larger 4 ring hob would be more useful.
  4. I would prefer a central washroom, but only so that Mark had to climb over me to go to the loo in the night rather than vice versa..!
  5. A U shaped sofa would be great, although this would sacrifice 2 large drawers (the locker could remain under the sofa) and the TV point would need to be moved…
  6. …but a wall-mount TV would be better than needing to have the TV in the front window.
  7. I have never been sure about the safety of having two power points right next to the sink, although we haven’t frazzled ourselves yet!
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Jealousy is not always a green-eyed monster. A kitchen worktop next to the sofa can present opportunities…!

Common Problems with The Bailey Vigo:

We love our Vigo. After our first year together, we looked around The Motorhome and Caravan Show at the NEC and were gratified to find that The Caravan of our Dreams remains unswervingly the Bailey Unicorn Vigo – and I would recommend Bailey to anyone who asked.

However, it would be wrong not to mention in a review the problems that we have experienced with the caravan.

Minor Cosmetic Issues – We had a few trivial problems, which were sorted out under the 3-year manufacturer’s warranty, with no quibble and free of charge by our dealer. These included the front trim on the kitchen worktop, which came adrift and the hinge on the laundry bin in the bathroom, which rusted, swelled and seized. The replacements have all been PERFECT!

Major AL-KO Axle Problems – More worrying and tricky to sort out was the collapse of the axle. This came to light only when we suffered a severe leak when towing in the rain with a lot of standing water on the road. It turned out that the swing arms on the AL-KO axle had collapsed, causing the offside wheel to rub a hole in the wheel arch, which is how the water got in!

Originally Bailey blamed the collapse on us, saying that the caravan was overloaded by 98kg. We were able to prove that the caravan was not overloaded (we weighed all the contents on a calibrated scale and questioned AL-KO’s use of a portable weighbridge on which they based the overloading claim – see below.) We also took advice from an independent engineer who claimed that even if there were a 98kg overload, it would not cause the axle to collapse – and if it did, the axle was not fit for purpose.

  1. DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) has a published “Consilidated code of Practice for enforcement weighing of vehicles”. Section 3.5 of this Code of Practice sets out the requirements for portable weighbridges: stating that the designated weighing area “must have been tested for levels compliance in the last 12 months” and “the accuracy limits of portable weighpads is +/- 100 kg per axle”
  2. A portable weighbridge with an accuracy of +/- 100kg is not a suitable instrument on which to base a claim of a 98kg overload. We asked for but did not receive either evidence of levels testing or a calibration certificate for the portable weighbridge.
  3. We could provide evidence to Bailey to demonstrate that we had taken extreme care when loading. We had a spreadsheet showing that when we bought the caravan, we had check-weighed all of the contents (including teaspoons – I know!) to ensure that we did not exceed the payload.
  4. Then there is Bailey’s Trial of Strength – a publicity picture of a Bailey caravan with a man and a car on the roof… If the caravan can support a car and the MD of Bailey, surely the running gear would not collapse with a 1kg overload, a claim made by one Bailey engineer!
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We even check-weighed our teaspoons – I know!

Following a protracted debate, the axle and wheel box were grudgingly replaced by Bailey free of charge, with no mention of the words ‘warranty’ or even ‘gesture of goodwill’. I have since assisted a few other owners who have suffered the same issue (and faced the same accusations) to tackle Bailey and achieve the same outcome. The axle problem seems to be more common in the Vigo model, although I have come across other Series 3 models which have been affected.

Bailey and AL-KO’s initial stance seems always to blame the owner for ‘overloading’ or ‘hitting a pothole’ – but persistence pays. We got the major part of the repair bill covered; we decided not to nitpick. We swallowed the cost of replacing our two water-damaged carpets.* (see Price of Parts below.)

AL-KO chassis are widely used in many different makes of caravan, although for some reason, axle collapse seems to be prevalent in (but not exclusive to) Bailey caravans.

My advice is to monitor the clearance between the wheels and wheel arch. Since we had the axle replaced, we have 5.5cm! When we bought the 1-year-old caravan second hand, they were nearly touching – we thought that it was just the design and that the wheel would drop when jacked up should the wheel need to be changed. How foolish we were!

Price of Parts – Bailey parts are expensive. If it will not affect your warranty, shop around. eg the bag retaining bracket on our Hartal Door Bin broke. No spare part is available and a new bin costs £49.99 from Bailey. An IDENTICAL Hartal Door Bin is widely available on the internet for £29.99.

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The fragile bag retainer for the Hartal door bin. It broke & with no replacement part available, it’s either £49.99 (Bailey) or £29.99 (Internet) for a whole new bin – your choice!

*  To replace our water-damaged carpets, we bought a remnant in Carpet Right, who used the old carpets as a template to cut the shape, then they whipped the edges. The remnant was much better quality than the original – and all of this cost less than £100. We were quoted nearly £500 for replacement Bailey carpets!

Customer Service – In our experience, Bailey’s Customer Service Department would benefit greatly from a training course in Customer Service! Thankfully, issues other than the axle have been dealt with by our dealer, Webbs of Salisbury

Damp and Leaks – I have heard of Baileys of all descriptions suffering from leaks, particularly in the bathroom area. Other than the leak caused by the collapsed axle detailed above, Kismet has always been as dry as a bone. The Bailey Alu-Tec caravans do come with a 6-year Body Shell Integrity Warranty, which can be extended to 10 years.

However, I have also heard tell of ‘Leaky Lunars’ and ‘Soggy Swifts’. It appears that building a waterproof box on wheels continues to pose a difficult challenge for even the longest-established caravan manufacturers!

My Verdict:

The Bailey Unicorn Vigo remains my caravan of choice. I have seen nothing that comes close to it in terms of price, quality and meeting our needs. With some persistence on our part, all problems have been sorted out free of charge.

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My Ha’penneth:

Bailey of Bristol is a successful company who produce relatively high-spec caravans at a reasonable price. The company states that 1 in 3 caravans sold in the UK is a Bailey. The company has expanded rapidly in recent years and is currently exploring export markets. It is my view that perhaps Bailey is to some degree a victim of its own success.

Problems are a fact of life. They happen. However, the mettle of a company can be measured by how politely, quickly and efficiently they deal with problems when they do arise. In this area, I would award Bailey a ‘Could Do Better’!

Links

  1. Bailey of Bristol – The Manufacturer 
  2. Bailey Unicorn Vigo Technical Spec.– On the Bailey website
  3. Webbs of Salisbury Our Dealer 
  4. AL-KO Kober – Axle Manufacturer
  5. Practical Caravan – Review of Bailey Unicorn Vigo S3  the Bailey Vigo – her hotels, her beaches. The review includes a video of the interior.