As originally published here
Value packed and elegant
The way he tells it Essential Caravans Director, David Wilson, had a light bulb moment less than two years ago when he said to his partner that it was time to move into the caravan building game.
After an 18-year career as a service manager and general manager in caravan sales, he decided it was time to put his ideas into what a van should be. Vital to the plan was a vision built over time that backup and warranty are paramount.
His years of experience in selling and servicing vans taught him that the customer of an expensive, shiny new caravan expects things to work. After all, they have laid out a significant investment, and they just want the holidays and fun times travelling without the hassles.
Following six months of planning and assembling an experienced crew, Essential Caravans opened the doors in their new factory in Campbellfield, Victoria with a vision to build three vans a week. You would think that breaking into a crowded RV market as a virtual unknown would be a big target, but within a year the place was bursting at the seams, and they now occupy a larger building with triple the original capacity.
In line with this Wilson told me that the business now sits among the top fifteen builders in the country, which is remarkable given the short time since the first van rolled off the line.
According to Wilson, this success relies on giving value for money in well-equipped models and offering a higher than expected level of customer service.
For our test of the 20’6″ Cruiser, we headed east out of Melbourne into South Gippsland where Ian Grant’s Caravans in Traralgon is the Victorian dealer. It’s only an hour or so from the city, but the country hospitality hits you straight away.
First impressions of the van dispelled any worries that a “value proposition” was going to look cheap and nasty. The Essential is a stunning blacktop tourer with well-proportioned lines and a very upmarket appearance in gleaming white against black checkerplate front and lower sides. Black colour splashes and classy looking 15” alloy wheels, as well as dark tinted windows and entry door, all enhance the overall look.
Our Cruiser is built on a G and S chassis of 4” Australian BlueScope steel, and I’m assured that strength is improved over any imported steel product with the added benefit of lighter weight. They claim that the chassis design and material, along with a well-engineered, single piece floor contribute to a weight saving approaching 150kg, which is a significant amount when we go to load our van for the big lap.
The A-frame sports twin 9kg gas bottles, a tap and a mesh grill for storage and rather than a front boot there’s a full-width boot lined with galvanised sheeting. Underneath is a simple but reliable leaf spring suspension with 10” electric brakes to all four wheels. Twin 95L water tanks have galvanised stone guard protection and the underslung pipes and wires are located sensibly.
Finishing off the external features are raised profile cladding over a meranti timber frame with insulation in roof and walls, a folding picnic table, external speakers and lights, a fold out awning and a generator box.
Entry, towards the rear, is a three-way door and a single step to the interior where the quality carries through from the outside. The rear ensuite is conveniently located for day use and opens to the rest of the interior for living. There is a narrow cupboard between the dinette and bed to create a handy separation between living and sleeping spaces.
As I look around, I find small touches that add up to thoughtful choice in design. The bonded leather seating is standard. Door catches are Italian and look chic and robust. Cupboard gas struts are a superior design. As well as the neat joinery there are CNC cut doors/drawers and post form rolled benchtops. Little things like these demonstrate the promise of delivering a quality product.
Colours in the test van include layers of white wall panelling softened with a pleasing mix of light and dark grey cupboards and soft furnishings. There is a big pallette of hues from which to choose.
The driver side kitchen is all known brand equipment and includes a three-tier pantry, an English made, full-size Thetford oven with cooktop and grill, rangehood, stainless steel sink with mixer tap, filtered water tap, 12V water pump, laminate splashback and a microwave. A 190L three-way Dometic fridge has a separate freezer compartment, and I’m assured that it has been installed for maximum efficiency for use in hot weather by venting through the roof and allowing plenty of free air around it.
On the passenger side is a café dinette where a trifold table rests between two very plush seats, each with a return for sitting lengthways when relaxing. Individual reading lights here are a nice touch, with a handy 12V/USB charging point.
Plush bedhead padding adds a touch of boudoir chic to the humble caravan bedroom where the inner spring queen mattress sits on robust gas struts with storage below. There is the usual array of bedside and overhead cupboards and drawers, individual reading lamps and 240V power outlets each side.
Elegant fitout and quality fittings continue in the ensuite and include a Dometic ceramic toilet bowl, a designer ceramic sink and 3.5kg top loader NCE washer.
Adding an element of self-reliance is a 12V electrical system that suggests that, while the Cruiser doesn’t have any offroad pretentions, it is quite capable of staying off the grid for a few days. Equipment includes a 100ah deep cycle battery that can be charged through a smart charger from the tow vehicle when driving or from a 150w solar panel. Add in the versatility of the gas capable fridge, go easy on the water and settle in for the winter.
But wait there’s more. An Ibis Mark 3 air conditioner and two mini roof hatches should take care of temperature control and Aussie Traveller double glazed windows have inbuilt insect screens and blackouts. You also get a USB sound system, 24” television and a Safety Dave rear view camera with car monitoring kit.
The Essential Cruiser sits in the most popular size of touring van and comes with everything needed for comfortable touring. I could see no evidence of scrimping on build quality and the company ethos of using only well-tried equipment is on show everywhere you look.
Setting the price at $56,990 in this most competitive section of the market is a bold statement, and it is no wonder the brand name has grown so rapidly. Essential Caravans has recognised a need in the local market and sticking to their plan of delivering exemplary after sales service will assure the future for this fledgling brand.
Manufacturer: Essential Caravans
Model: 20’6” Cruiser
Overall length: 8m
Travel height: 3m
Tare weight: 2171kg
ATM weight: 2571kg
Ball weight: 149kg
Price as reviewed: $56,990