Nova Caravans have been in business for fourteen years. In the context of our age-old caravan industry, that makes them relatively young, but from the first caravan out of their factory door, Nova have been building a decent van.
Today, Nova builds a wide range of caravans, from the single axle Metrolink to the upmarket Pride Platinum. In between is a selection of offroad models and for the purposes of this article, family caravans. Even within the Family Escape range of vans, there’s a selection of rear bunk and front bunk layouts in a variety of external lengths and weights.
Just a bit of trivia here, the word ‘nova’ refers to something in space, something star-related — don’t ask me, not my field. But it also means a salmon that has been lightly cured and smoked. Just thought you’d like to know!
Sydney RV is the NSW dealer for Nova Caravans and it was from there that I borrowed an Escape 196-8C. It’s at the shorter end of the van lengths available, having an external length of 6.76m (22ft 2in) and has a layout with north-south bunks beds in the rear.
Digressing slightly here, as cities expand ever further into outer regional areas, finding decent photographic locations has become more difficult in recent years. Sydney RV is located in western regional Sydney, and a handy destination is the Blue Mountains tourist area. My plan was to head that way for this photoshoot but there was one more location problem. The tragic bushfires that have engulfed so much of Australia over recent months meant that several roads and some of my favoured locations were closed off. In addition, the smoke laden atmosphere that has prevailed for weeks over the entire Sydney basin results in grey and slightly orange tinted photos. A location closer to home was opted for on this occasion.
With an ATM close to 3000kg, the Escape isn’t particularly light of weight, but it sits behind the tow vehicle well enough, particularly on this occasion since I was using a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Nothing quite like using a heavyweight tow vehicle for extended towing. When conducting towing tests the caravans I use are generally fairly lightly loaded. It’s sort of obvious but something to keep in mind is that family caravans are more likely to have a heavier payload than a van for a couple. For safety, apart from anything else, it’s helpful to keep the tare mass/tow ball mass ratio within bounds of the magic 10% figure. That’s not meant to be exact, but an approximation that gives stable towing. With a new van, trial and error on short trips is a good idea.
A tandem axle van, the Family Escape comes fitted with load sharing leaf spring suspension and 15in alloy wheels fitted with 10in electric brakes and AL-KO ESC. The van is built from walls made of one-piece Nova Pro-Al sandwich panel; this consists of an outer aluminium skin, inner foam poly core, and an inside wall ply. The roof is one-piece fibreglass to minimise leaks.
Front boots are less common than tunnel storage these days but the Escape has one and offers plenty of storage space. Included in the external standard items are the two 9.0kg gas cylinders, Camec awning, Belaire 3500 roof mounted air conditioner, rear mounted spare wheel and 160W of solar panel capacity. The Family Escape is reasonably streamlined looking for a caravan, and the mostly white exterior is offset by the blue/black decals (which match the wheels) and the lowline black alloy checkerplate. The Camec security door has a built-in step rather than an extendable one. Less bending over, but a slightly taller step.
A crawl under the Family Escape 196 reveals a 150mm x 50mm (6in x 2in) RHS railed chassis and drawbar. Also revealed are three water tanks, the two 80 litre fresh water ones fitted fore and aft of the axles and the slightly unusual brightly coloured 90 litre grey water tank right at the rear. The purple colour is definitely eye-catching. More practically the large 40mm drainpipe will be very handy when draining the tank. I reckon it’s a good idea to fit a grey water tank even if not used all the time, given some of the environmentally sensitive locations around Australia.
Generally speaking, the sub chassis area looked to be fairly clean, without anything hanging down that shouldn’t be, so ground clearance is suitable for this on-road van.
From the entry door, the front bedroom complete with island bed is to the left. Immediately to the right is the kitchen bench on the offside and a dinette opposite. Walking past the kitchen and dinette reveals double bunks and a bathroom cubicle in the rear area. Nova offer several variations on this theme in slightly longer layouts. One has a full width, walk through bathroom with transverse bunks behind it and the other longer version has a full width bathroom and north-south bunks. In other words, something for everyone. It depends by and large on what towing length is preferred.
In this particular van, the colour scheme is mainly white with beige for the lower cupboards and grey for the upholstery. Several large roof hatches and mostly large windows supply a good level of natural light, but a couple of the windows are small enough that they provide more ventilation than view.
Cupboard and door handles are an item of interest to me. In some vans they look quite snappy but are actually hard to grab hold of. All the ones used in this van are both quite stylish and easy to get the fingers into. Lighting is all LED, and a mixture of ceiling downlights and reading lights is quite well appointed, although there isn’t a ceiling light above the dinette.
240V power points and 12V charger points are mostly well positioned (including around the bunk beds) but the dinette seems to miss out on both counts. A little odd given this is a family van. A little something of interest to the family though will be the RV WiFi unit hidden in the overhead locker above the kitchen bench. Also located there are the mains switches for the incomer and the cooktop, fridge and hot water devices. It’s the WiFi though that will get the teen’s attention (and mine too, I should confess).
There’s a touchpad handily located in the entry doorway for the BMPRO battery management system. Apart from anything else, that looks after the two 105AH AGM batteries and the one 160W solar panels.
Sitting more or less centre stage in the van is the L-shaped dinette. While easier to get in and out of than say a café or club style dinette, it’s a bit on the small side and a stool or seat in the aisleway may be necessary, and a table extension probably wouldn't go amiss. Overall though, this is a small family van; customers may not be expecting a large kitchen dinette, not when the priorities are storage, ensuite and bunks. Overhead lockers are fitted above the seat, as is the radio/CD player, and there’s a drawer under the seat end.
The kitchen bench area isn’t large relative to the length of the van, but it does have a surprising amount of cupboard and drawer space. Probably the handiest items in the kitchen are the well sized 184 litre three way Thetford fridge — and when staying in caravan parks for the teenage members in particular, the NCE microwave oven. Fitted into the overlocker above the cooktop and fume extractor, it is set quite high. Apart from the four burner hob, the stainless steel sink with both pumped and filtered water supply takes up most of the rest of the kitchen bench area.
SLEEPING UP THE FRONT
In many a caravan, queen bed walk around space is a bit problematic. However, in the Family Escape the 1.85m x 1.53m (6ft 1in x 5ft) scores quite well. Certainly, the forward door entry helps on one side, as do the angled cupboards, upper and lower, that butt up against the kitchen bench on the other. The space in between those two cupboards is utilised for the TV mounting point which is thus able to be seen from either the bed or the eating area, but not from the bunks in the rear.
Bedhead cabinetry seems to be pretty much a standard design these days but in addition to the overhead lockers, side wardrobes and bedside drawers, side storage nooks complete with power points are built in on both sides.
SLEEPING DOWN THE REAR
Taking up all the rear offside corner space, the 1.85m x 0.74m double bunks come with both a reading light and a 12V charger point. Each bunk gets a window and the top bed gets the industry style plywood ladder and a protective rail to prevent anyone falling out of bed.
Between the bunks and the bathroom cubicle on the opposite side, the full height cupboard does offer plenty of hanging space and a lone drawer, but I reckon a few fitted shelves or maybe more drawers would be a more effective use of space, particularly in the lower area.
There isn’t room to swing a cat in the Family Escape bathroom (not quite sure why you’d want to do that anyway) but getting in and out of the bathroom and shower isn’t difficult and it’s certainly easy enough to spin around in the shower. The main ensuite are has enough space for a vanity sink complete with mirror and cupboards and a Thetford cassette toilet. While the shower cubicle does have a roof hatch, unfortunately the toilet area does not, relying on a small window for ventilation.
ON THE WAY
On the topic of Nova family vans, this year Nova are launching new family layouts for families that want to travel in a compact unit. They’re introducing a 16’6” (single axle) Family van with a queen sized bed, bunks and separate shower and toilet, and also a 17’6” tandem axle version.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I noted earlier that two definitions of the word Nova were associated with astronomy and cured or smoked salmon. It’s not hard to imagine an evening camped out somewhere away from the crowd, looking up at the stars with a bit of salmon on the BBQ is it? With the family of course, given that’s what the Family Escape is so well suited to!
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 8.36m (27ft 5in)
External body length 6.76m (22ft 2in)
External body width (incl awn) 2.21m (7ft 11in)
Travel height (incl AC) 2.92m (9ft 6in)
Internal height 1.94m (6ft 4in)
Ball weight 215kg
Walls One-piece Pro-Al sandwich constructed walls
Chassis SupaGal 150mm x 50mm (6in x 2in)
Suspension Tandem axel leaf spring
Brakes 10in elec
Wheels 15in alloy
Water 2 x 80L
Battery 2 x 105Ah
Solar 1 x 160W
Air-conditioner Houghton Belaire 3500
Gas 2 x 9kg
Sway control Al-Ko ESC
Kitchen (ext) No
Cooking Thetford Minigrill four burner and grill (three gas, one electric)
Fridge Thetford N614.3F 184 litre
Bathroom Thetford cassette toilet & separate shower cubicle
Hot water Swift 28 litre gas/electric
PRICE AS shown
$66,990 drive away
Sydney RV Centre
9-20 Lemko Place
Penrith NSW 2750
Ph: (02) 4722 3444