Pop-top caravans aren’t quite as common as they once used to be, but there are still manufacturers, such as New Age Caravans, which produce them in a variety of models and layouts. Once touted as a solution to excessive fuel use when towing, pop-tops today are perhaps more popular for their lower height when being stored and offering less of a wind buffer when on the road.
My review van, a Manta Ray 4.9m (16ft) fitted with an Adventurer Pack, has an external length of 5.51m (18ft 1in) — the 16ft is an internal measurement. The Manta Ray was supplied by New Age Caravans in Sydney, a dealership that’s certainly been set up for comfort of customers whilst looking for their dream RV.
Certainly the Manta Ray 16ft gives the impression of being set up that way. It’s a single axle caravan and in its base form is set up for on-road travel. What the Adventure Pack adds — with features like Cruisemaster XT suspension, 16in alloy wheels and tyres, DO35 coupling and an extended drawbar — is more flexibility in destination choices.
New Age certainly doesn’t suggest the Adventure Pack creates a van with offroad ability, but its rough road capability is certainly improved. Curiously, the electrical capacity doesn’t change with the Adventure Pack, staying at the standard 100Ah AGM battery and 150W solar panel.
Since the Walkinshaw Performance Group took ownership of New Age, there have been a few changes in the way the vans are built. Certainly, the hot dipped galvanised chassis looks quite conventional, except for the C-section cross members, but it’s all CAD designed. It’s also tested on a dynamic chassis rig — the sort used for enthusiast cars — and features a Mandrel bend drawbar. In a bit of a weight saving exercise, the main rails are 150mm x 20mm (6in x 2in) RHS and the drawbar rails are slightly smaller at 130mm x 50mm (5in x 2in).
Leaf spring suspension is standard on the Manta Ray caravans but, as noted previously, Cruisemaster XT suspension is fitted, which comes with coil springs, trailing arms and two shock absorbers per wheel. Twelve inch electric brakes are fitted to the wheels.
The two water tanks with galvanised sheet protection are fitted between the chassis rails, the 110L freshwater tank at the front and the similar sized grey tank behind the wheels. Both have 40mm drain valves fitted which makes cleaning and draining the tanks quite easy.
A Meranti timber frame is used for the body structure. I must confess to being little surprised that, given other developments, New Age haven’t move on from this, but perhaps they are staying with the tried and tested. The body cladding is a mixture — old school ribbed cladding for the side walls and aluminium composite for the front and rear walls. Anyone desiring the same for the walls will need the Luxury Pack addition.
According to New Age, the pop-top roof is a relatively new design that incorporates a domed composite roof panel with a one-piece aluminium body top. The roof is black, which happens to match the black alloy checkerplate of the lower waist area of the front and side walls. Also matching is the rather distinctive rear end mould designed to hold the spare wheel. It’s a very neat design and much better than the spare wheel that often hangs off the rear bumper bar.
External storage on the van body is limited to a front tunnel storage, which is quite generously sized. However, one of the Adventurer Pack additions is a storage box on the front drawbar, one half of which is used for the two 9kg gas cylinders, the other half being free space. Hinged lids give access from the top only because there are jerry can holders on either side.
RAISING THE ROOF
Setting up the pop-top is just like a normal caravan — except for the pop-top roof of course. That’s raised by undoing the four corner clips, setting the awning to ‘open’ and pushing up the roof from the inside. You do have to clamber on the bed for pushing up the front. One little caveat with the external corner clips — anyone who is less than 1.8m (6ft) tall like me will need a small step, or in my case a heavy duty camera bag, to be able to undo the clips.
With the roof up, there’s a nice spacious feel to the interior, although I did think the gusset windows could be larger than they are, especially given the smaller size of the solid wall windows.
One of the benefits of a pop-top is that there’s plenty of air space around head height — good for people who maybe don’t like the closed-in feeling that some caravans have. The downside of course is that there’s not much in the way of overhead locker storage space — the lockers are quite shallow and really only good for smaller personal items.
The overall layout looks somewhat familiar. Even in a van this length, the designers have managed to fit in a front island bed and rear bathroom layout. Just like quite a few other caravans, the colour scheme is mostly white and black with shades of grey.
The lighting is quite basic with a couple of ceiling fittings in the main area and one in the bathroom. Two pairs of reading lights are installed, one for the bed and the other for the dinette. Each light has its own switch and there’s a master touch panel by the entry door.
Although it’s a bit compressed, the kitchen does come fully equipped for the travelling cook. A four-burner cooktop with grill sits alongside a square stainless steel sink which is adjacent to a 169L Thetford three-way fridge. The fridge is somewhat taller than an under-bench model, so that’s at the expense of benchtop space and, because the microwave oven is located under the griller, that’s the compromise for of a bit of drawer/cupboard space, leaving room for a single drawer, two door cupboard and a floor level locker.
At the cafe-style dinette, two people can sit in relative comfort. The multi-fold table can be move in or out without too much trouble. In the small cupboard under the table are both a 240V powerpoint and a USB charger point. Plastic cable grommets on either side minimise cables dangling at floor level. Under the seats, end doors give access to the storage area.
Located up front, the bed measures 1.9m x 1.53m (6ft 3in x 5ft) and comes with the usual bedhead, except that both the wardrobes and overhead lockers are downsized to fit in with the pop-top. Both sides of the bed are fully equipped with power outlets — 240V, 12V and USB charger.
Lifting the bed base gives access to the under bed area, but that is partly occupied by the Truma Saphir air-conditioner unit. There are windows on both sides but are smaller than those found in a conventional caravan.
At the rear, a three quarter partition separates the bathroom from the rest of the van. Being a pop-top, there’s vinyl sheet for the top part and simple curtain for the doorway.
For a van like this, the bathroom is surprisingly large and comes with a shower cubicle on the nearside and a Thetford cassette toilet on the offside. Turning around in the shower cubicle without banging elbows is readily achievable and it comes with a flexible hose outlet and a curtain to keep the water spray contained. The vanity cabinet complete with a pedestal-style wash basin has mostly open shelf storage but there is a small cupboard and drawer. What looks to be a handy box in the offside corner is actually the water heater. Mounted on the rear wall is a large mirror above the vanity sink and a Daewoo front-loading washing machine in the corner. Bathroom ventilation is assured by two vent fans in the roof and a small window.
New Age offers a three-year manufacturer’s warranty on all its caravans, which is certainly better than many in the industry. On top of that, New Age offers a 12-month assist package to help with items such as flat tyres, breakdowns or being locked out of your van.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In some ways, the Adventure Pack on this van offers several features, such as the Cruisemaster suspension, which suit an offroad caravan and seem a bit over the top for what is more an on-road caravan. Anyone contemplating mostly on-road travel might like to consider the standard van, which certainly has plenty of features.
It seems to me this particular Manta Ray is quite well suited to a couple who like a well-appointed van but don’t want a heavy or tall towing prospect. Yes, the pop-top requires a bit more effort setting up, but that’s not much of a compromise for what is an quite well laid out and easy towing caravan.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Body length 5.5m (18ft 1 in)
Internal length 4.9m (16ft)
Overall length 7.56m (24ft 10in)
Width 2.41m (7ft 11in)
Travel height 2.58m (8ft 5in)
Ball weight 160kg
Frame Meranti timber
Chassis Hot dipped galvanised, 150mm x 50mm (6in x 2in) main rails
Suspension Cruisemaster XT independent with coil springs
Coupling Cruisemaster DO35
Brakes Electric 12in
Wheels 16in alloy
Grey water 110L
Battery 1 x 100Ah
Solar 1 x 150W
Air-conditioner Truma Saphir
Gas 2 x 9kg
Sway control No
Cooking Thetford four-burner and grill
Fridge Thetford N514E.3f 169L, three-way
Bathroom Thetford cassette toilet and separate shower cubicle
Hot water Swift 28L
Cruisemaster XT suspension; Cruisemaster DO35 hitch; recessed coupling; extended A-frame; weatherproof floor liner; toolbox on drawbar; 16in wheels and tyres; Inline water filler; pipe lagging; reversing camera; black high profile and side checkerplate; large external picnic table; jerry can holder; wheel spats
PRICE AS SHOWN
New Age Caravans Sydney
260 Hume Highway, Lansvale, NSW 2166
Ph: 1800 061 959