The Royal Flair Piazza stunned our judges by its innovative, well, flair for creating inviting and communal spaces for the travelling tribe.
Image credits: Phil Cerbu, Marcus Cozzolino, Cam Innis, Matt Williams
TIM VAN DUYL
We have long sought to see the crowd-stopping Piazza at Best Aussie Vans. Unfortunately, timing has not always been favourable so this year, when company owner Billy Deralas reached out to suggest he bring a compact, 5.6m (18ft 6in) model to Inverloch, we couldn’t say no.
Billy is a second-generation manufacturer and proudly talks of family and passion in Royal Flair. His son, Peter has recently joined the Campbellfield, Victoria-based company but unfortunately, the timing was not perfect for Billy or Peter to personally attend so they sent John and Debbie Westbury, founders of the Royal Flair Caravan Club Facebook group to help our judging panel, video and photography crews. Nothing was ever an issue for John and Debbie who took a laid-back approach to the long days and were always open to a chat with a friendly local.
In these pages, you will see and read about the two standout features of the Piazza in the expandable front and hideaway queen bed. Although my role was to host the judges and oversee the process that got us to where we are now, I must add that the use of space around these clever ideas cannot be understated.
The space in the kitchen is as good as it gets and the space afforded by the hideaway bed gives buyers a full club-lounge plus a proper split shower and toilet. Seeing this in compact van is an amazing feat that is often overshadowed by the drawcard features but deserves a spot in the light just as much.
During our Foreshore Camping Reserve showcase day, the Piazza was a hit. No doubt down to its unique design. With the front folded down, visitors could take refuge from the rain squalls while imaging the space used in warmer climates.
Not only a hit with the locals, but the Royal Flair Piazza 5.6m (18ft 6in) was also a standout with our judging panel. It outscored all-comers across a number of criteria namely Suitability for Intended Touring, Livability, Innovation and of course, X-Factor. It had a strong rival in its $80K+ category but even with its relatively high price it still took its place as the winner.
Well done Billy, Peter and the whole crew at Royal Fair for your well-deserved wins.
The Royal Flair presented a real dilemma for me in determining its value in the marketplace. To what do you compare it, for one? And is it an eighteen-footer or a much larger van, as its real living area would suggest? If you add in the extra space created by the drop-down bed and the folding piazza at the front, the usable length extends to more than 7.65m (25ft).
If I were being candid, I wanted to dislike the Piazza before I saw it, thinking the extended verandah was a silly gimmick. But when I observed it in action, I became a true believer, realising that a lot of owners will find the extra undercover space of great value. Those with toddlers will love the room to play safely outside. And I can even see myself sipping a quiet drink as the sun goes down away from marauding mozzies. So, while $102,000 is a lot, you also get a lot in a very livable family or couples van with lots of room to entertain. Quality of finish is high, and the ingenuity is a wonderful talking point.
Royal Flair was the only company in this year's BAV to have its warranty document online for all to see and full credit to the team. They are also very upfront about your rights under Australian Consumer Law, stating clearly that you are entitled to a replacement or refund through a major failure.
Its three-year warranty on all the manufactured parts of the van is amongst the best in the industry, and there is a requirement in the document for the dealer to ensure the owner is shown how to use all appliances and to make sure they work.
Exceptions include use in unsuitable offroad applications but do not exclude dirt road driving.
In terms of towability, the 2880kg Tare was 160kg over the stated weight, but company representatives, who missed the memo about having the van empty, were using the van during the review. The ball weight sat at 230kg and ATM was 3239kg, so fully loaded it would have been over the Trailblazer's legal limit, meaning owners would require a more substantial capacity tow vehicle to use the van as it is intended.
With the higher weight on the towball, the Trailblazer seemed more planted to the road and was less affected by strong crosswinds during the test. Even in the stronger gusts, the Royal Flair towed smoothly and predictably and without any wallowing or pitching over undulating surfaces.
Undoubtedly the Royal Flair Piazza was the van with a difference at BAV, with two less than usual features; inside the drop-down bed above the rear lounge and outside, the sky deck over the drawbar area. All in a van that has a body length of 5.5m (18ft) and an ATM of 3239kg.
Slightly more conventional is the build method of the van with a SupaGal box section chassis which has 100mm (4in) RHS rails and 150mm (6in) RHS drawbar. Leaf spring suspension is fitted to the tandem axle wheels and there’s a ball coupling up front.
Not quite so conventional is the drawbar area. In order that the front deck can be lowered onto the drawbar, it is very ‘clean’. No gas cylinders, no handbrake sticking up (it’s under the drawbar) and no storage bin. Although the jockey wheel can be used to raise and lower the van, it has to be removed when the deck is lowered and so a quick-drop corner stabiliser is fitted to the drawbar as well. It sounds complicated but it works quite well.
I suspect because of the front deck design, the Piazza body does have a slightly square look about it. It has a marine ply frame and aluminium composite cladding for the walls and roof. All CNC machine cut. The floor is also 18mm marine ply and is sealed off from below with resin coating. Eurovision double-glazed acrylic windows are fitted and a Crimsafe security screen is used with the door. The front deck area is quite simple to set up, the moulded roof (the front wall of the van when travelling) hinges up and the deck hinges down. When the deck is lowered, the walls can be swung into position. Insect screens and clear vinyl windows can be fitted if needed – that’s probably what takes the most time to fit.
Inside the Piazza, all the cabinetry is ply timber-based and is of course cut with a CNC machine. The drop-down bed is fairly simple to use, it is electrically operated and belt-driven. The drive motor is fitted within the bed itself and thus fairly easy to get at if maintenance is required. Although an on-road van, the Piazza is well kitted out for remote travel with two 100Ah batteries, two 160W solar panels and two 95L water tanks.
VIV AND RON MOON
We rated this van as a fair to good tourer although a rather flamboyant one and the envy of many when it is set up with its Sky Deck extended.
However, this trailer is also a pretty heavy unit considering it is under 6m (20ft); and there were also some discrepancies with the stated plated figures. For the touring person the important payload figure is stated as 500kg, while the ATM was stated as a pretty hefty 3239kg to 239kg greater than the figures stated on thespec sheet or website. You would know that was behind the tow vehicle when dragging it through the hills of the Great Divide!
After we ran it across a weighbridge, the Tare came in at 2880kg, cutting the payload to just 359kg, although we were told later that there was already some water on board, which is all part of the payload figure.
With solid axles and leaf springs along with a 50mm ball coupling, the unit towed reasonably well, it’s heavyweight helping in the strong crosswinds we experienced. Still, for a van costing more than $100,000, I would have liked - wanted - a better suspension setup.
With good water tank capacity, this unit was let down by not having a grey water tank which is almost a compulsory requirement if staying in the free camps and national parks around the country. Without that tank, you are rather limited to staying in van parks.
We reckon a good size fridge is paramount to being off the grid and the three-way 184L unit fitted in this van makes an ideal fridge and freezer when you are wandering the backblocks. With good storage and bench space you can easily pack supplies for a week or so.
Back that up with a pretty impressive electrical system that features two 105Ah batteries and two 160W solar panels and you’ll have sufficient power to stay for quite a few days, albeit without all those electrical devices such as air-conditioning and washing machine working.
Gas capacity was not as good as it could be with just two 4.5kg bottles to supply all your needs when off the grid, including the stoves, the hungry hot water system and the ever demanding fridge. Still, you should get a few days out of the bottles if you don’t use too much hot water. With two 95L water tanks, you will have a good supply of water for those long lazy days at a camp somewhere around Oz.
At first glance, you can tell there is something just that little bit different about the Piazza by Royal Flair. And that’s even before it does its impersonation of a Transformer.
There’s a lot of outside-the-box thinking when it comes to the Piazza, literally.
Depending on your definition source, piazza can mean either a public or open square in a town (especially in Italy), or a verandah. While we aren’t in Italy, this definition sums up this caravan from Royal Flair pretty darn well.
Hidden behind the moulded fibreglass nose cone is arguably what sets this van apart from most other vans on the road these days. Taking only several minutes to set up, the entire front of the van lifts up with the assistance of gas struts to provide an additional undercover area, greatly extending the available living area in what is only an 5.6m (18ft 6in) long van.
A timber deck folds down while lightweight balustrades clip together to create an outdoor entertainment area complete with LED lighting and an external TV mount. In other words, your very own verandah, that will no doubt get a bit of attention from passers-by.
Inside, you don’t have to look too hard either to see that the layout doesn’t conform to standard conventions.
Upon entering, the first thing that you notice is the galley style kitchen, with plenty of bench/preparation space and a heap of storage drawers and cupboards taking up the central area of the van.
A club-style lounge, that will easily seat six of your nearest and dearest, takes pride of place at the rear, while a separate shower and toilet occupy the front. I can hear you all asking now, “But where’s the bed?”
Never fear, for this is where the next left-of-centre thinking comes to the fore. A Euro motorhome inspired queen-sized bed descends from the ceiling above the club lounge, courtesy of seatbelt-like nylon webbing straps on each corner. The bed is raised or lowered by way of a simple control located above the kitchen bench.
If more than two sleeping berths are required, the bed can be lowered to half-height, with the club lounge converting to another queen-sized bed below.
Inbuilt 5G WiFi and keyless entry make use of new technology available to the RV sector, while an external BBQ shows that even in one of the most innovative vans getting around, good design and clever features never go out of style.
VALUE FOR MONEY
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING
HOLDEN HAULED — Ged Bulmer
Fuel Consumption (as tested) 18.6L/100
Tow Rating: 3/5
As if to undermine the argument that leaf springs and a beam axle are inherently inferior to an independent suspension setup, the leaf sprung Royal Flair did a solidly impressive job on this test. The van proved decently stable, resisting the tendency to pendulum and yaw that marked some of the lesser performers.
Its 2880kg Tare weight made it the second heaviest van on test and this again may have paid dividends in terms of its ability to better withstand the gusty crosswinds encountered. The van’s impressive 62.5km/h average time was the second quickest by a decent margin, indicating drivers felt comfortable towing it at slightly higher speeds than some rivals.
There was, however, the not unexpected pay-off at the bowser, where the extra pace commanded a thirsty 18.6L/100km, the second highest of any combination on test.
Once again, however, there was a clear discrepancy between the experience of the author and of some other judges who towed the Royal Flair earlier in the day and marked it more harshly, a fact we can only attribute to the variability of wind conditions.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length: 5.95m (22ft 11in)
External body length: 5.6m (18ft 6in)
External body width: 2.35m (7ft 9in)
Travel height: 2.87m (9ft 5in)
Interior height (roof raised): 2m (6ft 7in)
Ball weight: 239kg
Frame/body: Marine ply 18mm
Suspension: Leaf springs
Water: 2 x 95L
Battery: 2 x 105A
Solar: 2 x 160W
Air-conditioner: Gree with Wi-fi
Gas: 2 x 4kg
Sway Control: AL-KO ESC
Kitchen: Slide-out barbecue
Cooking: Four burner Thetford (3 x gas, 1 x electric)
Fridge: Thetford N614E184L
Bathroom: Thetford C223CS toilet and fibreglass showers
Washing machine: NCE 3kg top-loader
Hot water: Suburban
No extra options fitted
PRICE AS SHOWN
$102,184 on road, Vic
To enquire about this caravan, contact Royal Flair, 26-28 Merola Way,
Campbellfield, Vic 3061
Ph: (03) 9357 8118