This five-berth family tourer puts innovation and elegant design first, without skimping on extra creature comforts.
Image credits: Marcus Cozzolino, Cam Innis, Anna Shepherd
TIM VAN DUYL
Rejoining Caravan World for Best Aussie Vans is one of the country’s most popular brands, New Age. We hadn’t seen New Age at BAV since the 2017 event where the Big Red BR19E road-tourer impressed during our lap of the Grampians.
This year's entrant, with a mouthful of a model name, was the Manta Ray MR22BES3 Luxury. In case you enjoy decoding the often bamboozling model names some manufacturers use, it indicates the van had a 6.7m (22ft) body, the layout is a bunk plus ensuite and that it has a luxury pack upgrade. We just called it the Manta Ray.
I was lucky enough to be part of the group that evaluated the big semi-offroader on a recent multi-day shoot in the depths of East Gippsland, where it towed impeccably and stood out from the crowd with its contemporary styling and colour palate. The moulded rear wall drew positive comments from other vanners at every stop that’s for sure.
With the tall floor height and high entry steps, living in the van for a few days gave us a decent leg workout. But, the clearance under the modern and robust chassis was appreciated when we headed through some light tracks and maneuvered around the undulating grass-covered dunes most camps in the region occupy.
Darren Swenson, General Manager Sales, Marketing & Customer Assurance, was on hand some days and boy did it help having someone of Darren's caliber around to answer the curly questions. 2019 marked the first major change to the judging process for BAV with the inclusion of Customer Care, a criteria designed to challenge the warranty and after sales services for manufacturers.
New Age should be commended on their advertised after sales service and warranty which our team dissected and rated the highest in Customer Care with an average of 7.10.
It might be fair to assume one of the largest companies in the industry would have the best build quality, but that is often not the case, as seen last year by an Apollo RV built Coromal being poorly presented. New Age did not disappoint this year though, with an outstanding 7.9/10 average score that was the highest between all vans at BAV19.
To Darren and the team at New Age, well done on taking out the coveted Best Build Quality and for backing your product and customers.
Sitting at the midpoint of prices in this year's competition, the Manta Ray sells at $89,000 — a fair price for an upmarket family van. New Age has been a company that likes to flaunt new ideas, and from the beginning around eight years ago it introduced contemporary apartment design into caravan production. While the rest of the industry has followed the trend, New Age still manages to exude a cutting-edge flair that positions it a step in front.
New owners Walkinshaw Automotive Group, want to continue the development pace. Some of the changes have gone into engineering features like the new chassis and ABS rear panels. They are less obvious and are real value propositions.
For the price, with room to move and features like a grey water tank, full ensuite, an external shower, DO-35 hitch, sway control and the superb Cruisemaster XT suspension, making it dirt road capable, the Manta Ray is a very usable family van.
As the only van in the competition to offer a year’s roadside assistance as part of their package, New Age sets the pace on customer care with a warranty that covers all the fixtures in the van. According to a company spokesman, they have had this inclusive warranty for many years as they want their customers to be confident in their product. They also provide a three-year warranty across 40 service agents around the country, and have nearly 1000 members of their New Age Tribe on social media.
The Manta Ray’s ball weight lifted the scales to 290kg, which is on the heavy side and 36kg over the plated rating. However, the hefty weight coupled with the Cruisemaster Suspension planted the van firmly on the road, making it one of the smoothest and most stable of the review vans on our winding and very windy test track. Tare weight was also higher than plated and at 2960kg, only just made the legal cutoff point for the Trailblazer. With an ATM of 3435kg, a bigger tow vehicle will be needed for owners.
A look under the 7.23m (23ft 9in) New Age Manta Ray might suggest the box section hot dipped galvanised chassis is like that on many other Australian built caravans. However, since the Walkinshaw Automotive Group has taken ownership of New Age, all chassis are CAD designed and tested on a dynamic chassis rig — the sort used for enthusiast cars — and feature a Mandrel bend drawbar. The serious engineering approach is designed to keep both the weight and strength factors in bounds.
The 110-litre water tanks (two fresh and one grey) are fitted between the chassis rails as usual but have a feature of interest — 40mm drain pipes are fitted to all. Because the tanks do need to be flushed from time to time, especially if they get contaminated, this is a nice idea as the larger than usual tank drains make that an easier job.
Generally speaking, the sub-chassis area was quite clean with everything strapped up neatly. In the suspension department, Cruisemaster XT independent suspension, complete with trailing arms, coil springs and dual shock absorbers, is fitted. At the pointy end is a Cruisemaster DO-35 tow hitch.
Aluminium composite walls and a Meranti timber frame are used for the body structure. Of note is the rear wall moulding that is designed to accommodate not only the tail-lights, but also the spare wheel. Apart from anything else, it looks a whole heap neater than an extended bumper bar and reduces the overall van length.
Inside the van, lightweight timber plywood is used for the cabinetry which is glued and screwed to the caravan frame. This van has a family layout with a front island bed, offside kitchen, nearside dinette and a rear bunk bed/bathroom area. Triple bunks are installed which does mean no underbed storage area, but for the bunks New Age has fitted a better than usual aluminium ladder.
In the kitchen area, the microwave oven height (a regular comment feature from the judges) is set lower than the overhead lockers, while an oddity in the bathroom was the relatively small door opening for the shower cubicle. In the higher overhead lockers all over the van, the door catches were hard to open easily.
VIV AND RON MOON
Designed to sleep a couple and three younger souls, this family van makes a few compromises as far touring is concerned. With three bunks taking up a lot of room there is less than ideal storage space in the van, especially for five people. This was exacerbated by space being taken up by a washing machine. Some may think a washing machine is a good idea, but for a family these van washing machines are too small and the space would be better served as storage.
Bench space was also at a premium and will require a bit of discipline for all involved for those longish trips around and across the country, while the Thetford 171-litre fridge will be under pressure. Still, this Manta Ray makes a great base for a week or month-long beach-side family holiday, or those family trips up into the mountains to your favourite park or retreat.
The suspension isn’t one of the compromises on this van though. Fitted with an independent Cruisemaster XT coil suspension with twin shocks located at each wheel, you can’t get much better without going to the considerable outlay of air suspension — which is always an option with the Cruisemaster XT Air suspension.
But back to what we tested. This is a big, long van and it was affected a little by the very strong winds we had. Having said that, this was up there with the best of them as far as towability was concerned which means easier, more relaxed touring when you are chewing up the kilometres on the annual trip north.
Designated as a semi-offroad van you can take it down a gravel dirt road to a favoured campsite which opens up much more of Australia than any van designated and warranted for purely bitumen travel.
With two 110-litre water tanks and a 110-litre grey water tank, it carries as much water as practical, but with five people drawing on the supply, it will take some discipline to make it last more than a day or two. A 100Ah battery is charged via a 150W solar panel which is basic for those wanting to free camp while staying off the grid for a short time.
Gas wise the Manta Ray comes with a good supply in the form of two 9kg gas bottles which will keep all the gas appliances going for a few days if not longer with regimented use.
From the New Age Caravan stable, the Manta Ray was the biggest van (in both length and weight) on test. This five-berth family van comes well-credentialed direct from the factory, with a comprehensive list of standard inclusions, such as a lithium battery, Cruisemaster XT suspension and a grey water tank.
With the acquisition of New Age Caravans by the Walkinshaw Automotive Group in 2019, the focus has been put back on innovation and pushing the boundaries and design principles of the modern caravan.
This can be seen in the Manta Ray when you get your hands and knees dirty and have a crawl around under the van. The mandrel bent 6in galvanised A-frame and 6in galvanised chassis has been manufactured using robotic welding to ensure consistency, repeatability and reliability for every build. Non-structural components have been replaced by lighter weight channels that still provide support for the single-piece composite floor.
Though, nowhere near as obvious as the differences in the chassis design, the traditional meranti frame construction technique has been brought into the 21st century thanks to a few tweaks. In areas more susceptible to water damage (I’m looking at you front and rear corners) PVC components have been used in the frame, potentially eliminating problems caused by water ingress.
Wrapped around this new method of frame construction is Alucobond aluminium composite panel, giving it a clean and modern look. Match that with the striking blue front and rear and a splash of blue down the side and you’ve got a van that definitely looks the part.
Taking the aesthetics up a notch or two is the Euro motorhome inspired moulded rear bumper, complete with integrated spare wheel mount and LED taillights.
I loved the look of the rear bumper, and it really differentiated itself from any other van on test.
Not content with the forward-thinking technology being used only on the exterior of the van, the Manta Ray has been fitted with the BMPRO Odyssey Tablet display unit at the entry to the van. This allows for monitoring of the fresh and grey water levels, battery voltage and solar input, along with control over the interior and exterior van lighting.
For those chasing a big family van that also comes with a lot of goodies from standard, the Manta Ray may just be worth a look.
New Age Manta Ray
VALUE FOR MONEY
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING
HOLDEN HAULED — Ged Bulmer
Fuel consumption 18.5L/100km
Tow rating 3/5
As the heaviest van on test at a weighbridge verified 2960kg, if anything was going to test our tow rig in these challenging conditions it would be the New Age Manta Ray. This independent suspension equipped van had the highest ball weight at 290kg and there’s no doubt the Trailblazer felt the van’s extra weight. This was most notable on the hill climb section, where roughly 80 per cent throttle was required to maintain a steady 80km/h climb. Despite this, good road speed was still maintained, as evidenced by the combo’s 55.8km/h average speed, which places it exactly mid-field. The fact the engine was working harder to deliver this speed can also be seen in the stats, which show the Trailblazer using 18.5L/100km while hauling the New Age Manta Ray, a figure that placed this combo in the top three thirstiest. Other judges commented that the Manta Ray was more of a handful than some other combinations, but this didn’t equate with the author’s experience. I rated the New Age solidly mid-field for the sort of adverse handling inputs the van had on the vehicle.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length: 9.03m (29ft 7in)
External body length: 7.2m (23ft 7in)
External body width: 2.5m (8ft 2in)
Travel height: 3.05m (10ft)
Interior height: 2.03m (6ft 8in)
Ball weight: 254kg
Frame: Meranti timber
Cladding: Probond exterior (composite panelling)
Chassis: Walkinshaw Engineered Chassis inclusive of 6in rolled A-frame (hot -dip galvanised)
Suspension: Cruisemaster XT
Coupling: Cruisemaster DO35
Brakes: 12in drum electrically activated
Wheels: 265/75 R16 Federal Couragia A/T Tyres (x5)
Water: 2 x 110L (fresh), 110L (grey)
Battery: 1 x 100A lithium battery and BP35HA charging system
Solar: 1 x 150W
Gas: 2 x 9kg
Sway control: BMPro Sway Control
Cooking: Gas cooktop (mini grill)
Fridge: Thetford N3175 171L three-way AES
Microwave: NCE NCE23LFB Flatbed
Bathroom: Toilet and shower (plus external shower)
Hot water: Gas/electric
The ‘luxury’ model comes with a whole suite of extras not fitted as standard;
Upgrade to 171L 3-way fridge
Inline water filter
1 x 100A lithium battery (upgraded from AGM battery)
Odyssey display unit
Raven coating – front and sides
Diamond stitch upholstery
Fully upholstered foot rests
PRICE AS SHOWN
$89,990 on road, Victoria
To enquire about this caravan, contact New Age Caravans, 1537 Sydney Rd, Campbellfield, Victoria 30161.
Ph: (03) 9494 0100