Best Aussie Vans 2019: Testing Times Two

Tim van Duyl — 9 January 2020
In our second instalment of BLA Czone's Best Aussie Vans, we recapped what goes into our signature event

If you read last issue’s introduction to BLA CZone’s Best Aussie Vans 2019, a lot of this will be familiar, sorry. You may want to refresh yourself with the scoring process and skip on to the full reviews, or read on for a recap of what went down and how we pulled together our signature event.

For 2019, we found ourselves in windswept and chilly Inverloch, Vic., hosted at the local Big4 where most of us made use of the heated, indoor water complex. We were not lucky with the weather this year, with unseasonable cold fronts lashing us almost daily. It did make for some dramatic visuals and a challenging test drive, though.

We operated from 16 until 22 October with Sunday 20 October the public Showcase day. We created a set tow route that covered around 30 kilometres of undulating Gippsland roads for chief tow-tester Ged Bulmer and worked with the neighbouring Foreshore Camping Reserve to set up and do our inspections. It all went seamlessly, with the local eateries looking after us well and plenty of good and hot coffee available in the towns’ centre to keep the fingers and hearts of our eight entrants and swarm of content capturers warm.




Image Credits: Phil Cerbu, Marcus Cozzolino and Cam Inniss


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

All entries for BAV must have been reviewed in full or appraised by one of our expert writers before being invited to compete. Advertising spend is not taken into account and there are strict rules on the pricing promoted at the event being maintained publicly for the following 12 months. Each entrant is offered and encouraged to bring two representatives for the duration of the event to help the judges better understand what sets each van apart.

THE PEOPLE

From judges to operations managers to stills photographers and videographers, there were two teams of up to 20 working in separate locations to create compelling content for print, video, words and images. Our judging panel was comprised of BAV stalwarts Malcolm Street and Ron and Viv Moon as well as new-to-BAV Matt Williams and incoming Editor at Large John Ford. A crack team with varied backgrounds and experiences, then.

We couldn’t do what you see on these pages and in the videos found online without some financial support and for 2019 we are grateful for the help BLA RV and CZone gave. In thanks to the team, John Ford goes further into who BLA RV are and a few of their best products but to the team at BLA RV, many thanks for helping us make Best Aussie Vans 2019 happen.

THE PROCESS

We set our crack team of judges loose to review each van on the same day in the same location. They have all been reporting on caravans and caravan lifestyle for many, many years, but all with their own personality and approach. This gives us a more balanced outcome than a single reviewer would. Those differing approaches are reflected in the scoring, which can vary significantly, but averaging the scores allows us to conclusively judge which are the Best Aussie Vans for sale today.

SCORING

Our authority as independent industry experts means nothing if you do not understand how we choose our writers and judges and how we assess the caravans we review.

Our judging team was chosen to reflect a wide range of industry-centric skill sets, from retired electricians to outback survival experts and longtime caravan owners. Driven by customer and industry feedback, for Best Aussie Vans 2019 we have made a change to our judging criteria with the addition of Customer Care and the merging of two existing quality-centric criteria into one, Build Quality.

All criteria are scored out of 10 giving up to 90 points per van which are then added together and divided by the number of judges to give an average score.

The judge must quantify or validate their scores with written and submitted comments. Unfortunately, we do not have the space to run every comment made, so you will find handpicked comments from each judge with their review of each van. Also due to space, each judge was charged with focussing on specific criteria in their reviews. This does not mean they did not judge each van against every criterion, but to save you from reading the same or similar thoughts on the vans more generally, we asked them to each dig deeper into a specific one.

THE VANS

This year we judged in three categories: budget-friendly sub $60,000 vans; $60,000–$80,000 and over $80,000. Seen last issue, after averaging the judges’ scores, the results are unbelievably close with only half a point separating the Design RV Forerunner and Snowy River SR-20 in the sub $60,000 class. If we were rounding the scores, you’d call it a tie.

Also in the last issue were the over-$80,000 caravans that we thought best in 2019. We had a luxurious and voluminous, family-focussed 22 foot New Age and a tardis-like palace for two from Royal Flair. This category was not as close in scores as the budget-friendly vans, but presented a challenge to the judges as the vans offered so much to potential buyers in such different ways, with the Royal Flair Piazza edging out the New Age Manta Ray.

CATEGORY WINNERS

BEST VALUE FOR MONEY: DESIGN RV & SNOWY RIVER 

Ron Moon

Easily the most sought-after award at Best Aussie Vans, Value for Money validates everything we saw against our expectations of the price asked. Yes, it is very subjective, but that’s why Caravan World puts on five judges with such different skill sets and experience. It helps get a wide perspective from our industry experts, with the average a fair representation of the true value of the van. In the past we have seen the top score go to more expensive vans, but this year was different.

2019 was fiercely competitive for value with the two most affordable caravans sharing the spoils as the DesignRV and Snowy River both scored an average of 8/10. To put into perspective how tight and impressive the win was for these two, the lowest score across all other entrants was 7.4/10, but the DesignRV and Snowy had just enough to win our team over.

MOST SELF-SUFFICIENT: HIGHLINE MATRIX

Matt Williams

You would think scoring self-sufficiency would be one of the easier criteria. Count the beds, measure the power creation and storage capacities and check the volumes of the fridge, water tanks and you're done, right? Not so. Being self-sufficient also includes insulation properties of the build, serviceability of key components and the capacity to carry critical spares like tyres. All this has to take the caravan’s purpose into account and their capability to go more remote. A jacked up off-roader has to offer more self-sufficiency than a teardrop destined to live beachside. So this was a hard one to judge.

The team at Highline knocked it out of the park with their Matrix off roader providing what we think is the ideal mix of power, water and storage capacity, all bundled into a good-looking package.

BEST QUALITY: NEW AGE & REGENT 

Malcolm Street

Build Quality encompasses the finish of the caravan and the quality of the components and materials used to build it. An important criterion, as it represents the bones of the caravan and the attention to detail in building it. We look for fitment of the cabinetry, the quality of the blinds used, right down to the grade of the metal used in the chassis.

It's no surprise that industry heavyweights tend to do better here as they often have more structured and regimented construction processes, which usually includes strong quality assurance programs. This year was no surprise with Regent and New Age getting equal top averaged scores of 7.9/10.

MOST INNOVATIVE: ROYAL FLAIR 

John Ford

Being innovative is not just about the big things, it also covers little details like the types of appliances uses and the construction processes. Everything presented is assessed on whether it makes life better for the user, saves cost or helps the owner in some other intangible way. One nice example from years past was the use of a composting toilet that saved on the need for harsh chemicals.

This year there was no denying the Royal Flair this award. One look at the Piazza setup and the team were buzzing to find out more. But do not think that just the folding front did it for us. The internal layout and drop-down bed made great use of space, another major innovation in our books.

CUSTOMER CARE: NEW AGE 

John Ford

New to 2019, it was always going to be a hard criterion to assess and please bear with us as we develop it to best suit you and the industry as a whole. The idea to include it came from the bosses, who have been bugged for years to report on the warranty and after-sales service of new van purchases. Covered in more depth in the score sheet found in these pages, know that for this year it was a bit of a minefield.

In our judges’ opinion, New Age had the best publicised warranty and support network at BAV, coming out with a solid 7.1/10. There is room to improve in both how we assess the new criteria and in the way companies publicise their warranties though. Expect to hear more from us on this in the new year, and bring on 2020.

SCORING SYSTEM

VALUE FOR MONEY

  • A score of 3 or less suggests the judge felt like your money should be spent elsewhere
  • 3.5–5.5 suggests the van is price-competitive but perhaps not great value
  • 6–8.5 suggests the van is good value for money, better than its competitors
  • 8.5 or more suggests the van is exceptionally priced, that there few competing with it for value

TOWABILITY

  • A score of 3 or less would indicate the van felt unsafe or was extremely difficult to tow
  • 3.5–5.5 would indicate some vices in testing that need attention 
  • 6–8 would suggest the van towed well without issue
  • 8.5 or more suggests the caravan not only towed well but that it exceeded expectation to become a new benchmark in towability

SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING

  • A score of 3 or under would suggest the van is not fit for its intended purpose
  • 3.5–5.5 suggests the van can do most of what it sets out to achieve but needs refinement
  • 6–8 would indicate the van is capable for its intended purpose
  • 8.5 or more suggests the van is more capable than the manufacturer suggests or that the writer expected

BUILD QUALITY 

  • A score of 3 or less would suggest major flaws seen throughout the tested product
  • 3.5–5.5 would be for a van carrying some minor, rectifiable cosmetic flaws or poor material choice
  • 6–8 would suggest a van of acceptable but basic finish comprising a traditional build utilising traditional materials 
  • 8.5 or more would be a flawless finish of an impeccable standard and/or use of cutting-edge materials 

LIVEABILITY

  • A score of 3 or less suggests the van is missing vital components and is uncomfortable to navigate or to relax within
  • 3.5–5.5 would suggest the caravan is as comfortable as expected but misses some key components or 
  • 6–8 would be a place to be proud of that is both comfortable and well-appointed and well laid-out
  • 8.5 or more suggests the van has a level of opulence not seen in its class before laid out with the best use of space

CUSTOMER CARE (new for 2019)

  • A score of 3 or less indicates the van has little to no after-purchase support or warranty
  • 3.5–5.5 suggests the van has a limited-warranty and some after-purchase support but has exclusions that may affect the way you use the trailer
  • 6–8 suggests the van has a comprehensive warranty and the brand has a strong support structure
  • 8.5 or more suggests the brand has a national support structure, dedicated support staff and the warranty goes above and beyond expectation

SELF-SUFFICIENCY

  • A score of 3 or less indicates this van lacks vital remote-use capabilities
  • 3.5–5.5 suggests the van can support remote users for a short period with minor limitations
  • 6–8 suggests the judge believes this van is capable of fully-supporting remote-users for moderate stays 
  • 8.5 or more suggests the van has the necessary attributes for supporting users for an extended remote stay, in real comfort, without limitations

INNOVATION

  • A score of 3 or less suggests the van is a replica of a bad design
  • 3.5–5.5 would be a run-of-the-mill design that has been seen and done before
  • 6–8 would be an evolutionary change to a known design or style but done well
  • 8.5 or more is reserved for new designs that challenge competitors and customers’ expectations of what a van can be

X-FACTOR

  • A score of 3 or less would suggest the van is boring in all aspects
  • 3.5–5.5 suggests the van has appeal but no more than most vans in its class
  • 6–8 suggests the writer sees the van as something different, interesting and appealing
  • 8.5 or more suggests the van is groundbreaking, that it excites and will draw a crowd

Tags

Best Aussie Vans 2019 Intro Caravans Yearly event Reviews

Photographer

Phil Cerbu, Marcus Cozzolino and Cam Inniss