A gratifyingly solid offroad beast, the Highline Matrix can take you anywhere in Australia, and keep you there with plenty of endurance
Image credits: Phil Cerbu, Cam Inniss, Marcus Cozzolino, Matt Williams
TIM VAN DUYL
Highline Caravans is a fairly young company having been established in 2013 in the heart of the caravan hub that is Campbellfeild, Victoria. In the short years till now, they have created a strong line up that includes the Matrix 19’6”, a couples focused offroader, their first entry into BLA CZone’s Best Aussie Vans 2019.
Highline offers buyers the chance to be heavily involved in the decisions and details that go into their build. According to owner and general manager Vladimir Vitanov, this is what sets Highline apart from other builders and leads to more satisfied customers. Vlad is a passionate perfectionist that showed a lot of patience during the long waits between action, as well as insights into where he sees the industry heading.
His sales tend to be led by offroad and semi-offroad caravans with a trend towards more self-sufficiency. The Matrix on display was typical of where he is seeing the market move, with more power storage and generation by way of a big 200Ah battery bank and 340 watts of solar panelling on the roof to support good gas and water storage.
Finishing only half of a point behind eventual winner Crusader, the Highline Matrix scored an outstanding 326.5 out of a possible 450 and topped the Self Sustainability scores among all entrants with an average of 8.1/10. Value for Money was also seen as a strong attribute of the twin-axle offroader with an impressive averaged score of 7.9./10.
At the Showcase, it was hard to miss the Matrix with its bright orange graphics and tough offroad presence. We heard from a few locals that braved the weather and a few passersby at our Big4 Inverloch accommodation, and the Matrix’s Victorian drive-away price of only $70,000 was met with universal applause.
Wow! $70,000 for an offroad caravan with a host of features and a hefty 4.5t independent suspension has to be great value. The Highline looks the goods and is ready to go anywhere your four-wheel drive can tow it on any gazetted road in Australia. There might be a bit of cost-cutting in certain parts of production — some of the wiring underneath could be neater — but the traditional stick furniture is by choice as the design team believe that's the way to make it stronger which is important in an offroader. Hidden benefits like higher than typically rated insulation is a bonus, and the DO-35 hitch and ESC add value and safety.
The Highline is a great value option for couples wanting to head into the wilds or do a long lap of our coast. The ability to upgrade it to a monster 1820kg carrying capacity cheaply is also high value — well that’s without discounting the cost of a bigger tow rig.
Warranty on the body and joinery is 12 months, the chassis is five years and the suspension is two years, while sppliances have the minimum 12 month warranty from the supplier.
The company has a dedicated warranty officer, and I'm told that they oversee all warranty claims and direct customers to the appropriate repair agent to help speed the process.
Highline clearly state your rights under Australian Consumer Law and goes further by adding “Nothing in this warranty is to be interpreted as excluding, changing, restricting or modifying any State or Federal legislation".
A relatively hefty weight and hard-working, independent Oz Tracker suspension gave a smooth and predictable ride, and it felt well planted to the road. There was little sway in the strong wind and no lurching over the rougher sections of road. ESC is standard fare as is a rearview camera.
We didn't run the van on dirt tracks, but the suspension's strong trailing arms and twin shock absorbers should take tough going in its stride.
Highline’s Matrix is designed as an offroad caravan, and having an ATM of 3450kg and a tare weight around 2770kg makes it a fairly heavy van. It is fitted out with Road Runner independent coil spring suspension which is built as sub assembly structure and then bolted to the DuraGal chassis, which is built in a box section style with 150mm x 50mm (6in x 2in) main rails and drawbar. Battery boxes are fitted to the front offside rail and between the chassis rails are two 95-litre fresh water tanks and one 95-litre grey water tank.
Overall body structure seems to be pitched at rough road travel. Meranti timber is used for the frame and composite aluminium cladding with high density foam is used for the walls and roof. In keeping with many an offroad van, black alloy checkerplate is fitted to the lower waist area all round. Inside, the plywood cabinetry fits together quite nicely and stainless steel hinges are used on all cupboards and overhead lockers.
For external storage there’s a front tunnel bin and a smaller bin at the offside rear. It’s fitted with a slide-out and could be used for a generator. Two jerry can holders and a mid-sized alloy checkerplate tool box are fitted to the front drawbar. Mounted on the rear bumper bar is a spare wheel and a firewood tray. Also fitted to the rear wall is an external shower, handy to use as well as avoiding tramping dirt and sand into the van. At the rear, the grey water tank drainpipe does hang rather low and given the clearance under the van, maybe a shorter pipe for use with an extension piece might be better. Nudge/scrape bars are fitted to the lower front sides, but the fixing screws look a bit under rated! Still under the van, the water tanks are alloy checkerplate protected, but the electric cables to the wheel brakes looked like they needed a bit more mechanical protection.
There’s plenty of capacity in the electrical system with two 100Ah deep cycle batteries and two 170W solar panels. It’s a little odd there isn’t a battery management system fitted, given the generator capability. Two 9kg gas cylinders will keep the cooker and fridge going for a while. External contractors are used for the LP gas and electrical fit out.
VIV AND RON MOON
This imposing looking van immediately strikes you as having all the cred for a grand touring rig, and it stacks up pretty well, you gotta say.
Once you have the Matrix behind your rig and on the road, you'll find it tows pretty darn well. The standard Road Runner Oz Trekker independent coil suspension features twin shocks on each wheel, while the shocks themselves are near close to upright — which is where they should be for the best operation.
It's a fairly heavy van though, coming in on our weigh bridge evaluation at a tare figure of 2770kg. That can be a blessing or a hindrance, depending on your tow rig, but one thing I noticed was that it was affected less by cross winds than I expected.
The good handling on lumpy roads with some strong cross winds can also be put down to the ESC that the van is fitted with as standard.
With a 95-litre grey water tank fitted you can make the most of the plethora of free camps around the continent while the five-year chassis and one-year body warranties will keep you covered for that trip around Australia, no matter what road you take it down.
Storage wise, this 20-foot van offers about the standard fare for this size rig, which should be ample for two people and an extended trip. Bench space is on par with similar size vans and once you lift the cover for the stove, you'll be shuffling stuff to cut up the vegetables.
Designed for long distance touring and as an offroad van suitable for all roads and most tracks in Australia, it shouldn't come as a surprise that this rig has a good standard of self-sufficiency about it, right from the start with no options required.
For starters there's two 95-litre water tanks along with a single 95-litre grey water tank, which is about the most you can get under such a size van. That'll keep you supplied with drinking water and for the washing up for at least a few days — showers which chew up a lot of the liquid can be optional!
Two 9kg gas bottles will keep the stove and outside BBQ burning for days as well as keeping the water hot and the fridge running.
For off-the-grid living there are two 10Ah AGM batteries charged by two 170W solar panels. That seems to be a bit of overkill for a van that runs a three-way fridge and I'd be tempted to go to a more efficient (especially in hot weather up north) 12volt DC/240volt AC fridge/freezer such as the Thetford T1090. Still the standard unit fitted — a Thetford 184-litre 3-way unit — will keep the salad crisp and the beer cold (under most circumstances) and is big enough for a longish stay at your favourite remote beach or outback creek campsite.
Standing out for more reasons than one was the Matrix by Highline Caravans. In a year where the majority of the other entrants at Best Aussie Vans 2019 were predominantly on road vans, the Matrix stood out as the only designated full offroad caravan.
There was no mistaking that the Matrix was indeed an offroad van. There was the high waisted, aluminium checkerplate sides to give that rugged look so typical of vans destined to find their way on to outback tracks. The heavy duty 6” chassis and A-frame matched with a DO-35 hitch told a similar story, as did the generous stone guard mounted up front.
Rock sliders, mud terrain tyres and fully independent suspension with twin shocks on each wheel sang the same tune, while the aluminium checkerplate bash guards protecting vulnerable fittings underneath joined in for the chorus. Splashes of orange and distinctive, modern decals made sure that the Matrix caught your attention.
Hidden beneath the smooth exterior aluminium composite panel is a standard meranti frame with ply interior. However, taking things to the next level, Highline Caravans treat the timber with a waterproofing agent prior to the fitment of the outer skin, with the aim to minimise water damage down the track.
Helping keep it warmer in winter and cooler in summer, old school styrofoam insulation has made way for high density extruded polystyrene (XPS). Claims of it being 40 per cent more thermally efficient than its predecessor means that you won't be needing to fire up the A/C as often. But when you do, the A/C unit can be controlled via an app on your smart phone. On board Wi-fi also lets you keep in touch with the outside world for longer when venturing farther away from civilisation.
While probably not as exciting as an app to control the A/C, the centrally mounted switch in the bedhead, which turns the ensuite light on and off, was a cool little feature of the Martix's interior.
As for getting you offroad and keeping you there, the Matrix came fairly well credentialed, with both fresh and grey water tanks and more than enough battery and solar power for extended stays off grid.
Topping off a pretty well-rounded package, the Matrix from Highline Caravans comes complete with an external BBQ and a neat little firewood storage rack tucked away behind the rear mounted spare tyre.
VALUE FOR MONEY
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING
HOLDEN HAULED — Ged Bulmer
Fuel Consumption: 18.8L/100km
Tow rating: 3
At 2770kg the Matrix Highline was the fifth heaviest van on test but with a relatively light ball rating of 150kg. The latter may help explain why some judges commented on experiencing significant directional stability issues during the tow-loop, again caused by the trailer steering the vehicle more than they were comfortable with. The author’s own experience didn’t correspond with this adverse finding and I rated it mid-field in its towing manners. However, the tow stats do reveal that the Matrix Highline’s average speed for the tow-loop of 45.4km/h was the slowest on test, by a considerable margin. This could indicate that judges were towing it with more caution than the other vans. Ordinarily, the slower road speed might have been expected to help lower the Trailblazer’s fuel consumption, but that wasn’t the case here and, at 18.8L/100km, this combination also proved to be the thirstiest on test.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length: 8.6m (28ft 3in)
External body length: 5.95m (19ft 6in)
External body width: 2.3m (7ft 6in)
Travel height: 3.1m (10ft 2in)
Interior height: 1.93m (6ft 4in)
Ball weight: 140kg
Frame: Meranti timber
Cladding: Aluminium and checkerplate
Chassis: Duragal chassis, 6in A-frame, 6in deck
Suspension: Oz Tracker independant full offroad
Coupling: Cruisemaster DO35
Wheels: 265/75 R16in mud terrain
Water: 2 x XXL (fresh), 1 x XXL (grey)
Battery: 2 x 100A
Solar: 2 x 170W
Gas: 2 x 9kg
Sway control: AL-KO ESC Stability
External kitchen: Slide-out BBQ
Cooking: Swift full oven
Fridge: Thetford 184L
Microwave: NCE 20L 700W
Bathroom: Shower and china bowl toilet
Hot water: 28L Swift electric and gas
Options fitted to the BAV van in here please
PRICE AS SHOWN
$70,000 on road, Victoria
To enquire about this caravan, please contact Highline Caravans, Unit 3/87 Merola Way, Campbellfield, Vic 3061.
Ph: (03) 9357 9092, email: firstname.lastname@example.org