In less than 10 years, JB caravans has confirmed its place amongst our biggest and most successful builders. Now with more than 100 employees, the company moved into its own new factory complex a year ago to cope with increased production of its wide range of touring and offroad vans.
Along with the move came an investment in robotic cutters and new furniture edge-banding machines to improve the interior finish and keep all production in-house. On that note, JB is one of only a few builders which produces its own chassis, and have done since day one using 3.2mm Australian Supergal steel which they claim is engineered to take the harshest treatment.
It's hard to imagine an accessory or idea that should go into an offroad caravan that isn't already in, on or under the JB Scorpion Sting Air on review here. The Scorpion Sting is part of JB's premium range and is classified as a full offroader, beaten only by the even more upmarket Milano to the top of its catalogue.
The Air version takes the Scorpion a step even further with military-grade 4.5T Cruisemaster ATX system holding up the four corners of the amazingly adjustable and robust suspension.
The Sting matches its substantial hard-hitting underpinnings with rugged good looks. Nearly half the sidewalls are black checkerplate over dark grey raised profile cladding with orange graphics. It rides high on 17in black alloy wheels shod with Cooper offroad tyres. And at 9m (21ft 6in) long with an extended drawbar, it's hard to miss.
A 3.5T Cruisemaster DO35 hitch connects to the tow vehicle and offers excellent articulation across rough ground and out of steep river crossings. JB-embossed mud flaps and a full-width stone guard protect the undersides and a large toolbox on the A-frame.
The central part of the box houses two 9kg gas bottles and locks them securely, which is a good idea when you have to leave the van unattended. Each side of the gas compartment is a storage bin with slide-outs for a generator on the passenger side, while behind the box is a 2.4m PVC pole carrier.
Underneath are two 95L tanks, a 65L tank and a 95L grey water tank — for stays in national parks — all protected by checkerplate. The 65L tank is a dedicated drinking water tank, which is plumbed separately with its own filter, ensuring you don't run out through overenthusiastic showering.
The suspension is as good as it gets. Queensland-based Cruisemaster developed this system a couple of years ago with vans such as the Scorpion in mind. The team could see the demand growing for bigger, more substantial vans that owners wanted to take into extreme locations, so they introduced the most robust and sophisticated system they could imagine.
Like its proven XT, a single trailing arm comes with upgraded, racing-style, remote reservoir, monotube shock absorbers, 63mm stub axle with larger bearings and a choice of upgraded King Coils or Firestone airbags as on our test van. Wheel travel is increased to 144mm over the 130mm of the XT, and because the airbags can be adjusted, load can be varied between 2.2t and 2.8t at each station.
As well as giving a soft ride, the airbags can level the van when camping by adjusting the height of each side individually. And, after travelling on corrugated roads, an onboard air tank and compressor quickly inflate your tyres.
STING IN THE TAIL
Down the back, the spare and two jerry can racks for extra water are mounted on a heavy-duty four-arm bumper bar, and there are recovery points if the van ever needs to be dragged out of trouble. An LED reversing light, and Polaris camera will help to park the van at night and keep an eye on the following traffic, while the minimalist but bright LED stop lights fit in with the modern appeal.
Up top are three 160W solar panels powering a 300Ah lithium battery through a 40A Enerdrive solar regulator and 60A Enerdrive smart battery management system. It's generally accepted that lithium nearly doubles the usable output over a gel battery, so that's a heap of power. The addition of a 2600W Enerdrive inverter gives the option of running 12V or 240V and appliances including the air-conditioner for up to an hour and a half. That's great for cooling down without a generator whilst the rest of the camp swelters.
You might notice there is no exterior kitchen, probably in an effort to moderate weight, but a Baby Q would solve that, and there's room for one in the tunnel boot.
Outside features include a front tunnel boot, a large picnic table and an entertainment hatch with the usual assortment of electric connections, the outlet for the air compressor and a remote head for the Fusion 755 sound system with external speakers. Black powder-coated rock sliders fore and aft of the wheels will protect the lower panels and look the part.
STEP INTO MY LAIR
The high-riding van is a long way above the ground, so the two-stage Thule electric steps are a welcome addition. But, even though they seem to tuck out of the way when closed, I would worry about them being damaged over rough ground. On the other hand, the Camec tri-lock security door looks super strong and closes with a reassuring clang.
The Scorpion Sting Air range spans 6.2m (20ft 6in) to 7m (23ft) in the bunk model and we looked at the smallest version at the factory before our review of this (21ft 6in) version. It's incredible how much difference the extra length makes to the feeling of space inside, particularly at the lounge and with more usable preparation area at the bench. With the added length comes extra weight and loss of maneuverability on tight tracks, so the choice is swings and roundabouts.
Couples wanting the benefit of interior space and who aren't concerned about the cost will love the bigger van for its cozy, welcoming feel and somewhere guests won't feel like they are intruding on your space.
Keeping light and ventilation flowing are Dometic midi hatches with rain sensors in the roof and the latest Dometic Chal windows. The windows have more contemporary-looking flat tinted panels as well as improved blind and screen actions that move smoothly.
JB has decided that black is the new black for its demonstration van and has executed a contemporary design without being too edgy. Black glossy cupboards and a matt black sink, drainer and sharp-looking mixer play against light-toned marble benchtops and splashbacks, while caramel leather upholstery conveys the warmer impression of being at home.
Furniture and joinery are finely finished and have quality piano hinges, struts and latches. Bulkheads over the kitchen and lounge are set with LED downlights to add to the appeal, and all cupboards are neatly lined inside their perfect CNC-cut exteriors.
This van ticks all the right layout options by putting the bedroom up front away from the entry door, the bathroom down the back so it's easy to access from outside without traipsing mud everywhere and the balance of the van devoted to living space.
The queen pillowtop mattress measures 2m x XX (6ft 5in x 5in) and has storage below with a section neatly boxed off for the battery. The black leather bedhead is softly padded for a touch of luxury, and side nooks will be handy for phones, tablets and smaller items that we — OK, I — seem to lose all the time.
One of the most common requests we see for vans is to have more bench space, but you'd hardly worry about that in this JB. Cooking is also well catered for with a full Swift oven and cooktop, NCE rangehood and a 25L NCE microwave, although I'd prefer to see the microwave at a lower level for safety.
The 218L Waeco compressor fridge is a good size for more extended times away and should just about run indefinitely on solar charge alone. Alongside the fridge is a generously sized floor-to-ceiling pantry and there are overhead cupboards in all convenient places.
The roomy U-shaped lounge can comfortably accommodate four adults, and the extended side seats mean two can sit feet-up watching TV. Maybe I could say the table is a little small, but I'd be clutching at something to criticise, even if that’s my job. The lounge converts to a double bed and comes complete with custom cushions.
In the past I have questioned the need for a sizeable full-width ensuite, arguing that it detracted from the available living area. Time has proven me wrong, and you will be hard put finding a new van without a broad-acre bathroom. For our Scorpion, a big ensuite is a natural fit as there's plenty of living area anyway.
But the thing I neglected to consider previously is the considerable amount of extra storage an ensuite can offer if it's cleverly designed. This one is. Cupboards on every wall don't detract from the amenity and leave room to move at the toilet, at the well-lit vanity, in the roomy shower cubicle and for access to the washing machine.
ON THE ROAD
Even in standard form, the van was a noticeable weight behind the JB twin-cab Ford Ranger. We were legal weight, of course, being virtually empty but it still wanted to push the tow vehicle around on rougher roads. It's no criticism of the JB van. It's a simple case of physics that many twin-cab owners realise when they hook up a big van.
All this engineering and all the accessories contribute to the Scorpion not only looking big, but it also makes it a hefty van, weighing in at nearly 3t before you start loading it up. Just filling the water tanks takes the weight to 3200kg, leaving only 300kg for everything else including heavy recovery gear, food and all your camping furniture and so on.
With this in mind, most owners will opt for an easy upgrade to a 4500kg ATM by changing to a DO-45 hitch and more massive safety chains. You then need a suitable substantial capacity tow vehicle such as a big American ute or an upgraded 200 series LandCruiser.
In slower travels over rough bush tracks, the van glided over the terrain without fuss, and if it gets really tricky you can raise the suspension to increase the ride height. The engineering is up to the task and JB warranty the van for offroad use with a three-year coverage, so all the elements are in place to get you to where you want to be with care and the right attitude.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Priced as tested at $109,990 drive away in the eastern states is excellent value for this robust and well-equipped van.
There's a good chance we will explore the Sting Air further at the Best Aussie Vans event later in the year, and we look forward to seeing how it fares on the extended offroad venue because it's going to be hard to beat.
WEIGHTS AND MEASUREMENTS
Overall length: 9m (29ft 6in)
External body length: 6.5m (21ft 6in)
External body width: 2.48m (8ft 2in)
Travel height: 3.2m (10ft 6in)
Internal height: 1.98m (6ft 5in)
Payload: 555kg (calculated)
Ball weight: 187kg
Cladding: Ribbed aluminium and checkerplate
Chassis: 150mm x 50mm DuraGal
Suspension: Cruisemaster ATX 4.5T
Coupling: Cruisemaster DO35
Brakes: 12in electric
Wheels: 17in alloy six stud 265x70 Cooper tyres
Water: 2 x 95L, 1 x 65L (plus 95L grey water)
Battery: 300Ah lithium
Solar: 3x 170W
Air-conditioner: Truma Aventa
Gas: 2 x 9kg
Sway control: AL-KO ESC
Cooking: Swift oven
Fridge: Waeco 218L compressor
Microwave: 25L NCE
Bathroom: Shower and toilet
Washing machine: 3kg top-loader
Hot water: Truma Vario Heat
PRICE AS SHOWN
$109,990 drive away in VIC, NSW and QLD.
To enquire about this caravan, please contact JB Caravans, 2040-2060 Sydney Rd,
Campbellfield, VIC 3061. Ph: 1800 991 169