It must be hell in the marketing department of a caravan company. In the past, you used to be able to choose an iconic destination such as Longreach or Nullaboor as a name for your new model until all the best names were taken.
With the arrival of big outlandish offroaders, the fight was on for the toughest name. A name such as the Force outgunned the Brigade and was inevitably followed by the Grenade.
Over at Highline, the Beast slugged it out with the Enforcer until we finally arrive at the company’s Apocalypse. Happily, it's not the end of the line because the name can mean a fresh beginning into a brave new world — and that's how I see the new model on show here. The Apocalypse is its latest premium model, so new that at the time of printing it hadn’t even made it onto the company’s website.
Highline Caravans might just be your typical second-tier manufacturer, flying under the radar somewhat, but regularly turning out quality vans through a loyal dealer network. This Victorian boutique builder is one of the quiet achievers, producing top-class offroaders with a long list of standard features. It's a family-run company with a dozen employees, including a full-time draftsperson dedicated to meeting customers’ special requests.
Brothers Vlad and Aleks had more than 20 years in van building between them when they set out on their own five years ago with fresh ideas and a commitment to customer satisfaction. It seems to be working. Owners express approval on social media and turnover now runs at four vans a week, across the company’s extensive range, so the team has found a niche in the market that suits them.
According to Vlad, their success has been achieved by offering quality vans using proven components at a competitive price. He says they can do this because theirs is a lean business maximising resources and watching costs. The factory size suits their output and prioritises efficiencies of rent and staffing. Their production process is smooth and logical, and they buy wisely, using proven suppliers to minimise warranty issues.
I'm pretty sure they also keep their finger on the pulse of caravanning trends and listen to owners who get out in the real world because the vans exude confidence and capability as well as a contemporary ambience that doesn't happen by accident.
The formula results in a van like the 21’ Apocalypse which, at $95,000 for a well-equipped full offroader, seems like excellent value.
As soon as we stepped inside, the wow factor was high. It's hard to impress jaded caravan reviewers and picky buyers with something different to the offerings of every other builder and which works across a big range of tastes, but I think Highline has brought it together. They have satisfied all angles with the brothers’ input to the moderately macho exterior and the softer touch of the interior design team.
TOUGH AS TERMINATOR
Construction uses a traditional meranti timber frame but departs from current trends by filling the void between the wall studs with high-density Jackodur insulation and using a composite honeycomb floor, under-slung with checkerplate protection.
Helping protect the frame from the elements is a single-piece fibreglass roof and composite sheets sealed at the corners. If you can keep water out of a timber frame, there is no reason it won’t last for many years.
Underscoring the offroad package is a chassis and heavy-duty 3500kg suspension from boutique engineering company Road Runner also based in Campbellfield. The chassis is a 150mm x 50mm hot-dipped galvanised unit in the best tradition of local van building.
The suspension is a 3.5t modular Oz Trecker tandem system, which is built solidly from 5mm Australian steel and bolted as a single unit rather than welded to the chassis. This makes alignment more reliable and also makes it easier to repair after an accident. The chassis painted in a bright orange to match a set of scrub bars along the sides, and the result is an impressive and very robust-looking combination.
Highline promotes itself as a custom builder and it is happy to increase the ATM of the Apocalypse out to 4.4t if owners are looking for higher carrying capacity than the standard 500kg. On the other hand, there are weight-saving options that will reduce the Tare weight from its rated 3000kg by modifications including changing to a lithium battery, using a Supergal rather than hot-dipped chassis and reducing under-chassis checkerplate. It's the customer's choice and any weight saving here will add to the carrying capacity without having to resort to a bigger tow vehicle.
It has 17in alloy wheels, shod with 265x70 offroad tyres add to ground clearance over uneven terrain. They also give the Highline a tall stance, even showing off the undercarriage to its best from the sides. Blue graphics over smooth grey composite topsides and silver checkerplate impart a visual lightness that understates the van's ability.
A Cruisemaster DO35 hitch suits the van's offroad aims and the heavy-duty top-wind AL-KO Jack is centrally located for ease of use. A full stone guard protects two 9kg gas bottles squeezed between two substantial jerry can holders, while further back is a handy alloy toolbox with openings both sides and an overhead work light.
Most owners will enjoy cooking outside, so I imagine the slide-out stainless steel BBQ will get a good workout. A fold-out picnic table is handy to the kitchen and a second hatch further back has 12V, 240V and outlets for the standard 22in television. High LEDs light up the night and a 5.5m (18ft) Dometic awning will fend off any dew.
Three 100Ah batteries are housed in a driver-side box attached to the chassis, making them easy to keep an eye on. Charging is through a smart Redarc battery management system and a 40A BP-400 regulator by way of three 170W solar panels on the roof or the tow vehicle's alternator when travelling. You can view all aspects of charge and battery condition inside the van at a panel above the lounge, where water levels and the main fuses are also on show.
The single spare sits high out of the way on a two-arm bar, and I liked the addition of a set of plastic recovery tracks bolted below. You would hope you don't need them, but they could be handy getting out of a sand trap somewhere down the road. It’s an example of how Highline like to go that bit extra for customer satisfaction.
The popularity of vans in the 6.4m (21ft) plus range seems to be growing, and the extra livability must be a real motivator. Without considering issues of heavier towing weight, it would be easy to see how the bigger lounge, longer benches and a few inches more space in the ensuite are a big attraction. If you compare both 5.7m (19ft) and 6.4m (21ft) models at a show, the temptation to ‘Go Big’ is going to hard to resist.
Traditional methods flow through to the interior where furniture is built from lightweight poplar ply on a timber frame, which is double screwed and glued to the caravan body. In the test van, the slate grey matt finish of the cabinets looks sensational against the white interior and warm cream tones of the upholstery and the high-quality German-made Konsol flooring in authentic dark natural.
Standing at the Camec entry door looking forward to the bedroom is an impressive sight. The creamy smooth leather lounge and trim accents, the ultra-cool matt finished surfaces and subway tile splashbacks all fight for attention as you take it all in.
The long U-shaped lounge has an expansive window, and I can imagine happy owners sitting here taking in a new morning view every day – if the motivation to move can be found because I found it hard to get going after luxuriating in comfort over a cuppa while we talked about the van.
Appliances include all the right brands. Dometic 190L compressor fridge, tick. Swift 500 full oven, grill and cooktop, tick. NCE rangehood, tick. Gree air-conditioner, full-height pantry, washing machine, gas hot water, microwave, Finch roof hatches. Tick, tick and tick.
The bathroom is equally noteworthy with a floating slate-coloured bowl and mixer and the same colours in the roomy shower hardware. The toilet is a ceramic cassette type, and with hatches in the shower and the main room, there is proper ventilation.
As I have said already, I think the Apocalypse is well priced. Equipment levels are high, so it’s no poverty pack stripped of the necessities you would need to add to make it work. The chassis has a three-year warranty, so you know it's built to last and the rest over the van is covered for the usual 12 months.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Our review took us away from the suburbs out towards the hills northwest of Melbourne, and I found the company's Isuzu DMax twin cab was a good match for the unladen van.
The Highline towed smoothly and predictably on the blacktop and on dirt roads leading to our photo location at the Treetops Scout Camp at Riddels Creek. This is an excellent place for vans on the edge of the city, and it afforded some offroading and picturesque backdrops.
Travelling through the trees on bush tracks highlighted the size of the van and one of its drawbacks — it's not as maneuverable as a camper trailer that's for sure. Highline has targeted the Apocalypse at touring couples who want comfort and space on roads less travelled. It might not be at home on the fire trails of the high country but get it out on big journeys over long and dusty corrugated roads, and you will be glad it’s there for you at the end of the day.
WEIGHTS AND MEASUREMENTS
Overall length: 9.04m (29ft 6in)
External body length: 6.5m (21ft 4in)
Internal body length: 6.4m (21ft)
External body width: 2.33m (7ft 6in)
Travel height: 3.1m (10ft 2in)
Internal height: 1.93m (6ft 4in)
Payload: 500kg (calculated)
Ball weight: 180kg
Frame: Meranti with Jackodur insulation
Cladding: Composite aluminium
Chassis: 150 x 50mm hot-dipped galvanised
Suspension: Oz Trekker 3.5t independent trailing arm
Coupling: Cruisemaster DO35
Brakes: 12in electric drum
Wheels: R17 265x70
Water: 2 x 95L plus 1x 95L grey water
Battery: 3 x 100Ah
Solar: 3 x 170W
Gas: 2 x 9kg
Sway control: Tucson ESC
Cooking: Swift 500 full oven and cooktop
Fridge: 190L Dometic compressor
Microwave: 25L, 900W (Brand?)
Bathroom: Ceramic toilet and internal shower
Washing machine: 3.2kg (top loader or front loader? Brand?)
Hot water: yes
Toolbox with slide, rock sliders, work light, protective checkerplate under the van, one Sirocco fan, rear wood cradle, honeycomb flooring, electric step
PRICE AS SHOWN
$95,000 (please confirm this is as tested with the options and includes on road costs - if so for which states. Is there a base price?)
To enquire about this caravan, please contact Highline Caravans, 3/87 Merola Way Campbellfield, VIC 3061. Ph: (03) 9357 9092, email: firstname.lastname@example.org