On the back of their innovative approach to interior design that shook up the industry when they launched some eight years ago, New Age has grown into one of the most influential caravan brands. The young company introduced the style and colours of contemporary apartment living to RV interiors, and they haven't looked back. And although most other vans now follow the same trend, New Age manages to stay fresh.
In recent times the Walkinshaw Group took complete control of the business after a period where they were part owners. The move into the RV market followed the demise of their Special Vehicles branch with the passing of Holden. We are looking forward to the combination of an Avant Guard caravan company and Walkinshaw’s engineering knowhow, and the release of bold new ideas over the coming months.
Of all the vans in the extensive New Age lineup, this family tourer is one of the most popular and the Road Owl, following the convention to name much of their range after native animals, might be a wise choice for budget-conscious buyers.
Given the drive away price of $53,990 of the RO19BE Comfort van we reviewed, I was surprised to learn that its Comfort Pack is an option. That means there's an even cheaper version, which for an Aussie built family van with an ensuite is remarkable.
Perhaps because the Road Owl is at the budget end of the New Age range, so far it has missed out on the latest graphics and ABS plastic rear end of other models. Nonetheless, it has a distinctive appeal with an aerodynamic wedge-shaped entry and a square end section. Cladding is raised profile aluminium sheet in a brilliant gloss white with a simple narrow red racing stripe.
The front is protected by a Raven coated gunmetal grey panel, but there's none of your black checkerplate to hint at offroad travel. This is a family cruiser designed for tar roads and caravan parks, and while that may seem restrictive to some, there are plenty of families who love this lifestyle and numerous good parks to enjoy all around the country.
The Road Owl rides on a 50 x 100mm Duragal chassis with 2” risers. Pressed metal crossbeams have perforated holes for weight saving and the under-van work is as neat as you will find. The fitout gives wiring and plumbing that is sensibly routed to keep it out of harm's way, and items like the 12V water pump have metal guards for protection but are still easily accessed for maintenance.
The suspension is a tandem leaf spring roller/rocker setup on beam axles, which worked smoothly over the country roads in the upper Yarra Valley during our review. Lots of vans have more sophisticated springs and shocks, but for road use, the roller/rockers are a reliable and long-lasting system that works well. On top of that, it also keeps the price down.
Wheels are neat looking 15” alloys clad with 235 x 75 tyres. The New Age logo cast into one of the spokes is a classy touch.
At the drawbar is a simple 50mm ball coupling and a Trail Safe break-away switch which is needed for the over two-tonne ATM. A single gas bottle would suit shorter holidays, but if set up in a non-powered site for weeks at a time, it might be better to have a second one, available as an option, installed for cooking and hot water.
In place of the front boot are two tunnel boots. Interestingly they have drain holes for crossflow ventilation to reduce musky smells over time and for easy cleaning in case something is spilt.
A spare tyre sits on a simple bracket at the back, and a Care Free awning covers the curbside exterior. Other external features are minimal but include television and power points, and a set of Clarion weatherproof speakers. Entry is through a new style Milenco Columbia door with improved security and easy three-way opening.
New Age might not be the only builder to pack a 19’ van with family-friendly features seen in the Road Owl, but they do it with style befitting the brand and with smart thinking that increases its value proposition. The interior has the pared-back modern touch familiar to New Age with black upholstery against matte white cupboards and walls.
No one is going to say that there is a tremendous amount of room to move — that’s not possible in a 19’ bunk van — but the space is very livable, and it's a sensible size for towing and storage.
The east-west queen bed upfront is a compromise both through the more difficult access and bed making and also because it places the bed at the entrance, which seems unpopular to some for lack of privacy. But given the van’s length, it’s the only workable solution as a more conventional setup would take up a couple of extra feet in bed length.
The cross-van arrangement for the bed allows increased storage options, with shelves at ceiling height at both ends and four cupboards along the side. There’s a big window at the bed head but none on the other side. Instead, here is a bracket for the 24” television, which along with a Winegard aerial, a Gree air conditioner and a 100Ah battery form the optional Comfort Pack.
In the central section of the van is the curbside kitchen, with a U-shaped dinette opposite. Storage is excellent with overhead and in-bench cupboards and drawers, but preparation space, like most vans of this size, is limited. The folding lid on the Thetford Mini-grill adds some room, and there is a small amount of space either side of the stainless steel sink and drainer.
Overhead are an NCE microwave and rangehood, while further back on the other side is a three-way 164L fridge that should satisfy a family appetite for a few days. The dinette seats four comfortably, so with accommodation for five, a folding chair would be needed to feed everyone at once. A folding edge of the table is a thoughtful touch as it can be lowered when not in use to give better access in the walkway.
This family van isn't targeted at off-grid living, having only one battery and a single 110L water tank. Nonetheless, with frugal use of water, lights and gas, you could camp out for a couple of nights if needed. Solar wiring to a BMPRO BP35SR battery management system is standard, so upgrading with a solar panel or two would be easy. Electronics are neatly housed in a cupboard over the dinette, and the wiring is exemplary.
The rear section of the van has three bunks along the near side and an ensuite opposite. This is a sensible arrangement, allowing a large floor to ceiling wardrobe at the rear of the van and room to move around the beds. Twin bunks are an option, and this would give more storage space under the lower bunk.
All bunks have their own window, reading lamp and USB charger and there’s a sturdy aluminium ladder for the top bunk. A curtain slides on a track to separate the area from the rest of the van, giving everyone some level of privacy, and the youngsters their own dedicated nook.
A concertina door opens to the ensuite with a large mirror over a vanity with a circular floating bowl, a Thetford plastic toilet and a 95cm x 95cm-moulded shower with frosted door.
Tare weight is only 2120kg, and it has a carrying capacity of 600kg, taking ATM to 2720kg. This is well in the range of many medium size vehicles, which again keeps costs within reason. An unexpected feature in this economy end of the market and a great safety feature is the Tuson Sway control system that will help keep the van on track over rough ground and in windy conditions.
Our review took us over country roads with 100km/h limits as well as some secondary winding and hilly sections. In all cases, the Road Owl towed faultlessly behind the Colorado twin cab, which is, of course, much more powerful than needed.
It’s easy to imagine that with its range of quality offroad and luxury touring vans New Age only caters to a high-end market. Aimed at younger families looking for an affordable option, the Road Owl disproves this. In many ways, its appeal recalls the glory days of caravanning when they were lightweight and straightforward. Of course, those past owners could only dream of an ensuite or the sophisticated electronics of today’s offering.
As we said already, the list price of $53,990 is excellent value for a family van of its size and quality. It will make a great option for young families or grandparents looking to embrace the caravanning lifestyle and with the New Age name behind it, you know the engineering is reliable and that resale value is amongst the best.
Not everyone wants to wear the dust and loneliness of remote places, nor do they have the time to set aside. For those seeking a simple, laid-back experience, hundreds of caravan parks and campsites are within reach, and the Road Owl could be just the van for you to enjoy them.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 7.89m (25’8”)
External body length 5.8m (19’)
External body width 2.5m (8’2”)
Travel height 2.95m (9’7”)
Internal height 2.03m (6’6”)
Ball weight 140kg
Cladding Raised profile Aluminium
Chassis Preston Chassis 50 x 100mm Duragal
Suspension leaf spring Roller Rocker
Brakes 10” drum
Wheels 15” alloy (235 x 75 tyres)
Water 1 x 110L
Grey Water No (optional)
Battery 1 x 110Ah
Air-conditioner Yes, Gree
Gas 1 x 9kg
Sway control Yes
Cooking Thetford Mini Grill
Fridge 164L three-way
Microwave Yes, NCE
Hot water Yes
Comfort pack — Winegard aerial, a Gree air conditioner and a 100Ah battery from the optional Comfort Pack.
PRICE AS SHOWN