As good as modern vehicles and off-road caravans are, not all locations are accessible with the van in tow, or even in the tow vehicle itself. Dragging a big van over narrow tracks is likely to get you into bother and has the potential for expensive damage. Some roads are just too rough or narrow for even the best-equipped off-roaders, so exploring those more remote locations comes down to hiking or using smaller vehicles like a quad bike or motorcycle.
Some of our more capable rigs have mounts for bikes on racks at the front or rear, but the effort of loading a heavy bike onto a high rack is often not worth the effort involved. Several builders have looked at solutions, and the advent of the toy hauler category of caravan has combined comfortable living space with a rear compartment big enough for a quad or up to three motorcycles.
New Age may not be the first builder to see the practical opportunity that the combination delivers, but their new XU 22 is a well-designed example of the genre. In typical New Age fashion, they offer a slick package that's easy to tow and operate. Mind you, the XU 22 — for Xtreme Utility, 22’ in length — would be just as happy with a boot load of surfboards for the family, so it doesn't have to be all about noisy toys.
For our review, we loaded one of Honda’s latest CRF250 bush bashers and hit the forestry roads north of Melbourne. It might be considered the typical path to the bush for weekend warriors, intent on setting up camp in a quiet place by the river before cruising the forests on two wheels.
TOYS FOR ALL
The drop-down ramp at the rear makes it easy to drive bikes and quads or lift heavy items straight on board, and the large capacity of the rear compartment allows loads between 600kg and 700kg, depending on the options chosen.
Our Honda CRF was only 100kg, so the XU is easily capable of carrying a quiver of three and some extra fuel. Equipment is secured to mounting points for safe transport, and there is loads of room with the bunk beds along the sides lifted out of the way — more on that later.
Because the space is so large, there are plenty of opportunities for commercial uses as well as the obvious recreational ones. Event organisers could load marquees, tables and chairs, and market or stallholders could pack stock and displays and have comfortable accommodation around the event.
With a name like Xtreme Utility, it's easy to forgive the XU's somewhat industrial appearance, highlighted by a dominating square rear end with the full panel door and the flat panel for the foldout bed at the front. The look goes with the van’s practical nature which includes white raised profile aluminium, which is lighter than composite and therefore affords extra payload.
A lower protective cover of black raven coating runs along the sides while at the back a single spare wheel mounts directly to the tailgate under a prominent XU logo. Useful for reversing or working on machinery at night is an optional 350mm light bar over a Safety Dave camera.
At the front, the off road Cruisemaster DO-35 hitch connects to the tow vehicle, and a BM Pro sway control keeps the van steady on the road. Twin 4.5kg gas bottles sit in a cradle on the A-frame ahead of a compact toolbox, and a tap has a metal cover to protect it from flying stones. There’s no front boot. Instead, a large panel opens on gas struts to form a roof over a fold-down double bed inside a canvas tent.
Further back along the passenger side, an optional Dometic kitchen sliding out from a tunnel boot includes a three-burner gas cooktop and a stainless steel sink as well as storage space and a small preparation area. An entertainment hatch to the rear of the entry door has a television mount, while further back a foldout picnic table should prove handy when relaxing outside.
As a van destined to take owners off the beaten track, the big XU has powerful underpinnings based on the Walkinshaw engineered chassis. Both chassis and A-frame are constructed in house from hot-dipped galvanised 100x50mm Australian steel, with an extra 50x50mm riser under the caravan body. As part of the engineering, the A-frame is mandrel-bent under pressure to create a more reliable and more uniform connection to the chassis than the usual method of cutting and welding.
Heavy-duty cross beams add to the strength and all water tanks, plumbing and electrics are placed well out of harm’s way, as should be evident in the pictures. The 110L grey water tank is located towards the back, but two 110L freshwater tanks are located forward of the axles for even weight distribution. That's something to keep in mind when packing the van if lighter loads are anticipated.
Cruisemaster also supplies the tandem Trailing-arm XT coil suspension, and with twin shock absorbers the ride was excellent over all our travels.
I have a mate who has his pride-and-joy motorbike on display in his lounge room, so I get that having a place for your bike at the back of the van is an impressive move in the game of one-upmanship. You can't get away from the fact that, even if many women and girls love machinery, it makes for a pretty blokey interior. I can’t see any way of avoiding that, and I'm not even saying we should, because the XU 22 is something of an outlier in the wide range of caravan design with a very special market. Doilies and lace curtains would look ridiculous here.
To fit the garage into a 22' space and still have room for an ensuite, kitchen and double bed, there has been some smart thinking and perhaps a couple of compromises. Moving the main bed to an external foldout tent saves a metre and a half inside the van but the east-west bed and its somewhat awkward access will be better suited to athletic souls. Those who can ride a feisty Honda through the bush all day shouldn’t have any problem, though. A cabinet at the foot of the bed has room for a change of clothes for the bed-winning couple, and a there’s also a set of overhead cupboards and shelves with a handy recess for the fire extinguisher.
The corner combination ensuite won’t be a favourite for those who like plenty of room for their ablutions, but I think it's a sensible size for its space-saving. And in today’s very competitive market a van without an onboard shower and toilet just isn’t going to be in the race. Anyway, an outside shower has plenty of room if you need to hose the mud off before heading inside.
A FUNCTIONAL LIVING SPACE
While it's true that New Age builds a big range of caravans with a winning edge of elegance and style, our toy-hauling, blokey looking pathfinder takes a different route. The XU is more practical than chic. Taking its cue from the industrial rated floor covering, it’s a van where you don’t have to leave your boots at the door. And with 6’6” (2.03m) headroom, most folk could walk around inside with helmet on and ready to go.
One indication that things are different is the size of the windows at the kitchen and dinette. Because the garage and foldout bed take the places usually allocated to boots and hatches, windows are long and narrow to maximise the depth of overhead cupboards for much-needed storage.
Running along the passenger side is a kitchen with a Thetford Mini grill, stainless steel sink and drainer, a high-mount microwave and a 216L compressor fridge/freezer. Preparation space is limited to the drainer and the lid of the cooker. A U-shaped dinette along the opposite wall had a sliding table for easy entry and will seat four in comfort on the grey fabric upholstery.
A concertina door separates the living room from the toy room, and it’s here that the versatility of the design shines through. The back door lowers quickly on counterweights and can be secured on wire supports at the horizontal level or dropped to the ground by removing the wires.
Once you unhook the bikes from their tie-down points in the floor and wheel them out, the garage is left as open space. Along each wall, two single 1950mm x 750mm bunks fold down to sleep up to four. But if you want, fold the lower bed only, and it leaves two facing lounges and a generous sized entertainment space with the option of a veranda for alfresco dining.
The test van had a single 100Ah battery and a 150W solar panel, which would be minimum to support everyone the big XU is capable of sleeping. With judicious showering the 220L of water should be enough. New Age has recognised the limits of the single battery, and later models than our test van will have two 100Ah lithium batteries and 300W of solar power as standard features.
ON THE ROAD
Our journey led us along a mix of highway roads through Kinglake and into the forests north of Melbourne. Behind New Age’s Walkinshaw tweaked Sports Cat Colorado the estimated 3150kg of the van and its load towed faultlessly over open and winding roads at speeds up to 100kph. On the dirt tracks it was silent behind, with no banging or lurching over bumps and potholes.
Tare on the test van was 2900kg, giving a 600kg payload, but since we undertook our review, New Age has revised the standard features to reduce the ATM. Gone are one set of bunks and the external kitchen. Added are two lightweight 100Ah lithium batteries and an extra solar panel for an overall weight saving of around 100kg and a revised 700kg payload, depending on your options.
New Age recognised a gap in their range for a van that could transport your toys and make camping easy. No longer do you need a van and another vehicle with a trailer to get into the bush or out onto the beach for a weekend of fun. The XU makes a practical base station with room for the family or up to six mates for overnight stays.
Price starts at $76,990 for the new model with enough off-grid power to keep you in the bush for as long as you like. Customisation is welcome, so it's easy to configure the XU to suit your needs.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length: 8.83 metres (28’ 9”)
External body length: 7.75 metres (25’ 4”)
External body width: 2.5 metres (8’ 2”)
Travel height: 3.05m (10’)
Internal height: 2.03 m (6’ 6”)
Ball weight: 290kg
Frame: Meranti Timber
Cladding: White stucco Hi Profile
Chassis: Walkinshaw Engineered Chassis – Hot-dip galvanised
Brakes: 12” electric
Wheels: 16” Federal Couragia A/T
Water: 2 x 110L
Grey water: 1 x 110L
Battery: 1 x 100Ah AGM battery (later models 2 x 100Ah lithium)
Solar: 1 x 150W Solar (later models 2 x 150W)
Air conditioner: Reverse cycle Gree mounted on the roof
Gas: 2 x 4.5kg
Sway control: BMPRO SwayControl
Slide-out kitchen: Dometic
Cooking: Mini grill (3 x gas & 1 x electric)
Fridge: 216L Compressor
Toilet: Combo shower and toilet w/ basin
Shower: Combo shower and toilet w/ basin
Lighting: Interior & exterior LEG (Oystery roof lights) + Annex lights
This unit was a stock model with no added upgrades or extras.
PRICE AS SHOWN $76,990