It’s always exciting when you come across something that’s so different in its fundamental design that it causes us to reflect on the direction of caravan design in the years ahead.
Yet in all honesty, I never expected such a van to come from Canada, of all places. But the Quebec-built, largely-aluminium Alto is turning heads and forming queues of curious caravanners at shows around Australia, not just because it is truly different but because it is also uniquely appealing.
For a start, there’s its aircraft-inspired, aerodynamic, teardrop shape which, being high at the front and tapering to the rear, is the antithesis of most caravan shapes. Then there is its unique front-hinged rising roof, with its front-to-rear safety glass windows, not to mention its unusually-shaped side windows that look as though their inspiration came from a child’s toy.
But it’s when you step inside that you start to think about caravans differently. There, you’ll find a roomy, modular interior needing minimal assembly to turn it into a king-sized bedroom while still leaving room for a simple two-burner gas cooker kitchen, a two-seater dinette, a Truma air-conditioner and even an inside flushing toilet and an external hot/cold shower.
LAYOUT & DESIGN
The Alto’s suite of styling and structural details truly sets it apart. For a start, its unique teardrop, pop-top design is covered by both Canadian and US patents, something unusual in today’s caravan industry today.
An innovative feature of the Alto is its sandwich-style roof and wall construction, consisting of a plastic honeycomb core laminated with AluFiber on one side and aluminium on the other.
Its floor and chassis are also made from aluminium and, for maximum aerodynamics, its streamlined fresh and wastewater tanks are held by weld-free frame supports and tucked up out of the breeze.
Inside, the furniture consists largely of aluminium and composite materials, with rigid and ultra-light sandwich panels integrated into the bed cushions, while the entire bed structure is made of aluminium extrusions.
But what gets the most attention is the Alto’s retractable roof with its crescent-shaped windows formed from tempered glass. The roof is built from a single piece of curved AluFiber, which is opened and closed by a pair of electric linear actuators at the touch of a button.
When open, the Alto provides a roomy interior with up to 2.08m of standing space while, with the roof down, the wind tunnel-developed teardrop shape results in minimal drag when travelling and can be stored in a conventional garage when not in use.
Its combination of materials also makes it thermally efficient and, according to Roma, the Alto has proven equally as popular in the Canadian winter as in the Florida sunshine since it broke cover in North America around six years ago, suggesting it will work as well in Tasmania as in the tropical north of Australia.
BEDROOM & STORAGE
It’s surprisingly roomy inside, and more so if you leave converting the large rear lounge into your bed until you need it. The same applies to the front dinette, which converts into a single bed once you lower the table. Regardless, there’s enough room for two people to cook and dine in the Alto if it’s cold or raining outside, without getting too much in each other’s way.
The kitchen storage space under the sink and under one of the front dinette seats is adequate for the supplies and appliances you’re likely to need for a week away.
There’s also storage space under the rear benches that form two-thirds of the bed for clothes and other things, although you’ll need to be comfortable on your knees to access it.
The two-burner cooktop above the under-bench 90L 12V compressor fridge is more suited to basic fare rather than Masterchef spreads. But it does the job. And there’s room adjacent for an optional microwave in the hatch above the stainless steel sink and mixer tap.
The Alto’s inside toilet is ideal for cold, rainy nights, but otherwise best treated as an emergency loo because of its tight confines that really require leaving the door open.
THE BOTTOM LINE
At its base price of $48,500, the Alto is not particularly cheap and, when optioned up like our test model was, it worked out at $57,500. But this has not phased many expectant Alto owners, with the first customer delivery due to take place in June.
As Mark Palmarini explains it, many people are attracted to the Alto for all the clever thinking and alternative ideas it incorporates, rather than comparing its price to a conventional van or camper – like buying a new Apple iWatch instead of something cheap to tell the time.
For these buyers, it makes a dramatic and very stylish statement.
- Innovative, clever design
- Light weight
- Ease of towing
I would have liked...
- A sturdier jockey wheel
- Less vulnerable under-body plastic tap fittings
- More suspension travel
The full test appears in Caravan World #539 July 2015.