Some things don’t need to be big in order to be good… In fact, it’s oft said that good things come in small packages. And this proverb rings true for the custom-built Halen Avalon 4.72m (15ft 6in) offroad pop-top.
Based in Lilydale, Vic, Halen Vans has master-crafted a rolled-gold pocket rocket – a nuggety, high quality offroader bred to tackle the outback. It really demonstrates Jason Francis’s 35 years of manufacturing experience. Francis said the owners of this particular Avalon wanted a small, compact van, and Halen has more than delivered on the brief.
CW tested the Avalon around Silvan Reservoir, around 40km east of Melbourne in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges, and it had a definite sense of belonging in the spectacular surrounds.
At first sight, I was impressed with the Avalon’s robust exterior with its pristine white aluminium cladding (although how long it stays pristine out on the tracks is another thing!) and a 4mm-thick silver Alucobond lower panel. But the van’s structural integrity doesn’t end there; its meranti frame has 27mm studs compared to the accepted industry standard of 19mm and Halen Vans has also utilised high grade polystyrene insulation in the Avalon for more comfort off the beaten track. Underneath, the Avalon boasts a sturdy FP SupaGal offroad chassis, but it’s the airbag suspension that really piqued my interest.
Halen Vans has designed the air tanks, compressor, air lines and fittings, which are all hooked up to Vehicle Components trailing arms. The 4.4t rated suspension provides the Avalon (Tare 2264kg; ATM 3500kg) with a massive payload of more than 1200kg. If you need 1200kg of gear when you’re camping, you’re doing it wrong! But it’s nice to know you’ve got the capacity if you need it.
The Avalon is capable of ‘leaning’ side-to-side to counter uneven ground and I was impressed I could automatically tilt the van on its airbags, courtesy of its own air tank in the front boot. You can even elevate one set of wheels on this tandem-axle van!
The suspension setup is impressive, but it’s the van’s lithium power that takes the cake for true free camping ability. The Avalon has a 300Ah lithium battery on board, which would easily power a kitchen, bathroom, laundry appliances and lighting, so you should never be stranded off the beaten track. It also comprises a 1600W/60A inverter/charger combination that has been specifically programmed to charge the lithium battery, which charges at a different voltage rate to lead acid batteries.
Francis said the lithium battery can be discharged by 80 per cent compared with an AGM battery by 50-60 per cent. So, in simple mathematical terms, if the Avalon’s house battery was drawn down by 80 per cent, its recharge time to full capacity would be around three hours. It would receive about 30A per hour from its three 150W roof-mounted solar panels and 60A per hour from the charging unit when plugged into the van or a generator, so about 90A per hour combined.
The Avalon’s offroad credentials are also underlined by its 12in ventilated disc brakes with Dexter electro/hydraulic actuator, 16in alloy wheels and 265/75 R16 all-terrain tyres, and a triumvirate of 82L water tanks.
I also liked the van’s one-piece front locker, which conveniently holds the air fittings plus a custom external diesel tank, and a pressed stainless steel front shield. However, I thought a mesh stoneguard could have been incorporated for added protection, particularly with the twin 9kg gas cylinders located on the drawbar.
Externally, the Avalon also has a slide-out Weber barbecue (with a light) on the doorside, which is ideal for cooking alfresco, and a slide-out generator hatch on the offside. I’m also a stickler for safety and was reassured by a gas bayonet being concealed in a lift-up hatch in a side wall.
There’s a Dometic awning, drop-down picnic table, two marine grade external speakers, and a Techno-step on the nearside. And on the offside is an exterior shower, which I reckon is a compulsory inclusion when travelling to far-flung places.
As I mentioned, there’s plenty of action in the front boot, but the A-frame also holds a DO35 hitch and Trail-A-Mate jockey wheel (both of which simplify hitching up and uncoupling), and the disc brakes actuator. And a full-width pole carrier is a welcome inclusion for the would-be angler – well, the Weber does need to be put to good use!
LOST IN SPACE
Step inside and you’re treated to a classy and plush interior. Not only that, I’m astonished with the compact van’s intelligent, customised layout. There’s still a sense of space due to the location of the kitchen at the rear; an L-shaped lounge and table immediately to the left of entry; and a combined shower/toilet on the offside, which is wedged between the fridge and kitchen.
This Avalon’s owners also requested two single beds up front, and Halen Vans obliged. What’s more, I think the decision accentuates the airy feel inside. They won’t be for everyone but, as a true custom builder, Halen aims to please.
The rear kitchen is an impressive preparation hub, complete with recessed Smev three-burner cooktop/sink combination, plus a rangehood above and Camec microwave below. An Enerdrive battery monitor, inverter control, water heater switch and 12V pump are located above the rangehood, and there are two slide-out cupboards under the microwave.
And there’s no excuse for falling short on supplies with a pull-out pantry, and a cupboard under the sink for pots, cooking utensils and so on. A lift-up locker also houses a Satking VAST (Viewer Access Satellite Television) set top box.
Adjacent to the shower (with hand basin) and toilet is a 120L Dometic AES three-way fridge/freezer, with a small fold-down compartment (ideal for shoes, etc.) underneath and a laminated shelf above. The absorption fridge was personally preferred by the owners over a compressor fridge.
The bedroom also illustrates the prominence placed on storage capacity, given the Avalon’s pocket-sized proportions. In front of the offside single bed are three slide-out drawers and three lift-up compartments, with a full-length shelf above and a central window. Between the single beds are two pull-out cupboards and above them are three vents for the ducted air-conditioner, while below are three slide-out drawers. Natural light streams in from the outside thanks to two windows either side of the bed and a centrally located hatch. The bedroom also has two reading lamps, two downlights and double powerpoints on the sides of both single beds.
Meanwhile, a 24in LED TV mounted on the fridge cabinet can be viewed from the bedroom/lounge, and there are four lift-up lockers (with shelving above) running the entire length of the lounge and bedroom.
But what really tickled my fancy is that the Avalon is capable of bringing Australia’s merciless climate to its knees with its ducted heating and cooling configuration. It allows climatic comfort rain, hail or shine! I’ll take heating at ground level anytime (you don’t require a science degree to understand heat rises) and the Webasto diesel heater, with custom external diesel tank, is located under the offside single bed along with the HWS, battery and BMS board. A controller for the diesel heater is on the offside wall towards the back of bed. And cool heads will prevail in summer with the Truma Saphir Underbunk, which has three vents. The remote-controlled air-conditioner is located under the doorside single bed along with a storage compartment for the TV. Complementing the ducted air-conditioning is a 360º rotating 12V Caframo fan mounted on the offside wall between two windows.
Another tick of approval for the van are measures undertaken to safeguard it against theft. It has an Al-Ko tracking unit, and Halen Vans has installed detachable wiring looms to ensure the ‘light fingered’ would be driving the van away with inoperable brakes and lights.
The Avalon on review had the following options fitted: 300Ah lithium battery; reversing camera; 1600W/60A inverter/charger combination; VAST box; diesel heating with custom external diesel tank; GPS tracker.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Halen Avalon 4.72m (15ft 6in) offroad pop-top is a quintessential off-grid van, albeit in a much smaller dimension to that of its genre. But it’s a tiny package any audacious explorer wouldn’t mind unwrapping.
Its creator Jason Francis is a Van Halen fanatic, hence the play on his company’s name, while the Avalon gets its moniker from lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s Avalon tube compressor.
At $101,000, as reviewed, the Avalon will soften the bank balance but the trade-off is that it’s purpose-built for outback adventures.