There is no denying past winner Zone RV is one of the best, most innovative RV companies in our industry. Its marketing, design and manufacturing are all cutting edge but this comes at a price. We should point the torch at the elephant in the room: the Z-21-6 Off-Road Summit Series 02 tested at AL-KO Best Aussie Vans 2018 has a retail driveaway price of nearly $225,000. That’s almost enough to buy each of the other two vans in its $100,000-plus category, or four of the budget vans on show this year.
The thing is, though, there are no other vans with a true carbon fibre body, nor do any of the other have the same level of technology internally.
Our judges debated long and hard about the relative Value for Money of the Zone RV and, although they scored it lower than some of the other entries, all agreed that the way the company pushes forward in technology, the quality of the build and the fixtures used mean the van represents good value.
Our expert judging panel were unanimous in their praise for the Zone's level of Self-Sufficiency, Innovation and Build Quality, with almost perfect scores all round, giving it wins in each of these prestigious cross-category criteria. Also high on praise was the van's Towability, no doubt due to the clever chassis design and good weight distribution throughout.
Sharing time with us in Echuca Moama at this year’s event was Zone RV's managing director, Matt Johns, who made the long drive down from the company's Sunshine Coast home. Matt’s enthusiasm is only exceeded by his perfectionism.
Up early and always available to talk to the team, he impressed us all with his product knowledge, not just specifications — he explained how everything that went into the van was calculated and considered, right down to the featherweight doors and aviation-spec through-floor seal around the plumbing and wiring. It was obvious to us all that Matt and the team choose only what is best for the caravan and its owner, no corner is cut at Zone RV.
In the Z-21-6 Summit Series 02, the company has once again excelled in making one of the Best Aussie Vans. With the support the company provides owners and the detail in each build, it is no wonder there is a waiting list to become part of the Zone RV family — no matter the price.
JUDGE 1: PETER QUILTY
Zone’s Z-21-6 Off-Road Summit Series 02 sets a new benchmark, if not a whole new ball game, in caravanning. Even Zone itself concedes it’s a van for those who want to "keep up with the Joneses".
I gravitated to its unrivalled level of autonomy, call it integrated push-button technology. And I was spellbound by its genuine carbon fibre cladding (a stiffer, thinner biaxial cloth) that saves around 40kg over fibreglass, plus the sidewalls which have a PVC foam core for increased thermal properties.
It would also be remiss not to mention the in-house built lightweight chassis that saves around 80kg, along with the remote-controlled Cruisemaster ATX airbag suspension with smart auto levelling system. And then there’s Zone’s bonding techniques, that totally eliminate any possibility of water or dust ingress.
This top-end van is also in a zone of its own internally, using carbon fibre and fibreglass cabinetry. All the furniture is bolted to the floor, including the cafe dinette, which comes complete with leather enhancements and adjustable headrests.
All the mod cons are on show — a massive 218L Dometic RPD218 fridge, 2kg Daewoo wall-mounted mini-washer and a full oven and 20L NCE microwave (Zone believes these are necessities off-grid).
There’s oodles of room — everywhere, exemplified by the spacious ensuite. Even a wide dining table doesn’t encroach on space.
More innovation comes in the form of a Nature’s Head composting type toilet (with churner and enzyme breakdown) that has a one-month solid waste capacity. Now that’s ‘thinking outside the bowl’.
Geez, there’s even an electrically operated bed lift!
Meanwhile, the 32mm solid floor (also with a PVC foam core) forms part of the structural integrity. And a 3000W inverter charger runs the Truma Aventa air-conditioner.
Other nice touches include the top-of-the-line mattress, Garmin-controlled entertainment system, internal speaker setup, acrylic benchtop, four-stack wire basket pull-out pantry and acrylic shower door.
Attention to detail is further accentuated by laser cut aluminium plates, with rubber grommets, that cover any floor cavities.
Quite simply, the Z-21-6 is a work of art!
VALUE FOR MONEY 8.5
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 9
QUALITY OF FINISH 9.5
BUILD QUALITY 9.5
CREATURE COMFORTS 9.5
JUDGE 2: JOHN 'BEAR' WILLIS
“When only the best will do!” Zone RV is the van destined for those who enjoy the very best in life, appreciate premium products and can afford them. However, smart investors also realise that quality and innovation cost real money and return high resale value should the time come to move on.
Speaking of moving on, the Zone RV is built to follow you through thick and thin, high and low, wet or dry, hot or cold — and do it in total comfort and style.
The attention to every detail ensures trouble-free touring and the humongous amount of power and water storage, and supply, is topped off by low energy consumption and efficiencies throughout, thanks to innovations such as the composting toilet that requires little water other than to wash your hands after a visit.
Not only is the Zone RV a modern engineering masterpiece, it is beautiful, liveable and features all-electronic operation, with an easy App that’s a breeze to navigate, even for technically-challenged old codgers like me. You simply don’t have to flex a muscle to open a flap, lift the bed, wind a jockey wheel or even pull out a mounting stairwell.
All of these effort-saving features will make the Zone RV particularly appealing to those with reduced strength or mobility.
The interior features terrific flow; a beautiful dinette with plenty of comfort, tummy room and a large table; a huge amount of storage; a magnificent ensuite with a huge shower; kitchen with tremendous facilities and plenty of bench space; and a really inviting north-south bed with ample access.
Right from the ground up the Zone RV is built to go the distance in Australia’s challenging environments, offering not only creature comforts, but also exceptionally strong construction and airbag-assisted Cruisemaster independent trailing arm suspension.
The underside features exceptional ground clearance with a rugged chassis and very neat plumbing and wiring that simply won’t let you down with passing debris or constant sand blasting from those seemingly endless off-road corrugations.
This is the caravan for totally escaping in for extended periods, fully independent of the rest of society. I have to ask myself, what could be better? This is the ultimate presentation but comes at a high price! It is simply a masterpiece.
VALUE FOR MONEY 7
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 10
QUALITY OF FINISH 9
BUILD QUALITY 9
CREATURE COMFORTS 9
JUDGE 3: MALCOLM STREET
Zone RV’s entry this year is a very streamlined looking caravan. Much like some of the European manufacturers, Zone RV has used the monocoque construction technique to get more strength into the overall body structure, and so requires less steel in
The company seems to have resisted the temptation to go for the “off-road” look favoured by some manufacturers, instead opting for a “cleaner” style.
That includes the angled down drawbar, which has been designed that way to accommodate the van’s height without the need for a laminated rail construction.
The chassis and drawbar use 150mm (6in) RHS rails but there are fewer than the usual number of cross members; the space is filled by the alloy checkerplate-protected water tanks. DuraGal steel is used for the chassis but somewhat unusually it has a Raptor polyurethane coating.
ATX Cruisemaster independent suspension with twin shock absorbers and auto-levelling airbags keeps the van on the road. AL-KO 12in electric brakes are fitted to the 18in alloy wheels. For better control on the road, a Dexter sway control system sits up front and, this being an off road van, so too does a Cruisemaster DO35 hitch.
Normally for the frameless body work, Zone RV use a double-sided fibreglass skin with high density XPS foam core in between, in a “sandwich” panel structure. In this case, though, in what the company calls a “Summit Series” upgrade, carbon fibre replaces the fibreglass, which adds considerably to the price.
For minimising water leaks and maintaining body strength, everything —sidewalls, front panel, rear panel, roof and PET floor — are all one-piece items.
Also worth noting is the specially designed plate fitted with grommets that makes a very neat entry point for the cables and piping to the underfloor area, often a weak spot for letting in water and dust.
Inside, there's no timber to be seen in the general cabinetry; it’s all made from a laminate and fibreglass composite structure. Like the body, the emphasis is on strength and minimising weight. Many of the interior cupboard doors have a carbon fibre finish, like the external cladding.
I reckon Queensland manufacturers have a distinct advantage over the rest of the industry, in that they manage to achieve both a different look and alternative construction methods. Zone RV is no exception. Its vans have a very “clean” look both inside and out, and the company is not afraid to think outside the box, particularly in chassis and body construction. Although it adds to the cost, the use of carbon fibre panels is an interesting step and shows the company is prepared to try something new.
VALUE FOR MONEY 8
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 9.5
QUALITY OF FINISH 9.5
BUILD QUALITY 9.5
CREATURE COMFORTS 9.5
JUDGE 4: LAURA GRAY
Waiting to see what creation Zone RV would bring to AL-KO’s Best Aussie Vans 2018 was like being a kid waiting for Santa at Christmas. We knew it would be bolder and bigger than ever but, this year, even our wildest dreams were blown out of the water with the Z-21-6 Off-Road Summit Series 02.
The new Summit Series range is Zone’s premier product, designed to showcase every possibility in luxury offroad caravanning. And it does just that — but it comes at a price. The Z-21-6 rings the register at $223,865, making it the most expensive van we’ve ever seen, by a significant margin.
But the quality of the fit, finish, fixtures and fittings are out of this world. Wow. That carbon fibre skin on the outside really takes this van into a whole different realm. But the carbon comes at a lazy $30K (roughly) option, so it’s worth questioning whether you really need it — or just really want it (that’s fine, too!). It’s not just aesthetic — it serves as super tough, impact-resistant body armour, which is significantly lighter and stronger than aluminium or steel used for the same purpose.
I could talk all day about the cavalcade of fixtures and technology that come with this van — from the 360-degree bird’s-eye view camera and Cruisemaster XT remote airbag suspension system, to the 100 per cent timber-less build and the Zone-designed digital control system for every light, pump and switch on board.
But what impressed me most is the van’s 100 per cent self-sufficiency. Many manufacturers throw a few solar panels on the roof and claim their caravans are self-sufficient, but how long will the water reserves last? How will you refill them? Where will you empty your cassette toilet when it inevitably fills up after a few days?
It’s not the 1100W of flexible solar panels on the roof that make this van truly self-sufficient, it’s the Nature’s Head composting toilet in the rear bathroom. The toilet uses absolutely no water (helping maintain your reserves) and breaks down waste to the point where it needs emptying only about once a month.
VALUE FOR MONEY 6
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 9
QUALITY OF FINISH 10
BUILD QUALITY 9.5
CREATURE COMFORTS 10
JUDGES AVERAGE SCORE: 92.00
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 9.5m (31ft 2in)
External body length 6.54m (21ft 5in)
External body width 2.5m
Travel height 3.1m (10ft 2in)
Internal height 1.98m (6ft 6in)
Ball weight 165kg
Cladding True composite fibreglass sandwich panel
Coupling Cruisemaster DO35
Chassis 150x50mm RHS DuraGal urethane coated
Suspension ATX auto-level airbags
Brakes 12in Cruisemaster drum
Wheels 18in LC200 match, with
285/65 R18 Cooper ST Maxx
Water 400L (fresh), 100L (grey)
Battery 300Ah Lithium
Air-conditioner Truma Aventa
Sway control Dexter
Fridge Dometic RPD218
Microwave NCE 20L
Bathroom Full-height shower cubicle and Natures Head composting toilet
Washing machine Daewoo
front load 2kg
Hot water Truma D6 Diesel
PRICE From $133,900
Summit Series upgrade includes: Carbon fibre body; full digital switching iPad control; climate air temp wireless control; remote airbag
system; electric lift 4G aerial; van sat; bird's-eye parking camera system; leather enhancements with head rests; Fusion stereo with removable head for Hema map use in vehicle; safety camera; 3000W inverter charger (runs air-con); Dometic slide-out kitchen
Price as shown $223,865
Address 41 Link Cres, Coolum Beach, 4573
Phone (07) 5471 6410