Although a Victorian-based caravan manufacturer, family-owned Royal Flair Caravans has something of a reputation for building caravans that are sometimes outside the box. Royal Flair builds a range of caravans, everything from a family bunk layout to an off-road tourer, that are all fairly conventional in layout. Vans like the Razor XT and the Raptor designs are in the ‘slightly different’ class , but the Piazza undoubtedly fits into its own unique category.
It’s easily identifiable because of the folding deck that sits above the drawbar of the caravan. Undoubtedly, it’s a very clever idea because it uses the air space above the drawbar, which is otherwise wasted except for more conventional items, like tool boxes and gas cylinders. About the only other way that I could imagine doing this would be to design some sort of motorhome luton peak in the caravan body.
The Piazza design has been around for a few years but it still creates considerable interest. One of my chosen locations for this photo shoot was the Belmont Lakeside Holiday Park (Newcastle, NSW) and I had a regular stream of park dwellers wanting to take a look at this rather interesting design. It was a pity that dealer Australian Motor Homes and Caravans hadn’t thought to put a box of brochures in for me to hand out along the way.
There are a number of models in the Piazza range, varying in length from 5.03m (16ft 6in) to 7.32 (24ft), but in each case, the front deck changes the general layout from the more usual arrangements. The most obvious one on all models is that the bathroom is at the front of the caravan, the bed in various forms is at the rear, and the entry door is towards the front of the van. The model I borrowed was the PZ20’6-1E and it’s a new model in the Piazza line up with a particularly interesting feature.
With a tare of 2927kg and an ATM of 3500kg, the PZ20’6-1E is really heavy in weight — i.e. Toyota LandCruiser — for towing. It does have a decent payload of over 500kg, but for comfortable touring I reckon a big vehicle is necessary. That said, for my review, the Piazza travelled behind my tow vehicle in a well-behaved manner.
The bathroom is at the front of the van and is a split arrangement, the walkway in between giving access to the front deck. It’s not quite the same as a full-width bathroom, but is quite a user-friendly setup. Located on the offside, the toilet cubicle comes with a Thetford cassette toilet and a vanity cabinet. Set in the front wall, the vanity comes with a pedestal wash basin, small overhead lockers, and a decent set of drawers. It’s quite well appointed. On the opposite side, the shower cubicle — complete with a flexible hose outlet — does have enough room to turn around without banging elbows. Both the shower and toilet cubicles are fitted with fan vent hatches.
A feature of this van is that it has a larger than usual kitchen area set mid-van, with benches on both sides. The nearside bench is fitted with a four-burner cooktop, grill and oven, and square sink sans a drainer. It’s fairly short and doesn’t have much bench space, but there are three overhead lockers, two drawers and a couple of cupboards. Like the rest of the van, all drawers have metal sides and the overhead lockers are fitted with mini-metal struts.
The facing cabinetry contains those other kitchen essentials: a Thetford 184L three-way fridge with an NCE microwave oven above. In addition, there’s a full-height, multi-shelved pantry and a bench cabinet with four drawers and two floor lockers. In the air space above, there’s only one overhead storage locker. The other contains the battery management systems and other electricals.
Undoubtedly the pièce de resistance in this van is the rear bed and lounge setup. Most drop-down beds I have seen in recreational vehicles are in an east-west configuration. Although there are considerable advantages to a drop-down bed, the one disadvantage is often awkward access for one occupant. What Royal Flair has done is design a framework that allows for a north-south bed, which when lowered acts much like a conventional island bed, complete with bedside wardrobes and cabinets. The bed has a length of 2m (6ft 7in) and a width of 1.37m (4ft 6in), which is slightly narrower than usual.
With the bed raised, there’s a four-person dinette underneath that’s accessible from both sides. Although the bed lowers the ceiling height somewhat, it’s still quite a spacious area and windows on all three walls offer plenty of natural light and ventilation. Both bedside cabinets have essentials like power points and USB charger points.
There’s still a bit more to this rather clever design because the cabinet at the foot of the bed is not just a cabinet, but contains a large flat-screen TV that can be raised or lowered at the push of a button. When in position, the TV can be easily viewed from either the rear seat in the dinette or the bed when it’s fully lowered.
The van is built on a hot dipped galvanised box section RHS chassis, which has 100mm x 50mm (4in x 2in) rails and a 150mm x 50mm (6in x 2in) drawbar. Dexter Torflex independent suspension is fitted to the tandem axle alloy wheels, which are fitted with 12in electric brakes. The two 95L water tanks are fitted above and forward of the axles. Battery boxes for the two 105Ah AGM batteries are fitted to the chassis rails behind the offside wheels.
Up front, the drawbar looks a little different. There is a conventional ball coupling, but to accommodate the front deck that lowers onto the drawbar, it’s just about bare. The gas cylinders have a special compartment in the mid-offside wall and the modified handbrake is under the drawbar. For getting the van off and on a tow vehicle, it has a jockey wheel, but it’s removed when the van is parked and a ‘quick-drop’ corner stabilizer supports the drawbar.
Supporting the body structure, is a marine ply frame that is CNC machine cut. All the walls and roof are aluminium composite, but a little differently, the floor is a one-piece insulated honeycomb structure. Double-glazed acrylic windows are fitted all round and the Camec door has a Crimesafe security door fitted. Like the body framework, all the internal cabinetry is ply-timber based and is, of course, cut with a CNC machine. Given the layout of this van, a front storage area is not possible, but there is tunnel storage across the rear instead. There is also storage space behind the roof of the deck when it is closed, with hooks to hang items like folding chairs.
Royal Flair offers a three-year warranty on all parts of the manufacture and assembly of the caravan by the manufacturer. However, items like the chassis, brakes, tyres and all appliances are covered by the respective manufacturer’s warranties.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Although the folding front deck is undoubtedly the feature of this caravan that draws the attention, the north-south drop-down bed is the winner in terms of practicality. It gets around the accessibility issues of an east-west bed and fits well into a layout that offers room to move with all the essential features, including a decent-sized kitchen. Certainly, the Piazza is a little different to the usual layouts seen in these pages.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Body length 6.24m (20ft 6in)
Overall length 8.85m (29ft)
Width 2.46m (8ft 1in)
Height (incl AC) 3.13m (10ft 3in)
Ball weight 253kg
Frame Solid ply timber
Cladding Aluminium composite
Chassis Hot dipped galvanised
Suspension Dexter Torflex
Brakes 12in elec
Wheels 16in alloy
Water 2 x 95L
Battery 2 x 105Ah
Solar 2 x 160W
Air-conditioner Gree N186
Gas 2 x 4.5kg
Sway control AL-KO ESC
Cooking Thetford 4 burner, grill and oven
Fridge Thetford N614E.3F 184L
Bathroom Separate shower cubicle plus Thetford cassette toilet
Hot water Truma 14L
PRICE AS SHOWN
Australian Motor Homes and Caravans
31 Pacific Highway
Bennetts Green, NSW 2290
Ph: 02 4948 0433