Late in 2021, we hit the road after what felt like an eternity of stay-at-home orders, shaking off the cobwebs with a 3000km trip from Victoria to the Queensland-NSW border via the best pubs along the way. The scenery was an eye-opener, as were the vans along for the ride — including Bushtracker’s latest and greatest show van, its 19ft Compact family van.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been through Bushtracker’s factory a couple of times and to have spent multiple nights away with a van of theirs, so I expected a lot from the build and quality. What I didn’t expect was a van so far advanced in its quest for truly comfortable self-sufficiency.
Our sister publication, Camper Australia, put the call out to CW for any vans that might want to partake in The Outback Pub Experience, a guided tour of some of the best pubs and farm stays in the north-east reaches of NSW. The trip was intended to go into SA and Queensland but at the time of the trip, the bulk of the crew was based in Victoria and were locked out so with some quick changes we had a plan to start in Bourke, head to Broken Hill, Silverton, Tibooburra, Mount Wood, and Trilby Station. For those of you familiar with the region, you’ll know it’s not all blacktop and because the trip was led by Camper, there was a focus to keep off the smooth stuff as much as possible. We also went in right between two major flood events so this was not one for the fainthearted or poorly built. Glenn Marshall, Editor at Large for Camper, wrote a feature article on the trip as a whole for CW issue #620. You’ll find it online if you missed it but suffice to say, it was gruelling, but we all survived without incident. Of course, the build of the 19 has something to do with that, so let’s start there.
There is no doubt that part of the reason the 19 did so well was down to the Simplicity Axles Load Share Coil (LSC) suspension underneath the chassis. I first experienced LSC under another Bushtracker, the commanding 24 I reviewed back in issue #595. Then it was new to the market, but it impressed greatly by combining the articulation of Simplicity’s traditional load sharing suspension and the vibration absorption of progressive-rate coil springs. Over the washouts and corrugations between stops on our trip, watching LSC perform was hypnotic. From small to big bumps, you could see the axles pivot centrally and compress independently, all while the body of the van stayed almost still. I say almost as there was still some rolling and pitching, as you’d expect from a van with an ATM of 3950kg — after all, there is no defying physics.
Above the suspension were a homebuilt chassis and thick, resin-infused composite floor and alloy frame that suspend the up-to 375L of water and plumbing. Having the tanks mounted to the floor frame raised them enough to make the chassis the lowest point underneath, lessening the chance of an errant rock knocking off a water tank tap or filler point. As with all Bushtrackers, the plumbing was neat and well thought out with the through-floor holes kept to a minimum and centred around a single access point under the fridge.
The frame is alloy, and the walls are clad with 3mm thick fibreglass panels that are patch repairable. The internal walls are laminated CNC-cut ply with customisable finishes and between the skins is cut-to-measure solid, fire-resistant insulation. In my factory visits, I got to see a few Bushtrackers in build and the routing of the wiring was exacting as was the insulation.
The ceiling is 75mm thick with a single piece outer skin that joins from the foot of the front of the van to the back of the bottom. With minimal holes cut for wiring, it should be leak-free and certainly offered great insulation in the hot Sturt National Park sun. Speaking of the sun, how the van uses its endless power is what makes this Bushtracker a standout.
Combined with the double-glazed windows, the 75mm thick ceiling did a wonderful job of keeping the living quarters cool while at the same time supporting an array of solar panels combining to 1480W capacity. In ideal conditions they’d produce as much as 80A at 12V, but the amount the 600Ah battery can take is limited by the regulator, a single 60A unit. Don’t look down on that, as it’s rare (I’ve never seen it) to get the full capacity out of solar panels — dust, clouds, orientation all chip away at the output. What matters is that on a cloudy day, in the afternoon, with a layer of Sturt dust on board and laying flat on the roof, the panels pumped in over 20A. Towards the middle of the same cloudy day, we saw over 40A regularly which is almost the 55A at 12V you’ll need to run the excellent Truma Aventa AC (once controlling the temperature, the Aventa drew around 700W at 12V). That being said, it still takes a heap more to get the AC started and working efficiently, so maybe we are not quite there for using AC on solar alone, but we are closer than ever.
The battery also takes power from a single 50A Anderson plug which means this van can accommodate my favourite hedonistic luxury — it can run the AC while driving without impacting on battery reserve. If you’ve had the pleasure, you won’t want to live without it. Being able to cool the van for the last hour of your drive and arrive at camp still fully charged but with a comfortable living quarters is real bliss. You do pay for it, though.
VALUE FOR MONEY
Before I settle into more of self-sufficiency, I want to jump to the more contentious side of vans as well built and equipped as this 19 Compact — that is, the price you’ll pay for the privilege. With a value of $201,000, it is true you could buy four entry-level vans for the price, but you could also buy a few dozen wrecks that haven’t moved in a decade and leak like sieves. You have to look at the sum of the parts and the process in which the van was made to determine its value. In my years looking at all manners of trailers and components, I’ve developed an appreciation of getting what you pay for and equally that quality is remembered long after price is forgotten. This is a high-quality van that will last a lifetime of fond memories if you can afford it, so, let’s look at the rest of the finer points.
LIVING IN THE 19
The first thing that stands out inside the 19 Compact is just how little extravagance there is. There are no colour-changing LED lights or weirdly reflective surfaces — the inside is a study in restraint and class. The colour palette is basic with a deep matte blue used on the cupboards to contrast the soft tan tones of the leather lounge and off-whites of the ceiling and splashback. The only striking design element is a suspended false ceiling that hides LED bulbs to subtly light the ceiling and frame the Truma Aventa AC; it works well to break up the typical sea of white ceiling. A lovely touch is the real wood dinette table that feels warmer than more common marble-like tops. A practical touch for a family van is how the vinyl flooring reaches up the wall edges enough to make sweeping out or mopping up a spill quicker and easier.
The master bed is a double with an ultra high quality foam mattress while the triple bunks are a good size for the overall length of the van at about 1.9m. The bathroom combines shower over toilet with the cassette toilet on a slide-away recess allowing for a decent amount of space to sing to your favourite shower tunes.
Under the main bed is the brains behind the power and water systems. Designed specifically for the van and built by Enerdrive, it combines a 3000W Combi Inverter/Charger, the solar regulator, Active Balancing System (regulates draw and charging between the battery’s cells), a digital relay system, and a remote battery switch. It all combines to allow the owner to turn on the van and individual lights, AC etc from an app or the main control tablet, monitor the charging statuses, draw, and tank levels as well as relax knowing the system has a tough failsafe. It also integrates into a CZone digital switching solution, the physical switches behind the controls, which above the usual ability to control appliances and lighting, can automatically open and close valves between the water tanks to balance weight across the van.
On the water, this 19 Compact is endowed with the full gambit of tanks available. It carries a combined 375L split between a dedicated 75L drinking tank and general use. The HWS is a Truma Combi-D that is near instant (the diesel burner takes maybe half a minute to get going) and doubles as a space heater. It is a new system from Truma and one popular in motorhomes that draw the fuel from the same tank as drives the engine. They are claimed to burn only 110ml/h of diesel at 1kW of energy output which would keep the van very cosy, or up to a bit over 600ml/h at full noise. You’ll struggle to go through a 10L diesel tank more than every few trips.
Digging around the under-bed area, I found a set of UV and particulate filters along with a quality Flojet pump allowing this van to lift water from creeks and streams for general use. This is an area I have been keenly watching for some time as it’s water I tend to run out of first when bush — this van should be able to stay indefinitely should it park near a good source of water and see some hours in the sun. Impressive.
Not so impressive, though, is the black water carrying capacity. Limited to the cassette, it will be the thing that has you running to town should you choose to use it over a pit toilet in the great outdoors. But, as Bushtracker’s tagline states, these are vans for the outback and it’s outside that I think most of us will spend our family time. It impresses there, too.
As much as the solar panels love the outback sun, our skin and belongings do not — so there are not one but two awnings on this 19. Thanks to the narrow 2.17m body, both sides of the van are endowed with electric awnings. It may seem unusual, but the far side awnings is a great place to park a couple of swags for the more senior of the kids or to park your toys like bikes or PWC. We made great use of it at times, and it would now be a must-have if I was ordering a narrow-bodied van. Now for the kitchen.
Bushtracker has used and still offer the off-the-shelf Dometic slide-out kitchens, but as the team wanted to bring induction cooking to the slide, they designed their own and made what I think is one of the best. Topped with hardwood, not only does it have masses of smooth and easy to clean bench space, but it also has a Dometic fridge draw perfect for keeping breakfast goods or a few cold cans in. It also has cut-outs for more awkward items like pans, as well as a spot for commonly used cutlery and so on. The sink is tucked to the van end of the slide. It is deep and uses a retractable faucet to make clean up a breeze.
Looking around the rest of the external details, this 19 Compact is the usual high standard of finish and practical details. An optional electric spare tyre lift makes loading and unloading a spare from the trademark Bushtracker position under the sculpted front of the body a breeze. An electric entry step is a nice touch, as are the LED floodlights and the chamfered tail reveals a good spot for traction boards, a solid pair of recovery points and will be helpful on tough river crossings and washouts.
The Ram 1500 is the talk of the town and proved its mettle. We had a Limited, the top-spec, near $200,000 version of one of America’s most popular ‘trucks’. At $200K it has to have some inclusions and specifications to justify, and the Limited does: it comes with self-levelling airbag suspension; an interior much improved on the previous generation; and a suite of tow-tech including factory brake control and driving profiles to suit the length, weight and axle count of your trailer. The Ram 1500 is exceptional, it really is, but it’s also thirsty with the upgraded fuel tank (200L) still needing regular top ups up thanks to consumption in the high-20L per 100km travelled with over 30L/100km seen on a long run into a brisk northerly. And this was the mild-hybrid ‘E-Tourqe’ equipped model. I think it is safe to say, the hybrid doesn’t add savings on long-tows as a sister Ram, towing a 2100 Wonderland, saw very similar overall fuel consumption — maybe around town, it would help.
Being bespoke, Bushtracker does not have a network of dealers and agents like mainstream brands, warranty is more directed at a personal level. All builds are named, and each owner has the option to do a multi-night handover where all features are demonstrated and practiced. The personal touch extends to contact info for the team at the facility should anything unforeseen come up which, if it does, is claimed to be dealt with via a mutual repairer. This all leads to a 10-year warranty on the chassis and frame with components like fridges and AC carrying their OEM warranties.
There is no questioning the quality of Bushtracker caravans in both build and the parts used. From the tyres up to the AC, every part has been field-tested and scrutinised to ensure they’ll give you a long service life but also the comfort and practicality you need.
Yes, the price is a headline, but you won’t regret being part of the family or taking yours on extended journeys through our outback.
Find more vans here.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 7.62m (25ft)
External body length 5.79m (19ft)
External body width 2.17m (7ft 2in)
Travel height 3.05m (11ft)
Internal height 2.03m (6ft 6in)
Nameplate Tare 2960kg
Nameplate ATM 3950kg
Payload (calculated) 990kg
Ball weight 225kg
Frame Aluminium box section welded and double riveted
Suspension Simplicity LSC (Load Sharing Coil)
Wheels 16in alloy with 265/70/R15 Bridgestone ATs
Water 375L (75L potable drinking/300L general use)
Battery 600A lithium/3000W inverter/120A charger/50A DC to DC chargers
Solar 1480W, 12V
Air-conditioner Truma Aventa
Sway control N/A due to it being standard on the tow vehicle
Cooking Thetford induction
Fridge Dometic 6408X 188L compressor
Oven Panasonic convection/microwave/steam combi
Toilet Dometic cassette
Shower Fully moulded
Hot water Truma Combi-D
- Enerdrive power suite upgrade
- Dual induction cooktops
- Panasonic convection microwave/oven/steam oven/grill
- Fantastic hatch
- C-Zone digital switching system
- Baby buzzard spotlights on front & rear
- Water sterilization unit (twin filter & UV)
- Twin electric awning
- Nespresso coffee machine on slide
PRICE AS SEEN
85 Enterprise St,
Kunda Park QLD 4556
Ph: (07) 5476 5833