Though Design RV may not have been around as long as some other brands, it is nonetheless proving to have the goods, as seen in the Forerunner V5-2.
Tim Van Duyl
There is nothing more infectious than enthusiasm and it is also a great motivator for change and challenge, so it was refreshing to meet the team behind Design RV, Jason and Lauren accompanied by son, Hunter, at MSA’s Caravan of the Year.
Design RV spun off from Essential Caravans in 2021 where it was an established range, which meant Jason and the team had a solid brand and numerous floorplans to build on. What they didn’t have were a factory and staff, so in a fresh approach and to leave the pre-established routines and processes of Campbellfield (Melbourne’s RV centre) behind, they dropped roots in Pakenham, a bit over an hour south-east of the city. New staff, the vast majority of which are not from the RV industry, have been coming on board in droves as the company aims to take its current 15 vans per week to 25. The current output is amazing and is a testament to the popularity not only with buyers but with a growing dealer network and hitting 25 per week would put them in the top ten producers so expect to see more and more Design RV in the market.
Why are dealers and buyers flocking to Design RV? What stood out and impressed me are the price competitiveness and strong design aesthetic. The pricing is sharp and for a 20ft 6in centre door and rear ensuite, and externally it has a modern feel with a blend of silvers and greys, but when you step inside, it has the feel of much more expensive caravans. It feels soft and warm through the use of a faux wood, grey and cappuccino colour palette.
Appliances are all top-notch, household names adding yet more value to the buy. With a traditional Meranti under composite walls construction popular layout, it is hard to pin down where the van excels for innovation. I think it is a simple van done right.
The Forerunner is your quintessential couples blacktop tourer with the most popular and practical design of a front bedroom/rear bathroom layout. It might not break new ground, but the team brings a fresh look and feel to the familiar space.
Storage is sufficient for trips away with high cupboards and sizable exterior hatches.
There is enough durability in the tandem leaf spring suspension for occasional forays over dirt roads as long as you drive to the conditions, so horizons aren’t too limited. However, minimal solar and battery power marks the Forerunner as mainly destined for caravan parks. That said, it’s lithium battery ready with an upgraded BMPro management system, so it wouldn’t be too challenging to option up for more extended off-grid camping, and the review van was already fitted with an optional grey water tank.
Interestingly, the factory offers a twelve-month warranty, but most of their seven dealers go with three years. A one-year coverage is unrealistic in today’s market, so we would like to see that extended at the builder level for improved customer confidence.
However, as a new venture, we are told Design RV’s owners are acutely aware of the need to resolve any issues swiftly, and they have established an Australia wide repair network and mechanisms within the business to ease any problems.
In the caravan world, first impressions count for much, particularly when some caravans can look similar. What appeals considerably in this van is the contemporary and well finished appearance, both inside and out.
All the expected features are included — Dometic hob with grill, Dometic 173L fridge, NCE microwave oven and Dometic Ibis 4 air conditioner. There are extra features too like the getting more common washing machine and a Crimsafe security door.
Certainly, the layout is very functional, it being the very popular front bed/rear bathroom layout but it’s a very well presented one. Everything from the well finished laminate surfaces to the door and drawer handles to the very effective semi-concealed lighting. A feature of the interior is the very generous storage space, both cupboards and drawers and that includes a full height pantry
With a price under $66K, the Forerunner is quite a good deal for a 6.28m (20ft 7in) caravan, especially since, given its ATM of 2870kg, it does not require a heavy-duty tow vehicle.
For something a little different, a Mercedes Benz GLS400D was used as a tow vehicle for this van. It’s a tow vehicle I have not experienced before but is one well rated (3500kg) for the caravan. Like many a European-built vehicle, the GLS400D has a maximum tow ball rating of 280kg, somewhat less than the usual 10 per cent. That however was not a problem with the Forerunner, with its tare of 2380kg but a little bit of care would be required if the van was fully loaded.
Fitted with tandem axle leaf spring suspension, the van bounced around a bit on bumpy roads but nothing to get excited about.Overall, it was well behaved behind the Benz and demonstrated little fore and aft pitching. Some of the vans demonstrated a bit of tail wag, but this wasn’t one of them.
For a caravan manufacturer that’s been in business just over two years, Design RV’s vans are something of a surprise. Some of the X-Factor is hidden, while others are more obvious. The Forerunner does have a certain amount of pizzazz about it, particularly the very stylish interior, which is well finished off with an attractive look about it. Beauty doesn’t only run skin deep, because a poke around in the cupboards and underneath the van reveals a well completed van using quality materials.
There’s a lot to like about the Design RV Forerunner, and one of the first things I noticed was the storage, as the amount of storage is remarkable, both inside and out. You can also pack the fishing rods because under the van a storage compartment extends the full width.
Inside there is plenty of room to move with the 2m ceiling plus big windows make the van feel spacious. The décor is modern but still neutral with a welcome change to light ash wood and coffee-coloured accents, but you can choose your own colour scheme. LED strip lighting throughout.
In the bathroom, there’s a big tick for the modern vanity and washing machine hidden under the vanity top plus more storage compartments.
A tri-fold table and leather seats that are really comfortable with extra leg rests that can be pulled out to put your feet up can be found in the kitchen/dining. There’s a bonus pull-out pantry, a big Dometic fridge with extra travel locks, Thetford cooktop and grill, water filter and a microwave (though this is positioned too high to be using for hot food).
A caravan queen bed with under-bed storage that’s blocked off from the rest of the under-van storage rounds out the interior. Cubby holes are by the side of the bed for all the essentials — phone, books, water, (snacks) plus usbs and power outlets.
For black-top touring, this van has everything you need. If you want to free-camp, you’ll get a few days off-grid running 12V appliances — in fact, you might run out of water and fill the loo before you run out of power. Here are the specs on what’s included: 2 x 95L fresh-water tanks and a 100L grey water tanks with standard tank monitors; 195W solar + Anderson plug for portable panel; 100Ah battery; BMPro High Amp lithium capable charger and battery management system; and optional extra panels and lithium batteries.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Body length 6.24m
External body length 7.98m
External body width 2.45m
Ball weight 150kg
Frame/body Meranti timber
Cladding Aluminium composite
Suspension Leaf spring
Coupling 50mm ball
Brakes 10in electric
Wheels 16in alloy wheels
Water 2 x 95L
Battery 100A DC battery with Smart Charger
Solar 1 x 190W with 30A regulator
Air conditioner Ibis Air Command MK4 Reverse cycle
Gas 2 x 9kg
Sway Control N/A
Cooking 3 x gas 1 x elec hotplate with mini grill
Hot water Yes
All terrain tyres
Pull out step
Grey water tank
PRICE AS SHOWN
Administration Dr, Pakenham VIC 3810
Ph: (03) 5922 2020