Bigger isn’t always better. We’ve been on photo shoots with big rigs where we have had to abandon reaching cool locations because they just wouldn’t fit. You won’t have this problem with the Highline Prospector.
I must confess I have a soft spot for smaller vans as they offer greater versatility in many ways. A shorter van will swing through smaller spaces. A lighter van is easier to tow through more rugged conditions and can be matched up with a wider choice of tow vehicles. The challenge for a caravan manufacturer in designing a smaller van is what they leave out compared to larger models. Customers then need to decide if the set-up suits their needs. With all this in mind, I had a day to run through the Highline Prospector and see how it measured up.
A LITTLE NUGGET
The Prospector may be small, but it won’t go unnoticed. Our van for the day was a head-turning bright orange with bold graphic decals. The Prospector is a 16-footer couples van with a high-end interior spec with just enough room for a separate shower and toilet. It has the same kind of offroad spec we see on many larger vans and the recovery boards mounted on the back send a message that the Prospector means business. Much bigger vans are often labelled offroad, but I reckon it would be more accurate in most instances to call them ‘heavy duty’. By this, I mean the big van setups can take punishment on extended corrugated travel but would get into trouble pretty quickly on 4WD-only tracks due to their cumbersome nature. It’s not like you could go rock crawling in the Prospector but I think it is fair to say it is aimed at users aspiring to get their van to trickier destinations and who are less concerned about a sense of interior spaciousness.
Lead designer, Jay George gave me a tour of the factory before we headed off. It was quite insightful because Highline build its timber caravan frames a little bit differently than most van manufacturers. Highline has adopted the ‘jigsaw’ frame method, in which 18mm ply sheets are cut to a specific design with a CNC machine to achieve a number of advantages. A big benefit is this method creates consistency of manufacture. As the CNC cuts out exactly programmed dimensions everything should line up perfectly every time in the build process. This includes tabs and recesses that interlock so there is only one way to assemble sheets and locate furniture. The CNC also cuts the grooves where electrical looms are routed for neat and consistent positioning. Big sections of the ply are also cut out strategically to save weight and create voids for foam insulation sheets to be fitted. Highline is not the only one to use this method and is in elite company with a handful of high-end builders.
I feel this is a great way to build a caravan frame, but at the end of the day it is still a timber structure and if water gets in you are going to have trouble just like any other timber frame. What I can tell you is Highline is fanatical about sealing and bonding. I watched adhesives being applied to the chassis and sealants to the exterior aluminium panelling and the amounts were copious. I reckon if anything it was over the top and you could shave some weight out of the van with a more measured approach to the use of sealants, but you could be pretty confident that these vans are not going to leak or come apart in a hurry.
The top and bottom are smart tech too. The roof is constructed from a 38mm sandwich panel with a fibreglass skin and foam core. The floor is an 18mm honeycomb core composite sheet. Strength, thermal and acoustic insulation properties are widely acknowledged for both these materials. The upper wall sections are a PROBOND composite aluminium skin which has become the cladding of choice for many van manufacturers. And breaking the ‘rule book’ of caravan manufacturing, there is no checkerplate on the lower wall sections! Okay, there is something structurally very similar. It’s known as X plate and does the same job. But kudos to Highline for the fresh look.
I already touched on the fact that the Prospector offroad spec is geared to take you more places. TuffRide trailing arm independent suspension will provide good articulation, combined with 16-inch tyres you will soak up plenty of uneven ground. If you have done any homework at all you will know the Cruisemaster D035 hitch is the bee’s knees of offroad couplings. And if you haven’t, here’s the drum – articulation on multiple axes delivers great performance in the rough stuff and makes it easier to unhitch and unhitch on uneven ground.
Weight is your enemy offroad and a tare weight of 2040kg wouldn’t make the Prospector the lightest 16-footer going around. But it is still a lot lighter than bigger vans. An ATM of 2800kg is a very typical rating for single axle vans giving a very generous 760kg payload. It’s worth noting you don’t have to use all of that payload. If you want to go a bit more offroad on a particular trip you can be more selective about what you pack and possibly save a couple of hundred kilos.
The benchmark for electrical systems has become very high in recent years. A capacity of two 100Ah lithium batteries and two 210W solar panels with an extra Anderson plug for a solar blanket is what we have come to expect these days. Lithium batteries are streets ahead of AGM batteries for useable power at your disposal, not to mention weight savings and RedArc battery management systems are among the best in the business.
Two 95L freshwater tanks and one 110L grey water tank is also par for the course; and 190kg of water payload is about as much you would want to carry. The pantry and general storage are decently impressive which means you should be able to carry plenty of tucker. Two 9kg gas bottles will keep steaks (or whatever floats your boat) sizzling for many weeks too.
LIVE IT UP
You really don’t give up much living experience with this little Prospector. Starting at the rear, sure it is small, but I really like the bathroom. The storage has lots of frontage with limited depth, but I reckon its smart. It gives you plenty of capacity to access and organise your stuff with a nice mix of cupboards, drawers and shelves.
The compact kitchen sports a 174L Thetford compressor fridge and a NCE 23L microwave, which is all quite standard. The benchtop setup is quite different though. When you flip up the glass top a CAN (that’s the brand) combination stainless steel sink and two burner NCE gas cooker is revealed. There is no oven or griller. Sure, it is minimalist, but it works for me.
A short van means there isn’t room for a stack of overhead cupboards but the storage under the benchtop and fridge is plentiful. The dining table setup is cosy and comfortable and allows for lovely views out of the decent-sized offside windows.
Come to think of it, the views from either side of the bed will be great too when you venture out somewhere scenic. There are no compromises at the bed end of the van. The bed is a regulation RV-sized queen mattress and there is the full suite of overheads, wardrobes and bedside drawers. The USB ports built into the bedside drawers are very functional and some people are going to like the look while others would prefer something more discrete.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Okay, I am having fun with the metaphors, but I think Highline has struck gold with the Prospector. It is a well-executed, stylish example of a small van done well. It comes with the backing of a reasonable three-year structural warranty. It can feel like $105k is a hefty price tag for a little van. However, having spent over a decade on the caravan manufacturer’s side of the fence I can tell you the cost of manufacture of a little van compared to a big van is not that different. The motivation to consider a Prospector is to gain the considerable advantages of a compact van rather than achieve a big saving.
HITS AND MISSES
- A small van with a well-executed, liveable layout
- CNC cut internal ply frame allows highly consistent manufacturing
- Panoramic windows
- A little heavy for its size
HIGHLINE PROSPECTOR RATINGS
VALUE FOR MONEY
Short vans cost nearly as much to build as long vans and the price reflects that
A good towing set-up with decent running gear
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING
Hard to go past this feature-packed little package
The interlocking internal frame goes a long way to driving consistent build quality
It would be pretty hard to do a better job on what has been achieved in less than 5m x 2.5m
A good contemporary configuration of power and water
A three-year structural warranty is a reasonable industry average
The internal interlocking frame gets another mention as it is a great way to build in timber
It looks smart. It’s designed and built smart
HIGHLINE PROSPECTOR SPECS
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
|Body length||4.9m (16ft)|
|Overall length ||7m (23ft)|
|Width||2.5m (8ft 2in)|
|Height||3.2m (10ft 6in)|
|Payload ||760kg (calculated)|
|Ball weight at tare ||160kg|
|Frame||CNC cut ply sheet|
|Cladding||Aluminium composite sheet|
|Chassis||150mm x 50mm A-frame and main beams with 75mm raiser|
|Suspension||Tuff Ride 2.8T trailing arm independent|
|Brakes|| 12” Drum|
|Wheels||16” alloy rims with 265/75 R16 Goodride mud tyres|
|Water||2 x 95L freshwater and 1 x 110L grey|
|Battery||2 x 100Ah lithium|
|Solar||2 x 210W with extra Anderson plug for solar blanket|
|Gas||2 x 9kg|
|Cooking||CAN 2 burner gas cooker with combination sink|
|Fridge||174L Thetford compressor|
|Bathroom||Full ensuite, shower and toilet|
|Hot water ||Fogatti instantaneous|
Highline Prospector price from $105,500.00
THE NEXT STEP
If you need help choosing your first caravan or are considering upgrading your existing one, check out all Highline caravans available on TradeRVs today.
The sellers will be happy to help and answer any inquiries you may have about the products advertised for sale.
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