Best Aussie Vans 2019: Testing Times

Tim van Duyl — 5 December 2019
Putting together an event like BLA Czone's Best Aussie Vans takes a crack team, a lot of time and a sprinkling of luck.

Like last years’ event in Echuca Moama, we kept Best Aussie Vans 2019 (BAV) simple. We found refuge in one region for a week complete with eight vans, five judges, strict criteria and a crack team of photographers, writers and videographers. But for BAV 2019 we had two significant changes, in a new title sponsor and a revised scoring criteria — but first a message on our major sponsor, Boating Lifestyle Adventure (BLA).

BLA is well known in the marine industry as the go-to supplier for manufacturing and finishing components like fibreglass for boat building and windows for well, seeing through. With a product catalog that requires two hands to lift there is something for every boatie, which presents an opportunity in the RV sector as so many products cross over. BAV was their launch into RV with BLA RV. Not just content with offering the same product line to RV builders, BLA are engaging the market to see what it needs and what to tailor an offering to. Their first release, CZone, represents one of their most innovative and successful product lines in a touch sensitive, fully programmable digital switching system perfect for high-end caravans and motorhomes. Next issue John Ford will run you through some key products in more detail as well as a bit about the company and its goals in the RV space. This issue is about setting the scene for what we did, who won and why, but for now, my thanks to Darren and the team at BLA for getting behind Best Aussie Vans 2019.




Image credits: Marcus Cozzolino, Cam Innis, Anna Shepherd

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

As in previous years the rules of engagement were simple. All entries for BAV must have been reviewed in full or appraised by one of our expert writers before being invited to compete. That’s right, we invite the entrants based on how good the vans were when reviewed by one of our independent team, not according to whether the company advertises with us. In the past, cynics have suggested entrants (and even winners) were chosen based on their spend with us. Believe you me, that is far from the truth. One look through the magazine and the entrants and you’ll see that many are in fact not advertisers.

Not being open to all-comers has been questioned in the past, but we do it to protect the industry — including you, the reader and buyer. Reputable manufacturers are invited and one-off custom builders are not. I will admit that the perfect van is the van you build in collaboration with a willing builder, but the outcome likely does not reflect the bulk of us and then there are those that might try to game the system. We have encountered it in the past, where an entrant supplies an underpriced or one-off in an attempt to benefit from the exposure a win gives. To avoid this entrants must agree to maintain pricing seen at BAV for 12 months.

THE PROCESS

Now that we know how the vans got to BAV, here’s the process. We set our best judges to review each van the same day in the same location. This is a system that works well. Our judges have all been reporting on caravans and caravan lifestyle for many, many years, but all taking a slightly different approach. This gives us a more balanced outcome than a single reviewer would. Those differing approaches are reflected in the scoring, which can vary significantly, but averaging the scores allows us to conclusively judge which are the Best Aussie Vans for sale today.

SCORING

Caravan World is built on a number of core values of transparency, quality, credibility and authority. Our authority means nothing if you do not understand how we choose our writers and judges and how we assess the caravans we review.

Our judging team is chosen to reflect a wide range of industry-centric skill sets, from retired electricians to outback survival experts and longtime caravan owners; experience plays a big part. Independent assessment of all qualified entrants during the testing and review component of Best Aussie Vans is a critical aspect of each event. No judge can be sponsored by the industry in any way.

Aside from a few wording changes, tightening up the criteria and adding some new voices, how we judge vans has remained the same in every issue for nearly a decade. However, driven by customer and industry feedback, for Best Aussie Vans 2019 we have made a significant change to our judging criteria with the addition of Customer Care and the merging of two existing quality-centric criteria into one, Build Quality.

All scores are out of ten giving the up to 90 points per van which are then added together and divided by the number of judges to give an average score.

VALUE FOR MONEY

  • A score of 3 or less suggests the judge felt like your money should be spent elsewhere
  • 3.5–5.5 suggests the van is price-competitive but perhaps not great value
  • 6–8.5 suggests the van is good value for money, better than its competitors
  • 8.5 or more suggests the van is exceptionally priced, that there few competing with it for value

TOWABILITY

  • A score of 3 or less would indicate the van felt unsafe or was extremely difficult to tow
  • 3.5–5.5 would indicate some vices in testing that need attention
  • 6–8 would suggest the van towed well without issue
  • 8.5 or more suggests the caravan not only towed well but that it exceeded expectations to become a new benchmark in towability

SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING

  • A score of 3 or under would suggest the van is not fit for its intended purpose
  • 3.5–5.5 suggests the van can do most of what it sets out to achieve but needs refinement
  • 6–8 would indicate the van is capable for its intended purpose
  • 8.5 or more suggests the van is more capable than the manufacturer suggests or that the writer expected

BUILD QUALITY

  • A score of 3 or less would suggest major flaws seen throughout the tested product
  • 3.5–5.5 would be for a van carrying some minor, rectifiable cosmetic flaws or poor material choice
  • 6–8 would suggest a van of acceptable but basic finish comprising a traditional build utilising traditional materials
  • 8.5 or more would be a flawless finish of an impeccable standard and/or use of cutting-edge materials

LIVEABILITY

  • A score of 3 or less suggests the van is missing vital components and is uncomfortable to navigate or to relax within
  • 3.5–5.5 would suggest the caravan is as comfortable as expected but misses some key components
  • 6–8 would be a place to be proud of that is comfortable, well-appointed and well laid-out
  • 8.5 or more suggests the van has a level of opulence not seen in its class before, laid out with the best use of space

CUSTOMER CARE (new for 2019)

  • A score of 3 or less indicates the van has little to no after-purchase support or warranty
  • 3.5–5.5 suggests the van has a limited-warranty and some after-purchase support but has exclusions that may affect the way you use the trailer
  • 6–8 suggests the van has a comprehensive warranty and the brand has a strong support structure
  • 8.5 or more suggests the brand has a national support structure, dedicated support staff and the warranty goes above and beyond expectations

SELF-SUFFICIENCY

  • A score of 3 or less indicates this van lacks vital remote-use capabilities
  • 3.5–5.5 suggests the van can support remote users for a short period, with minor limitations
  • 6–8 suggests the judge believes this van is capable of fully-supporting remote users for moderate stays
  • 8.5 or more suggests the van has the necessary attributes for supporting users for an extended remote stay, in real comfort, without limitations

INNOVATION

  • A score of 3 or less suggests the van is a replica of a bad design
  • 3.5–5.5 would be a run-of-the-mill design that has been seen and done before
  • 6–8 would be an evolutionary change to a known design or style, done well
  • 8.5 or more is reserved for new designs that challenge competitors and customers’ expectations of what a van can be

X-FACTOR

  • A score of 3 or less would suggest the van is boring in all aspects
  • 3.5–5.5 suggests the van has appeal but no more than most vans in its class
  • 6–8 suggests the writer sees the van as something different, interesting and appealing
  • 8.5 or more suggests the van is groundbreaking, that it excites and will draw a crowd

The judge must quantify or validate their scores with comment. This could be how the van compares to a similar van on price in Value for Money or thoughts on the suitability of the materials used in Build Quality. Unfortunately we do not have the space to run every comment made, so you will find handpicked comments from each judge with their review of each van. Also due to space, each judge was charged with focussing on specific criteria in their reviews. This does not mean they did not judge each van against every criteria, but to save you from reading the same or similar thoughts on the vans more generally, I asked them to dig deeper into specific criteria each so that you, the reader, gets the most from their experience.

CUSTOMER CARE

New to 2019, Customer Care has been added to our judging criterion. Entailing both the warranty and support structure the brand offers its buyers, Customer Care indicates the company’s dedication towards the buyer and their purchase.

The elements of warranty that affect the outcome of the score include the length of the warranty, any exclusions in use such as places you cannot take your van, excluded activities such as water crossings and how the manufacturer treats component warranty.

The support structure behind the product includes the total number, and location of, sites in a repair and warranty network. It also includes the depth of support staff, like whether they have a dedicated and easily contactable warranty person (or persons) within the business.

THE VANS

This year we judged in three categories: budget-friendly sub $60,000 vans; $60,000–$80,000 and over $80,000. In the sub-$60,000 class, we had two vans identical in price, extremely similar in what they offered but different in how they went about it. One was a traditionally built van made locally, the other a full-import with limited local assembly made a more contemporary way, with foam walls strengthened with alloy. After averaging the judges’ scores, the results are unbelievably close with only 0.5 of a possible 90 separating the Design RV Forerunner and Snowy River SR-20. If we were rounding the scores, you’d call it a tie but thats still not the closest result we’ve seen at BAV, which is revealed next issue when two vans in the $60,000–$80,000 category come within 0.1 of each other.

Also in this issue are the over-$80,000 caravans we thought best in 2019. Both come from well established brands but have vastly different buyers in mind. We have a luxurious and voluminous, family-focussed 22 foot New Age and a tardis-like palace for two from Royal Flair. This category was not as close in scores as the budget-friendly vans, but presented a challenge to the judges as the vans offered so much to potential buyers in such different ways.

THE CREW

It takes more than just many sets of hands to pull together an ambitious event like Best Aussie Vans; they have to be the right people. From judges to operations managers to stills photographers and videographers, there were two teams of up to 20 working in separate locations to create compelling content for print, video, words and images. It might sound like a logistical nightmare, but the right people make all the difference.

Our judging panel comprised BAV stalwarts Malcolm Street and Ron and Vin Moon as well as new-to-BAV Matt Williams and incoming Editor at Large John Ford. A crack team with varied backgrounds and experiences, then.

Technically savvy and always with either a pen and paper or tape measure at hand, our field editor, Malcolm Street was charged with focusing on the build of the vans in his reporting. Viv and Ron bring more years of touring experience than they’d like to admit and from the experiences gained, an ability to see through bulls*** so were tasked with Suitability for Intended Touring. Our youthful newcomer Matt was challenged to find out what makes the vans special in their Innovation and X-Factor, while vastly experienced John was tasked with the new criteria Customer Care — and ladies and gentlemen, did he ever open Pandora's Box and, without being too dramatic, a legal minefield. All the entrants understand their requirements under Australian Consumer Law and many gave examples of how they go even beyond their obligations, but understanding and unwinding the complexities proved too complicated in the timeframe for our first instalment of BAV.

For a few years now, I have been challenged on how to assess ownership of a caravan. In the ideal world, we would be given vans to live with for years at a time but practically speaking, that is impossible so an appraisal of the network behind and warranty offered with a sale is the next best thing.

You will note that Customer Care is broken down to the warranty and its limitations and how buyers can enact their warranty, if needed. Within this is an appraisal of things like how the builder treats fitted components within their warranty. Such was, and still is, the conjecture within just this small element of warranty that John is dedicating a separate feature on Customer Care for the coming issue. Within it we will hopefully have a position from the people at the CCIA, willing manufacturers and of course our own opinion on how we feel the industry approaches the delicate but vital attribute of Customer Care following any van purchase.

ON LOCATION

One of the reasons we take BAV to towns around Australia is to give locals the opportunity to see a calibre of van that seldom make its way to places like Echuca Moama last year and Inverloch this year. A highlight of every BAV event, and one of my personal favourites, is the public showcase where vans are displayed in a prominent area with support from the brand representatives. It is all too easy for us who work in the industry to take for granted the significance of the vans on display, so when I see a local's eyes light up at a particular design feature, it reminds me how good we have it.

This year we had the showcase nextdoor to our accommodation provider, Big4 Inverloch Holiday Park at the Inverloch Foreshore Camping Reserve. Unfortunately the weather didn’t provide the sunny spring skies so often seen in east Gippsland, with off and on again drizzle mixed into constant bone-chilling winds, but it didn't seem to dampen a decent number of locals who braved the cold to see the eight vans on display.

Read on and enjoy part one of our coverage of BLA CZone’s Best Aussie Vans 2019. And be sure to pick up a copy of our January issue featuring the remaining four vans, John’s indepth look at Customer Care and more on the event’s success. Meanwhile, don’t forget everything you see and read in these pages, plus more, has been expertly captured in video by our hard working team; you can view it now at: www.caravanworld.com.au

GONGS & BEYOND

The major gongs in each price category are the most sought after, but there is gold to be won elsewhere as well. It would be unfair to lump all entrants into one category; there is just too much difference between entrants, and their likely buyers will be different too. So while we categorise vans into price brackets for the major prizes, that leaves some stand-out entries unrewarded.

Some crucial criteria transcend price alone, such as Build Quality. A well built van of any price is a well built van, after all. That's why for BAV we also celebrate the van with the best Build Quality, the best Customer Care, the most Self-Sufficient van, the most Innovative entry and the van with the highest overall Value For Money — perhaps the most sought-after accolade.

Check the reviews to see which van took out the extra awards.

Tags

BAV Caravan Reviews Events Best Aussie Vans BLA Czone 2019