Caravan of the Year (formerly known as Best Aussie Vans) is back and better than ever! This year we have a new judge, a new name, and seven exciting vans battling it out for the coveted title. Nagambie and Discovery Parks provided a hospitable refuge for our event this year where our four judges worked through a strict assessment criteria and with a team of photographers, writers, videographers, and event organisers. Over the better part of a week, each entrant was challenged across variable terrain and inspected from end to tow-bar to get the best possible sense of the experience each would provide to potential buyers.
The event wouldn’t have been possible without major sponsor MSA 4x4 Accessories. MSA 4x4 are renowned for some of the most innovative products in the 4WD industry, including the revolutionary Drop Slide, MSA 4x4 Rear Wheel Bags, Basket Packs, Air Lumbar Systems, and an extensive range of 4WD accessories that have been tried and tested by drivers across Australia. MSA 4x4’s products are famous for their exceptional attention to detail, with everything carefully thought out and optimised for quality, ease of use, and maximum practicality. The new patented MSA 4x4 Towing Mirrors are a must buy for any serious caravan owner thanks to a unique pivot design that allows the mirrors to maintain their normal, everyday position before extending further when the need arises. Proud owner Shane Miles attributes the company’s attention to detail to his father and how a failed product would often ruin his holidays — “We over-engineer everything as I pretend that every customer is my father.” MSA's towing mirrors have a five year warranty, and their other ranges come with a lifetime guarantee.
Readers familiar with this event when it was called Best Aussie Vans will have an idea of how the event is run, but for a refresher (it has been a while after all thanks to COVID) keep reading to find out what we did, where we went, and how the event ran.
Why We Run COTY
Caravan of the Year exists primarily to provide the buying public with an experienced assessment of the caravan market through an independent judging process. We understand how much of an investment a van is and how important it is to find the right one.
We believe it is Caravan World’s responsibility to give honest reviews that help inform our readers whether a van is right for them. We also know that through highlighting the merits and flaws of each van we can contribute to the improvement of the whole industry.
When asked about the importance of COTY in 2022, motorised recreation guru and COTY judge John Ford explained, “Traditionally [COTY] has been a real chance to show off the world of Australian caravanning.”
“It’s good to see people brave enough to bring their caravans forward to be criticised and hopefully we give them the appropriate feedback to go away and improve the vans on offer to those wanting to hit the road,” he continued.
COTY judge Tim van Duyl expanded on this stating, “It’s the good ones that come back stronger.”
Caravan of the Year is to celebrate the very best in the business and for the brands to put their van’s to the test, and the courage of these manufacturers to put forward their products for criticism should be commended. It shows great confidence in their vans as each tiny detail is scrutinise and questioned at an even greater extent than in their original reviewing. Everything from suspension to build-quality to the type of light bulbs being used is looked at by our judges, before being factored in the scores and comments for each van.
Many manufacturers consider the judges’ feedback a key part of the event and use it to rise to the challenge, and this year’s entrants taking on the challenge are (in no particular order): Design RV, Roadstar Caravans, New Age Caravans, Regent Caravans, Snowy River Caravan, and Titan Caravans Australia. When asked why they came, Amber from Snowy River Caravans told Caravan World that they entered “to prove a point”.
“We are stoked to be invited,” she said, and that while “No van is perfect, we like to think ours is pretty close.”
Snowy River's Nicole echoed the challenges that come with being judged too closely, saying one of the hardest things about COTY is that “You never know what question you’re going to be asked.”
The quality of contestants in COTY is often outstanding, and this year is no exception. Each van possessed a well-balanced combination of design and engineering mastery in their own unique way. The work of each contestant to offer something new to the caravan industry is obvious and often a feat of brilliance that is certainly something to celebrate.
COTY also allows manufacturers and owners to chat and share ideas with others at the top of their game. Brands that would often find themselves trying to steal each other’s customers or prove why their product is superior instead had the chance to share a beverage and their ideas on the future of the industry. Rob from Design RV enjoyed the atmosphere, saying, “It was good having a more casual environment than the usual interactions with competitors.”
Who Can Come Along?
Just like previous BAV events, entry requirements are simple — competitors are invited based on how well they were received in their review. . We’ve often been questioned on whether a manufacturer’s advertising in the magazine affects their entry or the judging at these events, but a quick glance through the entrants and winners will show this not to be the case.
The event is open to all reputable manufacturers. This is so we can protect readers, buyers, and the wider industry from potentially inconsistent builders who could be trying to cheat the system. We have also previously encountered suppliers who have under-priced their caravans in an attempt to gain exposure. Hence, COTY competitors must agree to maintain the same price for at least 12 months following the contest.
How We Review
Transparency, credibility, quality, and authority are the core principles that make up Caravan World. The judges and writers we choose are hand-picked to carry these values and to hold the industry to a similarly high standard.
There is a wide range of skill sets and experience behind our judging team. With backgrounds varying from being ex-cafe owners to lollipop ladies, our judges have come from all walks of life and experiences that have informed their reporting on caravans and caravan lifestyle for many years (more than some would wish to admit). Each judges perspective on the industry is unique and varied from one another. The individuality of each van's assessment is an essential aspect of COTY, and of course no judge can be sponsored by the caravan industry in any way.
The way we judge caravans is the same as what runs in our regular reviews. All scores are out of 10, giving up to 90 points per van, which is added together and divided by the number of judges to give an average score. The judges must quantify or validate their scores with comments — 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 don’t 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 for each van. They still judged each van against every criterion, but to save you reading the same or similar thoughts on the vans more generally, each had to dig deeper into a different criterion for each entrant so that you, the reader, get the most from their experience.
Meet the Team
If pulling off an ambitious event like this wasn’t already a logistical miracle, then the current climate has certainly made it one now. From our judges to our photographers and operations managers, it has been thanks to the right people (and a little bit of luck) that Caravan of the Year went ahead and ran so smoothly in 2022.
Our judging team comprised BAV/COTY veterans Malcolm Street and John Ford, military-like planner Tim van Duyl, and judging new-comer Carolyne Jasinski. While she may be new to the judging panel, Carolyne is a long-time writer and lover of the caravan world. As the former editor-at-large of CMCA publication The Wanderer, contributor to Caravan World, and all-round travel writer, Carolyne would compare herself to a good pizza: “From writing and editing to tour guiding, cruise hosting and guest speaking, I do the lot.”
After having contributed to more publications than you could poke a stick-shift at, Carolyne offered a fresh and enthusiastic perspective at this year’s COTY entrants (she also recently became a lollipop lady just to prove someone wrong).
In the average inspection, regular Caravan World contributor Malcolm Street could be found taking photos and double-checking dimensions with his tape measure, whilst caravanning stalwart and Editor-at-large John Ford was asking manufacturers the hard questions. Carolyne would be making herself at home inside the van while Tim was keeping the whole show running on schedule while reviewing the vans from all angles. Manufacturers really were kept on their toes to keep up with our judges.
Out and About
The weather, the people, and the locations were all the icing on the cake and what made COTY 2022 one to be remembered.
One of the main reasons we take COTY to rural towns is to allow your average public to see the calibre of these vans first-hand, and the public showcase on the first day is a highlight for both the manufacturers and the judges due to this. It can be easy to get lost in tiny differences and imperfections in our caravan industry, which makes the awe from the general public so beautifully grounding.
While keeping an eye on everything, Tim, noted that “Seeing a locals eyes light up at a particular design feature, reminds me how good we have it.”
This year’s showcase was held at the enchanting Mitchelton Winery before the manufacturers and Caravan World team came together for a drink and a feed with the best view in town at Nagambie Brewery and Distillery.
Aside from the brewery, the showcase, and a lovely evening aboard the Goulburn Explorer, we spent our time at the Nagambie Lakes Discovery Holiday Park. The caravan park offers every amenity possible, from an indoor kitchen to tennis courts to an arcade room, all situated along the picturesque banks of the Goulburn River. The river can be explored via the Goulburn Explorer or on canoes and fishing tours booked through River Country Adventours next door. There’s also a competition, and last year’s winner of the Nagambie Lakes fishing contest scored an $80,000 cheque with a cod measuring over a meter.
At about an hour and twenty minutes north of Melbourne’s CBD, the park provides a relaxing stay in the heart of Victoria’s original gold-mining country. In the surrounding regions are world famous wineries, quaint old pubs, and national wildlife reserves.
Along with the beautiful regional setting, it was our team of judges, writers, photographers, organisers, and contestants that made COTY such a special event, and we would like to thank everyone involved.
To find the reviews and videos for every caravan at MSA 4x4 Accessories Caravan of the Year 2022, head here, or continue below for an explanation of how the vans were judged.
Before we could begin to tackle the daunting task of deciding on Australia's best vans, we needed to establish some ground rules. Comparing vans, even those with a similar price point, can be like comparing bananas with kiwi fruit. Our 9-point score sheet aims to ensure a level playing field right across the board.
If the COTY score sheet looks familiar, that's because it's the same format used in each and every review conducted by the CW team in every issue.
The nine criteria cover everything about a van we can realistically appraise. While we have sometimes been asked to include ratings for Long-term Reliability on our score sheet, it's simply not possible for us to realistically assess all possible criteria.
1. 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
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
3. 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 than the writer expected
4. 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
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
6. Customer Care
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
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
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
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