Centaur are far from mainstream. They are a niche manufacturer with a build capacity currently around 40 caravans a year. There are two things that make Centaur different from most other Australian makers — they place a strong emphasis on being small and light when so much of the industry is going in the opposite direction, and also utilise a lot of fibreglass in the exterior and interior of their builds. The emphasis comes from the company's roots in the automotive industry, where they manufacture an array of components, including police divisional van pods for Victoria and Western Australia, specialised components for Walkinshaw Performance and parts for Kenworth trucks.
Centaur achieve their relatively light weight through clever design and using a minimalist approach to the features (read, weight) they supply in the base model. In other words, you choose what extra weight you want to build in to suit your needs.
The van reviewed is a Karavané, which was supplied with only a limited number of options making it more suited to caravan park stays and general touring. It had minimal water storage, no solar and a simple suspension system to deliver a tare of 1660kg. You can bring the Karavané up to a spec more suited to rougher roads and venturing away from caravan parks by ticking what you want from the detailed options list — offroad oriented suspension, more water storage and solar for example.
How do Centaur keep their weight down? To start with, the Karavané has a genuinely lightweight chassis. The cross members are minimalist in size and have a C-section profile with significant slots cut out. Those familiar with beefier, box sections may question its durability, but Centaur tell me they have proven the integrity of their chassis through many years of use in the field.
The AL-KO Independent Rubber Suspension (IRS) system has been another way to save weight as it has a lot fewer components than other independent suspension systems. IRS is not particularly mainstream, but I am quite familiar with it as I worked for another lightweight caravan manufacturer that fitted it to thousands of units for well over a decade. IRS is a very capable and reliable system, with moderate ground clearance perfectly fine for touring. It does have one Achilles heel, however, as I did see a small percentage of vans show uneven tyre wear. This can happen using any suspension system and is nearly always caused by the van experiencing a major knock moving something out of alignment. The problem is, unlike other systems, IRS does not have the capability for an alignment to be performed at the local tyre shop. Instead, the IRS system needs specialty attention through an AL-KO centre which is expensive and time consuming. As I said, it was a rare event, and on balance the IRS was considered a good choice because it was historically significantly lighter than alternate suspension systems.
But the goal posts have changed with the new generation AL-KO Enduro X Offroad suspension which has been designed to take out weight compared to previous iterations. Centaur tell me that the Enduro X is only 19kg heavier than the equivalent IRS system. Centaur offer it as an optional upgrade which will cost you $2600 more and in my view is well worth considering. Enduro X will give you greater ground clearance, better rough-road performance and the ability for alignments to be conducted much more readily if required.
The floor is coated marine grade ply which is a conventional and proven material. I believe, if Centaur are going to continue to forge down the lightweight path, they should consider developing a honeycomb style floor into their system which has proven to achieve weight savings for other manufacturers.
Fiberglass composite walls are provided by local supplier, Worthingtons, who seem to be supplying more and more of the caravan industry. The chassis has a ledge designed into it for the wall to mount to, bonded with polyurethane. An aluminium extrusion then wraps the bottom section of the wall.
The rest of the fibreglass shell is made in house by Centaur. The sweeping, aerodynamic profile section at the front continues all the way across the roof as one piece. The stylish rear panel is also one piece. It is all sealed off and bonded together with one piece fibreglass caps, eliminating the need for traditional J-moulds.
The complete shell system appears to be well thought out with very little chance of leaks. Given that practically all exterior surfaces are fibreglass, if you are unlucky enough to damage the Karavané body, in most instances a reputable fibreglass repairer can fix it without the need for replacement parts. This is a big plus as it is not necessary to dismantle the van and you are not dependent on waiting for replacement parts.
Continuing with the fibreglass theme, the storage box on the A-frame and the doors to the tunnel boot are also made in house. Combined, they provide a decent amount of external storage. I couldn’t see any mechanism to hold up the A-frame box lid, but it was pointed out to me there is a little clip mounted on the front panel which works fine. Fibreglass can be susceptible to stone chipping, and this is countered with a ‘car bra’ mounted to the vulnerable area which can be easily removed with a few stretchy straps.
I helped hitch the van at the Centaur factory. Admittedly we were working on flat concrete, but it was quite noticeable how the light weight made it very easy to move the van around by hand to line it up with the coupling. When winding the jockey wheel, I found myself squashing my fist due to a lack of clearance with the gas bottle. I could avoid this by just holding the winding handle with my fingertips which I could get away with due to the light towball loading (100kg).
Quite a few things strike you as you first cast your eyes inside. There’s the bold red upholstery, a purely aesthetic thing, and you can choose a colour to your liking. Next, is the genuine timber top on the bench and dining table which is a nice touch. These are the two optional features that make up the luxury pack, which will set you back an extra $3k.
The timber surfaces option does not add any extra weight to the package compared to the standard laminate version. The timber is coated in a premium two pack commercial grade polyurethane designed for use in high volume wet areas and there are standard products available for cleaning these kinds of finishes.
Headlining is something I haven’t come across in a van before. The lining in the ceiling has a functional and aesthetic component to it. The lining provides great thermal and acoustic insulation by the very nature of being a fabric, which is further enhanced by an air gap built in between the roof shell. Aesthetically, I think the lining will polarise opinions simply because it is unusual, and Centaur would be doing themselves a favour by choosing a more neutral colour. Personally, I think the headliner is a winner because you should stay cooler in summer, warmer in winter and not be woken up by rain during the night.
I liked the hatch over the bed, the sloped angle of the roof enabled you to look out into the sky and allowed a lot of natural light to stream in.
All of the cabinetry was white, which is typical in contemporary vans. What is less typical, is the one piece fibreglass construction of the carcass and doors, which is much lighter than traditional ply and laminated board construction methods.
We often write about how a layout creates a visual sense of space that makes the van interior feel bigger than it really is. The Karavané is kind of the opposite. I was sucked into thinking the van was narrower than average, but this is an optical illusion created by the bed being offset to the left. It is easy to see in the pictures. There is a closet on the right hand side which runs full height to the ceiling. The bed and bed side furniture are centred between the closet and the left wall rather than the true centre of the room. While creating a sense of ‘narrowness’, the space works really well, with adequate access around the bed. There is nice bedside and under bed storage, combined with the overhead lockers you have a good set up for a couple.
The kitchen area works quite well too. The cooker is a Dometic three gas burner configuration (no 240V) with overhead rangehood. The lack of a grill/oven should be noted, but you gain additional storage below the cooker instead. The sink and bench space is plenty for a couples van,
The fridge is a 190L Bushman dedicated 12V system. Centaur opted for this style of fridge for its low power consumption and excellent insulation properties. Above the fridge is a conventional 20L NEC microwave. There is quite a bit of unused space around and above the microwave, which could be better utilised for more storage nooks.
The rear has a nice ensuite with separate shower and toilet. As you would expect from this manufacturer, fibreglass features prominently, and it all appears to be well made. The decent mirror and minimalist pedestal style basin help improve the roominess in the bathroom but there is an absence of horizontal surfaces to work with. Storage space is limited to a compartment above the toilet, but this is quite a small van to squeeze in a complete bathroom.
LIMITED OFF-GRID, CAN BE UPGRADED
We have experienced unseasonably wet conditions in Melbourne so finding shoot locations where we won’t get bogged has been a little challenging. We opted for a paddock (complete with cow manure) on the top of a hill with firm ground and a pretty outlook. If we were camping here for real, it wouldn’t be long until we ran out of water or power.
As reviewed, the Karavané had 82L of freshwater, an optional 62L grey water tank, a single 100Ah battery, and no solar panels. If you are planning on staying in caravan parks or short stays off-grid, the setup is more than adequate and consistent with the touring style, modest ground clearance IRS suspension fitted.
To beef up your off-grid potential a second 82L freshwater tank can be fitted, along with either 150W or 300W of solar and various additional battery options. If you will genuinely use these features, of course it is worth consideration, but you must be mindful that this will come out of your payload potential.
DREAM TO TOW
I was a bit disappointed that the tow vehicle supplied was a Colarado tray ute because it looked a bit daggy for the photos — sorry if I offend any tray ute owners! Plus, we didn’t get to show how a lower rated tow vehicle could cope with the light weight Karavané. On the flipside, it is a common issue for many heavier vans to bring you close to the gross combined mass constraints of this kind of tow vehicle.
Towing was effortless with a tare of 1660kg and ATM of 2100kg. It was nice to not have to worry about weights, but it is worth noting that the unladen towball weight is approximately 6 per cent of the tare. If the ratio of the nose weight to overall van weight becomes too low, it may cause swaying. As a rule of thumb, 10 per cent is considered optimal and 5 per cent is considered a minimum. The way the logistics turned out, I had limited seat time in the tow vehicle. I did get plenty of opportunity to observe the van being towed from a camera vehicle.
This perspective can show up bad behaviour if present, but the rig proved to be stable throughout the drive. Regardless, it would be good practice to load the front of the van to bring the nose to van weight ratio closer to 10 per cent.
The Karavané is covered with a three year warranty on the chassis, body and cabinetry. As we see with many other manufacturers, the component/appliance suppliers warranty applies for all other items. Centaur currently have a factory direct sales model with no dealers. After sales service around the country is handled by an informal network of service agents on an as needs basis.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Karavané delivers in spades on the attributes I like to see in a van. The marques emphasis on light weight delivers a van that can be towed comfortably by many vehicles. The automotive heritage shows through in a construction method that looks strong for its intended purpose and very well sealed. You can order it as a blacktop tourer or spec it up a bit to take it a little further afield. The pricing is good, and it is backed with a three year warranty.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Body length 5.25m (17ft 3in)
Overall length 6.98m (22ft 11in)
Width 2.49m (8ft 2in)
Height 2.88m (9ft 6in)
Payload 440kg (calculated)
Ball weight 100kg
Frame N/A, frameless
Cladding Fibreglass composite panel
Chassis 100 x 50mm steel Hot Dipped Galvanized
Suspension AL-KO IRS (Optional AL-KO Enduro X)
Coupling AL-KO 50mm Ball
Brakes AL-KO Electric 12in Brakes
Wheels 16in Alloy Rims / 235/75/R16A/T BC Tyres
Water 1 x 82L fresh (optional second 82L fresh), 1 x 62L grey
Battery 1 x 100Ah AGM (Optional 2 x 100Ah AGM or Lithium 200Ah)
Solar Not Fitted (Optional 150W or 300W)
Air-conditioner Belaire 2400
Gas 1 x 9kg (Optional 2 x 4kg)
Sway control Optional ESC
Cooking Dometic 3 Burner Gas Cooktop
Microwave 20L NEC Microwave
Fridge 190L Bushman 12V
Bathroom Separate Shower and toilet
Hot water Truma14L 240V Electric / LPG Gas
Luxury pack: solid timber benchtop and table with upgraded upholstery
PRICE AS SHOWN
VALUE FOR MONEY 8/10
“Good base price to which you can add options that suit you.”
“Light is good.”
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 8/10
“Perfectly suitable for general touring. Be careful not to throw the full options list at it or you may run out of payload.”
BUILD QUALITY 9.5/10
“The automotive focus of the manufacturer shows in the high build quality.”
“A nice, functional little van.”
“As reviewed, the van does not pretend to be an off-grid hero but with the right options it would be quite serviceable.”
CUSTOMER CARE 8.5/10
“A three year structural warranty is on par.”
“Good design goes into making this a leader in light weight.”
“The aerodynamic styling is distinctive.”