Houston, we had a problem. Observant viewers watching our excellent video of the Coromal Pioneer 632S XC (PEX) online may notice that two slightly different vans are featured. That's because one left AL-KO’s Best Aussie Vans 2018 on a flatbed.
Due to no fault of the manufacturing process, the caravan had a brake component failure which made it unsafe to continue putting the van through its paces at BAV.
Not to stress, we already had most of what we needed and a short drive to our local Melbourne dealer a week later allowed us to complete the final judging for Towability and finish off the last of our filming.
The Coromal PEX may be the result of an evolution of a historic household name but it comes from a new breed. The body is frameless, it sits on a lightweight chassis and it’s full of good ideas such as the massive, scratch-resistant automotive glass windows and a one-piece honeycomb floor. It’s a shining light in a sea of traditionally built caravans featuring the same old, same old.
To qualify for BAV entry, each caravan must have been tested or inspected previously by our one of our staff and I was lucky enough to get the job — twice. Once with the third van from the factory and then again with the fifth, when I joined a convoy from Perth to Exmouth, Karijini and back with the offroader in tow. These tests gave me the confidence to suggest to the company that it enter the PEX in this year’s BAV. To me it was already a winner in so many respects.
The PEX represents excellent value, starting at $88,600 and, thanks to its innovative body, set on a state-of-the-art chassis and very capable suspension, it was always destined to do well.
Our judges agreed, scoring it more than 9/10 for Innovation and a cross-category winning average of 9.25 for X-Factor. Its final aggregate of 88.25 points, from a possible 100, meant this was one of the top scoring vans overall, not just in its category.
The company’s brand manager and representative on the ground at BAV, Simon Kerr, is excited about what the future holds. With Coromal vans now manufactured in Queensland under the Apollo group (along with Windsor) he is looking forward to pushing the brand and innovation hard on the eastern seaboard.
I think, and the judges clearly agree, the PEX has the looks, the innovation and the quality to live up to the brand's long-standing reputation.
JUDGE 1: PETER QUILTY
This caravan simply screams innovation — from the chassis and suspension to the weight-saving honeycomb that’s used in much of the cabinetry, and the tinted automotive glass windows, which the manufacturer claims is superior to Perspex.
In terms of structural soundness, full GRP cladding with injected foam core insulation is complemented by a lightweight chassis, designed and built in-house with uncompromising strength. The FRV chassis is 550 Grade high-tensile steel, CNC folded and laser cut. It’s also 130kg lighter, as well as stronger, than equivalent box section. Held together by high-tensile hard rivets (modern truck style), the chassis is rated to 4.5t.
This Coromal also has a 50mm-thick roof (2mm fibreglass) and 30mm-thick walls. And it all rides on Coromal’s own double wishbone suspension with eight airbags (two on each wheel). Meanwhile, a carbon-fibre lower panel is three times lighter than aluminium and six times stronger than steel.
Some important safety attributes include ventilated disc brakes (six times faster cooling than drum brakes), AL-KO iQ7 (electric override hydraulic), and AL-KO ESC.
I liked the scrub bars at the front and top of the van on either side, which offer valuable protection. There’s also a stone shield with mudflaps, vinyl padding behind the front storage box, and a window protector (two-piece and insulated).
The requisite offroad capacities are more than adequate and a funky rear spoiler disperses dust with minimal effect on drag.
Internally, the Pioneer Evolution is the antithesis to many 'packed-like-sardines’ configurations. I appreciated the way the cabinetry was bolted to the framing system (aluminium extrusions), and the strong hinging to the cupboard doors. The honeycomb benchtops and tabletop save 300kg in weight, while the cabinet doors are 20 per cent ply and 80 per cent honeycomb.
There is an admirable suite of mod cons, including a 193L Nova Kool compressor fridge, recessed 2.5kg Camec top-loading washing machine, and ‘extenders’ that provide supplementary seating for the leather cafe dinette. A Camec gas hot water system provides instantaneous heat.
The stylish decor includes curtains and pelmets, full-height cabinets to the front of the bedroom, and a full-width ensuite mirror. There’s strong hinging on the cupboards, the shower recess is one-piece, the ensuite sliding door is lightweight, the entry door has Crimsafe mesh, and the bedroom has robe cut-outs.
Okay, the optional Adventure Pack catapults the asking price to just below $100K, but there’s plenty of meat on the bones all the same. Indisputably, the Pioneer Evolution XC 632S lives up to Coromal’s “bringing sexy back” mantra. Even Justin Timberlake would be impressed!
VALUE FOR MONEY 8
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 9
QUALITY OF FINISH 9
BUILD QUALITY 9
CREATURE COMFORTS 8.5
JUDGE 2: JOHN 'BEAR' WILLIS
When it comes to state-of-the-art manufacturing ideals with time-proven design and features, this van has to be up there with the top of the class, particularly in the $80K-100K price range.
Coromal is certainly thinking outside the box, introducing new methods, materials and processes, especially to minimise towing weight but also to maximise facilities and comfort.
While Coromal offers several sizes and layouts in the PEX range, our 632S was primarily designed as a two-person tourer for those wanting to tackle rough terrain.
The company is proud to display its FRV (Fleetwood Recreational Vehicles) branding on all of its genuine parts, including the unique frame and chassis construction
that provide enormous strength with very light weight.
The new PEX chassis for example is galvanised and powder-coated for longevity but the company says the material and method also save a whopping 130kg in
Coromal has also developed its own iQ7 combination wishbone-style suspension. This van came with eight airbags for a premium ride and convenience. If it’s anywhere near as tough as it looks it will certainly go the distance.
The PEX also uses a unique bonding system, forging an almost monocoque shell of tremendous inherent strength. I loved the rugged nudge bars that surround the unit, including the roof for protection and, while I questioned the rear spoiler, the company says it dissipates airflow, thus minimising and redirecting the usual dust swirl.
There's new wood-free materials everywhere in the fabrication, with honeycomb polypropylene flooring, carbon fibre panels and rails, frameless FRP cladding, plus lightweight benchtops, partitions and doors, as well as an array of appliances, power and electrics to keep you moving well away from the rat race.
The internal layout is compact but inclusive with its dinette, full ensuite with washer, and a fully stocked kitchen with 193L compressor fridge, microwave and cooktop with grill but, in this case, no oven.
The combination of colour and finishes has a warm and inviting appeal that seems to say, “slow down and smell the roses!”
For the all-important power and water, the PEX supplies eight 80L shrouded poly water tanks plus grey water, but no filtration. There’s power generation through two 150W solar panels with regulator, charger and transformer, plus a large 160Ah lithium battery, but I'd opt up to an inverter as well.
This van would be a fine choice for a couple to undertake that trip of a lifetime, maybe the Big Lap or an extended adventure into the mulga — all for a touch under that magical $100K. I loved the devotion to new-age materials and innovation. Well done!
VALUE FOR MONEY 9
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 9
QUALITY OF FINISH 9
BUILD QUALITY 9
CREATURE COMFORTS 8
JUDGE 3: MALCOLM STREET
Coromal’s Pioneer Evolution is a big step away from the company’s previous designs. For a start the Modular Assembled Evolution chassis owes much to a clever use of dimple stamped C-section steel. No welding is used in the construction, there's no RHS steel members to be seen, and it is all riveted and bolted together.
A look at the powder-coated FRV chassis might suggest that someone has got carried away with a very large hole saw but it’s a proven engineering technique, used in the aviation industry, for starters, and Coromal reckon it saves about 130kg over a conventional RHS box-section chassis.
As well as the chassis, Coromal has always designed its own suspension system and this one is no different. The Ezy-Tow™ Sport X Rally suspension is a tubular steel wishbone setup with coil springs and shock absorbers.
With this latest van, Coromal has gone very contemporary, opting for its Future Teck™ frameless construction, with walls and roof consisting of insulating foam between fibreglass sheeting.
The 55mm thick roof is a one-piece item that extends from the drawbar to the rear bumper. The absence of joints minimises the risk of leaks. Purpose designed aluminium extrusions hold it all together.
Above the chassis, the one-piece floor is made from 40mm polypropylene in a honeycomb structure, again for light weight and strength.
In a radical step, Coromal has used automotive glass for all the windows. Many caravan manufacturers are using acrylic double-glazed windows which can be scratched quite easily. The glass windows are heavier but do look remarkably stylish.
This particular caravan also came with a few extra goodies in the form of an Adventure Pack. This included a carbon-fibre jacket on the lower wall edges, which is lighter than aluminium and stronger than steel, and stays cleaner than alloy checkerplate. There’s also 60mm carbon-fibre brush bars fitted to the front corners and roof. The PEX also has AL-KO disc brakes fitted to the 16in wheels.
Inside, CNC-cut overhead lockers and cupboards use an aluminium framing system and are an integral part of the overall structure. New lightweight doors are incorporated into the cupboard design.
Gas cylinders aren’t usually a subject of much discussion but the lightweight ones fitted to this van are a huge step forward. Not only a big weight saving on the caravan but also for anyone who has to carry them around.
JUDGE 4: LAURA GRAY
Every year, for every judge, there’s a standout van. It’s rarely the same for each of us, as it’s a highly personal choice. For me, this year, it was the Coromal PEX. It’s not the most expensive van, nor the biggest or flashiest, but having seen many, many older Coromals, both in the factory and out on the road, I was blown away by this ultra-modern, new-look offering.
The sheer amount of thought, R&D and consideration that has gone into every square centimetre of this van is impressive. Not content to stick with tried-and-tested methods, materials or fixtures, Coromal has really pushed the bar here.
Cognisant of the relatively heavy mass of offroaders, they have tried to strip weight from as many of the fixtures and fittings as possible, and it makes for a van that’s way outside the box. This ethos was evident in the innovative fibreglass gas cylinders on the front of the van which are super lightweight (and very stylish) compared to traditional steel ones.
One of the first things you notice about the PEX is its black carbon-fibre scrub bars, which are a lot more than just aesthetic. Many vans have low scrub bars but the PEX gets them overhead as well which, I would argue, are actually more useful for protection.
The rear foil spoiler is an interesting little touch and, while it may have some aerodynamic or dust-protection benefits, Coromal admits it’s largely there for looks.
As far as the fixtures and fittings you’d expect on an offroader that’s nudging $100K, the PEX has got it all. Its impressive solar and water capacity are similar to the less expensive Legend Kick Back, but the PEX also gets a large lithium battery, which is a tick in my book.
The interior matches the exterior in terms of thoughtfulness and quality. The layout is a bit left-of-centre, but allows for my favoured club lounge — albeit a side one, in this case, rather than at the rear.
I am also impressed by Coromal’s efforts to move towards a 100 percent timberless build in its high-end vans. This PEX is around 20 per cent timber, thanks largely to honeycomb panels inside and out, so they’re already well on the way.
I thought the PEX’s X-factor was off the scale, but it has the goods where it counts as well.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 8.54m (28ft)
External body length 6.3m (20ft 8in)
External body width 2.47m
Travel height 3.09m (10f 2in)
Internal height 1.98m (6f 6in)
Ball weight 220kg
Cladding Full GRP composite paneling
Chassis High tensile
automotive steel hot-dipped, powder-coated C-section
Suspension Independent heavy duty wishbone airbags
Coupling AL-KO offroad pin coupling
Brakes Electric disc brakes with AL-KO iQ7 controller
Wheels 16in steel
Water 160L (fresh) and 110L (grey)
Battery Twin 160Ah lithium ion
Air-conditioner Dometic 3200
Sway control AL-KO ESC
Cooking Gas cooktop with grill
Fridge Nova Kool compressor fridge RFU6800 DC
Microwave Camec 25L
Bathroom Full-height shower cubicle and Dometic 4110 toilet
Washing machine Camec 2.5kg
Hot water Camec
PRICE From $88,600
Adventure Pack including airbag suspension; carbon fibre scrub bars; LED flood lights; and more
Price as shown $98,760