At AL-KO’s Best Aussie Vans 2018 we had a support team comprising largely non-caravanners — think photographers, able hands and drivers. While they may not have had the same level of expertise as our crack team of judges, it was interesting to hear what they had to say about JB Caravans' Marlin.
Around the dinner table, the Marlin was a firm favourite, with positive comments on its low price for its size, its family bunk layout and the smooth looks afforded by its one-piece panels.
When our expert judges looked deeper and tested the caravan behind a tow vehicle, what they found was a good level of quality in the build and an impressive range of features for a van in this price bracket: reverse camera, gas bayonet, washing machine, independent suspension and fibreglass walls — all included as standard at a sub-$60K price.
But unfortunately, on this early prototype van, the towability was disappointing. We towed the Marlin behind a 2017 Pajero Sport, an SUV more than capable of towing a van of this size, but the Marlin swayed. Suspecting the issue might lie with the Pajero, we tried a leaf-sprung double cab Hilux, but the problem persisted, and the Marlin's scores reflect this.
Reassuringly, when we called JB Caravans to talk about the issue we learnt that this Marlin was an early model, a prototype of sorts. The JB team acknowledged our feedback and began suggesting possible solutions. In fact the company has since recognised that, unladen, the tow ball was too light, and has rectified the issue by shifting the spare tyre to the front. This is great to hear as the fundamentals of the Marlin are impressive.
The Marlin is a return to road-focused vans for JB, known for making some of the toughest offroaders on the market. The shift came as the company started exploring more contemporary manufacturing techniques, mainly in body construction.
The Marlin still uses some meranti timber but very little is needed as the one-piece walls and roof create a strong shell. This shell sits on what is frankly an over-the-top chassis. It's almost as if the company grabbed a 3500kg-rated offroad chassis and placed the slim body on top. I’m not complaining and neither was judge, John Willis, who appreciated its toughness, even though it did add a lot to the Tare weight.
Unfortunately JB did not have a representative at BAV 2018. But we sincerely hope they will attend in 2019 with a full-production model because, with minor tweaks, the Marlin could be a real contender.
JUDGE 1: PETER QUILTY
The JB Marlin family bunk van will appeal to first caravan buyers … but you only get what you pay for. This on-roader presents as structurally solid; ready and able to hit the bitumen. Key features in this department are the fibreglass walls, one-piece roof, in-house SupaGal chassis and independent suspension.
It's not strong on self-sufficiency, but this won't be an issue if you’re resigned to being a part of the caravan-park set. Certainly, it will keep a young family, happy to rely on mains power — I'd say more than happy. It has the majority of external requisites such as a rollout awning, picnic table, gas bayonet, pull-out entry step, external speakers, spare wheel, two-arm bumper bar and a reversing camera— all included as standard features.
Inside there's a club lounge with flip-out footrests, that converts into a berth, while the hydraulic adjustable telescopic dining table moves in four directions.
The gloss acrylic finish to the flush CNC-cut lightweight cabinetry is effective and I also liked the excellent storage, complemented by corner cabinets, in the main bedroom.
The Marlin meets entry-level mod-con expectations, including a Thetford mini-grill, 190L three-way fridge, microwave, stainless steel sink and mixer tap, reverse cycle air-conditioner, 24in smart TV and CD/DVD combo. A 3kg front-loading washing machine is a welcome bonus, although it does take up under-bunk space.
The major downside is the tight squeeze full ensuite. There’s just too much happening in the bathroom, and not much storage. But, in fairness, the ceramic basin and ceramic bowl toilet provide a modern touch.
It must be said, this twin-bunk family van layout doesn’t set the world on fire in terms of something exciting and new.
Another area of concern is towability. I experienced some harrowing moments in transit due to the van's low ball weight. Fortunately the JB team have since addressed the issue, shifting the spare tyre to the front to stop the swing.
VALUE FOR MONEY 7.5
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 8
QUALITY OF FINISH 8
BUILD QUALITY 8
CREATURE COMFORTS 7
JUDGE 2: JOHN 'BEAR' WILLIS
The JB Marlin reminds me of a good old Aussie 'Jack of all Trades'. It’s a good honest caravan with plenty of features built as a complete, price-sensitive package for travellers with young families. It doesn’t claim to be anything it ain’t, but holds a certain charm and accommodating appeal that will see many happy times visiting Australia’s dream destinations.
The Marlin doesn’t pretend to be a tough offroad mulga muncher; instead it runs the very capable AL-KO Enduro Touring independent trailing arm suspension that's aimed at touring caravans and camper trailers on bitumen and graded dirt roads. AL-KO says its Enduro Touring is not only more comfortable, but significantly lighter in weight than beam and leaf axle equivalents.
The chassis is traditional but very solid and, to be honest, I reckon the Marlin would sometimes lead where many so-called offroad experts would fear to tread.
The fit out was very compact but full of features including twin bunks for the kids. Little ones may need some assistance in getting to the top bunk, and perhaps some restraint while up there, but the design provided comfortable sleeping for mum and dad plus the two grommets.
I loved the U-shaped dinette that will see many a wholesome dinner, and perhaps a game of Monopoly or Mousetrap when the sun goes down.
The Marlin has a host of sensible, family-oriented inclusions including a 95L fridge-freezer, washing machine under the bunks, microwave, hotplates and grill, good water capacity and a Dometic air-conditioner, plus a small ensuite. There were some omissions: the Marlin had no oven, inverter, frontal or side protection, grey water or solar charging, but that’s understandable for the touring family it's designed for.
We had a few comments on the concertina ensuite door but, in my mind, you get what you pay for.
There is quite good storage in the full-width front boot, and thankfully so, as we had to load it full of heavy camera equipment to maintain the on-road balance.
Overall the JB Marlin will certainly appeal to a young family. Its internals are very appealing and there's heaps of storage, plus the queen bed.
Summing up, I'd put it around the seven out of 10 mark — and I would have been happy with a 7/10 when I was at school!
VALUE FOR MONEY 7
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 7
QUALITY OF FINISH 7
BUILD QUALITY 7
CREATURE COMFORTS 5
JUDGE 3: MALCOLM STREET
JB’s Marlin is 6.29m (20ft 8in) and offers a family-van layout but has a slightly different bunk and bathroom configuration to caravans that are slightly longer. It's built on a SupaGal box section chassis, with 100mmx50mm (4inx2in) main rails and larger 150mmx100mm (6inx2in) RHS sections for the drawbar rails, which run back to the suspension mounts.
The two 95L water tanks, which are protected with galvanised sheeting, are fitted fore and aft of the wheels between the chassis rails.
Fibreglass sandwich panel is used for the wall and roof sections. All of these are one-piece sheets to minimise possible water entry. A side benefit is that it looks neater, too.
Underneath the skin, meranti timber is used for the framing. The door has a security screen and all the windows are Dometic double-glazed acrylics.
There’s a decent amount of external storage in the Marlin, thanks to both a tunnel boot and an offside rear storage bin under the bunk beds.
Inside, all the cabinetry is cut using a CNC machine and the doors, which are all piano hinged, are designed using lightweight materials and easy-to-use catches.
On the remote camping front, the Marlin has but one 120Ah battery fitted and only pre-wiring for solar panels. So if you plan to take this RV off the grid for any length of time, you'd need something like an Anderson plug to the tow vehicle.
For me, the most interesting aspect of the Marlin was its rear bunk and bathroom arrangement. Both are a little bit compressed when compared to a north-south bunk/bathroom layout but it’s an interesting way of achieving a slightly shorter van without too much compromise in the overall layout.
VALUE FOR MONEY 8.5
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 8
QUALITY OF FINISH 7.5
BUILD QUALITY 7.5
CREATURE COMFORTS 8
JUDGE 4: LAURA GRAY
The equal cheapest van on this year's test — ringing the register at a touch under $60K — the family-friendly JB Marlin both impressed and, slightly, confounded me.
It’s great to see a family van on the market at this lower, entry level. Families are the fastest growing sector of the caravan industry but, too often, manufacturers think the vans have to be huge and long to fit bunks and the associated space they need. But JB has gone with the ‘less is more’ approach and designed an entry-level family van that would allow any young family to foray into vanning as cheaply as possible.
With a front-island bed and two rear bunks, the Marlin can sleep four but the bunk occupants will have to be on the tiny side. And I can see access to the beds being pretty difficult, due to the position of the rear bathroom. But kudos to JB for getting a full bathroom into this family tourer!
I have to wonder, though, whether this layout that squeezes so much in has affected the van's towing dynamics. Hitched up behind a brand new Pajero and towed on both flat bitumen roads and undulating gravel tracks, I was dismayed and, at times, alarmed, at the movement of the Marlin behind the car. This early model had a very light ball weight and, granted, was unladen — but so was every other van we tested (except the Sunland).
The finish, both inside and out, is impressive, however, I think it’s lacking some fixtures and fittings that have become essential in the modern caravan market — even at this price range.
With no solar and only one battery, the Marlin is destined for a caravan park family, with the possibility of spending just the odd night here and there camped away from a power source.
VALUE FOR MONEY 8
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 8
QUALITY OF FINISH 9
BUILD QUALITY 6
CREATURE COMFORTS 6.5
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 8.3m (27ft 2in)
External body length 6.29m (20ft 8in)
External body width 2.48m
Travel height 3m (9ft 10in)
Internal height 1.98m (6ft 6in)
Tare 2400kg-2450kg (estimated weight range)
Payload 400kg approx.
Ball weight 170kg-190kg
Frame Fibreglass sandwich panel with some meranti timber
Cladding Fibreglass sandwich
Chassis Australian tube steel: 4in main frame, 6in A-frame
Suspension AL-KO Enduro Independent Arm Touring Coupling Ball
Wheels 15in rims
Battery 120Ah AGM
Solar Provision for solar
Sway control AL-KO ESC
Cooking Thetford minigrill
Fridge Three-way tropical fridge
Bathroom Full-height shower and ceramic bowl toilet
Washing machine Dometic front-loader 3kg
Hot water Swift 28L
Options fitted None
Price as SHOWN $59,990
To enquire about this caravan, phone 1800 991 169 for your local dealer