One of the benefits of being the boss of your own company, say Horizon Motorhomes, is you have a considerable amount of influence if you want to build your product for personal use. Such is the case with the Waratah motorhome owned by Horizon's proprietor, Clayton Kearney.
The Waratah is based on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van conversion which, unlike most Sprinters, has the added bonus of Benz’s four-wheel-drive system. This is very useful when exploring the outback roads of Australia.
It’s slightly less of a challenge but it’s also good for exploring some of the back roads around the hinterland area of Ballina. I took a little drive up to the Nightcap National Park because I have not seen much of that area before and the Waratah proved to be quite a handy vehicle for doing that, especially given the heavy rain that lurked from time to time.
Getting down to a few more precise facts, the Waratah is built on a long wheel base Sprinter 519CDI. Which means the van has a 4490kg GVM (downgraded from 5000kg for driver’s licence reasons) and a maximum power of 190hp/140kW. No idea why all the metrified Euro vehicle manufacturers still rate their engines in horsepower but they do. Currently this particular Sprinter model gets a five-speed automatic gearbox but the next generation Sprinter, currently arriving on our shores, will get the same seven-speed, as fitted to 2WD Benz vehicles.
WORKING IN TANDEM
A little question to consider, is the Benz 4X4 a real four-wheel-drive or not? Well, yes and no. How it works is that when in normal 2WD, the engine drives the dual rear wheels but it does have high and low range 4X4 when required and it’s all operated by buttons, rather than gear levers.
In addition, it all works in tandem with the 4ETS (four-wheel electronic traction control) and Adaptive ESP, an electronic stability program. Thus, wheel spin on any wheel is limited and the vehicle is kept under control to minimise skidding or other loss of control.
Although the vehicle does have low-range gearing, it gives it very good traction control up steep hills and even across flat beach sand. However —and there is a big however — the combination of a long vehicle, not-so-great arrival, departure and ramp-over angles does limit things a bit and the Sprinter should certainly not be treated in the same way as a conventional 4WD, like say a Toyota Prado.
Not only is body clearance a factor but any rough terrain underneath the vehicle should be considered very carefully. All that said, although my 4X4 travels were limited, there’s no doubt about the confidence that comes from having traction to all four wheels in slippery conditions.
In the current motorhome scene in Australia, most van conversions are painted in fairly conservative colours but Horizon is usually the exception to this rule and certainly in this case. However, the very striking orange and black striped colour scheme is actually a wrap job rather than a paint job and it’s been done very well. Apart from anything else, it catches the attention in just about any crowd.
In some ways, converting a van into a motorhome is a bit easier that doing a coachbuilt. Certainly there are holes to be cut, like for the Dometic Seitz windows, the gas cylinder bin, water heater and cassette toilet, but the overall body structure does not have to be changed. Except of course to add features such as the awning, solar panels, TV aerials, snorkel, bullbar and the like. I’d like to point out that this particular motorhome has a long options list (see below) and that does reflect in the difference between the price of the base motorhome ($187,000) and the review vehicle ($218,800).
Just a comment on windows here: awning-style windows work fine most of the time but if used in the wall directly behind the sliding door, they often become accidentally damaged. Dometic does make a sliding window that works very well in this situation.
A problem with van conversions (of all sizes) is that it’s difficult to keep annoying insects out unless some elaborate precautions are taken. Horizon has a solution to this problem, and it is an option, but the zipped flyscreens on both the sliding and rear doors are a good investment, I reckon.
By their very nature, van conversion layouts will be limited in variation and practicality but the Waratah’s is a tried-and-tested one that works quite well.
There are two single beds (but can be double) in the rear, a nearside kitchen bench and an offside bathroom cubicle. Up front, both cab seats swivel around and there are both a table and a forward-facing two-person seat behind the driver’s seat. Space, particularly perceived space, is something of a premium in a motorhome like this but a reasonably light interior and features such as angled-back overhead lockers make for a fairly spacious feel.
In a motorhome like this, there really isn’t going to be any external bin capacity but opening the rear doors gives under-bed access, where it is possible to stash all the camping essentials — chairs, table, power leads and hoses, yet still have room left over for other items.
That under-bed storage is why the bed area looks like it does, that is two single bed mattresses with an infill in between. So, you can have two separate beds, a sort of combined north-south double or a tranverse double. The latter depends on how tall you are. A benefit of this setup, apart from the flexibility, is that a Lagun-mounted table can be fitted between the bed bases, creating a second day area. Also between the beds is a small step — just high enough to fit a small drawer underneath.
For a relatively small motorhome, the kitchen bench area is quite spacious. Having an under-bench 110L fridge helps that but also fitted in are a combo three burner cooktop/stainless steel sink plus an LB microwave oven fitted under the bench. All that still leaves room for a bit of benchtop space plus five good-sized drawers, some of which have been fitted with formed sections to hold the plates, cups and glasses firmly in place. Not a bad idea for a motorhome designed to go in a few rough places nor ones which are not!
Compact bathrooms are just that and most likely to be 'wet' also, as this one. Features include a Thetford cassette toilet, flexible hose shower, small corner washbasin and shaving cabinet, plus a towel rail and shower curtain to prevent water dribbling out.
Even though this is a two-berth motorhome, it will transport four people around if needed, given the two cab seats and the two forward-facing seats in the rear. It won’t quite accommodate four people at meal time, given the size of the table but for drinkies and nibblies (assuming it’s too cold/wet to sit outside) it’s fine.
THE BOTTOM LINE
OK, so the Horizon Waratah is really not a full-blown hardcore offroad vehicle but then neither am I a serious offroader, so I reckon the 4X4 Waratah will be fine for most travellers ready to hit the road.
Having four-wheel-drive will be a bonus in many areas — beach, slippery muddy tracks, snow country et al. On top of all that, you get a very well-equipped motorhome, even without many of the extra goodies that were fitted to this particular model. It’s all designed for travelling in the comfort and style to which I have become accustomed!
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 6.96m (22ft 8in)
External body width 1.99m (6ft 6in)
Travel height 2.78m (9ft)
Internal height 1.92m (6ft 4in)
Base vehicle Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 519CDI
Engine 3L turbodiesel
Gearbox Five-speed auto
Max power 140kW@3800rpm
Max torque 440Nm@1400-2400rpm
Brakes ABS disc
Fresh water 100L
Grey water 95L
Batteries 200Ah lithium
Cooking Dometic three-burner
Fridge Waeco CRX 1110 12V, 110L
Bathroom Thetford cassette toilet, flexible hose shower
Lighting 12V LED
Hot water Truma
Space heater Optional (Webasto diesel)
Electric sliding door; black steel bullbar with 9500lb synthetic winch; bash plate; Mercedes-Benz reversing camera, 2000kg towbar and floor mats; black kangaroo leather upholstery; double dinette; innerspring mattress infill; 2x Sirocco 12V fans; turbo hatch; driving lights; UHF CB radio and aerial; diesel heater; snorkel; black painted rims with Wrangler 205R16 tyres; solar; lithium battery pack; 2000W inverter; 3x Anderson plugs; Fusion entertainment pack; side flyscreen with magnetic closure and zip closure; rear flyscreen with boot block-out; external gas bayonet
PRICE AS SHOWN
Motorhomes and Caravans
299 River Street, cnr Tweed St
Ballina, NSW 2478
Ph: (02) 6681 1555