Lightweight caravans are something of an enigma in the Australian RV scene. There’s something of a perception amongst buyers that they are not suitable for driving around the country which does discourage manufacturing interest. However, the addition of (mostly) extra steelwork to 'strengthen' up a van for 'Australian' conditions (however they are defined) does add considerably to the weight, requiring a much larger tow vehicle and a heavier combination.
I’m not suggesting that those caravans purpose built for serious offroad travel shouldn’t be built in the way they are, but few Australian manufacturers seem to be seriously considering ways of shedding weight in a helpful way for road touring vans.
Apart from a few brave importers, there are several local manufacturers who are making inroads and one of those is Brisbane-based Silversun Caravans.
The manufacturer’s speciality is light road tourer caravans such as Neptune, Saturn and Pluto but also on the books are a couple of offroad rigs, the Shockwave caravan and the Orbit Z4 camper trailer.
For this review the Silversun team were keen to show me the latest development in their caravan range, the diminutive Pluto, aptly named I suspect.
Getting down to a few facts and figures, the Pluto has an overall external length of just 5.1m (16ft 9in) and an ATM of 1400kg. The Tare mass is listed as 960kg but to get the payload figure, instead of simply subtracting the Tare mass from the ATM to get a 'dry' weight, what Silversun does is add in the weight of a full water tank and gas cylinder, to get a 'wet' payload of 320kg, a very reasonable figure indeed. The ball weight is given in the same way, 55kg with full water and gas. All that means the Pluto can be towed by just about any mid-sized vehicle, even those with a maximum tow rating of just 1600kg.
Many prospective RV travellers just think about the size and weight of their RVs in terms of towing and driving but storage is also a factor to consider, especially if the RV is really only used at weekends or an annual holiday. Around my local area, there are quite a few caravans just parked on the street and it’s clearly much better if they can be parked in a slightly more secure location. This is not something that everyone thinks about at the time of purchase.
Construction wise, the Pluto is built on a fairly conventional galvanised chassis, using 75mmx50mm (3in x 2in) RHS for the chassis rails and drawbar and 50mmx50mm (2in x 2in) RHS for the cross members.
Conventional leaf spring suspension with shock absorbers and 14in steel wheels are fitted as standard but for anyone desiring something kitted out for some offroad travel, then an option is for an AL-KO Enduro independent setup.
Above the chassis, there is no frame, instead a closed cell foam fibreglass composite panel that is fully insulated is used for the walls and body. That does give the Pluto a slightly square-looking shape, but there's nothing 'square' about the overall body construction which is all designed to provide a good strength-to-weight ratio.
External fittings are quite simple. There are the expected awning-style windows, Aussie Traveller security door and a very short Thule Omnistor awning but the only other items are a single 4kg gas cylinder on the drawbar and a spare wheel mounted on the rear wall. There isn’t a great deal of external storage capacity either. In this case, the mid nearside wall bin was taken up by a Weber Q100 barbecue.
In a caravan just over 5m (16ft 9in) long, the layout isn’t going to be very sophisticated as you might expect. Up front there’s a day/night lounge, with seats on both sides. Mid offside is an interesting variation of the fridge with microwave oven above setup. There is indeed that arrangement but in between is a good-sized cupboard.
On the opposite side, a half-height wardrobe offers benchtop space above, as well as an overhead locker. All that leaves the rear area for an offside bathroom cubicle and a kitchen bench filling the rear wall section.
If it sounds like things are a bit tight, they are to some extent but there’s room to move and the accent is clearly on lightweight living. Everything has a place. Interior cabinetry is made from 15mm laminated balsa core plywood, it’s two assets are that it is lightweight and resilient to moisture. Above the cabinets, high pressure laminate roll-formed benchtops are used.
Up front the two sideways-facing lounges have a Lagun-mount table between them. It can be swung out of the way when not being used. Windows all around give an excellent view of the world outside and there’s just enough room for two people to stretch out.
Under the seats there is some storage space. The nearside area is taken mostly by the Weber barbecue but even though the offside seating area has the hot water heater, battery charger, main circuit breakers and 12V fuse panel, there is room for smaller items.
With this arrangement, the double bed has to be made up every night. Not something for everyone I know, but there are also the options of a permanent double or single bed which means dining outside all the time or using a folding table and the bed as a seat. Keep in mind this is lightweight caravanning!
I like the idea of the cabinet with the 80L Waeco fridge with cupboard and microwave oven above and floor locker below. The fridge size doesn’t mean extended remote stays will be easy but the van really isn’t designed for that and it does offer the benefit of extra storage space in a small area.
A little surprise in the kitchen bench is the lack of a cooktop, there is just a stainless steel sink. You could, of course, use the external Weber barbecue for everything but I suspect that most travellers will want even just a two-burner hob and one of those combo sink/cooktop units should fit in nicely.
Under the benchtop there’s a generous amount of general storage with four drawers and a double-door cupboard. Along with the overhead lockers, the kitchen storage scores quite well.
A little surprisingly, the Pluto has a bathroom with a separate shower cubicle. I was expecting a combo setup but there is indeed a Thetford cassette toilet with a dry floor. Also a cabinet on the wall with a towel rail below.
For a weekend van, the Pluto is surprisingly well equipped. It comes with a 100L water tank, one 120Ah deep cycle battery and a 200W solar panel, so getting away from it all for a short period is quite easy. The Duoetto water heater runs off 12V DC or 240V AC, so that might be a consideration in terms of battery capacity.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Compared to most typical Australian-built vans, the Pluto looks quite small. However, that should not be seen as a derogatory comment, because it is really designed as a weekend escape machine/short-term tourer. Size not withstanding, the van is packed with features and comes with the considerably handy features of being relatively lightweight and very compact for both towing and storage. Good things come in small packages and all that!
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 5.1m (16ft 9in)
External body length 3.3m (11ft)
External body width 2.1m (6ft 11in)
Travel height 2.55m (8ft 4in)
Internal height 1.90m (6ft 2in)
ATM 1400kg (maximum with the mechanical override brake system)
Payload 320kg (with a full tank of water and full LPG cylinder)
Ball weight 55kg (with a full tank of water and full LPG cylinder)
Cladding Closed cell foam fibreglass composite panel that is fully insulated
Chassis DuraGal (all RHS Australian steel)
Suspension Eye-to-eye leaf springs, with option to upgrade to AL-KO Enduro independent trailing arm (for offroad use)
Coupling 50mm ball
Brakes Mechanical override, with option to upgrade to electric and increase ATM to 1600kg
Battery 1x120Ah, with option to add more
Solar 1x200W with 30A solar regulator
Sway control No
Kitchen Weber Q100
Fridge Waeco 80L
Microwave Standard 25L (900W)
Bathroom Thetford cassette plus flexible hose shower
Hot water Duoetto Mk2 12V/240V 10L
PRICE AS SHOWN
$30,990 (driveaway, QLD)
To enquire about this caravan, please phone (07) 3200 5535