Surprising our judges with its exceptionally smooth and easy towing characteristics, the Chinese-built Snowy River SR-20 represents some of the best value for money in BAV 2019, without compromising on the essential features Aussies expect
Image credits: Phil Cerbu, Cam Innis, Marcus Cozzolino, Matt Williams
TIM VAN DUYL
Part of the Regent Caravans family, the Snowy River SR-20 is a full-blown import with only minor fitout and assembly done locally. A hard pill to swallow for some that assume imports will be of low quality; I challenge anyone to actually take a look, as we have a couple of times now.
The SR-20 should be familiar with our first look at the import published only a few issues ago. Back in our first look, reviewer Steve Keally was impressed with the volume and quality of caravan buyers got for their relatively small investment and the same stayed true at Best Aussie Vans 2019, but we uncovered more.
Steve’s first look was robust but at BAV we had more time and more people on-hand, and what we uncovered were pleasant surprises. Our crack team of judges had a helping hand understanding what we could not see from local sales rep Cam (what is is surname? - checking) who walked us through the manufacturing process and the justification of the appliances used as well as the design and importation process.
At the showcase, not one visitor to the light grey 20 footer knew Snowy River was imported and those that I spoke to were genuinely surprised to hear as much. Maybe it was that it resembled almost every other caravan on the market and that Snowy River use household names for the fridge, AC and cooking appliances. Whatever the reason, the consensus was positive, especially when they heard the price. It should come as no surprise therefore that the SR-20 did well in Value for Money, but it didn’t take that prize outright. It tied with the other sub-$65k entrant, the DesignRV Forerunner, with an average score of 8/10. An eight is a serious score, but the SR-20 did well elsewhere too.
For Liveability and Suitability for Intended Touring, the van did well, but it was in Innovation that the SR-20 surprised. I’ll give it to Snowy River, it is hard to innovate and stay price competitive. Its score of 6.5/10 may be modest but it is significant for a low-cost van and trumped its competition, who used more traditional build methods leading to a class win.
A big congratulations to the team at Regent and those that look after the design, manufacture and distribution of Snowy River. It was a close fought battle to be crowned a winner at Best Aussie Vans 2019 but the title of best van under $65k is yours, well done.
Equal cheapest in BAV 2019 at $57,990, the Snowy River SR-20 is priced well for a well-presented van with plenty of room to move and a load of inclusions, and benefits from limited use on dirt roads. While some may expect the Chinese influence in its construction to flow through to a lower price, there is no evidence of any corner-cutting in the build. In fact, all the useful inclusions for a touring couple are there and include well-known brands of appliances and fittings. Add in efficient insulation and a timber-free frame construction, and the package seems even more competitive.
The warranty is for 12 months, and covers travel on tar and formed gravel roads. While the warranty excludes items not supplied by the company, it is one of the few such documents that clearly defines that the Australian Consumer Law guarantees the customer is entitled to a refund or replacement for a major failure.
While 12 months may seem a short period against competitors, it is the same as the Australian built sister company Regent Caravans, so it should not be seen as a reflection of this being mainly a Chinese product. An extended warranty is available at extra cost.
The company has a dedicated warranty officer and a network of service agents as well as an active online owners’ group that keeps tabs on any problems and assists with advice.
Dry Weight tipped the scales at 2369kg, about 41kg over the stated Tare, which was explained as some water residue in the tanks. ATM is 2949kg, which would still make it legally towable by the Holden trailblazer. Interestingly, the Snowy measures at 2.4m (7 ft 10 in) wide so it can fit in a container for transport. This makes it slightly narrower than most vans by a handful of centimetres on each side, which gives a slight margin of error on the road.
Ground clearance is quite low, so care needs to be taken over gutters and such, but wasn't a concern on the road. During the test, the van was well balanced on the simple 50mm ball hitch without any banging or lurching.
Stronger gusts affected the Snowy River slightly, but not as much as the other similarly weighted vans on test. In sections away from the wind, the Snowy River tracked smoothly and without vice. A standard reversing camera helps on the road as well as when backing into a camping spot.
Undoubtedly the oddity in the BAV caravans this year, because this one, 6.7m (22ft) in length, is made in China. Under the van is a DuraGal box section chassis built in the somewhat familiar style with 100mm x 50mm (4in x 2in) main rails and large 150mm x 50mm (6in x 2in) drawbar rails.
If anything, given this is a road van, the chassis looks a bit over-engineered. Two battery boxes are fitted to the front offside chassis rail. Alloy checkerplate is used to protect the water tanks and also the underfloor area. Particularly in the rear area there does seem to be a fair bit of pipework fitted but for the most part, it is all neatly strapped up. What looks like Al-Ko IRS suspension is fitted to the 15in alloy wheels but I was told it was the “Chinese version”. Whatever, I reckon the IRS suspension is often underrated by potential users. Although the van pitched as a “semi off-road”, there’s a ball coupling up front.
The walls and roof have an aluminium box frame and CPX insulation which is sandwiched between 2mm fibreglass sheets and vacuum pressed into large one-piece sheets. All to improve the strength and insulation factors whilst minimising water leak potential. In this age of front tunnel storage bins, the SR 20 has the more conventional front boot.
Although the van is built in China, the appliances like the Thetford cooktop and the NCE microwave oven all look very familiar – quite a few items like this are made in China anyway. Other features like the 100AH battery and the 150W solar panel are fitted as standard features.
Generally speaking there is nothing unconventional about the layout, indeed the opposite. It comes with a full width rear bathroom, nearside L shaped dinette, offside kitchen and a front island bed. No real compromises.
I have to say that apart from a few less than obvious tells, the SR-20 looks very much like an Australian-built caravan, which might tell you something in itself.
VIV AND RON MOON
Rated as a semi-offroad van the Snowy River SR20 as it stands, straight out of the manufacturer's yard, is easily capable of taking you to your favourite hideout, whether on the beach or in the bush for a weekend or longer.
With its Al-KO-like independent rubber suspension it towed reasonably well over the lumpy bitumen we subjected the van to, which would make it reasonably comfortable behind most tow vehicles. And while it seemed to handle better than a leaf-sprung solid axle van, it wasn't as good as I had hoped or expected from what is essentially an independent setup. Maybe the spring rate (for the rubber) was wrong for this size or weight of van?
With reasonable water capacity the Snowy is lacking a grey-water tank, which would be somewhat of a hindrance once you were away from a caravan park sullage hose point. If you are planning to free camp at any of the many spots around Oz frequented by the long distance tourer this is one option you'd want to — or need to — fit.
With a stated payload of 600kg, our weigh-in showed this van (with a plated ATM of 2969kg) had a small discrepancy with a payload equivalent to 559kg. Still that is pretty good, and should be ample for any couple heading off caravanning for a week or so.
Loaded with two 9kg gas bottles along with two 95-litre water tanks you would have enough gas for a lengthy stay away from the bright lights, while the water supply would keep you going for a few days.
Power wise a solar panel feeds a 105AH AGM deep cycle battery which would allow you to stay off the grid for a short time — say a couple of nights at most — if you were favoured by good weather and were frugal with the power demands.
With its good storage space and a nice size 185-litre fridge it can carry all you need for a few days away from the supermarket. Still, it does lack bench space, and once the stove top lid is up and you are using the stove you basically have no bench space to work on.
As an unfortunate final note, in this day and age USB charging points for the host of small appliances that demand daily charging are near mandatory, but the Snowy didn't even sport one!
Coming to us from China, the Snowy River SR-20 was the only imported caravan in the Best Aussie Vans lineup for 2019. With a price of only $57,990, it comes with a pretty impressive list of standard inclusions that will surely appeal to the first time buyer, or a couple wanting to take that step up from a camper trailer.
Taking further inspiration from overseas, the build has been heavily influenced by the European and American markets, utilising design and technology commonly seen in both.
The use of AL-KO IRS (Independent Rubber Suspension) axles being just one. With a tendency for Australian manufacturers to use the tried and true leaf springs or fully independent trailing arm suspension systems, it was great to see another option being presented, and not just toeing the standard industry line.
This suspension set up, along with the electro galvanised 6in A-frame and 4in chassis, will more than adequately handle what this van is designed to be. That is, predominantly an on-road tourer that will handle the occasional foray onto a graded dirt road. Limited ground clearance will put a stop to anything more adventurous before finding the limitations of the suspension.
Also bucking the conventional trend of a meranti frame and aluminium cladding, the body of the Snowy River SR-20 is constructed with an aluminium box frame and XPS foam insulation. This is sandwiched between 2mm thick fibreglass sheets, giving a fully insulated panel measuring in at 33mm. A one piece 33mm thick roof and a 43mm thick composite panel floor ensures maximum insulation against both the hot and the cold.
While the low price point is attractive and will no doubt get your attention, buyers need to be aware that compromises will have to be made. Standardised layouts with little room for change and limited interior finishes being just two. A lack of 12V and USB charging points inside the van being another.
However, the interior is bright, open and airy with big windows, gloss finishes and a modern colour palette used throughout. There’s plenty of storage and the four tier pull out pantry is a standout.
So, the Snowy River SR-20 is here to stay and will continue to provide the consumer with plenty of bang for their buck, while giving the Aussie manufacturers a run for their money.
Snowy River SR-20
VALUE FOR MONEY
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING
HOLDEN HAULED — Ged Bulmer
Fuel consumption 16.6L/100km
Tow rating 4/5
Just as the shortfalls of the Regent Cruiser’s leaf spring suspension setup became apparent quickly out on the test loop, so too did the excellence of the Snowy River’s twin torsion-beam suspension. Despite it being just the fourth of eight vans towed on the day, we immediately declared it “the best van yet”, which was clearly premature with half the field still untested. However, it did indicate that the Snowy River’s composure behind the Trailblazer immediately put driver and passenger at ease, thanks to its impressive stability and the reduced adverse impact this had on vehicle handling.
The 2410kg van was the second lightest on test but still obviously heavy enough to have an impact on vehicle handling and performance. However, there was nowhere near as much of the pendulum and yaw movement as experienced in the Essential and Regent.
Sideways movement caused by strong wind gusts were noticeable, as it was with all our vans, but the big difference was that the Snowy River seemed to ride the bumps without generating the ball shock and pendulum-effect of the other vans. Despite this, the Snowy River’s average tow speed at 51.2km was inexplicably one of the slowest laps (7th), which may have aided it to the third best fuel consumption at 16.6L/100km.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length: 8.5m (27ft 10in)
External body length 6.7m (22ft)
External body width 2.4m (7ft 10in)
Travel height: 3.05m (10ft)
Interior height: 1.99m (6ft 6in)
Ball weight: 141kg
Suspension: AL-KO torsion
Coupling: AL-KO 3.5-tonne ball
Brakes: 12in electric
Water: 2 x 95L (fresh)
Battery: 1 x 100Ah
Solar: 1 x 120W
Air-conditioner: Houghton Belaire
Gas: 2 x 9kg
Sway control: Dexter is optional (not on review van)
Cooking: Recessed Thetford MK111 mini grill
Fridge: N3185 Thetford 185L
Microwave: NCE 20L
Bathroom: Thetford toilet and fibreglass shower
Hot water: Suburban gas/electric
No extra options fitted.
PRICE AS SHOWN
$57,990 on road, Victoria
For more information about this van, please contact:
NSW: 02 4421 2055
VIC: 03 9798 3954
SA: 08 8277 4388
QLD: (07) 5356 5000
TAS: (03) 6343 4191