For a company that didn't set out to build caravans, New Age has come a long way. When they set up in 2004 as New Age Frames & Designs, the object was to supply caravan builders in Campbellfield, Victoria, with CNC built furniture and structural frames.
But after four years, they saw a way to revolutionise the local caravan scene with modern aesthetics in line with inner-city apartment living. Gone was the rustic timber look and in was a pallette of striking colours and square finished joinery. It shook up the industry, and they haven’t looked back — they are now amongst the most prominent builders in the country, producing 2500 caravans, pop-tops and campers in 2019 alone.
Their success led Walkinshaw Automotive Group to join the party in 2018, when they were looking to diversify before the imminent demise of Holden. Walkinshaw’s expertise in automotive design and engineering includes modifying such cars as Holden Special Vehicles (HSV), running a supercar team and converting imported Camaros and Silverados to Australian standards.
Along with testing equipment, like a seven-post rig that replicates hundreds of kilometres of rough road travel in minutes, Walkinshaw has its own proving ground for real-time research and development. A dedicated clay modelling studio assists with conceptual designs and their robotic welding equipment ensures perfectly aligned and engineered chassis construction.
Included in changes to New Age RVs are the distinctive ABS moulded rear panels being introduced across the range. Also, in line with automotive practice, is the mandrel-bent chassis that forms the chassis and A-frame in a single run of steel, rather than welding the join as seen on most vans.
The van on test is the 18ft Desert Rose — there's also a 20ft version for those wanting a larger ensuite and more living space. Outlined in the brochure as an explorer’s caravan designed for longer, rougher trips, the Desert Rose has tougher underpinnings than their more sedate on-road models. While not a full offroader, the mission is to handle those long, torturous stretches of corrugated outback track that wreak havoc on any less solidly built van.
While it might sound like I’m contradicting what I have said about the modern approach the company takes to design, in some ways the Desert Rose’s exterior retains traditional elements. The new ABS rear end is there admittedly, and it looks the goods with new black moulding incorporating lights and spare tyre, but the raised profile aluminium sides hark back to a more classic styling.
That aside, the Desert Rose is unmistakably a dirt road tourer, with the almost essential livery of grey sides and black checkerplate skirts, high riding stance, black alloy wheels with chunky Cooper tyres, and a mammoth toolbox on the A-frame. If looks are any indication of performance, then the Desert Rose is ready to go to places distant and wild.
It might surprise some that this avant-garde builder sticks with timber frame construction, but despite reluctance amongst some buyers, a well-sealed Meranti construction offers the benefits of light weight and flexibility needed for offroad travel. Polystyrene insulation sits between the wall studs, and at the front a composite sheet rides over high checkerplate for protection from weather and flying stones.
In the interests of proper weight distribution, the second spare sits on the A-frame alongside the vast toolbox and a set of jerry can holders. Protected by a full-width stone guard, the box houses two 9kg gas bottles, leaving room for pesky items like mats and sundries that take up lots of room but need quick access.
The coupling is our favourite Cruisemaster DO35 fully rotating hitch, and I liked that they have included a guard for the tap and BMPro Sway control as standard.
With a full length of 150mm x 50mm hot dipped chassis and A-frame, the Desert Rose has a strong foundation. Cruisemaster XT trailing arm suspension with twin shock absorbers each side do the job of softening the ride and the 12in off road drum brakes help bring everything to a stop efficiently. Wheels are smart-looking 16in alloys with 265x75 all-terrain tyres.
This setup is de rigueur for today’s set of adventure travellers and, driven sensibly, its engineering is built to cope with some hard travel and last the distance. Tare weight is approximately 2860kg, so with an ATM of 3460kg, you get a decent 600kg payload, even taking the 238kg of water and gas capacity (presuming empty grey water tank) into account.
Underneath, checkerplate protects a pair of 110L water tanks and a grey water tank from flying rocks, but I would have liked similar protection for the PVC drainpipes. More storage is found in checkerplate toolboxes under the body, and the two 110Ah lithium batteries are similarly placed to give good access and save space inside.
As much as we have praised the modern interior — and we will get there soon — an offroad van is all about enjoying the serenity of the bush. Because of this, much of the cooking will be outside, so the Desert Rose comes with a stainless steel Dometic kitchen and handy entertainment package.
The slide-out kitchen has three gas burners and a sink with water, and there’s a handy keyless foldout picnic table further back for food prep. As well as an entertainment hatch for a television, a Fusion sound panel gives access to your Bluetooth music library. Other outside features include a rearview camera with a bright LED light for reversing or working at the back of the van at night, and a driver-side exterior shower and more lighting. Entry is via a heavy-duty three-way Dometic Columbia door and a two-stage Techno electric folding step that seemed high enough, when folded, to avoid most offroad hazards.
Even with high expectations of how great the inside should look, stepping inside was a pleasant surprise and the well-finished glossy black and white interior is right on-trend — the tough exterior really contrasts with a rocking interior that New Age invented.
Black sink and tap fittings in the kitchen and ensuite are standard items, but otherwise, your colour choices are extensive, so there should be an option that suits everyone if the review van's combination is too stark. I have a pretty conservative attitude to interior design, but even so, I liked the simplicity of the colour scheme, and I particularly liked the impeccable square-finish joinery.
There's only so much you can do with an 18ft caravan design, and the layout follows the typical trend with a rear ensuite, front bed and a central living area. The kitchen runs along the passenger side, placing a comfortable leather-clad cafe style dinette opposite. Appliances are a level above most vans and include a Thetford hybrid induction and gas cooktop, grill and oven, microwave and a 216L Dometic compressor fridge.
The dinette is a comfortable place to eat or relax, and a big window makes the most of the view. Extensions for feet-up relaxing seem sturdy and allow a comfortable position leaning against the wall to watch the 28in television.
Electronics in the van are as good as you could expect and should give reliable power for a few days even in cloudy weather. Three 150W solar panels on the roof charge the pair of 110A lithium batteries through a BMPro BP35HA smart charger, and an Odyssey control panel monitors power input and usage as well as water levels.
The ensuite is roomy enough for most folk to move around easily and the way the vanity curves inward for more room at the toilet while leaving maximum space at the floating basin for toiletries is clever. Other thoughtful touches include an easily accessible wall-mounted washing machine, frosted shower door and a soap dispenser.
ON THE ROAD
Our review took us north-east of Melbourne over motorways, winding secondary roads, some well-kept forestry tracks and a short run over farmland to simulate finding an off-grid campsite. The van towed faithfully over all terrains, as you would expect from the capable suspension. Ground clearance was suitable for the conditions, but I’d be careful on any rocky, unmade tracks, with some of the pipes and the step looking vulnerable to damage in such situations.
Most 4WD utes and, of course, the LandCruiser and Patrol will make easy work of towing. The van was unladen for our review and felt well balanced and pulled without fault, experiencing no banging or lurching over the rougher sections, and was smooth and stable at motorway speeds. Tare weight is 2860kg, so a suitable heavy-duty tow vehicle is necessary, especially if you want to extend the 600kg carrying capacity to its 3460kg limit. Check your vehicle’s gross combined limits to ensure you will be legal and safe.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Even with a price tag approaching $100k, we rate the Desert Rose as good value. Nothing has been spared in the electronics setup for extended travel, and the stylish interior will be a delight at the end of a hard day's driving.
Couples who appreciate the comfort and room to move without the pressures of a larger van will be attracted to the look and practicality of the 18-footer.