The new Base Series from Zone RV has everything you expect from Zone RV wrapped up in a neat package that belies its name.
I t was mid-June, i.e. winter, and I had just spent the day cruising around the bush tracks that run behind Lake Cootharaba and the headwaters of the Noosa River, before hitting the pristine sands of Rainbow Beach in Queensland.
There were people swimming and picnicking on the beach. Others were indulging in a spot of skurring behind a tinny, while several groups were trying their best to catch dinner. It was at that point that everything fell into place. It really is no coincidence that the sunshine state gets overrun by southerners every winter with caravans in tow.
Speaking of caravans, that's why I was up here, and I'm sure what we were towing will be of particular interest to quite a few of you.
I had spent the day with Dave Biggar from Zone RV. Hitched up behind his dual cab LandCruiser ute was the brand spanking new ZB-20.6 Base Series. And when I say brand new, I mean it. The Base Series is a new concept from Zone RV, and this 20.6 was the very first unit ever built, with the finishing touches only applied on the previous Friday.
LET'S GET SOMETHING STRAIGHT
This all-new van from Zone RV is the Base Series, not a base model. For those of you familiar with the Zone RV brand, you know that there is nothing 'base model' about a Zone RV caravan. These guys and girls are at the cutting edge when it comes to materials and processes used in the construction of their caravans or hard-bodied campers.
Base has been used as the name for this range of caravans to signify ‘base camp’. It’s the sort of van you can haul up to Lorella Springs and park up for a couple of weeks while you fish and explore the area before returning to your ‘base’ each night.
ON ROAD MANNERS, OFF ROAD CRED
The test loop that we put the Base through had a little bit of everything — there's a very good chance I'll not only return here for another review, but also for a weekend away.
After leaving Zone HQ at Coolum, we made our way north towards Tewantin via the Sunshine Motorway. As you'd expect from a van with a tare of 2420kg, it was barely noticeable thanks to the grunt of the V8 Cruiser.
For those of you familiar with this stretch of road, you'll know that the 100km/h sections are interspersed with several roundabouts, before it makes its way into the town centre of Tewantin. This gave me a good indication of how well the van performed across the full gamut of typical bitumen driving.
We still had a bit more bitumen to traverse as we continued towards the forestry areas to the west of Lake Cootharaba before hitting the dirt.
Hard and fast gravel sections that wove their way among pockets of sub-tropical rainforest were soon replaced by dirt roads cutting back and forth through pine forest plantations as we approached the turn off to Harrys Hut.
It was at this point we stopped to let some air out of the tyres, as this section of road along the Cooloola Way deteriorates and is designated as a 'Dry Weather Only' road. Thankfully for us, there hadn't been a lot of rain lately.
With pressures dropped, we continued along Cooloola Way through varied terrain and road surfaces before tackling a water crossing through the upper reaches of the Noosa River. Shortly after, we made our way onto the bitumen for the final run into Rainbow Beach and then it was time to hit the sand.
Our timing was perfect, with the tide on its way out, allowing us stress free running on the hard sand south towards the Coloured Sands and Double Island Point.
After a quick stop for lunch, a few pics and putting the drone up for some killer shots of our Queensland winter, we packed it all up and took the Leisha Track across to Teewah Beach for the final 40km run south to Noosa North Shore.
Over all surfaces, the Base performed flawlessly and once again thanks to the low tare, the soft sand of the cuttings proved to be no problem.
DIFFERENT, BUT SAME
With the introduction of the new Base Series, you'll notice that they share a lot of similarities to the rest of the Zone RV range. But there are also some differences that the design team has opted for to offer more simplicity than ever. Let's start with the chassis.
The Base utilises the same chassis that can be found under all other Zone RV vans. Instead of being finished with Raptor coating, a simple hot dipped galvanised chassis and integrated draw bar is used. The 6in chassis rail runs from front to back, while non-structural, CNC folded cross members help keep weight down while offering optimal strength.
Sitting atop the A-frame is a powder coated aluminium toolbox with a slide out on each side. On top of the toolbox, there's a rack for wet and dirty items or your firewood.
Located behind the easily removed full width stone guard are a pair of 4.5kg gas bottles and there's a freshwater tap below. Connection to the tow vehicle is taken care of by a DO35 hitch from Cruisemaster.
Another area that has been simplified with the Base is the suspension.
Zone RV use Cruisemaster suspension exclusively, and on other models the choice is up to you, based on your requirements, style of touring and ultimately, budget.
With the Base, you get the tried and trusted Cruisemaster suspension, but your choice is either coils or airbags with the XT range of independent trailing arm suspension. Having this part standardised keeps the cost down, without compromising the ride or towing performance.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Sitting on top of the galvanised chassis is a single piece fibreglass panel. No screws here, with the panel being fully glued to the chassis and cross members below. Sometimes I can be accused of being a bit picky when it comes to the underside of vans and how they are finished off. So, I took a great deal of pleasure in seeing the production line at the Zone RV factory from the start and just how much care and attention is inbuilt into the process.
When the floor panel arrives at the factory, it has already been CNC routed for all service penetrations. All neat and tidy. Plates with banks of cable glands are installed and underneath, the fittings are recessed into the panel for maximum protection. These penetrations are sealed to ensure no dust or water ever makes its way inside the van.
Also borrowed from other Zone RV caravans is the use of an automotive grade wiring harness that is tailor made for each Base. This factory style loom comes fully sheathed and is protected underneath the van when run through larger PVC tubing. Having a loom like this makes install, and, in the event of a problem, diagnosing the fault a far simpler task.
Elsewhere underneath the van, the wiring, plumbing and gas lines are bundled tightly together and run in such a way that a potential snag is highly improbable.
The water tanks (which undergo a full pressure and water test at the factory prior to install) are mounted over the axles for optimal weight distribution. The Base gets a 90L freshwater and 100L grey tank as standard. Given the amount of payload that you have available with a Base (1080kg calculated) I think an extra water tank or two would be high on my list for extended trips into the bush. Both tanks are protected by an aluminium checkerplate shroud and supported by an aluminium 'C' channel.
Remember earlier how I said that I was picky? Well, in my opinion the only fault under the Base is that the threaded rods holding the water tanks up were too long. While the chance of them getting hung up on an obstacle is unlikely, there's still a chance. Dave agreed.
Zone RV caravans are made from the inside out, and the Base is no different — it starts with the chassis, followed by the floor, the plumbing and wiring and then all of the cabinets and furniture are bonded to the floor. This creates a seriously strong structure.
This construction technique also allows for the plumbing, wiring and gas lines to be installed in cavities behind the cabinets for a very neat finish. Access panels inside the cabinets are provided for upgrades and servicing.
Once cabinets are in and services run, the single piece fibreglass walls and roof are bonded to the main caravan structure for maximum strength. Unlike other manufacturers, the single piece roof of the Base is also the front and back walls too — limiting joins limits possible leaks.
Before heading inside to check out the interior of the Base, let's quickly run our eye over the exterior.
One of the first things I noticed was the absence of the Raptor coating around the lower section of the van. Quizzing Dave on this, he told me the application of the Raptor coat requires up to an additional 40 hours of prep work. He also informed me, that while it is a tough membrane, it can still get damaged and requires maintenance.
With the inherent strength of the fibreglass sandwich panel walls, it was deemed that the addition of the Raptor coat was not required. In the event of the fibreglass being damaged, it is easily patch repairable and colour matched.
External living space comes courtesy of a near full length manually operated awning that provides shade and protection over the AV entertainment area and fold down picnic table.
For those wanting to indulge in a little outside cooking, you'll be happy to know that the full-width tunnel boot up the front can have one of four different slide-out BBQ options fitted.
The humble spare wheel carrier doesn't miss out either when it comes to good design. The 20.6 Base comes with one as standard but can easily be optioned to include a second. Normally, the wheel carrier is a basic single arm with three studs to secure the spare. What you'll find on the Base is a galvanised A-frame with support arms to take the weight of the wheel and tyre as you align the wheel studs. It’s a simple solution that will no doubt save a lot of huffing and puffing.
When it is time to step inside, you won't be disappointed. Zone have built a reputation for being a leader in cutting edge interior styling and design, and with the new Base Series nothing has changed.
Even though the 20.6 is a familiar front bed, rear ensuite layout, there are the typical Zone touches throughout. Clean, modern lines, recessed LED strip lighting and neutral tones create an inviting mood and somewhere you would be happy to retreat to at the end of a day spent exploring outback tracks.
Providing glimpses of the outside world and plenty of ventilation are large double-glazed windows, complete with fly screens and block out blinds. One thing I particularly liked was the fact they were fitted with gas struts — no fiddling around with thumb screws or the like — and the struts were matched perfectly to the windows so they could be opened to any position.
The kitchen boasts a mass of storage space with soft-close drawers and slide-out pantries. And I do like the style of handles that are used in the Base — nicely rounded so you don't snag your clothes as you walk past.
Cooking duties are taken care of by a Thetford three burner gas cooktop and an under-bench mounted microwave. Keeping your food fresh and cold is the Bushman 190L dual compressor fridge/freezer.
The full width ensuite across the back of the van blends seamlessly with the living area, with its all-white finish giving the impression of a much larger space. Once again, there is a lot of space to store your linen and toiletries. In place of the traditional hinged shower door, a retractable shower screen is used, allowing for far easier access.
Hiding under the dinette/lounge seats and in the overhead cupboards above, are a couple of items never seen before in a Zone RV van — REDARC products!
This Base was running the RedVision TVMS (Total Vehicle Management System) paired with the Manager30 BMS (Battery Management System). The RedVision TVMS is an optional upgrade for the Base Series.
Together, this system monitors the 240Ah AGM battery power and charges it through the 360W of solar, the 30A DC/DC charger and 240V battery charger.
Another cool bit of electronic gadgetry the Base sports is a Hummingbird GPS trailer Odometer. You can find it located next to the RedVision control panel and the water tank gauge in the overhead cupboard. This unit allows for the caravan to be GPS tracked to accurately record the distance it has travelled. This will greatly benefit the owner as customisable service intervals can be added. A buzzer alerts the owner when the service interval has been reached.
THE BOTTOM LINE
With the Base Series, Zone RV have opted to simplify the process, not only by what goes into making one of their vans, but also the model range and available optional upgrades.
The Base comes in a 17ft single axle, an 18ft 6in and 20ft 6in dual axle and the 20ft 6in dual axle family varieties.
Pricing starts at $79,900 for the 17ft with the 20ft 6in as tested retailing at $89,900. To now be able to park a Zone RV caravan in your driveway for under $100K is going to make this premium brand more accessible than ever.