If you go back prior to 2008, by today’s standards caravans were a pretty bland bunch, with traditional timber finishes and staid picture frame cupboards almost standard over most brands. When the original owners of New Age saw an opportunity to liven things up with vogue colours and modern apartment-style furnishings, they turned the caravan industry on its head. Before long, most builders followed suit with CNC built decor in lightweight poplar ply, and today timber is a novelty.
When the Walkinshaw group bought out the New Age brand, they brought several innovations from their experience in the automotive industry, and the company continues to lead the charge on the mid-range caravan front. High on the list of changes has been a mandrel-bent chassis that gives an uninterrupted run of 150mm x 50mm steel back to the suspension mounts for a much more reliable connection. In comparison, most chassis builders weld the section where the A-frame and chassis members meet. Crossbeams are C-section steel, engineered for strength but with holes punched to save weight. Once completed, the whole chassis is hot-dipped galvanised for a lifetime of tough travel.
The second noticeable improvement is an automobile inspired rear end that is neatly moulded around the taillights. The spare wheel is also integrated into the back panel in a much neater way.
When New Age told me the Manta Ray range of caravans was their biggest seller and that the 19ft S3 version topped the list of those 11 models between 16ft and 22ft, it made sense. This 19ft size is the smart choice for travelling couples because it packs all the essential features in a van that is easy and light to tow. It was especially impressive behind a Pajero Sport, which proved to be a comfortable but sturdy tow vehicle still agile enough for a daily ride around town and parking in crowded shopping centres.
From the outside, the Manta Ray cuts a fine figure with well-proportioned looks and the standard snappy, bright blue colours at either end — but you can choose other colours to personalise your van. A skirt of black checkerplate runs along the sides, and the body is finished in raised profile aluminium sheets in a contrasting white.
For a more up-to-date look, flat composite is an option but comes with around an 80kg weight penalty. That extra weight is vital in a touring van because any additional item in the build will come off your available payload unless the suspension and other components are upgraded.
The frame is a traditional Meranti timber construction with thick foam insulation in the gaps between the noggins. Timber is popular amongst Australian builders because it is light and has a degree of flex to cope with rough roads. Properly sealed and maintained, a timber frame should last for decades, and I'm assured New Age takes extra care at the corner mouldings to keep moisture out.
Our review van had a few more rugged additions including a Cruisemaster DO35 hitch and a large alloy toolbox at the A-frame, where I also noticed a tap, which was sensibly fitted with a stone guard. The suspension is an AL-KO tandem system with beam axles and load sharing leaf springs.
Wheels are smart-looking black and polished-silver alloys, while tyres are 235x75 in an all-terrain pattern. New Age logos etched into the spokes add to the appeal.
Twin 110L water tanks and a greywater tank have checkerplate shrouds. The water pump lives under the body to save space inside, and it too has a metal guard that leaves plenty of room for servicing.
MOST POPULAR COUPLES LAYOUT
With a rear door and front bedroom, the review van is the ideal layout for couples, as it places the ensuite near the entry for easy access when outside and lends some privacy to the bedroom. I liked that there’s a sliding curtain to close the bed off when needed.
The overall impression of a modern look and conservative white and grey colours should stay fresh for years. At the same time, attention to detail can be seen in the tightly fitting cupboard doors and neatly lined interiors as well as the way the fridge fits neatly into the cabinetry. Drawers and doors have quality hardware, and the self-close doors add a feeling of quality.
The central living space includes a cafe dinette with flip-up seat extensions to spread out in comfort when relaxing or to watch television. Hatches below the dinette seats can be easily accessed for storing bulky items, like cans of food or drink, needed for long trips away. Because these are located right over the wheels, it makes for sensible weight distribution.
Central to the kitchen is a decent size bench with a sink large enough for big pots and pans and a big draining board that adds to the food preparation space. A Camec rangehood sits over a Thetford grill and cooktop, and there’s an optional pot drawer below, but you could swap this for a full oven if you prefer. Positioning the microwave at a low height with a bench below is an excellent example of how builders can match practicality and safety. It's easy to reach, and you are less likely to spill hot items all over yourself.
New Age has made use of every nook and cranny to add to storage. A low cupboard at the entryway is a neat idea that makes use of a dead spot and the map pocket on the wall is handy for keys and such.
Big windows either side of the bed and an even bigger one at the dinette create a light and airy feeling and take the best advantage of the views on offer. The island bed has a custom innerspring mattress, and access is good from both sides. A high shelf has room for phones, and there's a 12V charger here and handy USB points beside the bed. The bed lifts to more storage, and the heavy-duty gas struts meant I could easily lift the mattress and base with one hand.
Contemporary styling continues in the ensuite where a curved vanity top maximises elbowroom at the toilet and allows space for a funky floating rectangular bowl as well as toiletries and personal items. Storage includes overhead lockers, a cupboard under the sink and low shelves on the back wall. Ventilation is excellent with a high window and an extractor fan over the wall-mounted washing machine.
The moulded shower includes a second extractor fan in the roof and a 150mm lip at the door to keep water from splashing into the main room.
LIMITED OFF-GRID LIVING
The Manta Ray will probably spend most of its life hooked up to caravan park power, but a single 150W solar panel and 100Ah battery will let you stay off-grid for a few days, or more if there is plenty of sunshine to recharge the battery. A Trek panel at the doorway keeps you up to speed with battery charging and water levels, and the main BMPRO charger is in a cupboard over the kitchen sink. The installation looks neat and professional, and all the electric and gas fittings are correctly certified.
ON THE ROAD
Our review took us into the rural roads of East Gippsland and into the urban area of Lakes Entrance. The van was at minimum weight for the test and was well balanced and towed perfectly behind the sporty compact Pajero. There was no sway or lurching over the secondary roads and through winding bends it tracked faithfully. On the highway, at legal speeds, it also behaved impeccably.
Price starts at $67,490, which is around the midpoint for this size van. As tested, it is $72,277 with several options including the DO35 hitch, extended A-frame with a toolbox, reversing camera, pot drawer, and seat footrests, all of which are useful additions. Couples planning to spend extended time on the road will be drawn to a high build quality and superior engineering under the van. The contemporary interior finish will be easy to live with and should stay fresh for years to come.
The 19ft Manta Ray is a sensible size and weight for a tour around the country, and with an ATM of 3200kg, it will match a lot of the conventional 4WD tow vehicles without pushing the boundaries.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
External length 8m (24ft 4in)
External Body length 5.8m (19ft 4in)
External width 2.5m (8ft 2in)
Internal height 2.03m (6ft 8in)
Travel height 2.95m (9ft 8in)
Ball weight 180kg
Frame Meranti Timber
Cladding Raised profile Aluminium
Chassis Walkinshaw Engineered hot-dip galvanised chassis
Suspension Rocker Roller
Brakes 12in Drums
Wheels/tyres 15in Federal Couragia tyres
Water 2 x 110L fresh, 1 x 110L grey
Battery 1 x 100Ah
Solar 1 x 150W
Air-conditioner Gree reverse cycle
Gas 2 x 9kg
Sway control BMPRO SwayControl
Cooking Cooktop – gas-only mini grill
Fridge Thetford 171L 3-way fridge
Microwave NCE Flatbed 23L microwave
Lighting Yes (external annex lights, boot lights, internal LED)
Hot water Yes (gas/electric)
Toolbox with extended A-Frame
Pot Drawer under Grill / Stove
Lift Up Footrests
PRICE AS TESTED
New Age Caravans Melbourne
1/185–193 Hume Hwy,
Somerton, Vic 3062
P: (03) 9494 0100