Over the years I have reviewed more than half a dozen Highline Caravans for various publications. On top of that, the team there has been participants in the Caravan World Best Aussie Vans events, and it’s only a brave and confident builder that fronts those judges.
In all of my contact with Vlad and his brother Alex, I have been impressed by their passion and professional approach to building caravans. That passion and commitment show through in the vans and they are always seeking ways to make each new model more usable and appropriate for customers.
They seek feedback from dealers and customers about changes can they make, and they always ask what we think about the van. And with Vlad and Alax, it’s not just for show — often down the track they will point out a detail and say, “Look we changed that like you suggested.”
When I met them for this review of the new Apocalypse 22, Vlad and new in-house designer, Sujay (or Jay) George, who has degrees in Urban Design and Digital Architecture, were pretty excited about the livery of their latest model. “We took the design from an early British warship, but added some colour to make it stand out.” So, the new graphics are a mix of camouflage and bling that I think looks amazing. In a world of black and grey offroaders, the Highline might set a new trend.
A set of rock sliders, rear wood carrier and the alloy wheels are colour coded to the blue of the side graphics. This adds to the overall impact and helps tie everything neatly together.
Construction sees Meranti timber in the frame of the walls and roof, while the floor is a honeycomb composite that’s stiff and light. The Apocalypse is unusual in that it has a flat floor that does away with the wheel arches inside the van and gives the designers scope to lay out the interior to its best advantage.
The timber frame is finished with a protective coating to guard against deterioration and the void between the frame is filled with insulation before the composite cladding goes on.
The roof is a single sheet of fibreglass and the team pays particular attention to sealing the joins at all the edges before a final J-mould covering is applied.
Like many Melbourne caravan builders, Highline take the view that a timber frame has many advantages as long as it is sealed well from the weather. Vlad believes that the flexibility that Meranti offers is important in an offroad van. Timber is also light and relatively less expensive to build. and this is an important factor for many buyers.
Cruisemaster’s excellent DO35 hitch connects the rig to the tow vehicle, so there is plenty of articulation when travelling rough ground. AL-KO Electronic Stability Control is a standard fitting and a great safety feature. A stone guard runs ahead of a set of 9kg gas bottles with custom aluminium jerry can holders, embossed with the Highline brand, each side. Further back is a wide toolbox with a slide out for a generator and plenty of storage on the other side. I also noted a diesel fuel tank mounted here for the Webasto heater inside the cabin.
Along the passenger side we find a stainless steel Swift slide out kitchen in a tunnel boot, a picnic table and entertainment hatch with the usual TV, 12V and 240V points. An electrically operated Dometic awning runs the length of the van and LED lights are placed strategically at both ends and under the awning.
A single spare sits on the rear bar and that wood carrier we spoke of runs right across the back, so it has plenty of capacity.
Over on the driver side is a hatch that uses some unused space in the ensuite and is just the right size for some folding chairs. A Safety Dave rearview camera is standard, sitting high over the spare wheel.
The body is mounted on a heavy-duty Roadrunner Chassis with 100 x 50mm main rails and A-frame, which is fairly conventional for a big offroad van. But the tandem Roadrunner independent suspension is in a cradle that's bolted onto the chassis as a unique unit rather than being welded onto crossbeams. Substantial trailing arms with coils handle the wheel travel and twin shock absorbers at each of the 16in alloy wheels soften the ride.
Two 95L water tanks and a 95L grey tank sit high between the chassis rails and all the plumbing and electrics look neat and sensibly located out of the way of flying sticks and stones.
White walls, ceiling, and high cupboards splash light around the interior for a bright and light impression when you step aboard. Satin finish dark grey doors on the lower cupboards add a natural balance, while light-coloured timber benchtops and accents bring in the modern look that’s all the rage at present. Caramel leather covering the roomy L-shaped lounge continues the warm impact of the timber.
The layout follows the popular theme of a rear entry and a full width ensuite at the back and the bed up front. Length is 22ft, so the van is longer than the average we see these days and you see the benefit of the extra size in the longer lounge, larger dining table and a bit of extra room at the kitchen bench.
Appliances include a 23L NCE flatbed microwave and a Swift stove with cooktop, grill and oven, which will suit long-term travellers who like their home style cooking. Opposite the entry is a decent size 180L Thetford fridge/freezer and a floor to ceiling slide out pantry which looks like it will hold plenty of supplies.
A black sink and drainer with matching designer tap add to the contemporary décor. Extra touches like a Dometic dust Reduction System in the roof, a Wi-Fi router and lots of USB plugs enhance the liveability of the van.
At the bed there are well-placed nooks to the side for phones and books, but the Webasto diesel heater and batteries and chargers take up most of the storage space under the bed. It should be noted though, that the installation of the Enerdrive electronics system is very professionally executed.
Down at the ensuite, rather than a sliding door seen in most vans, the timber door opens out into the living area- one of the examples of following customer feedback. By doing away with a sliding door, you get an extra 40mm of room in the ensuite when drying off after a shower. It all counts in a caravan, after all.
The modern look continues in the bathroom and you even get a full-length mirror on the back of the entry door. The shower is a single piece fibreglass unit and a 3.5kg washer sits under the roomy vanity. Ventilation comes from two roof-mounted hatches with fans and a high window over the toilet.
If you are planning to head bush in the next apocalypse then, presuming the sun’s still shining, there will be plenty of solar power and battery storage to last the distance. Four big 185W panels up top feed a 200Ah lithium Enerdrive battery through Enerdrive chargers and monitoring systems. That’s an impressive array of electronics and with plenty of grunt. Rounding out the system, there’s a 2000W inverter to run a range of 240V appliances.
True to his background in Architecture, Jay was keen to see the new van photographed in an urban environment, so most of our driving was on the highways and backroads of northern Melbourne.
The company VW Amarok easily had us at highway speeds and the van was smooth and well-balanced with lots of braking power when needed. Tare is a pretty hefty 2980kg, so you are going to need a decent tow vehicle even when the van is empty. With an ATM of 3500kg you get a 510kg payload, so with the water and gas tanks full, you have around 300kg for the rest of your stuff which will be minimal for most of us.
With the relatively low payload in mind, Highline offers a free upgrade to a 4400kg ATM. All that’s needed is to swap the hitch to a DO45 and upgrade the safety chains.
Highline offer a three-year structural warranty on the construction of the van but rely on the relevant cover of the appliance suppliers. They have dedicated warranty staff to handle issues and a network of repair agents across the country.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Drive away price is $115,000, which makes it one of the most expensive Highlines yet, but for a van of its size and equipment level that is pretty good.
The Apocalypse 22 is a big van with an outgoing personality, keen to win admirers — its lairy colour scheme will grab your attention, that’s for sure. But there’s plenty going on under the hood that will let it shine when it counts.
With the ATM upgrade and a bigger tow vehicle, couples can enjoy their time travelling long distances and living off-grid. The Apocalypse 22 will get down rough, corrugated tracks to those distant places you love. The best, while you might not be able to hide, you'll be travelling and doing it all in style and comfort.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 9.21m (30ft 2in)
External body length 6.65m (22ft)
External body width 2.33m (7ft 7in)
Travel height 3.1m (10ft 2in)
Internal height 1.94m (6ft 4in)
ATM kg 3500kg
Payload 520kg (calculated)
Ball weight 180kg
Ball weight to ATM 6 per cent
Cladding Composite Aluminium
Chassis Duragal 150 x 50mm
Suspension Tandem Independent Coil
Brakes 12in drums
Wheels 16in Alloy
Water 2 x 110L, 1 x 110L grey
Battery 200Ah Enerdrive Lithium
Solar 4 x 180W Enerdrive
Air conditioner Yes
Gas 2 x 8.5kg
Sway control AL-KO ESC
Cooking Swift stove, grill and oven
Fridge 180L Compressor Fridge freezer
Washing machine 3.5kg
Hot water Yes
OPTIONS FITTED Nil
PRICE AS SHOWN
Unit 4/87 Merola Way Campbellfield 3061
Ph: 03 93579092