When we consider the major caravan manufacturing centres in Australia, we generally think of Melbourne and southern Queensland, with a couple of outliers in western Sydney. But it might surprise some readers that some of our most innovative and capable offroad vans originate from the regional city of Albury on the banks of the Murray River.
Mountain Trail began 14 years ago as a formidable camper trailer builder, and has evolved into a leader in luxury offroad caravans.
When Nick Edwards and wife Heidi were planning the evolution from their successful camper trailer range into full-size caravans, they were determined to take a fresh approach. So, deliberately avoiding the local scene, they ventured to Europe for ideas on technology and design.
“I didn’t want to be accused of copying what was out there in the local market, so I went overseas to see what we could add to our own ideas of what a van should be,” Edwards said.
Their campers broke new ground as the first ones with an electrically opening rear fold. Together with its aluminium construction, the EDX won the 2016 Camper Trailer of the year for our sister publication, Camper Australia. The LXV 3.7 Hybrid then went on to win Campers hybrid of the year in 2018.
Two years of development and a massive commitment to new equipment led to the launch of three full-size caravans in 2015 and eventually a range of seven vans and the EDX camper.
At 18ft internal length, the LXV 5.7 on review sits as the largest of three models in the Hybrid range that includes 15ft couples and family versions. An exterior kitchen might classify the 5.7 as a hybrid, but even so, these Mountain Trails take the concept to levels of luxury and build quality not customarily seen in dedicated offroaders.
Edwards’ pursuit of quality has driven him to bring almost all of the build process in house. A team of one electrical and four mechanical engineers work to continually improve concepts and facilitate custom builds. Using Finite Engineering Analysis and 3D modelling in Solidworks, the crew can model a van that falls within 20kg of its design parameters when completed.
As well as designing and building their own chassis and suspension, there are CNC cutters for metal, materials and the composite walls. The laser-cut chassis members have sections removed in non-stress areas to save up to 80kg of metal and 20kg of galvanising on the 5.7.
Building the RVs is a 50-strong workforce across four factories, and there’s even a team of four in the sewing section making all the soft furnishings and trims. Galvanizing of the chassis is handled by an Albury business and is one of the few processes not conducted in-house.
The trailing suspension arms are designed and built in-house and fitted with airbags imported from the USA. Dual EFS shock absorbers are matched to each arm, and they have a much more upright angle than most systems for a more efficient operation. The CNC-cut composite panels of the walls, floor and roof are chemically bonded to form a robust and rigid monocoque structure, with the joins are covered with a J-mould for added protection.
CNC-cut aluminium sheets make up all the internal cabinets, which are riveted and glued to add to the body’s structural integrity and ensure nothing moves over rugged terrain. Cupboard doors and drawer faces are from Italian lightweight ply and are the only timber in the van.
Because there are no joins along its length, with just a simple black midriff stripe, the white fibreglass exterior looks clean and fresh. Two large tinted windows and a white fibreglass door complement the simplicity. A sloping entry to the roofline upfront and a cutaway section low at the back introduce symmetry and style.
Despite the van’s extreme terrain DNA, there is nothing of the macho ruggedness of the current breed of offroaders. Even the lack of checkerplate along the lower edge suggests an affectation on other vans that might not be necessary. Instead of gaudy rock sliders, the lower edge is protected by unobtrusive stainless steel E-Rok structures that spread the load if this section of the van bottoms out.
Up front, we see a DO35 hitch and an extended A-frame with a large aluminium toolbox for gas bottles, jerry cans, a diesel tank for the heater, and a large carpet-lined general storage space.
The external kitchen is housed in three hatches along the passenger side in keeping with the hybrid theme. A large fridge is at the front, with a slide-out panty central, and the stainless steel kitchen slides out then swings around to make a well-organised cooking space with an electric awning overhead for weather protection. Wings fold out each side of the kitchen to provide valuable preparation space, and there’s a three-burner cooktop and a large sink with hot and cold water.
The clean look of the fibreglass wall panels carries over to a neat, modern interior, and despite the narrow 2.04m internal width, there is plenty of room to move — the only compromise seems to be at the north-south queen bed, where there isn’t room for walkways along the sides. But, crawling over from the foot of the bed won’t be a problem for the more agile.
Colour options for joinery and leather trim are the dark grey in the review van as well as white and light grey. Light grey laminate on the bench and dinette table provide contrast, and the timber finish of the floor covering adds some warmth to the design.
A unique feature of the 5.7 is that there are no vents anywhere to eliminate dust entry. 'What about gas laws?' you might ask. The answer is, there is no gas appliance inside. The pared-back kitchen has only a sink, and the heater is diesel (an induction cooktop is an option). Doing away with vents ensures no dust leaks but as an added protection, a 12V fan pressurises the cabin as soon as the van is connected to the tow vehicle.
This latest version of the 5.7 has a face-to-face dinette on the driver side and the long kitchen bench opposite. The aluminium construction is on show in all the cupboards and drawers.
With an 820kg payload and expectations of extended off-grid travel, storage needs to be adequate, and the Mountain Trail fits the bill. Running across the back of the van, alongside the rear combination shower and toilet, are cupboards with heaps of space as well as a washing machine and an 85L compressor fridge. On top of that, two large driver side hatches will handle fold-up chairs and tables and some rescue gear.
The whole point of the van is to get to remote places along rough and narrow winding tracks and then stay there for extended peace to enjoy the serenity. So how does it stack up?
Pretty well, I think. There’s 740W of solar power on the roof to charge a bank of 360Ah lithium batteries located under a dinette seat. That’s a good amount of energy, especially considering lithium's efficiency. In addition, a 3000W pure sine wave inverter will run the air conditioner and cooktop when needed.
There’s a total 210L of freshwater, so that should last a while, and the 85L grey tank will keep you environmentally friendly in the wilderness.
When Nick threw me the keys to the Ford F150 hooked to the van and said, “See you later,” I was a little taken back. The big black vehicle looked like a handful and was so new it hadn’t yet had a van in tow.
But when he pointed out his daughter’s L-plates on the dashboard, I accepted he didn't have too much emotion invested — even if the combined value of van and car would buy a small unit on Hamilton Island.
After a tour of much of Hume Weir, the attraction of an American ute was clear. There’s power to burn from the big petrol V8, and the comfort is supreme, making towing a breeze. The narrow track of the 570 sat within the body of the Ford, making tow mirrors unnecessary, but the conversion to right-hand drive meant the passenger side mirror lacked the wide-angle that would offer a better view when turning.
The van towed ideally along the open road at legal speed and up steep hills in the narrow sections around the lake without any sway or pitching. Similarly, it was smooth and well balanced over the dirt tracks we found, although the turning circle of the 150 was somewhat limited.
Tare is 2680kg, which is pretty reasonable considering the amount of equipment on board. A generous 820kg payload takes the ATM to 3500kg, so there's the potential for larger 4WDs and many of the current crop of utes to tow the 5.7, as long as consideration is given to weight distribution and gross vehicle mass.
Mountain Trail has an excellent reputation amongst owners. The vans are backed up with a two-year structural warranty and five years on the chassis and suspension; so with team members dedicated to customer satisfaction you should be ensured of a trouble-free run.
At $164,990, the Mountain Trail 5.7 might not be for everyone, but I’ve rated it highly for value simply because of its unique place as a well-engineered offroad van with a top-shelf fitout.
I often wonder at the proliferation of big, heavy vans in our market, and for me, this van is ideal for many reasons. The narrower than usual width ensures better travel on narrow tracks without adversely affecting liveability inside. The combination shower and toilet is a sensible use of space. The composite build makes absolute sense for its thermal properties and a long-lasting van without any durability problems of timber. And finally, the weight is appropriate for rough road travel as long as you pack sensibly.
Overall, the hyper hybrid will suit the more adventurous offroad traveller who has the means to see it as a long-term investment that should hold its value for years to come.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 7.24m (23ft 9in)
Internal body length 5.51m (18ft)
Internal body width 2.04m (6ft 8in)
Travel height 2.95m (9ft 8in)
Internal height 1.97m (6ft 6in)
ATM kg 3500kg
Ball weight 180kg
Ball weight to Tare 6.87 per cent
Chassis 150 x 50mm hot dipped galvanised
Suspension Air bag Trailing arm independent
Brakes 12 electric
Water 1 x 125L and 1 x 75L fresh, 85L greywater
Battery 360Ah Lithium
Cooking External kitchen only
Fridge 90L and 120L
Washing machine Yes
Hot water Yes
PRICE FROM $159,000
OPTIONS FITTED NIL
PRICE AS SHOWN $159,000
Mountain Trail RV
838 Knight Rd, Albury NSW
Ph: 02 60404488