Southern Star Hardcore SS21

John Ford — 2 September 2021
An aluminium frame and top-shelf suspension equip this van for offroad travel to make it hardcore in more than name only.

When Jason and his father Joe started the Titanium brand in 2012, they operated from a small shed making timber framed touring vans. Jason had just finished his plumbing apprenticeship, and Joe had many years of experience building vans behind him. In 2013 the pair decided to go in a new direction — they could see a future for offroad adventure vans and invested in tooling to build aluminium frames better suited to the harsh conditions of outback roads.

“Aluminium is stronger, lighter, can’t rot, and maintains a constant weight,” Jason said. “But it needs special tooling like stampers, riveting guns, and cutters — and not everyone can afford the investment.”

Henrob rivets interlock the 25mm C-sections of aluminium together in a way that allows the completed frame to flex without stresses that could cause cracking, making it an ideal method of construction for rough road travel. Jason is buoyed by companies like Ford, Audi, and BMW that use the same rivets in their alloy chassis — Audi introduced the method in the A8, and it’s in many thousands of the Ford F150, where they have been ultra-reliable.



Voids in the frame are filled with insulating foam, and the vans are clad in composite Alucobond that is impact resistant and easy to repair.

Joe recently retired, and according to Jason, his aim since taking the helm has been to gradually bring as much of the build process in house to continually improve quality. He now employs over 60 staff, many of whom have been with him since he went down the offroad path. Among the team are qualified electricians and plumbers, so none of the build is outsourced to exterior businesses.

“We are all passionate about the product we build,” he said. “We have an open-door policy, and visitors are welcome any time to see what we do. We make sure they are welcomed by all the staff and can ask any questions as they go around.”

Over the years the business has moved five times, finally arriving at its latest 4500sqm complex in March this year. The extra space allows for greater in-house production with better equipment and the ability to take innovation even further. For example, they now make the stainless steel exterior kitchens and can oversee quality control more effectively for the average seven vans a week they can now complete.

When I asked what he thought about the trend to increasingly heavy vans, Jason admitted he was concerned. “It’s customer-driven. Everyone wants all the extras, like numerous solar panels and batteries, outside kitchens and big fridges and the most robust suspension. If we tell them it’s too heavy, they go somewhere else, so it's hard for us. But if we think the weight will be too much, we have to say it just won't work as an offroad van. "

Exterior colours of white and black give the Southern Star a clean look

THE DEALER

A close network of dealers handles most of the sales, and our review van was courtesy of Caravans Coffs Coast at Coffs Harbour. A family-owned business overseen by Andrew Altschwager, the mid-north coast NSW dealership only handles offroad vans. It has been working with the Titanium factory on innovating and promoting the product for the last six years.

Our review van is a Hardcore model, and, like the name suggests, the van is one of the tougher versions in the Titanium range.

THE EXTERIOR

Exterior colours of white over black along the sides of the Hardcore have a clean look and make a refreshing change to the dominant dark greys of many contemporary offroad vans and their wannabe offsiders. A white van these days is almost retro, but it remains one of my favourite options — and one that’s sensible in Australia’s blasting heat.

The van looks well-proportioned from side-on with a swept-back entry and a square rear end where a high band of black checkerplate rises to the premium cladding panel which joins with the one-piece composite roof. But a narrow white stripe over the back is the only thing stopping the van from being nigh invisible at night. An unobtrusive bar has a single spare, and narrow LED rear lights add to a minimalist impression. Various logos announce the van’s brand and model, but you can’t help being amused by the cheeky Tough AF badge. Tough Aluminium Frame. Yeah, right!

The large leather lounge adds supreme comfort

Upfront we find a Cruisemaster DO35 hitch, which has become the go-to choice for offroad vans due to its easy and safe connection as well as superior articulation for extreme undulating conditions. A full-width mesh guard complete with Titanium branded mudflaps protects two 9kg gas bottles and a broad checkerplate toolbox from flying debris. There is a slide-out for a Weber barbecue on the passenger side, evidence of a dealer prepared to go the extra mile to impress. The top of the Weber is painted to match the side trim of the van as well as the wheel detail, and I bet little things like that win customers over.

On the other side of the box is a slide-out for a generator, and as seen in the accompanying images, it's the perfect size for the popular Honda EU22.

Under the van is a Supa-gal chassis that’s made up of twin rails of 100x50mm for a total of 200mm in a laminated beam- an extra sturdy base for excursions into the bush. Matching the robust chassis is a Cruisemaster XT independent suspension rated to 3700kg and with twin shock absorbers at each arm. Brakes are 12in drums, and the 16in alloy wheels have 265/75 Mud terrain tyres. All electrical and plumbing lines under the van are neatly installed and well-protected.

THE INTERIOR

At 21ft, the review van can be considered large for a couple’s offroad van, being at least 18in longer than the average. However, the advantage is extra room inside, and the layout takes full advantage by including a spacious ensuite, more usable bench space, and a roomy lounge. Placing the entry door adjacent to the bed also maximises space by using the gap at the foot of the bed but might compromise privacy in the eyes of some buyers.

Attention to detail is even more apparent inside. Joinery and upholstery are beautifully completed, and the conservative dark grey features against timber laminate countertops should appeal to a broad audience.

Bright white cupboards around the queen bed add to the light, airy feeling, and relatively narrow double windows on each side give an added touch of security. Storage nooks on each side are suitable for personal items, and USB points will keep phones powered up.

The lounge is probably where owners will best appreciate the larger van. Covered in NSW Leather Company genuine cowhide, it looks and is supremely comfortable and has room for four adults or a couple to spread out when relaxing. The timber top table is also a decent size, and it sits on a stout base that can drop to make an occasional bed.

Opposite the lounge/dining area is an extended kitchen bench with a return towards the back for extra space at a stainless steel sink with a drainer. Cooking options include a full oven with cooktop and grill and a high mount microwave. The 224L Dometic Compressor fridge/freezer should be plenty for a couple, and there’s good power on hand to make sure it stays cold.

The extra size ensuite is where a lot of the van's length has been spent. And if a big bathroom is on your list of must-haves, you have come to the right place. With a feature-like L-shaped vanity with a designer ceramic bowl, a large window at eye level, a linen cupboard with an easily accessed washer and a roomy corner shower, it’s not your average ensuite. It might also be an extravagance that adds that weight Jason talked about earlier — only the buyer can judge if it's a good choice after spending time on the road.

White cupboards surrounding the bed add to the light and airy feel

SELF-SUFFICIENCY

Titanium has led the way with abundant supplies of efficient power and relies on its partnership with Enerdrive to ensure reliability. There’s 510W of solar on the roof to supply a 200A lithium battery, said to be the equivalent of a 360A AGM. Twin 95L freshwater tanks will be for cooking and drinking, and the grey tank will keep you legal in those parks that demand them.

All the electronic gauges, including those for water tanks, are in the rangehood cupboard and the batteries and chargers are under one of the lounges for quick access.

TOWABILITY

We hooked the Hardcore to the Coffs Coast 200 series LandCruiser to hit the road, and, as might be expected with an empty van of 2672kg, the Toyota had plenty of grunt to keep up with traffic. Claimed ball weight is a sensible 182kg unladen or 6.8 per cent of the tare, and I saw no gremlins or undue pitch or sway in our travels. Vans tow best and most safely with a 6-10 per cent ball weight, so the lower ball weight allows for your own gear to be included with some leeway. Loaded to its maximum payload of 828kg, the van would top out at 3500kg, and this amount of extra bulk will need to be carefully distributed to keep the van in balance and the ball weight legal for your vehicle.

CUSTOMER CARE

A two-year warranty and a five-year structural guarantee should inspire confidence in buyers, especially when both Coffs Coast Caravans and the builder have a proven reputation for treating customers fairly if something goes wrong. According to the Titanium warranty document, “Titanium Caravans installs every item in accordance with the respective manufacturer’s instructions. If a supplier warranty issue arises, Titanium Caravans will help an owner make a warranty claim to these individual component manufacturers.”

Social media can be cruel to businesses when unwarranted negative posts pile on from unproven sources — if things get out of hand, it can be hard to contain the damage. But when Titanium Caravans was attacked online recently, the response was immediate from owners defending the brand's reputation. This level of owner loyalty says a lot about the progressive company and what it has achieved in the local marketplace.

THE WRAP

The Titanium Hardcore SS21 will suit couples looking for some extra space in a well-equipped van for travel — one that stays on the road less travelled.

When you consider the drive away price of $108K, the Titanium is excellent value in today’s market of capable offroaders. I like the way it’s engineered and the high-quality look and fit-out inside. An aluminium frame makes sense against our harsh outback roads, and I'm pleased to join the chorus of happy admirers championing the brand.


SPECS

Weights and measures

Overall length 9.1m (29ft 9in) 

External body length 6.4m (21ft) 

External body width 2.46m (8ft) (Inc Awning)

Travel height 3.1m (10 ft 3in)

Internal height 2m (6ft 7in)

Tare 2672kg

ATM 3500kg

Payload 828kg (calculated)

Ball weight 182kg unladen 

EXTERNAL

Frame Aluminium Wall Frame and Composite fibreglass/foam roof

Cladding Composite 3mm Premium RV Panel

Chassis 8in — Dual 4x2in Box Section laminated beam

Suspension Cruisemaster XT Coil 

Coupling DO35

Wheels 265/75 R16

Water 2 x Fresh 95L, 95L Grey

Battery 200A Enerdrive Lithium

Solar 510W

Air-conditioner Houghton Belair

Gas 2 x 9kg

Sway control No

INTERNAL

Cooking Swift 3 Gas 1 x Electric cooktop and mini grill Oven combo

Fridge 224L Dometic Compressor

Microwave Yes

Bathroom Large bathroom. separate shower and toilet

Washing machine 3.5kg Top Load

Hot water 28L Stainless steel swift, Gas & Electric

PRICE FROM

$107,890 Registered NSW 12 Months

OPTIONS FITTED

NONE

PRICE AS SHOWN 

$107,890

MORE INFO

Caravans Coffs Coast

186 Pacific Hwy, Coffs harbour NSW 2450

Ph: (02) 6652 5523

W: caravanscoffscoast.com.au

Tags

Review Caravan Southern Star Hardcore SS21 Couples van Offroad Adventuring

Photographer

John Ford