New Age Road Owl 18ft Family Pop Top Reviewed

John Hughes — 10 February 2022

This pre-release 2022 prototype features a number of cosmetic changes along with some useful functional upgrades which we will explore. The Road Owl starts as an entry level, family van that can be stepped up with two bundled option packages. I had a chat with Darren Swenson, General Manager Sales and Marketing who explained New Age has seen an increase in demand for all categories of caravans but particularly family vans. Families that may have otherwise gone to Bali or alike are now buying caravans. The Road Owl is designed to open up the caravan lifestyle to more people.

While the review is on the highest spec Adventurer Pack variant, it is worth quickly running through the ‘hierarchy’ of the other two packages and some of the key differences to the van tested.

The base model (listed $50,190) has lower spec running gear — a regular chassis and leaf spring suspension instead of a more beefed up chassis with independent suspension and 15in tyres and wheels instead of 16in rollers — other economies include one 110L water tank instead of two, and one 9kg gas bottle instead of two. You also do without an air-conditioner, solar panel, external speakers, TV and picnic table. The Comfort Pack (listed at $54,990) also features the same base level running gear but gains all the other omissions listed above.



The omissions from the base model are fair enough, as they allow customers to mix and match what they like from the options list, but it is worth keeping in mind that you also pay for upgrades in weight. While weights on the 2022 Base and Comfort variants were not available at the time of writing this article, published weights for the 2021 models would suggest the tare difference between base and top model could be in the order of 200kg or more.

Running Gear

Eighteen-foot is the crossover size where some vans feature a single axle setup and others are double axled. The upside to double axle is that you are afforded a greater payload and corresponding ATM, and delivering 600kg with an ATM of 2890kg, it is within reach of most current market dual cab utes which have become the family car of choice in Australia.

The substantial chassis is adorned with the Walkinshaw badge leveraging the credibility that comes with the automotive engineering parent company. The chassis features 150mm main members and a 50mm raiser, and the A-frame is rolled creating a single continuous frame with the chassis main members. New Age claims this design provides greater durability and reliability. The welds on this chassis are created robotically, which provides a very consistent result. The Walkinshaw chassis first featured on New Age Vans in 2018 so it has had the time in the field to prove itself.

One of the big upgrades in the Adventurer pack is the Cruisemaster CRS2 system. CRS stands for country road suspension, and it is described as having semi-offroad capability. The system features an independent arm, coiled spring and dual shocks. Having been involved in an outback torture test of the original CRS system and the big brother XT system, I have a lot of faith in the Cruisemaster product.

Another top-notch brand featured in the van is the towing safety products of BMPRO. The sway control and breakaway devices are the kind of systems you hope you never use but are glad to have on board.

The exterior has a classic look

Traditional Construction Method

The body construction method is very traditional with aluminium profiled cladding, a meranti frame and styrofoam insulation panels. While this is not cutting edge technology it has served New Age very well. In a relatively short space of time, they ascended to be one of the major players in the industry with this building style. The key to success with this construction method is having the highest standards in sealing the van and routine maintenance to prevent water ingress over time.

Something a little less traditional is the rear styling, adopted for the first time in the 2022 Road Owl Pop Top. The spare wheel is nestled into a moulding on the rear of the van, creating a less obtrusive look and incrementally improved weight distribution. The roof construction looks very solid with a fibreglass skin, composite core and aluminium surrounds for stiffness. I have seen lighter construction pop-top roofs buckle and I don’t imagine this design will suffer that fate.

Pop Top Specifics

There are a distinct set of challenges that come with designing a pop top well because all of the furniture needs to fit into ‘roof down’ space. This can create headroom problems with furniture even when the roof is up.

I fetched a 190cm test pilot to sit in the lounge and conducted a headroom check with the overhead lockers. He had enough room to sit naturally — just. If you are taller than 190cm, no problem, just sit at the head of the table away from the overhead locker. 

Allowing for the roof down space also means you simply can’t have tall overhead lockers. The Road Owl compensated for this with an abundance of lockers. Storage space is good all over. I just have one grizzle, but I will come back to that. 

The whole idea of a pop-top is to keep the ‘closed’ height low for the benefits of aerodynamics and squeezing under carports and roller doors. Thanks to 16in wheels and a taller chassis/suspension system, at 2.65m closed, the Road Owl Adventurer is not the lowest pop-top going around. 

The Adventurer is clearly a lot lower than hard top caravans — you just need to do your homework to make sure that it will fit where you want to store it. If the Adventurer proves too tall for you, check out the Base and Comfort as I expect they will be a bit lower — I can’t help you with heights as New Age don’t have those specs available yet.

When we review prototypes, sometimes we come across things that need ironing out. Simply put, the roof was difficult to lift. New Age agreed with my observation and advised that they are reviewing the gas struts with the supplier. I am happy to accept this at face value. I think the takeaway for readers is no matter what brand of pop-top you are looking at, it is prudent to do a test lift yourself to make sure you are happy with the operation.

Considering all the variables that go into designing a good pop top, this van gets close to top marks.

Inside

First impressions. Take one step inside, glance left, see an east-west bed, look right and see that there is a lot of room in an 18-footer. This is achieved with a few good ideas. The east-west bed takes up minimal length in the floor plan (I think east-west beds are a reasonable approach for family vans, but they are generally less palatable for couples vans unless they are particularly compact). A hinged table partially folds to make the ‘passage’ wider when the table is not in use. In addition to the real space created, a greater sense of openness is achieved with a large mirror at the rear of the van and a bright look that has been the hallmark of New Age interior design.

Talking of bright, the LEDs give you all the light you will ever need including plenty of reading lamps (new for 2022). You might be fooled that there are no USB points, but they are neatly hidden in the underside of the reading lights. You won’t have any trouble finding the powerpoints as they are everywhere. 

New Age advise the dining area has more cushion depth and lumbar support than ever before. What I can tell you is the fabric upholstered L-shaped lounge is comfy and will accommodate two adults and two kids.

Cooking is taken care of with a Thetford 4-burner, mini grill cooktop but you will have to squat to operate the NCE 23L microwave. I am forgiving of the microwave position and see it as just part of the wonderful world of caravan compromise. The fridge is a capable Thetford 164L 3-way unit.

Back to my little grizzle, the space under the main bed affords great storage but it is not easy to access due to the weight of the mattress and a lack of gas struts. After a few attempts, I developed a knack for doing it unassisted. However, it is probably best done as a two-person job and occasional access items should be stored there. 

When you do access under the bed, you will find the Truma air-conditioner unit. This is often the preferred location in pop tops to keep weight and height out of the roof.

A separate shower and toilet is a nice achievement for this van size and had all the usual appointments. The concertina nature of pop tops means that privacy is achieved with a curtain. The upside is curtains generally stand up to corrugated roads better than full sized doors.

Outside

A roomy tunnel boot, Dometic awning and Lifestyle picnic table is the sort of stuff we expect to see in a van these days. The Adventurer variant has a few additional nice features to improve the outside experience. The tray on the A-frame is great for carrying a little bit of firewood, grey water hoses or perhaps some rubbish if you secure it in a strong bag. The external shower in warmer climates is a great way to keep grubby kids from messing up the van. External speakers are welcome, as is the pull out single step.

Being the nerd that I am, my favourite outside feature is the externally mounted water pump. Sure, it may be vulnerable to being bumped or perhaps even stolen but there are a bunch of benefits. It frees up storage space inside the van and keeps the noise and potential leaks outside. From a former life, managing a caravan manufacturer customer service department I can tell you a flood of water inside the van from failed plumbing is one of the more distressing incidents an owner can experience. 

Roughing It

The beefed up chassis, the independent suspension, even the Adventurer name beckons the occupants to stray further afield for longer. A single 150W solar panel and 100Ah battery are acceptable minimum standards to stay off the grid for a few days. No doubt some owners will be looking to upgrade to more solar and battery capacity. Similarly, the two 110L water tanks is a tick but a grey water tank (factory option available) would need to be added to rate higher. We need to remember that New Age is trying to keep this van within the reach of many families and not everyone needs the extra cost and weight that comes with extended off grid capacity.

Towability

With both van and tow vehicle relatively empty, the Road Owl followed along comfortably behind my early model Navara, but I may have had a challenged meeting this Navara’s gross combined mass (GCM) requirement if both vehicles had been fully loaded. The 2890kg ATM rating makes it a viable real world weight for the 3500kg rated towing modern dual cab utes due to GCM requirements — always do your homework on your rig set up to ensure you don’t get caught out with exceeding GCM.

While showing good towing manners, the van has a relatively light empty towball load (160kg). It won’t hurt the balance of this van to stow some of your heavier gear in the generous front tunnel boot and the storage compartment under the main bed. 

Finally, don’t underestimate how much the included reverse camera is always going to improve the parking experience because they give you so much more vision than relying on just mirrors.

Leading Customer Care

New Age New Age Caravans offers a three year manufacturer’s warranty delivered through 15 full service dealerships and more than 100 additional authorised repairers nationally. On top of that, New Age offers one year “New Age Assist” roadside assistance membership with every new RV.

The Wrap

The Road Owl is a well thought-out pop top which is up to the job for many families. Good design principles take into account the ‘variable height’ inherent in pop tops. The layout works a treat. The components and appliances used are reputable. With a sensible understanding of loading, the Road Owl makes a good towing companion for modern utes.

New Age offer the Road Owl in three bundled option variants. The base spec is minimalist by contemporary standards, but you save $14k and my guess 200kg or more at tare. The mid spec may prove to be a happy medium for many and the full spec will be more suited to those with semi off road aspirations. The choice is yours.

The van towed comfortably, but if fully loaded would have to be packed intelligently


RATINGS

VALUE FOR MONEY 8.5/10
“Value is in the eye of the beholder. Take your pick of a base version at $52k, all the way through to a highly spec’d version at $67k.”

TOWABILITY 8/10
“The Road Owl followed along comfortably behind the early model Navara.”

SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 8/10
“The full spec variant reviewed reaches into the semi-offroad space while the base model is much more suited to caravan park stays.”

BUILD QUALITY 8.5/10
“Attention to detail is good.”

LIVEABILITY 8/10
“Good design principles make this a great van to enjoy time inside and out.”

SELF-SUFFICIENCY 7/10
“Reasonable off grid capability. Needs a greywater tank to go the next level.”

CUSTOMER CARE 9/10
“3-year warranty on complete van including supplier appliances and components. Strong after sales network.”

INNOVATION 7.5/10
“Solid, proven concepts with the chassis standing out in the innovation department.”

X-FACTOR 7/10
“Rear styling is the highlight in an otherwise traditional van.”


New Age Road Owl 18 FT Family Pop Top

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 7.85m (25ft 9in)
Body length internal 5.77m (18ft 11in)
Travel Width 2.5m (8ft 2in)
Height (closed) 2.65m (8ft 8in)
Internal Height 2.03m (6ft 8in)
Tare 2290kg
ATM 2890kg
Payload 600kg (calculated)
Ball weight at tare 160kg

EXTERNAL
Frame Meranti timber
Cladding Silver hi-profile stucco cladding c/w rear mould kit and recessed spare wheel
Chassis Walkinshaw hot dipped galvanised
Suspension Cruisemaster CRS2
Coupling Recessed 50mm tow ball
Brakes AL-KO 12in electric drum
Wheels 245/75 R16 tyres and wheels (manufactured by Goodyear)
Water 2 x 110L water tanks
Battery 1 x 100Ah AGM
Solar 1 x 150W solar panel c/w controller
Air-conditioner Floor mounted reverse cycle
Gas 2 x 9kg gas bottles
Sway control BMPRO Sway Control / BMPRO Trail Safe

INTERNAL
Cooking Thetford 4 burner, mini grill cooktop
Microwave NCE 23L FB
Fridge Thetford 164L 3-way
Bathroom Ensuite with separate shower & Thetford toilet
Hot water HWS gas/electric 25L capacity
Note: The caravan industry like many others is still facing supply challenges. New Age need to exercise flexibility in suppliers used to meet customer’s orders.

PRICE FROM 
Standard $50,190 (inc. GST)
Comfort Pack $54,990 (inc. GST)
Adventurer Pack $64,490 (inc. GST)

OPTIONS FITTED (standard on Adventurer model)
Reverse camera
External shower
2in raiser
6in main member
Tray in A-Frame
Single pull-out step

PRICE AS SHOWN $64,490 (inc. GST)

Tags

Caravan review Pop Top New Age Caravans Road Owl

Photographer

John Hughes