There’s not much doubt that, for the most part, European caravan manufacturers do things a little differently to those in Australia. However, many of the basics are the same and certainly many of the component parts are very familiar.
Slovenian-built Adria’s Altea 552PK is a case in point. It’s a family van that has triple bunks fitted, in addition to a double bed for mum and dad. It’s a layout certainly that’s quite familiar to many of us, with a few compromises to fit into the external length of just 6.3m (20ft 8in).
Undoubtedly the attractive feature for many is the towing weight of the van or lack thereof. It has an Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) of 1920kg and a tare of 1470kg giving it a reasonable but not excessive payload of 450kg. All that means that a wide range of tow vehicles can be used, including many found in the family house driveway. If a tow vehicle with a towing capacity of say 3000kg was used, then it would not only an easy towing combination, but the vehicle’s payload capacity could be used for carrying any particularly heavy items.
For this particular tow test, I was using a Ford Ranger ute, a base model with few frills and several models old. That said, it coped with towing the Altea without any drama and certainly handled the highways and byways of the western Sydney region without any problem.
Adria vans are quite recognisable for their interior look which doesn’t change much from year to year. It’s certainly not the monochromatic look that seems to be popular with some manufacturers these days, but an interesting mixture of white for the walls and roof, the faux timber looks for the cabinetry and a patterned grey for the upholstery. All the windows, except the bathroom, have the Adria style net curtains. The daylight level is quite good and there’s plenty of light fittings, both concealed and not for night-time use.
There’s not a lot of privacy to be had in a family caravan but both the front bed and the rear bunk area can be closed off from the rest of the van using fitted concertina curtains.
From the habitation door back, the interior layout looks much like many bunk layouts seen around Australia. Kitchen to the right, dinette to the left with bunks and bathroom down at the rear. The difference is up front, to achieve the external length of 6.31m (20ft 8in), a transverse bed is used. It’s not quite as convenient as an island bed but is a great space saver.
What’s most surprising about the interior of the 552 PK is that there’s no shortage of beds, both fixed and multi-use. Starting with the latter, although there are five other beds in the van, the dinette can also be folded down into a 2.03m x 0.97m (6ft 8in x 3ft 2in) bed, so quite a large family can be accommodated, at least for sleeping. Mind you, everyone would have to be a bit used to being very accommodating!
Up front the transverse bed measures 2m x 1.4m (6ft 7in x 4ft 7in). It comes with the necessary reading lights, a front and nearside window and a bedside shelf across the front wall. Since it occupies the full width of the van, there’s no foot of bed space for clambering in but it does mean a decent length bed. Under the bed there’s plenty of storage space, also accessible externally. The 100Ah battery is stored in this area but it’s little awkward to get at, being fitted mid wall.
Down the back, the triple bunk beds measure 1.96m x 0.76m (6ft 5in x 2ft 6in) so just like the forward bed, there is no shortage of bed length. There is though, a little oddity with the lower bunk — unlike the upper bunks it doesn’t have a window. Instead, it gets the external hatch which doesn’t open — a little bit of factory economics associated with a two-bunk design, which is a bit of a compromise. I did like the aluminium ladder, much better than the oft used plywood variety. Between the bunks and the bathroom is a full height cupboard, the top half being hanging space, the lower area just for general storage.
Built into the kitchen bench is a Dometic combo cooktop/stainless steel sink. It’s designed in an L-shape, so the gas burners are at the back of the kitchen bench, leaving the front area as a food preparation/utensil stacking space. I’m a little surprised that other manufacturers have not used this appliance, it’s something of a space saver. Below the benchtop is a Thetford grill/oven which adjoins two well sized kitchen drawers.
Adjacent to the kitchen bench is a good family sized Dometic RML 8551, 189L three-way fridge with a Camec microwave oven above. I suspect the latter is an Australian spec’d addition, as most European built vans don’t have them.
Undoubtedly the most noticeable feature about the dinette is the well-sized table, measuring 0.94m x 0.84m (3ft 1in x 2ft 9in). However, the seating is really only suitable for four — a fifth person might need a folding seat in the aisle. Overhead lockers are fitted above the table and there’s the expected under seat storage.
Compared to some other vans I have looked at the bathroom area isn’t particularly big. However, it’s not a space hog either. Adria has fitted in a separate shower cubicle thus meaning a ‘dry’ bathroom. Also fitted is a bench style Thetford cassette toilet. The shaving cabinet above is one that includes both cupboard space and a hinged fold down wash basin, while both the window and a ceiling hatch give the necessary ventilation.
Much of the weight saving design in any Adria caravan is in the overall construction. Underneath, the AL-KO chassis is hot-dipped galvanised but bolted together not welded. Anyone used to the RHS box section style of many a locally built chassis will get a surprise, but the C-section chassis is well designed for its intended purpose. AL-KO’s Independent Rubber Suspension (IRS) suspension is used for the 16in wheels and comes complete with shock absorbers. Fitted directly behind the axle is a 130L water tank. It doesn’t have any gal sheet protection but what it does have is an easily accessible drainage plug — excellent for flushing the tank from time to time.
I’ve obviously become used to the ‘quick-drop’ form of corner stabilizer because I found the fully wind down style fitted to the 552PK something of a chore. A battery powered drill complete with the right sized socket would definitely be an asset. Conversely I did like the large foot pad. Much less need for wooden blocks on soft ground!
Like many a European van construction, there’s no frame in the Adria van. Instead, structural sandwich panel is used for the side walls, roof and floor of the van. Fibreglass, otherwise known as Fibre Reinforced Plastic (FRP), is used for the exterior walls and roof. Adding the Australian touch is the low waistline of alloy checkerplate along the walls, and XPS styrofoam and EPS styropor is used for insulation.
Giving the van a stylish look are the front and rear wall mouldings. Impact resistant ABS plastic is used for the mouldings. Inside the van, weight saving kiln dried plywood is used for the interior fit out. It’s also used for the floor, which again uses sandwich panel construction, plywood on either side with an insulating central core.
External storage is overly generous, mostly because the spare wheel and the two 4kg gas cylinders (often stored externally) are to be found in the front boot — note that in order to comply with the relevant gas regulations, there’s a physical barrier between the wheel and the gas cylinders. Consequently, there isn’t much room for anything other than water hoses, power leads and maybe a small toolbox. More space is offered by the offside front bin door that gives easy access to the storage area under the front bed. There’s what looks like another storage bin at the rear offside but it’s not because of the extra bunk bed inside.
A feature of this van is the European style split door for the entry. It’s a variation on the usual security door, but with a concertina style insect screen inside the door frame. Double glazed acrylic awning style windows are used all round, the most distinctive being the larger than usual bathroom fitting that’s frosted. Covering most of the side wall area except for the curved roof line at the front is the Omnistor awning.
Adria caravans come with a two-year warranty on the body construction. Items like the fridge, cooktop and water heater are subject to the individual manufacturer’s warranties. Additionally, there’s a seven-year water ingress warranty in the living area. Like any manufacturer, there are a few provisos on this, like having an annual Adria service on the van — always read the fine print! Adria has dealers in most states.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In its standard condition, the Altea 552PK has neither solar panel nor a grey water tank so it is really a van that’s going to be used mostly in caravan parks. There’s nothing in particular wrong with that, as long as it’s understood. Something we often don’t consider much is that a caravan with a relatively light weight and therefore having lighter, more fuel-efficient tow vehicle requirements, is going to be reasonably environmentally friendly.
Whilst this van does not have the boofy ‘go anywhere’ image of its Australian contemporaries, it still has plenty to offer a family that’s happy with lightweight but fully equipped caravanning.
Check out Adria vans here.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Body length 6.31m (20ft 8in)
Overall length 7.6m (25ft)
Width 2.36m (7ft 9in)
Height 2.68m (8ft 9in)
Ball weight 120kg
Frame Integral with wall panels
Chassis AL-KO hot dipped galvanised
Suspension AL-KO Independent Rubber Suspension
Coupling AL-KO AKS 3004
Brakes AL-KO override
Wheels 16in alloy
Battery 1 X 100Ah
Air-conditioner Truma Saphir
Gas 2 x 4kg
Sway control AL-KO anti-sway coupling
Cooking Dometic 3 burner/sink combo
Fridge Dometic RML 8551 159L three way
Bathroom Thetford cassette toilet & separate shower cubicle
Hot water Truma 14L gas/electric