The first thing you might experience reading this review is deja vu because earlier this year I reviewed the sister of this van, another 19-Compact but that one was gasless. It was built around the idea of removing gas, and fossil fuels, as much as possible but this version is more traditional, more in line with Bushtrackers of the recent past and to me, that's a wonderful thing. Don't get me wrong, I am a technophile and love the direction of many high-end brands in removing gas from vans, but I am also a big fan of the KISS principle.
Keep It Simple Stupid, or KISS as it's better known, is a solid mantra for Australian products that need to be relied upon in the outback. Although Bushtracker embraces new technologies that offer more comfort and more capability in our harshest environments, they do not do so lightly and will always choose simplicity over complex options.
In a review of the indomitable Bushtracker 24 done in the Ikara-Flinders Ranges back in 2019, co-owner Matthew Kurvink was using the trip and subsequent year of travel around the Australian show circuit to test a range of appliances from the air-conditioner to the then cutting-edge compressor-only fridges. The end result is confidence, trust and a warranty that backs up Bushtracker’s goals of never having an unhappy or stranded customer. Talking to him on this trip that is still the case today - test for a year before making a change.
This ethos carries over into the build of the van which starts and finishes in the Kunda Park, Queensland factory.
From the top-down, the 19-Compact utilises the same build methodology of all Bushtracker caravans with a 75mm (2.9in) thick fibreglass skinned composite roof panel that covers the van from the front seam, above the spare wheels to the bottom of the rear. Fibreglass is patch repairable and durable in white gel-coat, while also easy to clean and with 75mm (2.9in) of dense foam between the skins, it offers brilliant insulation against our baking sun. The exterior walls are also fibreglass skinned and the floor is a honeycomb composite that will not rot, will not be penetrated by errant stones and is light and tough. Internally the walls are clad with fibreglass too with this 19 featuring a gloss black ceiling (more on that in a bit) and in between the two layers, a welded alloy frame with cut-to-measure fire-resistant polystyrene insulation.
The use of an alloy frame is an interesting one to me. For its inherent insulative properties and low weight, I am a big proponent of frameless composite panelling like Zone RV and Alpine use. An alloy frame is popular with off-road-centric brands like Legend, Urban and Eden all of which have transitioned away from meranti to save weight and reduce the chances of dreaded rot in the walls.
The alloy frame allows for some flex, like meranti, which is a downfall of frameless composite panels that need to be carefully constructed with specialist glues to allow the walls the minimal movement they need to not crack or force gaps around things like windows and doors. Alloy is costly in these days of rampant material price increases and requires specialised staff and tools to work with, however. Whoever said you can have a no-compromise caravan was clearly lying.
Under the in-house chassis is a set of Simplicity Axles load-sharing leaf springs. If you haven't had a chance to look at the design at a show, head to their website as it details what makes the system so excellent off-road. In essence, it marries the best of leaf spring suspension (durability and reliability) with the flexibility and articulation of a trailing arm suspension by tying leading and trailing arms that are sprung by leaves at a central pivot to allow the front and rear wheels to travel up and down what in testing looks like more than 400mm. This means you’ll always have contact with the ground on really rough terrain but also on harsh, small bumps like corrugations which can unsettle leaf springs and poor coil sprung trailing arm suspension.
All this toughness and heavy-duty design work and construction doesn't mean the 19-Compact is an uncomfortable brute on the inside though, quite the opposite.
INSIDE THE 19-COMPACT
Inside the 19-Compact you’ll only find wood where it works such as benchtops and as a visual feature. Almost all surfaces are laminated including the Dometic compressor fridge which matches the cabinetry in its blue hue. It looks outstanding, balancing the wood veneer on the benches and dinette table.
As mentioned, the ceiling is gloss black and at first, I found it confronting as I got a look at myself in its reflection (it was a long, dusty trip and I looked a bit dishevelled). But even though it is black, its gloss finish bounced light around inside the van well. Would I choose it in my perfect build? Probably not but I can see how others would.
As with all Bushtracker vans, the bed is topped with an outstanding pillow-topped, innerspring mattress and appliances are all top-notch with the aforementioned Dometic compressor fridge, a Thetford induction and gas stove and Duplex oven/grill, Sirocco fans, Truma Aventa air-conditioner and Camec wall-mounted two-kilogram washing machine. It's worth noting the varied brands used. This suggests Bushtracker is not focussed on the price of each appliance alone as undoubtedly it could have received a discount to buy from a single supplier, but that may have meant an inferior product had to be used. It adds a lot of trust in the van and company.
LAYOUT AND USABILITY
The rear set ensuite, centre kitchen and dinette with forward north-south bed is a tried and tested layout and for good reason. It puts space between the bathroom facilities and bed while allowing builders to easily separate a moulded shower from a toilet across the rear of the van.
Movement around the bed is good though there are foot lockers along the sides that might not suit everyone. The overhead cupboards are deep but not so deep as to crowd the bench space. All cupboards and drawers use locking pin-style handles that are nice to touch and modern. The volume of storage is good with decent hanging space at the bedsides and plenty to be found in the spaces around the dinette.
In the bathroom of this 19-Compact, a flushing toilet is fitted though you can option a composting type. The shower is a good size with a fan-forced hatch to keep moisture at bay. The wall-mounted washing machine will handle smalls easily and larger items when planned out. I’d suggest a stay at a holiday park when a big wash is due which is handy to refill the water tanks.
WATER AND POWER
This van wasn’t fitted with a grey tank, which I find a surprise as it rules out staying in some National Parks and - let's call it – it does not boast great battery and water capacities.
With 300ah of lithium, the Enerdrive inverter found under the bed gets enough grunt to power the induction cooker and most small appliances but falls short of running the air-conditioner. With 540w of 12V solar panels, you could see as much as 45A flowing into the Enerdrive charging system but, and big but, that's peak and unlikely unless you're out there keeping the dust off and you have perfect light conditions. Expect what we saw, 20A in average conditions which is still a great deal more than the fridge, fans and lights will consume. This system is self-replenishing. The water not so much but Bushtracker has a trick.
Under the body of the van is a work of art, like they always are. You won't find plumbing or wiring in compromised positions or tanks that will bump into everything. The tanks are raised and suspended centrally to the chassis to balance weight.
Although there is only a combined 225 litres of water capacity, the valving system between each of the three polyethylene tanks, and the pumps and filter used, means you can draw from a creek or river for your internal and external shower while keeping a tank separate for drinking water. I am a big fan of this and having seen it in another Bushtracker, I would option on a UV filter to supplement the particle filter and make water on the go drinkable in almost all occasions (don’t draw from still water like cattle ponds, ever).
The vitals are managed by a system built for the van by Enerdrive. It incorporates a Morningstar MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) solar regulator, a Simarine Smart Shunt that monitors loads and acts as a digital circuit breaker as well as Enerdrive's own chargers and inverter. These systems are becoming increasingly popular due to Enerdrive's willingness to build individual kits. So impressed I am that I've priced up a kit for a camper I’m looking to rebuild that would suit retrofitting to a caravan - see the side breakout. But what of the next most important aspect of caravan ownership, the tow?
TOWING A 19-COMPACT
At 2.17m wide, the 19-Compact is actually pretty reasonable to see around in factory mirrors. I would still suggest a set of Clearviews or MSA towing mirrors as visibility behind is a critical safety consideration of mine and yes, I also get very upset stuck behind someone that cannot see me because they feel they can go without towing mirrors. Please people, be considerate.
We had a VW Amarok with the excellent three-litre V6 diesel and eight-speed automatic in front of the van and it was a good fit. I wouldn’t go with anything with less power as loaded to its limit, this 19 could weigh as much as 3350kg. With a light load of personal gear, water and basics, it felt good and returned a respectable 17 litres of diesel per 100km, a number a little higher than some utes with similar-sized vans but not enough to complain about and honest for our varied driving over the 3000km covered.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Here is where I probably upset a few people. I think $177,000 for the van as seen is reasonable to good. Yes, you could get a full-size van with similar power, water and appliance specs but this is Bushtracker we are talking about and with that comes a reputation built on excellence in engineering and manufacturing. You pay for quality and this van has it in spades.
If you went a bit harder on the options list, adding in another 300A of battery and upgrading the charger and inverter to one of the new ePRO inverter/chargers from Enerdrive to run air-conditioning and heavy-draw appliances off-grid and added in a bit more water and a UV filter, you would get closer to $190,000, again I’d not suggest that's outrageous. Go the other way and take a few things out like the excellent suspension and most of the electrical system and you could get into a 19-Compact for about $150,000 but I’d suggest that would ruin the point of a Bushtracker. These are outback-ready vans which you need to be able to rely on and live comfortably in to really enjoy it.
This isn’t some sponsored breakout, I really did go and price up and learn about what goes into the types of systems Bushtracker and others are fitting to their high-end caravans so in case you have been thinking of the same.
Here is a rundown of some of the gear you’ll need if you wanted to run an air-conditioner such as a Dometic Ibis4 or Truma Aventa for a few hours a day as well as a good 2000W induction plate, an internal and external fridge, lights, stereo, fans, you name it.
You’ll want to go lithium and you’ll need a minimum of 600A. I’d suggest two ePOWER B-TEC 12V 300Ah G2 from Enerdrive. Expect an RRP of $3339 each.
If you wanted to get a good 40-60amps from the sun, you’ll likely need around 1000W which if you installed six 180W from Enerdrive would set you back about $300 each.
There are so many small parts to building a system to take the power from the solar, your car and air-conditioning, convert it all and run it into batteries that I’d follow the pros and order an Enerdrive eSYSTEM-J installation kit. It has a 60A Morningstar MPPT controller for solar, a 40A DC-DC charger for Anderson plug and additional solar, a 60A AC charger as well as an ePRO PLUS battery monitor to give you data on charge and use (up to 500A continuous) as well as protect the system from surges. It is very comprehensive with fuses for the main system (200A), the Inverter (200A), two for solar plus fuses for the main components I've seen this kit for sale online for around $3000-$3300.
Enerdrive offers a standalone 2000W Pure Sine inverter, other brands like Redarc offer more. Enerdrive offers a unit that is a charger and 3000W inverter in one (ePRO) and although I love the idea, for cost reasons I’d go the single 3000W Redarc for around $2500 and use the chargers in the installation kit.
The total cost, before installation labour and consumables, is around $14,000.
If you want to pare it back a touch and are not fussed about running air-conditioning, the same installation kit, a few solar panels, a 2000W inverter from Enerdrive and a single battery will set you back around $8800 again, excluding labour and consumable installation costs. A set-up like this is not too dissimilar to what is in the Bushtracker reviewed here and it comfortably ran the microwave, the induction cooker and all other appliances. The battery was never low and charged flawlessly.
HITS AND MISSES
- Faultless build quality
- Excellent tow
- Top Appliances
- Low water and power capacities
Value for Money : 7
As the sum of its parts and build quality, it is impressive
Towability : 7
The slightly narrower body makes it easier to tow but it is weighty
Suitability for Intended Touring : 6
As a proper off-roader, I’d like to see more self-sufficiency
Build Quality : 9
Always as close to perfect as possible
Liveability : 8
Right up there for layout and amenities, maybe the black ceiling is not for everyone
Customer Care : 8
No national distribution/support network but a solid off-road warranty and dedicated support
Self-sufficiency : 5
This is the area a few grand more would be well spent
Innovation : 7
Continuous improvement is the mantra at Bushtracker
X-Factor : 8
It is a Bushtracker and for that alone it will draw a crowd and it’ll be dependable
Bushtracker 19-Compact Specs
Weights and Measures
|Overall length||7.62M (25ft)|
|External body length||5.79M (19ft)|
|External body width||2.17M (7ft 2in)|
|Travel height||3.05M (11ft)|
|Internal height||1.97M (6ft 6in)|
|Frame||Aluminium box section welded and double riveted|
|Suspension||Simplicity Load Sharing|
|Wheels||16” (406 mm) alloy with 265/70/R16 Bridgestone ATs|
|Water||225L (75L potable drinking/150L general use)|
|Battery||12V 300A lithium / 3000W inverter / 120A charger / 50A DC to DC chargers|
|Gas||2x 4.5KG bottles|
|Cooking||Thetford Induction and gas|
|Fridge||Dometic 6408X 188L compressor|
|Shower||Fully moulded fibreglass|
|Hot water||Swift gas/electric|
- Enerdrive power suite upgrade
- Fantastic hatch
- Baby buzzard spotlights on front & rear
Price from $150,000
Price as shown $177,000
Supplied by Bushtracker Caravan
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