The hybrid concept makes getting offroad easier than in a regular caravan by keeping the van compact. Signature achieves this in the Dominion with a pop-top roof to keep the profile low and a parent’s “bedroom” that folds away to make the van short for better manoeuvrability.
Every now and then we get our hands on a preproduction caravan to play with. The Signature Dominion hybrid is one such beast. I had the opportunity to spend a few days having a really good look over the Dominion, which is aimed at families who love outdoor living and seek off-grid adventures. My first impressions are it’s a very cool-looking hybrid. The two-tone grey walls with a little splash of orange and blue decals works for me. The bright orange scrub bars down the sides of the van and the big mud tyres are beckoning “take me offroad”.
Signature has been supplying camper trailers and hybrids to the Australian market since 2017. The company’s strong growth has been on the back of developing a compelling quality/value proposition. It’s based on a core product manufactured in China with strict quality control followed by an Australian fit-out using high-end components sourced from reputable local suppliers with strong after-sales service networks.
EASY TO GET ON AND OFF
Reversing to hitch up a trailer has got easier these days with most vehicles now featuring a reverse camera that can guide you to the coupling. Signature goes a step further by supplying a McHitch hitch. The receiver attached to the tow vehicle has a “funnel” that guides the van coupling pin into the correct position. This self-locating feature is more forgiving if your alignment is out by a few millimetres in either the vertical or horizontal axis. The other cool thing is this hitch automatically latches when the pin pushes into the receiver. You will want to take the hitch receiver off the tow vehicle when you are not towing because it is quite bulky.
The easy on-and-off theme continues with the supply of the ARK XO750 jockey wheel. It’s much more user-friendly than a regular removable jockey wheel. It just swings up and stays attached to the A-frame when you are travelling. It’s much faster to do and you don’t need to take up storage space. Multi-height adjustment is also more accommodating of tow vehicles with big suspension lifts.
EASY TO SET UP
Setting up the Dominion was an overall satisfying and quite intuitive experience. First go, without any form of instructions, I had the full set up done in under 10 minutes and the pack up done in five minutes. I reckon if I did another set up, it would be less than five minutes.
Those rugged-looking orange scrub bars are very handy to stand on to the reach the front latches securing the pop-top roof. Combined with holding the grab handles on the front panel, this is a very safe and easy way to reach the latches. The rear latches can be accessed by standing on the spare wheel carrier, but this requires more agility and balance, and some people may feel more comfortable on some form of a small step. Pushing the roof up was the only part of the exercise that required any real kind of muscle as there is an air-conditioner, three solar panels and a dust reduction system sitting up there. The guys at Signature suggested that tweaking the rating of the hydraulic struts could be a solution to making lifting the roof easier in production units.
Making up the rear box that becomes the parent’s bedroom is a picnic. Lowering the two rear spare wheels is a lot easier than it looks thanks to the hydraulic struts. Then it is just a matter of unlatching and swinging out the various panels that make up the side walls, roof, floor and back wall. Then it’s inside to unstack the two mattresses to make up a huge parent’s bed. The bunks at the front do not require any set up and are ready to go.
The truly fun part is opening and closing the awning – you can’t beat press-button electric powered systems. And it’s great that the awning is easy to use because you will be spending plenty of time under it as the kitchen is an entirely outside affair. There’s a slider up front to accommodate a 95L fridge and a ready-to-go slide-out gas four-burner cooker. Plus, there’s a storage drawer that could be used as a little pantry. If the weather is ordinary, you can set up the fully enclosed canvas annex supplied to make the most of your outdoor kitchen.
SIMPLE INTERIOR SETUP
The first thing I spotted stepping into the Dominion is a bank of rocker switches and very easy-to-read analogue gauges showing water tank levels. I have to say, I really like this setup as you can immediately see how to turn everything on and off without hunting through a bunch of touchscreen menus. It might take up more real estate than most digital systems, but for me, it wins hands down. Underneath the switch bank is a handy spot to store some shoes. Below that, the step well is checkerplate with a little mat, which is a smart move for ease of cleaning, particularly with kids tramping in and out all day.
The kids get a double bunk set up at the front with a regular-looking size mattress up top and a much bigger bed below that would easily accommodate a couple of little kids. The bottom bunk has a fan but the top one misses out. Both bunk levels get a USB and 12V power outlets to keep devices going. Storage for kids’ stuff is pretty good under the lower bunk with a little cupboard and a couple of drawers.
This relatively small van still finds room for a combination shower and toilet (complimented by an external shower). Some combination shower and toilets have sinks and storage compartments crammed into this space. Signature has opted to keep the space streamlined. This allows a bit more space next to the bathroom for the only sink, and beside that a good-sized wardrobe.
The dining area is compact, as you would expect in a van of this size, and real leather upholstery is a nice touch. I can’t imagine families spending much time seated inside as the design is very much geared to outdoor living. Kids are going to be where the food is, and the fridge and cooking is accessed outside.
As mentioned, the opened-up parent’s bedroom is filled with a huge bed. I could see this space becoming a second cosy living area on rainy days with the whole family piled on the bed to watch TV together. Two noteworthy interior creature comforts are the Webasto reverse cycle air-conditioner and Dometic positive air ram system to minimise dust ingress.
Compared with caravans, hybrids in general don’t have as much storage space because pop-top roofs limit overhead lockers and other interior spaces get taken up by slide-out kitchens and fridges. The Signature makes the most of the space available and I can see families creating a bit more storage space by keeping bags on the huge beds.
Composite aluminium panels make up the walls with a raptor coat style finish on the lower sections in place of the ubiquitous checker plate. It looks quite smart, and I feel it will be effective against small chips and scuffs. Behind the aluminium panels is a welded steel RHS frame with insulation in-between the uprights. The pop-top roof is constructed of braced fibreglass and the floor is honeycomb material.
This preproduction unit already had a few kilometres under its belt when I got my hands on it and everything appeared to be holding up well. Signature backs the body with a five-year structural warranty. Customers are also supported by local component supplier warranties.
OFFROAD WORTHY AND OFF-GRID READY
The Dominion is underpinned with a 150mm x 50mm hot dip galvanised steel chassis matched to heavy-duty offroad independent suspension with locally sourced Dobinson’s shocks and plenty of ground clearance. The scrub bars will help with underside protection if you tackle really gnarly terrain at very low speed. I see them as a kind of detection device, as if you keep ploughing on you will soon rip the step off. 16in alloy rims shod with 265/75/16 mud tyres will look good with any tow rig.
After arriving at the middle of nowhere you will be able to enjoy extended off-grid living thanks to plenty of water storage with 240L fresh water (plus 40L jerry tank capability) and a 100L grey water tank. An abundant power supply is captured through a 300W solar panel bank, stored with three 100Ah AGM batteries, managed with a Redarc system and delivered with a 2000W Redarc inverter. And two 9kg gas bottles will keep that cooker running for ages.
STOWAGE AND TOWABILITY
How you pack a van and how it behaves on the road are directly linked. The Dominion is designed to carry a good chunk of its cargo upfront. There are two nice big toolboxes sitting on the A-frame. One box has holders for two jerry cans and the other box accommodates two 9kg gas bottles. As mentioned, immediately behind the front boxes is a huge storage compartment with a slide-out designed to take a big chest fridge. When you put this design intended payload onboard it adds around 100kg towards the front of the van. When the van is unloaded, the ball loading-to-tare weight ratio is quite low at 6.7% with 160kg and 2400kg, respectively. Ratios under 10% can cause vans to sway. I picked the van up empty and did experience some sway. I added weight representative of the intended cargo, and the sway was eliminated. We talk about theory all the time, but this was a real-world reminder of the importance of correct loading.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There’s a lot to like about the Signature Dominion. A quick set up transforms the Dominion from a compact van to a spacious multi-berth RV. Geared towards young families seeking travel to more remote destinations, it strikes a nice blend of rugged, utilitarian functionality with creature comforts. The focus is on outdoor living with an external kitchen and fridge. A five-year structural warranty with a competitive price tag makes this van an attractive proposition.
Hits and Misses
- Compact for easy manoeuvrability
- Very easy to set up
- Looks very cool
- Relatively heavy for its size
Signature Dominion Ratings
Value for Money
It’s a lot of van for $65k
Loaded correctly, towing is all good
Suitability for Intended Touring
Well equipped for offroad travel
Strict quality control of the Chinese factory and local component fit out makes for a good unit
If outdoor living is your thing, it’s a winner
Plenty of water and power to go the distance
A five-year structural warranty combined with local component supplier warranties is above the industry average
Bringing together the value proposition of a Chinese base build with local premium component suppliers is a winner
It’s hard to go past just how ruggedly handsome this thing looks
Signature Dominion Specs
Weights and Measures
|Body length||4.6m (14ft 11in) |
|Overall length||6.2m (20ft 4in)|
|Width ||2.3m (7ft 5in)|
|Height ||2.6m (8ft 7in) when closed|
|Ball weight at tare||160kg|
|Frame||Welded steel RHS box|
|Cladding ||Aluminium composite|
|Chassis ||Hot dip galvanised steel frame – 150mm x 50mm|
|Suspension ||Heavy Duty Offroad Independent with Dual Dobinson’s Shocks|
|Coupling ||McHitch 3.5T Uniglide Automatic Coupler|
|Brakes ||12in electric drum|
|Wheels ||16 x 7.5in alloy wheels with Goodride 265/75/16 mud tyres|
|Water ||2 x 120L fresh water, 1 x 100L grey water|
|Battery ||3 x 100Ah AGM|
|Solar ||3 x 100W – Roof Mounted Semi Flexible Solar Panels (Redarc Manager 30 MPPT Controlled)|
|Air-conditioner||Webasto – Cool Top Trail 24 Reverse Cycle|
|Gas ||Plumbed with 2 x 9kg bottle holders|
|Cooking||ACA four-burner gas stove – external|
|Fridge ||Fridge slide accessed from external hatch|
|Bathroom ||Combined shower and toilet|
|Hot water||Truma 14L Ultra Rapid Hot Water (Gas /240V)|
Signature Dominion price from $64,990 + ORC
Supplied by Signature Camper Trailers
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