· The complete package for extended adventures
· Control Rider independent suspension
· Rear bathroom with washing machine
Melbourne manufacturer Country Life offers a number of rough-road vans under the Bushmaster Blue Gum name, including the tandem-axle 6.55m (21ft 6in) unit we tested. All are well-kitted with the latest products, including Al-Ko's Electronic Stability Control (ESC).
The van is built on a 6in SupaGal chassis and drawbar, riding on a tandem-axle Control Rider independent suspension system with 12in electric drums. Other standard features include 16in alloy wheels with all-terrain tyres, a Hyland hitch and handbrake, twin 9kg gas cylinders, a drilled stainless steel firewood rack and front boot.
The body is based on an insulated meranti timber frame, dressed in Colourbond aluminium cladding with a dull grey topcoat and photographic banner highlight. Colour is a personal thing, but I found the grey a little uninspiring and the only blot on an otherwise attractive canvas. The lower gills and external cupboard doors are dressed in shiny aluminium checkerplate that not only lift the appearance but provide valuable stone protection.
On the nearside, there's a long tunnel boot that runs the width of the van. A large 9500 Dometic awning provides plenty of protection for outside entertainment, complemented by a fold-down picnic table and dual speakers wired to the stereo system. The 22in LED TV with inbuilt DVD player, which normally resides on a sturdy swing-away bracket in the main bedroom, can also be used outside thanks to the 240V external plug and antenna point. A Weber Baby Q barbie and long gas hose are supplied with each van.
A bumper bar supporting the spare alloy wheel protects the rear of the van, which is also fitted with a reversing camera.
Entry is via a Camec triple-locker door towards the rear of the van. It encompasses a security mesh door and works well with the wind-out windows and substantial dual hatches to keep the van ventilated.
Stepping inside, the striking interior combines soft leather furnishings, marble-look roll-top Laminex benchtops, leather pockets and veneered cabinetry, which all works well to deliver luxurious living quarters. A Swift four-burner cooktop takes care of culinary needs, supplemented by a convection microwave. Extending the feeling of luxury, a smoked glass surround for the stainless steel sink matches well with the black benchtop.
Meanwhile, the tri-fold cafe dinette may prove a little too wide for larger folk, jutting into the belly area, but these sorts of things can easily be amended in the building process.
Every inch of space is well utilised in the Blue Gum. Cupboards are scattered throughout the van from head to toe. Each bedside table has drawers and a wardrobe with mirrored doors. Access is restricted at the foot of the north-south queen-size bed, with mini cupboards wedged into the corners of the bedroom, leaving only a narrow corridor to slip through. Not the best for those with flipper-sized feet!
The base for the bed (with innerspring mattress) lifts on gas struts to reveal a cavernous storage area. The test van was fitted with the optional ducted vacuum and gas-fired heater, both fitted beneath the bed. Country Life owner Terry Ryan tells me the heater raises the internal temperature very quickly, cranking the temperature from 0 to 22° in a mere 10 minutes. At the other end of the temperature spectrum, an Aircommand Ibis air-conditioner is tasked with the cooling duties.
LED touch lighting is fitted throughout the van. Among the array of downlights, the larger lights in the kitchen, bedroom and ensuite have a blue night-light setting to help you move around in the wee hours of the morning without disturbing others.
The quality fittings continue in the ensuite at the rear of the van. There's a one-piece fibreglass shower with variable-height shower rose, a ceramic bowl cassette toilet, trendy washbasin, a linen cupboard, overhead cupboards, and a front-loading washing machine mounted at bench height for ease of access.
Supplementing the thoughtful package of creature comforts, the van is well configured to sustain long periods away from civilisation. One of the biggest drains on power can be a compressor fridge, but with a three-way power option and 18kg of gas to work with, this concern quickly diminishes.
Power reserves are managed by a pair of 110Ah deep-cycle batteries, maintained by a 130W solar panel and a 30A smartcharger. Perhaps the only thing missing is an Anderson plug to keep the batteries topped up in transit. Otherwise, three 95L water tanks provide plenty of fluid currency.
On the road, the Bushmaster belies its substantial 2680kg Tare. Our test loop included a mix of smooth highway driving, standard country roads and pottering around the Yan Yean Reserve north of Melbourne. The van was as solid as a rock, never pitching or weaving despite a number of trucks passing at high speeds, railway tracks and other lumpy passages.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There's plenty to like about the Bushmaster Blue Gum rough-road van. It has all the comforts of home to easily sustain a summer or winter season away, and the quality of fittings and the overall finish is second to none. Value is as good as it gets and when you consider its featured appointments - a convection microwave, Al-Ko Electronic Stability Control, a new awning and the smoked glass sink surround - it's a no-brainer that this van is ready to hit the road.
AL-KO ELECTRONIC STABILITY CONTROL (ESC)
Just as Electronic Stability Control (ESC) has impacted the motor vehicle industry, the same is happening to RVs with the release of the Al-Ko ESC. Fitted as standard on the Bushmaster Blue Gum range, ESC uses the van's braking system to control any lateral movement caused by wind buffeting, truck slip streams, emergency evasive action and/or the combination of bad weather.
The unit is fitted behind the axle in the centre of the van so that it can detect any instability or lateral movement. The system is able to react much quicker than human intervention and uses the van's electric brakes to stabilise the van.
ESC is powered by a 12V positive and earth, which are connected into spare pins on the wiring harness or via a separate two-pin connector.
There is an excellent video on the Al-Ko website (www.alkoesc.com.au/video
.html) demonstrating the capability of the ESC system in dry and wet weather. Best of all, the system will soon be available for older vans.
· Touring range away from civilisation
· Quality fittings and finish
· Value for money
I WOULD HAVE LIKED...
· A more vibrant base colour
· Greater clearance around the foot of the bed
· A narrower cafe dinette table