· Imported 6.9m (22ft 8in) tandem-axle van
· Designed in Australia
· Fibreglass body with aluminium chassis
· Front bedroom, rear bathroom layout
To the untrained eye, many caravans can look the same from the outside, especially when they're all lined up at a show. But every now and then, something comes along that stands out in the crowd. That's what happened when I noticed a Deeson RV Alpine Forest at a recent RV show.
Deeson RV might be a new name in the RV world but there's nothing new or inexperienced about the team behind it. Parravans Caravan World's Steve Edwards is an old hand in the caravan business and has spent many, many months on the design process of Deeson's new ranges of RVs. This is an essential requirement for any van but is especially important in this case because these vans are built in China.
Although many RV components and other items used in Australia are made in China, very few caravans are actually built there. When an Australian company such as Parravans decides to set up there, it's quite an involved procedure. Steve told me a local manager was sent to China for three months to supervise production. In addition, both a qualified electrician and plumber/gas fitter were dispatched to ensure that the installation of the utilities was fully compliant with Australian standards and was able to be signed off by local tradespeople when the vans arrive in Australia.
I mention all of this because, here at CW, we try to ensure that any imported RV we review has been designed and built to Australian standards. And that certainly appears to be the case with the Deeson RV range.
So, apart from the unique body design, does the Alpine Forest have any other major differences to a typical Australian van? The answer is yes and no.
For a start, the CAD-designed chassis measuring 120x50x4mm (5x2x0.16in) is made from aluminium rather than steel. Aluminium is quite common in camper trailers but used sparingly in caravans and fifth wheelers. It is far less corrosive and has a much better strength to weight ratio than steel, and therefore used extensively in the aircraft industry.
Conventionally, the Deeson's leafspring tandem-axle suspension is bolted to the chassis. Slightly less conventionally, the drawbar has a camper trailer-style swing-up jockey wheel and a pod with a streamlined cover for the 9kg gas cylinders. Instead of being mounted in an east-west arrangement, they sit in a line between the drawbar rails.
The Alpine Forest's walls and roof are made from 30mm one-piece fibreglass. Moulded fibreglass panels are used for the front and rear. One-piece honeycomb (24mm) is used for the flooring and the black trim on the exterior is an eye-catching addition.
Up front are moulded components for the gas cylinder cover, front window protector and boot lid. The two former items are hinged while the latter is designed to swing up. In addition to the boot, there is front tunnel storage that incorporates a slide-out barbecue. There are more moulded components at the rear in the form of the spare wheel cover and a blank 'window', which might sound odd but looks good.
The result is a van that has an external length of 6.91m (22ft 8in) and a Tare of 2320kg with a standard carrying capacity of 400kg. My tow vehicle for this van was a turbodiesel Nissan Navara, which proved more than adequate for the task - even with some unexpected travels down a few undulating dirt roads. It's important to note that the Nissan has a maximum tow rating of 3000kg and a max ball load of 300kg but the former is reduced slightly depending on the towball mass. In this case, that was not an issue but it would be wise to check if towing a heavier van.
Enterting through the Camec security door reveals a layout with no real surprises in its basic design - full-width rear bathroom, front bedroom and mid-kitchen and dinette. The burnt orange hue of the cabinetry is a bit overpowering but, if your taste runs to darker interiors, you might find it a nice change. An attractive feature of the van's interior is the recessed fittings in the ceiling. An asymmetrical partition, which runs up both sides and across the ceiling, creates a partial separation between the living area and bedroom. This slightly reduces the kitchen benchtop space but it also serves as the mounting point for the flatscreen TV so, as in any van design, there's some give and take.
The kitchen includes all the usual items: four burner cooktop/grill/oven, stainless steel sink with drainer, microwave and a Dometic 186L three-way fridge. The microwave isn't mounted in the oft-used position above the fridge; rather, it is under the bench, below the drainer. The space above the fridge is used for the radio/CD player, 12V switching and a small locker.
Kitchen storage space consists of three overhead lockers, five drawers, a single cupboard and a wire basket slide-out pantry. Most of the space in the cupboard is taken up by the sink and hot water heater so there are just a couple of narrow shelves, but the multiple drawers make up for the lack of cupboard space.
Opposite the kitchen, the cafe-style dinette comes with a tri-fold table, three overhead lockers, under-seat drawers and a couple of shelves under the table. Also fitted to the seat bases are 240V and 12V sockets but they are awkward to access. I imagine it wouldn't be difficult to move them.
Although the bed measures a useful 1.88x1.52m (6ft 2in x 5ft), that still leaves a good amount of space to walk around. The bedhead, which includes sound system speakers, has everything fitted and even has useful little recessed shelves under the side wardrobes. Lifting the posture slat bed base reveals a compartmentalised storage space beneath.
Bringing up the rear, the bathroom has all the essential items, including a very generous amount of drawer space and a top-loading washing machine.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So how does the Chinese-built Deeson RV Alpine Forest stack up? Very well, I have to say.
Being a very early model, there were a few rough edges but most of those were pointed out to me as items for future correction rather than things I noticed during my review.
The exterior of the van has a very stylish look about it and the interior doesn't lack for much either, having quite a few features that make it stand out in the crowd. In a way that probably sums up the Alpine Forest - there are many features that, if not entirely new, have been looked at afresh.
· Streamlined external look
· Interior fitout with recessed ceiling fittings
· Aluminium chassis
· Good drawer storage in kitchen and bathroom
I WOULD HAVE LIKED
· Better drawer runners - some were a bit wobbly
· Different location for under-seat power sockets
· More kitchen bench space