Fact: caravans are getting cheaper and SUVs are getting smaller. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a small SUV, such as a Holden Captiva, Ford Kuga, or Hyundai iX35, can tow a cheap, fully-featured, ensuite Aussie caravan. Or does it?
There’s obviously a crossover point where the axis of legal braked towing capacity and a caravan’s permitted laden towing weight intersect. You’re not going to haul a 2t $52,000 Concept Innovation safely up a slippery hill with a 1700kg-rated Captiva diesel AWD. Or, worse still, with a 1600kg-rated iX35 or 1500kg-rated Kuga.
Until recent years, you had to go offshore and look at one of the lightweight European Adria, Bailey or Swift caravans if a Captiva, or one of its expanding range of market rivals, was the family wagon already in your garage. But not anymore. Enter the game-changing, Melbourne-built, all-composite construction Karakampa.
Weighing less than 1400kg, the Karakampa manages to pack a north-south island double bed, a Masterchef-sized kitchen, a generously-sized combined shower/toilet, and heaps of storage space into a very livable internal length of just over 4m (13ft 1in).
It felt like a flea on the back of our Captiva diesel tow car, with its 1700kg-rated braked towing capacity, thanks to the little Holden’s muscular 400Nm of torque from its 2.2L, four-cylinder turbo diesel engine. It is this type of rig that we believe will make Karakampa attractive to many people new to caravanning.
Apart from its good looks, the first thing that strikes you about the Karakampa is its welcoming interior, with a user-friendly layout and sense of light and space.
Despite exterior impressions that may suggest otherwise, this is a proper caravan and you don’t need to erect either the large rear, or optional nearside awning, to gain entry via the rear door, or to use the ensuite, cook a meal, or head straight to bed at the end of a long travelling day.
Being a totally fibreglass structure, rather like the more radically-styled Australian Bolwell RV, which doesn’t have an ensuite, everything that can be built in is built in. Being bonded to the walls and roof, the cupboards, bed base and even the ensuite contribute significantly to the caravan’s impressive rigidity.
The ensuite, immediately to the left when you enter through the rear door, is roomier than you’d find in most combined shower/toilet models and it can be accessed quickly from outdoors, or for roadside emergencies.
The huge benchtop opposite, which has a three-burner gas cooktop and separate sink is of very reasonable dimensions. The only fly in the soup is the high-mounted microwave, just inside the door. Hinged glass covers on the cooktop and sink can increase the bench space, if required.
The L-shaped dinette, with its large, rectangular, single-pedestal table is large enough to seat four cosily and, if you are prepared to sit on the end of the bed, six people could crowd around the table – something many larger caravans can’t offer.
MORE IN STORE
With everything built-in, the Karakampa has enormous interior storage space and you keep finding cupboards to open. These include storage cupboards on each side of the island double bed, which lifts up to reveal further storage underneath, and there is a reasonable-size hanging robe on the right-hand side.
The only catch with all this storage space is that you will need to be careful loading the Karakampa to avoid upsetting its excellent balance. With the single 82L water tank full and supplies and clothes on board, you are going to use up much of its skimpy 360kg payload.
Along with space, the other standout feature of the Karakampa’s interior is its large, airy feel.
All interior walls and the padded ceiling are white and take full advantage of the Dometic double-glazed windows, large front roof hatch and rear door to flood the interior with light. And at night, a profusion of LEDs do the job.
All windows open 90 degrees and are fitted with two-way flyscreens and block-out blinds, including the large hatch over the bed which is, for some inexplicable reason, front-hinged, so that even when opened just a fraction, it dumps rain on the bed. If it was hinged at the rear, this would be far less likely to happen.
Outside, the Karakampa’s cleverness continues. The massive front (fibreglass) boot sits on the 80x50mm A-frame behind the vertically-mounted spare wheel and single 9kg gas cylinder, while, further rearwards, there’s a full tunnel boot under the bed and space in the separate battery compartment for a second battery.
The only problem outside is that all four Al-Ko corner drop jacks are attached to the galvanised chassis, which places them well inwards from the Karakampa’s body sides. Lowering them is a potentially dirty, two-handed job.
The Karakampa’s list of standard features is good but not outstanding compared to the standard spec sheet of its most direct competitors, such as the single-axle British Baileys. But it does include the choice of either double bed or twin single bed innerspring mattress layouts, a Truma hot water service and a small rooftop reverse-cycle air-conditioner.
The extensive list of options fitted to our test unit added $6323 to our Karakampa’s bottom line – many of them items that other manufacturers include as standard in this price-bracket. Many potential buyers attracted to the caravan’s lightweight concept and many attractive features will start to shop it against the growing number of others in this ultra-competitive $45,000-$60,000 price bracket.
But help is on the way. While the Karakampa we tested is currently Centaur’s only caravan, that will change in the near future, with a cheaper non-ensuite model with a side door on the drawing boards, plus a larger side-door model with a full separate shower and toilet en-suit across the back. Stay tuned.
CARRY ON KARAKAMPA
Strictly-speaking, the Karakampa is not new. The company was originally started by Ross Elliot and the first production caravans hit the market about four years ago. But Elliot sold to Centaur Products Australia in May last year, reportedly taking a tree-change in one of his products, and Centaur has been building Karakampas at Kilsyth, Vic, ever since.
Karakampa was a natural addition to Centaur’s expanding suite of composite products which, since 2009, has included Prisoner Capsules (known as Police Pods) to fit on Commodore utes for Victoria Police, and it has recently begun supplying similar pods to the WA police. A civilian version, known as the Sportsvan Body is also available for non-police Commodore utes.
But Centaur is better known to many Australians for its role as a major supplier of composite panels and other components to various V8 Supercar teams. It also runs the Hiflex Team, which includes the #3 Commodore driven by Tony D’Alberto.
Finished in cheery high-gloss white with canary yellow lower bodywork and black stripes and black side-accents, the Karakampa certainly captivated many people at last year’s Melbourne Leisurefest, where it was displayed behind a matching yellow and black Centaur Sportsvan. Even behind our far less distinctive dark grey Captiva, it was still a head-turner.
According to Centaur, there are now about 50 Karakampas on Australian roads today, half of them completed since Centaur took over, and they are currently popping out of the factory at the rate of more than one a fortnight.
·Spacious, very useable layout
·Ease of towing
I WOULD HAVE LIKED...
· More of the options included in the base price
· Easier access to the corner stabiliser legs
· Rear-hinged front roof hatch
Originally published in Caravan World #516, July/August 2013.