THE FACT THAT a large portion of the Australian caravan industry is located within a few of Melbourne's outer suburbs has its positives and negatives. While everyone working side-by-side in such a close proximity can be a considerable advantage for suppliers and the like, a disadvantage for customers is that some the vans from this cluster of manufacturers tend to be very similar, apparently only differing in the finer detail.
I should also point out that reviewers also struggle with this problem. So when a van like the unique, but still Vic-manufactured, New Age Bilby appears on the radar, it tends to grab our attention.
The 5m (16ft 5in) Bilby 15 - fitted with shower and toilet - weighs in with an ATM of just 2050kg and Tare of 1750kg, making it towable by a wide range of vehicles. Our Toyota Hilux tray truck handled the Bilby without any problems.
A quick note about weights. As you might expect with a shower van this rig has two water tanks, which give it a total water capacity of 140L, taking a fair chunk out of the 300kg load carrying capacity. Something to keep in mind when loading up.
The Bilby's interior is where things start to look quite different from other vans. With the entry door just forward of the wheels, the layout consists of an east-west 2.2x1.55m (7ft 3in x 5ft 1in) front bed, full-width rear bathroom, and offside kitchen with a small L-shaped dinette opposite.
The van's shorter length means there are a few compromises in terms of the layout, namely the east-west bed and the slightly compressed space for the dinette and kitchen. But this is the price of a full-width bathroom, where only so much 'compression' can be applied.
What stands out in the décor is the bright white laminate finish to the walls, ceiling and some of the cabinets. This starkness is offset by the anthracite colour of the cupboards doors, and it all makes a welcome change from the more standard timber look. During the day the white laminate makes for a very bright interior, while at night it means the LED downlights and halogen reading lights (for the bed and dinette) don't have to work too hard.
One of the results of this particular layout is a very large bed, which will be a welcome feature for the taller RVers. The bedroom is a fairly simple setup, with no bedside cabinets, but there are overhead lockers across the front, two reading lights and windows all-round for ventilation. Under the bed, two large drawers are readily accessible.
There are not too many suitable locations for a TV, but in this case, a flatscreen unit was mounted on the nearside wall above the foot of the bed. This means it could be seen from the bed and the dinette without too much difficulty. However, the swivel-arm mount of the TV didn't seem too sturdy.
A relatively small space, the dinette is best for two people, but it does have a reasonably large table. Four lockers run overhead and there is the usual under-seat storage, although the space under the wall seat is largely taken up by the wheel arch. I also liked the magazine pouch on the end wall.
In addition to having the radio/CD player fitted on the outside, the locker nearest the door contained the 240V circuit breaker, battery gauge, 12V fuses and hot water switch.
A Smev combo three-burner cooktop and stainless steel sink (without drainer) fill most of the kitchen bench. The combo cooktop is essential because the 164L Thetford fridge means a raised benchtop. Deeper-than-usual overhead lockers allow the microwave (above the fridge) to sit at a very reasonable height. Extra shelves in the overhead lockers also make the space more usable. Additional kitchen storage is provided by two drawers, a cupboard and a full-height pantry.
Given its size compared to the rest of the van, the Bilby's bathroom is really the 'hero' feature. It contains a separate nearside shower cubicle, Thetford cassette toilet opposite and a vanity in the middle. A surprising amount of cupboard, shelf and overhead locker space has been fitted. A small offside window, as well as hatches above the toilet and shower, provide natural light and ventilation.
The Bilby's stylish raked front is a real stand out. Its DuraGal chassis rides on Al-Ko torsion suspension and the meranti timber frame is covered with aluminium cladding.
Seitz hopper windows and a Camec triple-locker door are standard. Alloy checkerplate used for the lower sides and across the front help to add a touch of rugged class.
A tunnel, rather than a conventional front boot, is fitted. A toolbox, two 4.5kg gas cylinders and centre-mounted jockey wheel are all fitted on the drawbar. The spare wheel sits on a small bumper bar at the rear.
A look underneath the van reveals that the two water tanks are mounted forward of the axle, with the gas bayonet on the nearside. Essential items like the Aircommand air-conditioner and Winegard TV antenna are out of sight on the roof.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In an industry where a keen eye is often required to spot differences from one van to the next, the New Age Bilby 15 has a very welcome, unique look, and not just in terms of the interior décor.
This rig is an interesting example of what happens when a full-width rear bathroom is fitted into a shorter unit. In this case, it does not mean an unworkable layout, but a few compromises have to be accepted in other areas. The result, however, is a fully self-contained caravan that does not require an especially large tow vehicle.
Source: Caravan World Oct 2011.