IT SEEMS GREY is the new white. No longer will every van in the park be white, white or white. Apart from some Coromals, and a few others, of course.
Arriving at Nova Caravans to pick up our van, the Terra Sportz stood out with a striking combination of all-round black checkerplate and grey cladding. A grey caravan may not initially sound especially appealing, but as our images show, it really is very attractive. The colour is called Nova Pewter, and while I might be pushing things a bit suggesting the demise of white caravans, more manufacturers are keen to offer buyers a greater choice of van aesthetics - inside and out.
What makes the Terra Sportz look so good is the smooth finish of the Dibond 3mm aluminium composite panel used in its wall construction. In addition to being lightweight and fire resistant with good insulation properties, it looks much better than the old aluminium cladding. And the gusseted meranti frame adds to the van's strength and offroad flexibility.
It's difficult to give definitive answers on just how good an offroad van is if you haven't tested it on rough roads, but you can gather some idea by having a look underneath. Nova not only has a checkerplate guard for the tap and full protection for the two independent water tanks, it has gone a step further with extra checkerplate protection for the electrical cables, plumbing and galvanised sheeting under the floor.
Another indicator of a van's offroad ability is the suspension. In this case, the tandem 15in Delta alloys sit on a Simplicity offroad setup, and the chamfered rear will make deep creek crossings a whole lot easier, even with the spare sitting on the rear bumper.
The 'cracked earth' ochre decals running the length of the van add to the outback flavour.
The 6in drawbar holds a recessed fully-articulated Al-Ko offroad hitch, while dual 9kg gas cylinders, with a mesh storage rack underneath, sit behind the centre jockey wheel. A jerry can holder sits between the gas cylinders and 2in risers give loads of clearance.
There is plenty of space in the front boot, even with two 100Ah batteries and a comprehensive electrics control panel taking up space on the offside. The panel helps keep track of everything, including the 120W solar panel on the roof. And travellers won't be left scratching their heads if something goes wrong because everything on the panel is labelled - lights, fridge, radio, pump, toilet, outlets, etc. - for easy location.
Inside, the décor is very attractive, with the fabric colours in the dinette complementing the two-tone cabinetry. The pale overhead cupboards and lockers contrast nicely with the darker pelmets and lower storage areas. All the cupboard catches have positive-locking Nikpol fittings and the drawers sit on metal runners.
Some of the overhead cupboards could do with a shelf to help store small items. This also applies to the cupboards above the head of the bed.
The overall length of the van has been kept to 7.5m (24ft 7in) so it can handle any tight offroad spots, but this comes with compromises in interior space. The combination shower/toilet in the front offside corner cuts into kitchen and separates the offside food preparation bench from the sink and cooktop/grill at the front of the van. Kitchen cupboard space is reduced, but is still adequate. There has been no compromising, however, with the 184L Thetford fridge. The Samsung microwave is nicely placed at waist height for easy access.
Gauges for the water heater, volt meter, battery pack and water levels are at eye level on the side of the fridge and there are four speakers for the Kenwood DVD/radio player (but none outside). With two Four Seasons hatches and large double-glazed poly plastic windows, there is plenty of natural light, helped by three big fluoro lights and downlights.
While the island queen bed is a reasonable size at 1.88x1.52m (6ft2in x 5ft), you do have to step over the wheel arches at the end of the bed to access the side wardrobes and cupboards. The large windows make it bright and breezy and the hatch above the bed has a nifty automatic rain sensor operation.
An adjustable TV bracket (TV is extra) at the end of the bed makes for easy viewing from all over the van. The under-bed storage is a cavernous space, so a couple of drawers would make access a little easier. Above the windows on either side of the bed are two open storage shelves. These are an excellent addition for storing items such as magazines, newspapers, and books, which might normally get in the road on top of the bed.
Other manufacturers could also take note of the large strap that keeps the mattress in place while travelling, as well as another velcro strap that does the same with the tri-fold dinette table.
A remote control for the Dometic B300 air-conditioner is handy for those nights when you want to adjust the temperature, but don't feel like getting out of bed.
There are plenty of powerpoints throughout, but no pressure hatch to help keep dust out.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There are lots of vans being built these days that call themselves 'offroad', and Nova's first stab in this category is a fine effort. First and foremost, it's not as big as a bus, which is the first mistake made by some manufacturers.
Sure, this means you miss out on a full-width bathroom, but if you want to get into all the best spots out the back of beyond, this van still has all the mod-cons inside, and enough tough stuff underneath, to get you there. And it won't look as dirty as a white van.
Source: Caravan World Jan 2012.