- A tough, comfortable and well-appointed all-road tourer
- Attention to detail for offroad travel
- Wide range of layouts and custom fittings
When describing its Terra Sportz, Melbourne's Nova Caravans leads with its chin. "The search for your perfect campsite will mean traversing a wide range of terrain types, from dirt roads to sand, mud and rocky country," its online spiel reads. "We believe that the Terra Sportz is the ideal vehicle for your adventurous journey and would prove the perfect offroad companion."
Nova's general manager, Paul Golding, was equally uncompromising when he handed over the first 2013 production model Terra Sportz to Caravan World for its first serious review. "Give it a hard time," he insisted. "Get it dirty."
So we did.
Apart from the extensive stone-deflecting black checkerplate on the lower body, which has been extended to include the spats shrouding the 15in alloy wheels and their 235/75-15 Light Truck tyres and the taillight housing, there are few immediate clues that the Terra Sportz is any better endowed than the 'outback' spec vans now offered by most manufacturers.
And rugged as it is, the sturdy 150x50mm Preston SuperGal chassis is not unique to Nova. It is, in fact, shared by a number of major caravan makers. But a closer look underneath reveals many detailed, thoughtful modifications that are missing on most of the Terra Sportz's competition.
The tandem-axle Simplicity load-sharing independent suspension is similar to that fitted to the big Bushtrackers, which are acknowledged as being among an elite group of accomplished offroad caravans. The various gas pipes and electric wires likely to snag or suffer stone damage are tucked up high in the chassis wells, the twin 80L water tanks are shielded by checkerplate steel, and there is additional stone shielding for the grey water pipes, which get shot-blasted off lesser vans in the first few kilometres of travel on unmade roads.
Other features include an Al-Ko offroad ball coupling, protective stone mesh under the A-frame, sturdy Al-Ko quick-drop stabilisers, cut-away rear bodywork to give a better departure angle, and rear bumper. But it's the things you can't see that give the Terra Sportz it's true offroad credentials, such as the 12mm, highly water-resistant polyurethane-coated ply floor; the gusseted frame for extra strength; the 'scupper' roof hatch that pressurises the interior to keep dust out on unmade roads; polyplastic double-glazed windows; the hail-resistant 3mm-thick Durabond aluminium composite cladding; and 12in offroad electric brakes.
It all adds up to a pretty impressive list for a van that starts in the mid-$70k range, but what's it like to tow and live in?
The Al-Ko swivelling offroad hitch offers a large degree of articulation for a 50mm ball, but it needs to be almost completely horizontal and takes a practiced hand before it will lock down or release.
Despite its heavy-duty suspension (with no softening effects as the test van was completely unladen, including the water tanks), the Terra Sportz towed easily and confidently on both bitumen and gravel at speeds of up to 100km/h, shrugging off the influences of a fairly stiff crosswind that was blowing as we headed north-west out of Melbourne.
The compliant air suspension on my Discovery 3 may have masked what was really happening behind it, but the Terra Sportz tracked well without a hint of sway, despite the rough and corrugated roads of our testing ground, the Wombat State Forest. The van also followed the tow car's tracks impressively and, despite its broad 2.4m (8ft) body width, it didn't end up pruning the trees that closed in as the road tightened.
Setting up once we arrived at our photo location was easy, with the swing-down aluminium Tecno Step giving quick access to the interior and the standard Dometic awning providing plenty of shade. But we had reservations about the height and strength of the step from the outset and our worst fears were confirmed when it snagged and broke on a protruding rock during a shallow river crossing. A plastic removable step would be a better option for an offroad van.
Interior decor is a very subjective thing and, while it looked great as a display van, I found the stark white decor and black-flecked marble-look bench and tabletops of the test van a little out of sync and easy to soil in the type of places adventurous owners might wish to take their Terra Sportz. Lighter timber tones would be my preference and, fortunately, Nova offers an extensive palette of finishes and fabrics to cater for the taste of individual customers.
We particularly liked the layout, with the rear entry giving quick access to the full-width rear ensuite, which has a toilet on the offside and fibreglass shower cubicle on the nearside. The vanity, including optional top-loader washing machine, separates the two.
The large kitchen, which has extensive benchtops, is located in the middle of the van, opposite a four-seater cafe-style dinette, leading to the north-south queen-sized bed with its 'Back Care' innerspring mattress.
It's a logical layout that works well and gives the van a spacious, open feel. But if you'd prefer something different, there are seven others floorplans from which to choose, depending on the van's length. And if none of those suit you, Nova will customise an existing design.
The same is true of the available options, where the sky is again the limit. The most popular are the 80W roof-mounted solar panel, a top-loading washing machine and a reversing camera.
The one thing that everyone will appreciate is the Terra Sportz's extensive storage space. It begins underneath the lift-up bed and the twin wardrobes either side, with their lower storage cupboards. The storage options extend rearward with seemingly endless lower and overhead cupboards and drawers throughout the kitchen and bathroom, where you'll also find some rough-road thinking: metal drawer runners and security latches have been fitted to both the sliding wet-area door and the show screen door to keep them shut over body-shaking corrugations.
During our test, we wondered if the latches on the under-sink drawers - despite their metal runners - could be sturdier to cope with the constant hammering on badly corrugated roads that they're likely to receive. But Paul says that the glued, screwed and stapled drawers have never drawn a complaint from the 60 or so Terra Sportz customers to date.
THE BOTTOM LINE
More people are touring inland Australia in caravans these days, but many are wary of straying far off the bitumen for fear of damaging their investment and facing expensive repairs. Yet the cost of a hard-core offroad caravan is beyond many budgets.
Nova has tapped into this in-between market with the Terra Sportz, offering offroad toughness in a well-priced, fully featured van that will take its owners on most major Australian arterial roads with relative ease.
This is not a Bushtracker - Nova doesn't pretend it is - and it's not designed for trips to the tip of Cape York, but it's a great, well-made all-rounder that will take you much further than a regular caravan without breaking
or filling with dust.
It's also simple enough in its construction and uses enough mainstream caravan industry components, from its chassis to its suspension, that repairs should be relatively easy if the worst happens.
IT'S A GAS
An unusual item fitted to our test Terra Sportz was its A-frame-mounted, gas-powered 2.5kVA generator - a first in the caravan industry, according to Nova.
It's an interesting option available on all 2013 Terra Sportz models that supports Nova's pitch for the caravan to be at home in remote and inhospitable outback areas. Costing about $2000, it offers travellers the ability to run air-conditioning and other energy-hungry appliances far away from a 240V power source.
The generator runs directly off the Terra Sportz's standard 2x9kg bottled gas supply and, with many tow vehicles being diesel, it avoids the need to carry flammable petrol in a separate container to run a conventional generator.
Operation couldn't be simpler. Lift the checkerplate protective cover, plug the gas hose into the adjacent bayonet outlet, turn on your bottled gas, then flick the small switch just inside the van's door well to activate a pezzo switch that fires the generator.
Apart from the extra 39kg it adds to the Terra Sportz's ball weight - around 50 per cent more than a smaller-output 2kVA petrol generator would - the only real downside is the generator's relatively noisy operation, just behind the bed head. But, as Nova's Paul Golding points out, most people turn off their generators when sleeping anyway…
- Very workable and spacious layout
- Plenty of storage space throughout
- Genuine offroad stone protection
- Sturdy construction
I WOULD HAVE LIKED...
- Positive locking catches on all cupboards and drawers
- A restraint to stop the mattress and bedding moving during rough-road travel
- Either a sturdier step or the existing one removed completely to gain extra ground clearance and minimise potential damage