• Rugged, lightweight offroad van
• Singles or queen-bed layout
• Minimalist kitchen design
Black caravans are relatively rare in the RV industry, so they tend to stand out in the crowd. When the new Phoenix Scorpion first caught my eye, I asked Roy Wyss, proprietor of Sunland Caravans, and now also Phoenix Caravans, why they made the van black. His answer was rather succinct: "Well, you noticed it didn't you?"
Phoenix Caravans originally built offroad vans, but had to close its doors not long ago due to financial difficulties. Sunland Caravans then purchased some of the remnants of the company, including its name, and is now producing a new range of Phoenix vans, this black Scorpion among them.
Give the colour of the van, it's not particularly suitable for dusty roads or the hot sun, but there are more practical colours available.
Building a van that's suitable for rugged offroad travel, but is not excessively heavy to tow can be a challenge, but Phoenix has found the balance with the Scorpion.
In designing the van, Roy started with the chassis, which is an interesting mix of technologies without the traditional steel box section structure.
The chassis has aluminium rails that are bolted to a steel drawbar (100x50mm), and a steel sub-frame for the suspension. Everything is hot-dipped galvanised. The aluminium chassis rails are not the standard RHS structure, but rather a triangular design with flanges and pressed holes, which double as weight-saving and conduit openings.
Even the water tanks (1x60L, 1x80L) are custom-made to fit above the axles and are neatly protected by alloy checkerplate.
This is a radical and well-engineered approach to chassis design, but the Cruisemaster suspension is a fairly standard independent setup with trailing arms, coil springs and twin shock absorbers per wheel.
Above the chassis, the Scorpion body has composite fibreglass walls and a fibreglass front, rear and roof. The floor also is a hefty 60mm composite structure.
I can't tell everything about the design structure - lest I reveal company secrets - except that it has been designed for both strength and weight reduction.
Another interesting design feature in the Scorpion is the new Camec flush windows, which are black-framed and mesh well with the rest of the van. Rather than a conventional front boot, there's tunnel storage, a pole holder and a moulded front cover that can be used for a something like a generator.
Two gas cylinders are stored in a bin halfway along the offside and the two batteries are on the rear wall. There are compartments for the external 240V socket and 12V/TV antenna connections near the mid-nearside TV bracket. Naturally, both they and the external speakers are black.
As you could imagine, it's a bit hard to hide the Scorpion's white Dometic awning, but the protective covers on the awning arms do a reasonable job. Like the power outlets, the water inlet is also recessed, but on the other side of the van.
The inside of the Scorpion is a refreshing change from the norm. What looks like a big mirror to the right as you enter the rear door is actually the reflective front of the two-door 175L Waeco fridge.
The van has a front bedroom, mid-nearside dinette, rear-offside corner bathroom and a kitchen across the offside and rear walls. Full walls of Seitz hopper windows on both sides give panoramic views and the general décor is an interesting mix of Tasmanian Oak-framed doors and drawers and contemporary white Perspex inlays. It might sound a bit odd, but it looks good.
The interior is very bright and has good cross-flow ventilation. Overhead lockers run down both sides of the van.
Our review van had single beds which, in many ways, offer a more practical layout, but an island queen bed is also available. Both beds have innerspring mattresses on posture slat bases, which can be easily lifted to get to the storage space underneath. A two-door wardrobe between the beds provides generous hanging space, as well as a small bedside shelf and a single drawer.
The kitchen bench looks a bit basic, but has actually been deliberately designed that way. There is no microwave and just a combo stainless steel cooktop and sink (both with glass lids) for cooking.
According to Roy, the minimalist kitchen was created following research into what the customers were looking for, and as part of a continuing effort to keep the van's weight down. That doesn't mean extra appliances can't be fitted if required, they just add a bit more weight.
The result of this kitchen design is plenty of benchtop and storage space, including a good range of cupboards and drawers. At first glance there doesn't appear to be any powerpoints, but they are actually on a purpose-built pop-up pedestal at the back of the bench.
The 22in flatscreen TV is mounted at the forward end of the kitchen bench and can be seen from either the bed or the dinette opposite. The L-shaped dinette comes with a pole-mounted table opposite the kitchen bench. It's separated from the bed by a small cabinet which contains a cupboard and a shelf with a pop-top powerpoint similar to the kitchen.
If you're used to a full-width bathroom, the Scorpion's corner unit might seem to be a bit small, but there's actually plenty of room for the bench-style cassette toilet, variable-height flexible-hose shower, and corner wash basin and moulded shelves. There is a window above the toilet and a ceiling fan hatch for ventilation.
Two 120Ah lithium batteries supply the Scorpion's 12V load and can be charged by the 180W solar panel. The van also comes with a Fusion radio with iPod/iPhone interface, as well as some energy-efficient LED lights.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The unique engineering approach taken with the Phoenix's chassis and body design makes it lightweight, yet suitable for some great offroad travel. It certainly presents an interesting alternative to the Sunland range.
• Using a different approach for the chassis design
• Interior construction and décor
• Mirrored fridge - it's different yet practical (but difficult to photograph)
I WOULD HAVE LIKED
• To have seen the island queen bed
• A little more external storage
Originally published in Caravan World #506, September 2012.
Phoenix Caravans, 1 Strathvale Court, Caboolture, Qld 4510, (07) 5499 2250, www.phoenixcaravans.com.au