· Royal Flair's newest luxury van
· Fitted with the Sky-Deck
· Acres of living space, inside and out
The Piazza is one of the early adopters of the Sky-Deck, a Melbourne invention that adds plenty of undercover floorspace - outside! But the Piazza is, in its own right, a luxurious caravan with a quality fitout. Moreover, it's a van that goes to show innovation and lateral thinking are alive and well in the caravan manufacturing industry.
Royal Flair has been in business since 1975 and offers an array of models and layouts, from the miniscule Microsport - "the world's smallest pop-top" - to the upmarket Van Royce. The Piazza is Royal Flair's latest release, its Sky-Deck a major point of difference between it and the many, many caravans in the luxury end of the market.
There's a sense of prestige about the Piazza. The interior is not short on style or wow factor, but nor is it overdone. You can just about see your reflection in the walls' glossy finish.
The amidships Camec triple-locker security door opens on the Piazza's kitchen and dinette. Royal Flair has provided a sensible amount of storage, with three lockers above the kitchen bench, one above the 190L three-way Dometic fridge-freezer and microwave in which you'll find all of the van's controls, and an array of cupboards and drawers, including a large pot drawer and slide-out pantry. The 12V Shurflo water pump is where you'd expect it to be: screwed to the floor beneath the sink. The Breaksafe unit, meanwhile, is beneath the pot drawer, along with the 12V fuses - a little awkward to reach when fuses need replacing but it's workable.
Other kitchen features include a Thetford Minigrill MkIII cooktop with griller and a stainless rangehood.
The dinette, opposite the kitchen, is good and comfy for at least two people. There's a hatch for access to the storage space beneath the lounge but it faces the entrance, so the best bet would be to move cushions to get to everything, including the house battery, which is stored here.
The rear bedroom is home to a queen-size bed (1.85x1.53m/6ft 8in x 5ft 2in) and has storage in spades. There are a few overhead lockers, and wardrobes that offer 850mm of hanging space, though the offside cupboard, beneath the wardrobe, loses space to the recessed bin that houses the dual 4kg gas cylinders. Beneath the bed is yet more storage, though it's partially taken up by the 14L Truma gas-electric hot-water service and the housing for a rear tunnel boot that's accessed from the outside.
The corners of the foot of the bed are each filled with a cupboard. The nearside unit extends all the way to the roof, while the other is a half-height unit with a flatscreen TV above.
Overall, the bedroom is a classy affair. The only downside: the wardrobe doors can't open all the way because they bind on the padded pelmets fitted to the windows either side of the bed.
The shower and toilet cubicles (both with 12V fan hatches) at the front of the van create a convenient walkthrough to the Sky-Deck. On the nearside, you'll find the fully-moulded fibreglass shower cubicle, the cassette toilet and small washbasin opposite. The doors are good and strong - they certainly withstood my stress test (grabbing the top and applying as much downward force as my bony arms could muster).
The Piazza is also fitted with an Aircommand Ibis air-conditioner, plenty of LED lights throughout, and a pressure hatch. There's even an Axis DVD player/stereo system. It is, however, the only van on test to miss out on a washing machine.
Often, though, it's the little things that grab your attention. In the Piazza, I appreciated the attention to detail, evidenced in thoughtful touches such as the trim around the microwave - it really finishes it off. Overall, it's a refined, cohesive interior.
It only takes a minute to set up the Sky-Deck. In fact, once you've mastered it, it's probably quicker to open the Sky-Deck than it is to roll out the awning.
The front of the van is actually a hinged lid. Simply undo the catches and let it rise on the gas struts. Then, lower the Sky-Deck's floor which, when packed away, rests vertically behind the lid, swing out the safety rails, lock them together, and pour your wine. If you think this sounds all too difficult, rest assured that the spring-assisted floor requires minimal effort and little strength to lower.
The Deck gives the Piazza an additional 2.03m or so of undercover living space above the drawbar. A rather ingenious idea, really, especially considering it doesn't add to the travel length of the rig. Royal Flair has even added a TV and antenna point, some lights and speakers, as well as a 12V socket, to make this area truly liveable. These features are hidden in the cavity that holds the base of the Deck when it's closed. Incidentally, the base is fitted with a few hooks for stowing your grey-water hose, etc.
Beneath the floor - aluminium extrusion designed to look like merbau decking - they've secured flyscreen to keep creepy-crawlies at bay. Brilliant.
When unhitched, the Piazza can actually rest on the front corner stabilisers alone, sans jockey wheel, though it does also comes with a special, height-adjustable Al-Ko stand to be used in conjunction with them. We had three blokes on the Sky-Deck with the van supported only by the stabilisers and at no point did the setup feel unstable. (Royal Flair obviously has confidence in this system, since that's how they displayed the van at the 2012 Sandown Leisurefest, the second-largest RV show in Victoria.)
CHASSIS AND STORAGE
The Royal Flair Piazza sits on a G&S chassis comprised of a 4in A-frame, 4in main member and punched-hole cross members. The whole plot rides on tandem-axle leaf-spring suspension with 15in alloy wheels.
Since the Sky-Deck lowers horizontally over the A-frame, the gas cylinders have been located in an offside bin. And in lieu of a front boot, Royal Flair has created a huge tunnel bin on the rear-nearside. Considering the company has, wisely, put the battery, fuses, and anything else that might otherwise appear in the front boot, inside the van, the tunnel is yours to fill.
Although it arguably doesn't need them, thanks to the Sky-Deck, the Piazza is fitted with a full-length awning and fold-down picnic table.
On the offside, you'll find a mains pressure inlet and fresh water tap, mounted to a piece of checkerplate secured to the chassis. It hangs quite low but, unless you're towing the van in areas you probably shouldn't, it should be okay. Underneath, meanwhile, the PVC plumbing is well forward of the van's wheels, so it's out of the line of fire of any stones, etc., they might flick up. The dual water tanks are also protected, wrapped in galvanised metal sheeting.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Many people want luxury in their caravan. Most of all, they want space. But not everyone's budget extends to the Concept Europa or Nova Pride that we put this van up against.
It's in this market where the Piazza stakes its claim. It offers a heck of a lot of living space for its price point. Its internal length of around 19ft 6in (5.94m) is packed with all of life's essentials, but the well-engineered Sky-Deck opens the van to a new world of touring possibilities.
THE JUDGES LIKED...
· Integration of the Sky-Deck
· Attention to detail throughout
· Stability under tow
THE JUDGES WOULD'VE LIKED...
· To be able to open the wardrobe doors all the way
· A less square shape to the van - the Piazza is, less face it, rather boxy.