IT'S A FACT that there are many luxurious and well-appointed caravans on the road in Australia today. However, that level of appointment does come with a weight penalty, so vehicles like Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon sedans, once the kings of tow cars, are much less dominant these days.
A challenge for any designer is to get all the features that many of us have become accustomed to into a usable length of van. Full-width rear bathrooms, for instance, have become quite common, yet they take up a considerable amount of space, as do island beds.
Newcastle-based Australian Motorhomes not only sells motorhomes and fifth wheelers, but in more recent times has taken on the Sunliner range of caravans.
Proprietor Ron Warden, a car enthusiast, pondered the sedan tow vehicle problem, looked at the elevating beds found in some motorhome designs, and married that with one of the smaller Sunliner-designed caravans. He came up with the 5m (16ft 4in) Carnie, which has an ATM of 1780kg and a Tare of 1540kg, and is ideal for many sedans.
TAKE A SEAT
The layout design is a very workable compromise. The Carnie has a front entry, front kitchen, full-width rear bathroom, and lounge/dining in the middle. The two sideways-facing lounges can be used as beds, but the main bed (which can be left made up) lowers from the ceiling at a quick flick of a wall switch.
The interior reflects the Sunliner style, with easy-on-the-eye décor, cream leatherette upholstery and, despite being a relatively small van, a light-filled interior. Large Seitz windows with integrated insect screens and blinds considerably add to this airy interior feel.
Fore and aft hatches supply extra ventilation and, if needed, the rear hatch is pre-wired to take a roof-mounted air-conditioner.
The bed's raising mechanism, which in other rigs has proven hard to hide, has been built-in quite well here. Ceiling and under-bed-mounted fluorescent lights supply night time illumination.
Kitchens running across the front of a van are relatively rare these days, but it was nice to see one in the Sunliner. A combo three-burner cooktop and stainless steel sink (no drainer) is fitted slightly off-centre to the nearside, with the rest of the bench available as work space.
With the 150L fridge and eye-height microwave mounted against the offside wall, the corner becomes a bit unusable. But storage accessed via a top hatch makes the best of it.
Under-bench storage is good, with a selection of variable sized drawers, multi-shelved cupboard and wire basket-style slide-out pantry. Given the sloping angle of the front corner, there isn't much room for overhead locker and shelf space, but some has been squeezed in nonetheless.
With large puffy cushions, the two lounges offer an immediate invitation to sit down and relax. Windows on either side offer good views and when dining time comes around, the Zwaardvis any-which-way table is stored under the nearside seat. In a layout design such as this, this style of table is an asset.
The 1.95x1.45m (6ft 5in x 4ft 8in) bed can be lowered quite quickly. If you'd like to set the bed at a low height, the lounge's back cushions will have to be removed and stored under the bed.
One of the few disadvantages of this setup is that the person on the forward side of the bed will have limited access to the bathroom at night. There is also a 200mm loss of ceiling height in the middle of the van. Neither sleeper has a bedside ledge, so a hinged shelf on either side would be a practical inclusion.
General storage might have been an issue with a van of this size, but side cupboards have been added in the space between the bathroom and lounges. A full-height wardrobe on the offside, as well as a half-height cupboard on the nearside, offer plenty of shelf and hanging space.
In the rear, the bathroom includes a separate shower cubicle, Thetford cassette toilet and a small, centrally-located vanity with shaving cabinet above. The rear window improves space perceptions and even offers some outside viewing when seated on the loo. A vent hatch above the shower gives the required ventilation.
The van sits on the Sunliner-designed DuraTorque chassis. This unit is made from hot-dipped galvanised steel designed to be lightweight with curved (rather than cut and welded) drawbar rails running the full length of the chassis. There is also a second box section frame above, which has punched-hole cross members. The water tank is mounted behind the Al-Ko IRS suspension-fitted axle.
At the business end, the drawbar looks remarkably clean, with only the coupling and jockey wheel fitted. The 4kg gas cylinder is located in the front boot.
Above the chassis, the body has a nice, simple, streamlined look, and roof bars are an interesting touch. Sunliner's ThermoTough fibreglass composite structure is used for the walls, with fibreglass mouldings back and front, and the timber-framed DuraRoof bonded material used for the roof. Walls and roof are designed to be fully insulating.
On the road, the Carnie towed very well indeed, and my Ford Falcon XR6 was a willing performer, as might be expected. There was a surprising lack of the usual fore and aft pitching that accompanies smaller tow vehicles.
This combination worked well, the Carnie well within the Falcon's towing limits.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There are going to be a few trade-offs with this type of design, such as the slightly lower ceiling in the middle. But, generally speaking, this van's a winner, not only in terms of van livability, but in the lighter tow vehicle department. It's also a van built to a budget.
I am definitely in favour of beds that don't have to be made up every night, and if you happen to favour a full-width bathroom, then you can have your cake and eat it too with the Carnie.
Source: Caravan World Feb 2012.