I’ve just spent quality time with the future of Australian caravanning and I’m excited! It doesn’t look like a prop from Star Wars or a futuristic design study from Dusseldorf. In fact, it looks reassuringly normal.
But the new Bailey Rangefinder caravans, scheduled to make their public debut at Melbourne Leisurefest in October, are radical in more important ways than their looks and, based on the unparalleled access given to Caravan World into their design and testing process, I’m confident the Australian caravanning public will be equally impressed.
LAYOUT AND DESIGN
Lightweight British and European caravans have been around for a long time, including around 2500 Bristol-built Baileys already on our roads. But what makes the Rangefinder truly special is that it has been specifically designed and built for Australia, combining the best of Bailey’s patented lightweight body construction with the proven strength and ground clearance of a locally designed and built chassis. It can also be fitted with seven-leaf roller-rocker or fully independent coil spring and shock absorber suspension.
On first acquaintance, the Rangefinder Gemini bears a strong family resemblance to the wholly British-built Baileys that will continue to be sold alongside their Aussie counterparts. The reason for that is, with their lighter pressed steel chassis and rubber torsion suspension, they are even lighter – as much as 300kg on the single-axle version – putting them within the towing capability of large family cars and smaller 4WDs. And with no plans to build a single-axle Rangefinder, the British Baileys will have that lightweight, sub-1500kg Tare end of the market all to themselves.
BEDROOM AND STORAGE
Unlike its British cousins, which generally feature a front lounge/rear bedroom layout, the Gemini has the front island bed preferred by many Aussie caravanners, combined with an entry door ahead of the tandem-axle set.
Thanks to its level floor, without a step cut-out, and the van’s large windows that flood light into its interior, there is a sense of great space once you step inside. This was amplified on the test Gemini by the L-shaped lounge to the right of the door, although buyers can elect to have a cafe dinette at no extra cost if they prefer.
The galley opposite the lounge offers pretty good bench space for a van of this size, particularly when the ‘wing’ extension panel on the left is raised to extend the serving space. The combination of the off-white ply overhead cupboards, contrasting dark brown lower cabinetry and the mid-brown, timber-look Gerflor heavy-duty vinyl flooring added to the Gemini’s welcoming ambiance, but even lighter alternative decor is available.
It gets even more welcoming at night, with perimeter LED strip lighting located out of sight above the wall cupboards where it not only reflects soft, bright light from the van’s ceiling, but cleverly illuminates the inside of the cupboards when they are opened.
Although there’s no doubting the Gemini’s core British design DNA in many areas, its interior application is clearly Australian. The overhead cupboards that line the kitchen and dinette are huge, cleverly partitioned so that items don’t slide about and are fitted with top-opening lids raised by large high quality Dutch Blum hinges. The handles for all cupboards and drawers also have automatically-engaged positive locks combined with a soft-close mechanism. With clever features like these, you would swear, at first glance, that this was an offroad caravan, but it’s just a clever bitumen burner at heart.
The standard Sphere microwave sits safely low in the centre of the lower cabinetry, alongside the Thetford combo four-burner cooktop with grill below. Other nifty features include lots of 240V powerpoints, plus eight separate USB ports sprinkled around the van. These include ports on the bedside shelves attached to the large robes, plus twin ports for each of the rear bunks.
Moving rearwards, there’s a new-design Thetford three-way fridge-freezer on the left, just ahead of the double bunks which each have their own opening window with flywire/blockout blinds. Opposite the fridge and bunks on the other wall, separated by the 2.5kg top-loading washing machine cleverly hidden in the end cupboard, is the Gemini’s ensuite.
This is another clever piece of interior design that makes the most of the Gemini’s dimensions and houses a large separate shower cubicle with a combined toilet/vanity to its right. The overall space here is not as large as you might find in a two-berth van of similar length, but considering the Gemini can sleep five if you utilised the L-shaped lounge, it’s a good effort.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I left the Rangefinder Gemini behind after 8300km of intensive travel over a range of surfaces with the feeling that I had seen the future of Australian caravans.
After experiencing what the combination of clever European technology and Australian know-how was able to achieve, I can see many travellers wondering why they need more to tour Australia’s major sealed and unsealed highways in safety and comfort.
- The best of British and Australian design
- Clever, lightweight construction
- Value for money
- Needs better dust sealing
- Lower cupboard hinges not strong enough
- No solar panel
The full test appears in Caravan World #542 October 2015.