Back in the 1990s, many of us would have scoffed at the idea of having a washing machine in a caravan. What next, the kitchen sink?
Well, yes. Household-grade stainless steel sinks and proper plumbing to match have long-since arrived, along with now-obligatory microwaves, air-conditioners, TVs, iPod-friendly entertainment systems, separate shower and toilet ensuites, and mood lighting.
My wife would say that my indignation about the washing machines that are now standard spec in just about every $55,000-plus touring caravan displays typical male ignorance. I have never, she reminds me, spent a day waiting my turn to put a ransom-load of $2 coins into a communal washer at a caravan park, hang around until it’s finished, and then fight for line space at a crowded communal clothes line. She has a point.
But now I’ve met another contender: a caravan with a spa bath. Add a rain shower, a Zip Hydrotap in the kitchen which dispenses instant hot, chilled and carbonated water, and I need to recalibrate again. Is this caravanning? And, if not, who cares?
Enzo Gnocato, the founder/builder of Van Cruiser Caravans in Carrum Downs, Vic, likes to push the envelope when it comes to quirky caravan ideas. Brightly coloured red, yellow, blue or green Alucobond-clad caravans and, now, coloured ‘Branch Bars’, are just some of his eye-catching ideas. But even effervescent Enzo admits his tongue is slightly in his cheek with the new 6.63m (21ft 9in) Grange spa van.
At first, I thought the idea was preposterous. But then I recalled visiting a camping ground in Scotland when I was tenting through Britain and Europe in my youth and being delighted to find a full-size bath in the amenities block. So, following the washing machine principal, wouldn’t you rather kick back on a chilly night in the comfort of your own bubble bath than in a communal one? It really depends on whether you regard your caravan as a mobile motel room or a portable holiday home.
Of course, like caravan washing machines, the Grange’s spa bath isn’t designed for free-camping and certainly not for bathing on the move! It’s for when you’re on holiday at a powered site with town water, proper drains and 240V power at your disposal.
LAYOUT & DESIGN
The Grange’s interior is also different to most conventional caravans of its size in a number of small, but significant, ways. While the centre entry door, front island bed, central kitchen and rear ensuite conform to the layout that most Australians want in a touring caravan these days, the Grange manages to do it a little differently. For a start, the kitchen and lounge opposite are both ‘L’-shaped and look like they have been designed to complement each other. By angle-cutting the rectangular table, room has been created for the kitchen bench to extend along the rear ensuite wall, turning otherwise minimal bench space into something more workable.
Then there are all the cupboards – something Enzo is a bit obsessive about. Melbourne couple and Van Cruiser owners Ian and Jeanette Ronin, who joined us with their grandchildren for our photoshoot on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, recalled getting a phone call from Enzo first thing one morning when their own 6.7m (22ft) Van Cruiser Grande was being built three years ago. They recall Enzo exclaiming excitedly, “I couldn’t sleep. I worked out how I can get another cupboard into your layout!”
The same obsessive thinking has gone into the Grange, with a double-sided cupboard wall separating the entry door from the bedroom, which itself is flanked by robes and drawers, with large twin cupboards and a storage shelf above the bed, while huge windows flood the area with light. The same applies to the rest of the Grange and, quite honestly, if you fill them all, you will bust this van’s otherwise impressive 500kg payload.
Three other features stand out. The first is the rounded lower corners on all the overhead cupboards. I’ve lost count of the times I have drawn blood by banging my head on the sharp corners in caravans and it’s nice to find someone who’s done something about it. Another unique feature of the Grange is the quality LED overhead lighting clusters that, together with the black gloss cabinetry, give it a very luxurious, look. Finally, there’s the Grange’s standard Zip Hydrotap in the kitchen that delivers your choice of instant boiled, chilled or carbonated water, complementing the van’s hot and cold flick mixer tap with filtered drinking water. The zip tap is not just a ‘plug and play’ option either; it requires a number of plumbing changes to allow for the high pressure required to make it operate like a high-end domestic appliance.
The same sort of re-thinking was required with the Grange’s spa bath. Finding room for the bath across the rump of the Grange was the easy bit and, with its fully-enclosed screen and square roof-mounted rain shower above, it looks totally at home in this space. But not only does the bath require specialised plumbing to deliver high-pressure air through five separate jets, the pump also demands a separate electrical circuit to the rest of the van. When you want to have a spa, you need to move your mains power lead from one input to the other but, as the Grange has twin 105Ah AGM batteries and twin 100W solar panels as standard, you’re not going to run out of power elsewhere during bathtime.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Familiar with pushing the envelope, Van Cruiser has done it yet again with the Grange but, judging by the positive reception this new spa-bath model received at the recent Melbourne Leisurefest show, the market is ready for a new wave of caravan creature comforts.
It’s at the top of the price bracket for a sub-22ft on-road caravan, but there’s nothing else out there that ticks all the same boxes and also has what, in years to come, may prove to be another ‘must have’ in a luxury caravan.
So, is the Van Cruiser Grange a game-changer or a gimmick? Like the caravan ensuites, washing machines and air-conditioners that came before it, only time will tell.
- Daring to be different
- Classy decor
- Loads of cupboards
- Clever layout
- Round overhead cupboard corners
- No standard gas or diesel heater
- Microwave too high
- No lining for rear storage area
The full test appears in Caravan World #543 November 2015.