The hottest spotlight in the Australian caravan market at the moment is on caravans priced around $50,000, with most major local manufacturers outputting vans into that sector, as well as importers from Europe, the UK and, more recently, China. The Chinese, in particular, are developing into formidable competition, as they are in many other fields of manufacturing.
In the past, overseas manufacturers’ efforts to make inroads into this lower end of the caravan markets have been stymied by unsuitable and/or poorly finished products, but that’s changing rapidly as they gain manufacturing experience in previously unfamiliar areas.
Take the Sundowner, as it is called in Victoria (also marketed as the Goldstar and Frontier in other states). Built by the South Australian-based Liberty Group, which has several factories in China producing a range of industrial products, it is fully-imported as a finished caravan shell. Once offloaded, its drawbar is welded to its galvanised steel chassis. Its suspension, axles, brakes, wheels and tyres are then fitted, and exterior protrusions such as its clearance lights and optional awning are added. Some small items, such as its water pump and wheel studs, are replaced with locally-sourced items in the interest of longevity and serviceability.
But the bottom line that is garnering plenty of interest in the Sundowner and its brethren is their price, which in Victoria starts from just $41,990. For this you get a single-axle 17ft 6in full-height caravan built on a steel chassis, including a single 100Ah battery, a 100W solar panel, and an internal shower and toilet.
The 5.85m (19ft 2in) tandem-axle Sundowner reviewed here was fitted with the $4990 ‘Bonus Pack’, available on all models, consisting of a reverse-cycle air-conditioner, an Aussie Traveller awning, rubberised checkerplate stone protection, a second 100Ah battery and a second 100W roof-mounted solar panel. All up, that took its Victorian tow-away price to a still very reasonable $51,160. And even the largest 21ft Sundowner with the works is unlikely to cost more than $60,000.
So, on paper, it looks like excellent value in today’s market, but how does it measure up in the local market?
MADE IN CHINA
The 100x50mm main A-frame and chassis rails look a little underdone compared with the solid 150mm section steel rails we are accustomed to seeing under most of our tandem-axle vans – certainly those with a Tare weight similar to the Sundowner’s 2240kg and ATM of 2740kg. The Sundowner’s A-frame is reinforced underneath with a steel ladder-like frame but if you prefer to see a more solid base, you can specify the optional, all-aluminium chassis for an additional $1600. However, its A-frame is quite bulky and it reduces ground clearance significantly.
The Sundowner’s walls are made from high-tech fibreglass composite reinforced with 50x30mm section RHS aluminium tubing, with foam insulation in the sandwich for the walls and roof. The review van was smooth and well-finished outside in a fashionable satin light grey, contrasting with the rubber stone protection on the lower section of the front and sides of the van.
There’s no external front boot, but the full tunnel storage area at the leading edge of the body is unencumbered except for its internal timber ribbing, which snags some items, such as folding chairs, that you poke into it.
Underneath, you’ll find beam axles, simple roller-rocker leaf spring suspension, exposed PVC plumbing and a low-slung battery box behind the second axle. The welds are not the neatest, but there’s no suggestion that they are inadequate. The rear fibreglass panel had some untidy finishes around the lower joins which could do with neatening up.
Step in through the forward entry door and, perhaps apart from the predominantly red and black decor, everything is quite familiar. The exceptions in this Sundowner are the unusual two-door fridge with a lower freezer, equipped with a basic white rubber latching straps and the curved shower cubicle in the rear corner, which uses the same strap.
On the plus side, the large full-height cupboard between the shower and living area provides additional hanging and storage space.
The bathroom vanity is simple but practical, with a good-sized bench housing a recessed stainless steel washbowl; however, I would request a larger mirror. If you option the 3kg Sphere top-loading washing machine for an extra $750, it will sit in a cupboard beside the Thetford cassette toilet.
The other unusual feature of this van was the twin swivelling recliners in place of the expected cafe dinette and table. A tri-fold table expands for dining.
The front island bed sits between two wardrobes in the nose of the van, with a large front opening window and four storage cupboards above. The bed lifts on struts for access to its large storage area below or, if you prefer, you can access it via the two ‘barn doors’ in the foot of the bed base.
Full-height curtains are fitted to separate the bedroom from the rest of the van, but the wall tags that retain them don’t look particularly durable.
The kitchen is conventional and useable, with a four-burner gas cooktop, grill and oven, a stainless steel sink overlooked by a mixer tap, with four drawers and two large cupboards below. The standard Homemaker brand microwave sits high above the fridge-freezer, meaning shorter people will need a small step to use it safely.
Gloss finishes are used for the Malaysian cedar furniture – white for the upper cupboards and gloss black for the lower draws and cupboards – while the marine ply floor is patterned in a dark shade.
The van comes with a 12-month warranty on the caravan and its appliances, but Victoria’s Sundowner RV offers an extended three-year AWM warranty, including roadside assistance, for an additional $1500 on the vans it sells, which seems a good investment.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Here’s the thing: the Sundowner 19ft is a lot of caravan for the money and in most respects it matches expectations. However, there were a few ‘clunky’ features that Sundowner RV indicated it would rectify for customers and I felt the overall finish could have been a better.
The key feature of this van, though, is value. If you want a decent-sized van with a good list of features and comforts, the Sundowner may be one to add to your list to look at.
- Overall value package
- Standard features
- Finish could be better
- Fridge and shower latching system
- Individual armchairs rather than a cafe dinette