Size matters off the beaten track, but often in inverse proportions. Big on bitumen can be useless along the smaller tracks that often lead to the best camping spots and local attractions. And tiny is fine for camper trailers or specialised offroad caravans designed to follow in the wheeltracks of their 4WD tow vehicles. But these don’t work for many modern adventurers who wish to retain the comforts of home.
The problem is that most offroad vans are hefty beasts, typically weighing upwards of 3500kg thanks to extra chassis strength and the length added to accommodate modern luxuries.
This is where Jayco’s Expanda comes in. The drop-down front and rear beds available on most of the 2011 models give around 3m more living space for no increase in body length. Our test van, a 5.1m (16ft 8in) Expanda 16.49-3 OB (Outback) should really be compared with a 6m (19ft 8in) caravan for space, features and towability.
All Expanda models are available in Outback specification. This means a beefier hot-dipped galvanised chassis with 150x50mm RHS main members, thicker 125x50mm RHS A-frame, underslung axle for extra ground clearance, Al-Ko Outback leaf springs, telescopic shock absorbers with steel stoneguards, 15in alloy wheels with 235/75R15 offroad tyres, Al-Ko drop jacks and offroad electric brake magnets.
You pay a very reasonable $3000 premium for a lot of good extra gear.
LAYOUT & DESIGN
There’s a school of thought that believes a rough-road van needs to look like the RV equivalent of the Hulk – overtly masculine and tough. Fortunately, Jayco’s designers didn’t enrol in that school and this Expanda looks smart and purposeful.
Jayco’s tough frame, with vacuum-bonded fibreglass, is 150 per cent thicker than aluminium cladding, making the glossy white surface virtually hail and dent resistant. And with the new green, grey and orange decals, checkerplate and chunky six-spoke black and silver alloy wheels, it’s a very attractive and rugged-looking rig.
The only aesthetic blight is at the towing end where the twin 9kg gas cylinders, and their associated pipes, clash with the otherwise clean lines. There’s a minimum of stone protection, though, including for the A-frame gas cylinders.
Most of the windows are on the nearside, but with the pop-top raised, the blinds zippered down and the beds open, the interior has a light and airy look and feel.
The front tunnel boot is spacious and items stored in the centre can be accessed from the interior once the front bed is dropped.
The (optional) slide-out barbecue is conveniently placed next to the main door, which features a locking security screen. Our test unit’s very welcome exterior hot water shower sits behind a hatch and features a convenient clip to hold the mixer hose.
A new feature on the latest Expandas is the additional 12V exterior socket next to the 240V outlet on the nearside, allowing portable appliances to be used outdoors when desired.
The optional Carefree roll-out awning covers almost the full length of the van and its feet can be left clipped to the side of the van or pegged to the ground.
Four people can comfortably sleep in the Expanda’s drop-down beds, with the slightly smaller front bed ideal for children. Both beds can be folded out and used without unhitching, which makes overnight stops a breeze. And during the day, the interior and all appliances can be accessed without popping the roof or folding down either bed.
One thing many people coming from camper trailers will like about the Expanda Outback is the full-height flyscreens on three sides of the beds, which allow you to feel connected to your environment and camping under the stars, while remaining protected by hard shell bed covers. Privacy screens are also available as an option for high density camping in caravan parks.
Our test Expanda had another great option: thick and supple innerspring mattresses at both ends, which are well worth the extra cost if you are away for more than a few nights.
With a Tare of 1595kg and comfortably weighing less than the 2000kg ATM with both 82L water tanks and gas cylinders full, the Expanda Outback is not a lot of work for most 4WD tow vehicles.
Our 2.5L four-cylinder Nissan Pathfinder hitched up easily and immediately felt right at home. The Expanda’s laden tow ball weight of less than 200kg was well below the Pathfinder’s 290kg limit, yet it was weighty enough to ensure the rig tracked well, even in strong crosswinds and when overtaking at permitted speeds of up to 110km/h.
Braking with the Al-Ko offroad electric brakes, fitted as standard and managed by a Hayes Genesis electronic brake controller, is excellent, with the van pulling straight and true at all speeds.
All Jayco RVs now have their tyres filled with nitrogen, which is claimed to offer a three per cent fuel saving, a 25 per cent reduction in tyre wear and a 27 per cent reduction in tyre blowouts because it is less susceptible to temperature fluctuations and leakage than oxygen.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Jayco Expanda 16.49-3 OB is a rugged rough-road caravan with two double beds and many quality touches, all with Jayco’s proven resale value – combined in a basic (no extras) package of around $40,000.
A family that likes to get away from the beaten track and spend some time bush camping, without missing out on the luxuries of modern caravanning, would be very well suited to this Expanda.