There are many ways an adventurous caravanning couple can see our vast land. Some take the kitchen sink and are blissfully happy with all the comforts of home humming under the stars; some prefer the bare essentials, eschewing modern caravan comforts to commune with nature.
But there’s a middle ground that Golf’s Savannah 499 really nails: a nimble, true offroader that combines all the essentials in a compact caravan, yet is light enough to be towed by most medium-sized 4WDs.
With its mid-$50,000 price tag, depending on model and options, it’s little wonder that, until the arrival of the Maxxi last year, it was the most popular model in the Golf caravan range.
The 499 has been around for just over two years now, with the buyer’s choice of either a pop-top or full-height hard-top.
According to Jeff Van Baardwyk of Avan, which now owns and builds the Golf brand, the majority of customers choose the pop-top version because of its lower centre of gravity, greater bush-ability and $1000 lower price. But there’s a good case for the full height version reviewed here if you want instant set up, extra overhead storage space and better insulation on your way to warmer climes.
Whichever model you choose, the 499, as its name suggests, does not occupy a lot of real estate. At just 4.99m (16ft 5in) long and 2.39m (7ft 10in) wide, with a Tare weight of 1680kg and a maximum laden weight of under 2t, it’s good company off the beaten track behind any 2500kg-capable 4WD.
Yet it’s impressively robust in both its upper and underpinnings. All Golfs are rated ‘offroad’ by Avan, which makes the vans alongside Avan models in its mushrooming complex in Pakenham, Vic, and they share a similar lightweight, yet solid, construction.
Fully-insulated sandwich panel walls with an internal Laminated Veneer Lumber frame, a ply reinforced outer skin and smooth aluminium cladding sit atop a hot-dipped 150x50mm galvanised chassis with a separate 150x50mm A-frame.
Given their inbuilt wanderlust, Golf caravans have previously come with in-house designed and built independent trailing arm suspension, but all 2016 Savannah models are now being fitted with Al-Ko’s new Enduro Outback system. This fits the Golf’s character well, as the Enduro Outback is lighter than some of its beefy trailing arm coil spring market competition and slips neatly under the Savannah 499.
Lower side panel and rear panel propeller plate, faux carbon fibre trimming on the front corners, plus an A-frame mounted stone shield with large mud and stone flaps below offer pretty good stone protection. However, I’d still like to see a shield for the A-frame mounted tap and I’d prefer the carbon-look protection to extend to the boot lid rather than leave it potentially vulnerable, as it is.
Other exterior features of the Savannah 499 worthy of comment are its A-frame mounted propeller plate toolbox, which is ideal for carrying hoses, matting, tools and the jockey wheel. There’s also a large pole carrier just behind it, and while it’s a good feature, it would be easier to access the boot if it was tucked up under the front of the van.
Talking of the boot, it is deep, tall and lined with galvanised steel, and holds the van’s twin 4kg gas cylinders behind a divider on the right-hand side. A small beef here is that there is no water channel above the boot, so if you open the lid when it’s raining, water floods in.
Other than the front toolbox and boot, there’s no other exterior storage with the exception of the twin jerry can holders slung under the upswept rear bodywork. Other external features include an outside shower to supplement the one inside and an external gas bayonet.
With its compact length, raked rear bodywork and the generous ground clearance afforded by its trailing arm suspension, you would expect the Savannah 499 to go most places offroad, and it will, as long as you take a spanner and first remove the four bolts that hold the galvanised steel step under the rear-entry door, as many owners do. It really is the Achilles heel of the van, greatly reducing its rear departure angle.
The Thule wind-out awning eliminates one more step when setting up camp in the pop-top models, but it also serves the full height caravan well because of its light weight. A negative, if you attach its supporting arms to the side of the caravan, is that the left-hand arm intrudes into the area where you would normally stand under the awning.
As an offroad caravan, the Savannah 499 is designed for a combination of indoor and outdoor living, depending on the weather. So there’s a large stainless steel kitchen with a two-burner stove and a hot and cold water sink that pulls out from a front left-hand locker, while another locker immediately to its rear below a drop-down picnic table houses a Waeco drawer fridge.
These facilities are duplicated inside, where you’ll find a three-burner SMEV cooktop with adjacent stainless steel basin, plus a floor-mounted 93L Thetford three-way fridge.
A DIFFERENT TAKE
Access to the van comes via its new rear Dometic Euro-style door that is now standard on the latest Golf caravans. It looks good, is solid and reportedly seals better against dust, while offering better security.
Inside, the caravan is well laid out for an offroad caravan of its size, especially considering how the sharp rear body cutaway limits the layout options.
A low cupboard housing the standard microwave sits to you your right, while the unequal-sided dinette lounge with its unusually long tri-fold table is straight ahead. This makes indoor-outdoor dining a really good experience, as the door can be left open in good weather to allow the outside in. Meanwhile, to the left of the entry door is the interior kitchen, with the fridge under the cooktop and the sink to its right.
The dark gloss cupboards of the Allure Formica interior (a $5000 option) on the test van looked smart, but it made the van feel a little dark inside. This would not have been as obvious on the pop-top 499 with its overhead windows, but a rear roof hatch would be an easy solution here.
In what is an unusual layout by mainstream Australian standards, the 499 has a windowless front with a longitudinal double bed sandwiched between the nearside wall and a combined shower and toilet ensuite with the mattress featuring a cutaway corner to make access easier.
It might sound odd on paper but, in practice, the arrangement works surprisingly well and it’s easier for one person to crawl up the bed than to vault over their partner, as is required in a transverse bed layout, which might be an alternative in an offroad caravan of this length.
There’s a small washbasin just outside the ensuite, but a mirror above is a curious omission. However, it backs on to a useful wardrobe that combines excellent hanging and storage space to supplement the van’s many overhead cupboards.
There’s also storage room under the bed, but the hot water service, sound system speakers and parts of the van’s power system are all unshielded here, so you would need to be careful in your packing of this space. A few partitions would be an advantage here. I should add that some other cupboards could also benefit from internal shielding, but this adds weight, and a major feature of the Savannah 499 and what makes it so agile is its lack of this.
While its overall structure is certainly sturdy, I felt some interior fixtures and fittings could do with a little more attention to detail. However, don’t let these small shortcomings muddy the water in what is otherwise a competent offroad caravan for not a lot of money.
THE BOTTOM LINE
With its relatively light weight, excellent ground clearance (with the exception of its low-slung step) and the long wheel travel provided by its new Al-Ko Enduro Outback coil spring suspension, the Golf Savannah 499 is a well-priced, nimble and capable compact offroad caravan that should suit adventurous couples interested in heading well off the beaten track.
- Compact size and weight
- Interior layout and storage
- Indoor and outdoor kitchens
- Door step is low slung, impacting rear departure angle
- Unshielded electrical components in under-bed storage
- Not a lot of battery and solar power for bush camping
- Lacking a mirror above the hand basin