The greatest compliment you can pay any caravan manufacturer is to buy another van from them. Coming hot on the heels of its debutante victory at Caravan World’s signature caravan shootout, Best Aussie Vans in 2016 ($100K-plus category), it’s one that has already been paid to Queensland’s Zone RV.
The 6.55m (21ft 6in) Z-21.6 Off-Road that we’re reviewing here replaced an earlier 6.25m (20ft 6in) Z-20.6 model for a Sunshine Coast businessman.
In this case, the end cost of $141,465 for the Z-21.6 is around $28,500 above the model’s base price, but if you’re shopping in this market, you will know that this is ballpark money for a tough offroader with this level of features. The fact that Zone RV can already play in this lofty league after only a couple of years on the market is testament in itself to its quality and the word-of-mouth endorsement the company’s customers have given it to date.
The Z-21.6 Off-Road we reviewed certainly showcased just what this new kid on the block is capable of. From the outside, it looks smart with its smooth white walls with curved edge-capping but is disarmingly conventional. Only its unusual ‘beaked’ drawbar, which curves down to the hitch for improved ground clearance and is gusseted underneath for extra strength, initially caught my eye.
The all-fibreglass composite body has impressively clean styling and is relatively unencumbered, devoid of the ‘bling’ of many of its rivals. Grey Raptor urethane coating is used liberally on the lower body sides, instead of checkerplate, to repel stones and the same two-pack heavy-duty coating has also been applied to the chassis, the A-frame, toolbox, stoneshield frame, wheel arch moulds, rear bumper and pole carrier – in fact, anywhere that could be vulnerable to stone or scrub damage.
Zone RV co-founder Dave Biggar said the Raptor coating adds less weight than the equivalent amount of checkerplate and can easily be touched up if scuffed or damaged. It certainly looks smart and complements the Zone RV’s exterior styling.
However, it’s not until you see how these caravans are put together that you begin to appreciate their significant difference to other caravans.
The millimetre-perfect accuracy to which Zone RVs are being built is truly impressive. Each van begins with a CAD drafting, from which all key components are CNC-cut – nothing too radical there – but it’s what happens next that makes the difference.
In most caravan factories, the caravan moves along a production line, with each team adding more parts. But in the case of a Zone RV, the chassis is anchored to a rigid metal jig – just like a chassis aligner in a top-quality automobile repair facility – to ensure all key dimensions are maintained during the construction phase.
All supplies are then brought to this bench on movable trolleys and the caravan is only unbolted when the major exterior and interior components have been fitted. This avoids any potential movement of the structure, ensuring that the finished product remains true to its original CAD dimensions.
Zone RV boasts about its ‘timberless’ monocoque construction with good reason. In most caravans, a plywood floor is glued to the steel chassis, the vinyl flooring is then applied and the walls are then framed and screwed or bolted to this base.
With the Zone RV, the floor is 32mm thick infused fibreglass, reducing the number of chassis cross-members required.
Instead of timber, the furniture is framed from aluminium extrusions and when it is all in place, the walls and roof are bonded directly to both the floor and cabinets, ensuring that the result is a very rigid, monocoque structure.
You might ask why this is important, given that more conventional caravans from other quality Australian manufacturers seem to do pretty well, but the difference can be appreciated on the road.
A basic Z-21.6 tips the scales at a Tare weight of around 2535kg and can offer a payload of close to a tonne or more, if required. Because of its many upgrades, the Z-21.6 we reviewed was 285kg heavier at 2820kg Tare, but still boasted a good carrying capacity of 680kg.
What this means on extreme rough road conditions is that you can tow it all behind a large, locally-available 4WD like a LandCruiser or Land-Rover, providing a very rigid platform for the tandem trailing arm suspension to deal with the undulations.
In swapping to the longer Z-21.6, our test van’s owners took the opportunity to upgrades from already rugged Cruisemaster ATX coil spring to Vehicle Components’ premium XT-Air Bag Suspension Stage 4, which also comes with twin telescopic shocks per wheel, and incorporates automatic level control to make it easier to set up on a sloping site.
Inside, Zone RV has taken full advantage of the Z-21.6’s length to make it roomy and workable for long-term travellers.
Unlike most caravan manufacturers, which use the term ‘offroad’ to refer principally to the caravan’s strength, damage proofing and ground clearance, Zone RV also uses this terminology to encompass sustainability in remote areas.
Upgrades, including a third 120Ah AGM battery, a fourth 100W roof-mounted solar panel and a 2000W Enerdrive inverter, ensure that the owners of this Z-21.6 will be able spend quality time off the grid; although, if it was mine, I would prefer the extra solar panel to be portable rather than roof-mounted, allowing it to follow the sun if camped in the shade.
An extra 100L of fresh water storage takes the total volume of the review van to 300L and, combined with 100L of grey water storage, should be plenty for stays of a week or more. The optional Shurflow 12V water isolation system is able to deliver fresh drinking water even if you fill your tanks from a river.
Unlike some caravans, the Zone RV’s upper inside walls aren’t lined with the cupboards that you find in most other caravans and this, combined with its large windows front and sides, gives the Z-21.6 an open, airy feel inside.
Zone RV prefers drawers to cupboards because they locate things better in offroad travel and thanks to optional four-drawer cabinet under the foot of the bed, a similar optional chest of drawers in the ensuite and a huge triple-decker pantry beside the 218L Waeco compressor fridge, there is no shortage of space for the supplies or clothing that you might need on an extended remote area trip.
Another feature specified by this van’s owners with their upgrade was an infill cushion for the U-shaped dinette to convert it quickly into an additional, large single bed.
It was interesting to review a caravan that has been built specifically by its owners to further improve on what is already a quality offroader and we applaud their choice and good taste.
Quite simply, Zone RV with its option list gives anyone looking at the serious end of the off-road caravan market another ‘must’ to add to their shopping list.
HITS AND MISSES
- Hi-tech construction
- Offroad strength
- Great ground clearance
- Long-term touring ability
- No lithium battery for the price
- No built-in pole carrier
- No merit plug for portable solar panel
Weights and measures
- Overall length 9.5m (33ft 4in)
- External body length 6.6m (21ft 6in)
- External body width 22.40m (7ft 10in)
- Travel height 3.1m (10ft 2in)
- Internal height 1.98m (6ft 5in)
- Tare 2820kg
- ATM 3500kg
- Payload 680kg
- Ball weight 185kg
Price as shown
$ 141,465 (drive-away, Qld)
You can find the full review in Caravan World #563. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!