Aluminium and the caravan industry bear a curious relationship. Above the chassis, there can be aluminium everywhere – in the cladding, frame, internal bracing and checkerplate panelling. Yet in the chassis area, it’s rarely seen at all. Despite the fact that aluminium is used extensively in the aircraft industry, it's something most manufacturers steer well clear of below the floor.
There are exceptions to that, of course, for instance Queensland-based Sunland Caravans, a manufacturer that has developed a very effective hybrid chassis design. One that it uses in all its van models, including the Patriot SEL-X, the subject of this review. Sunland appears to have a great deal of confidence in its hybrid chassis since it offers a 20-year warranty on it.
Structural aluminium forms the main chassis components but it looks a bit like Swiss cheese, given the punched hole design. That’s a useful engineering technique for keeping the weight down, whilst retaining the strength. More conventionally, the sub chassis mountings for the suspension and the drawbar rails are hot-dipped galvanised steel and bolted to the alloy rails. For the Cruisemaster XT suspension, it’s a standard setup with trailing arms, coil springs and shock absorbers.
Due to their size, water tanks can affect stability, applying excessive weight fore or aft of the wheels. To resolve that, the main 190L water tank is fitted above the suspension, thus negating the problem of water usage adjusting the balance. In addition to that tank, there is a second 60L drinking water tank fitted immediately behind the suspension.
Something else that helps maintain balance is the optional offside slide-out, which a prime feature on this SEL-X van. With extra structural components it does add a few kilos but located above the wheels it is well positioned.
Aluminium is also used extensively for the caravan frame, with 25x50x25mm components welded together. When looked at in its bare form, that is, without any cladding, it’s not difficult to see why some manufacturers prefer to use alloy over timber for the framework.
For the external cladding, aluminium is not used. Instead, the material of choice for the walls and roof is fibreglass resin cored panels. That includes the lower part of the walls, which are also covered by black Raptor coating all round for stone and chip damage prevention.
Composite fibreglass is also used for the floor panel. The Sunland team reckons that the composite fibreglass used in conjunction with coolite is a great insulator and I know from experience that floor insulation in the home or in a van is a great idea.
Large Seitz double-glazed acrylic windows are used all round and the Camec habitation door keeps everything secure when needed. An obvious feature of this van, apart from the slide-out, is the generous amount of external storage capacity. There is the expected tunnel boot, which has a fixed slide-out barbecue on the awning side. In addition, a large triple compartment storage bin sits on the drawbar, with the centre vessel holding two 9kg gas cylinders, and the outboard compartments available for general storage or a generator.
At the rear of the van is what might be described as the utility bin. It’s covered by a twin pole holder but, with that hinged down, access is quite easy. Within, are the water heater, space heater, water filters, lithium batteries and inverter. Apart from anything else, it makes everything easy to get to for maintenance with minimal bending over.
Certainly on the electrics front, the Patriot is well equipped, with the lithium batteries having a capacity of 400Ah and the four 180W solar panels backing them up. Living off the grid really isn’t really a problem, either, with the inverter rated at 3000W.
The layout is spacious thanks to the slide-out, which includes a club-style dinette and fridge, but also to the single bed configuration.
The customers who ordered this van have a few mobility issues and desired the practicality of single beds.
Of course, single beds aren’t for everyone but it’s not difficult to see how much easier it is to move around them. They can also be made specifically to different lengths without difficulty and as a bonus you get a bit more locker space above the beds.
In this case, it’s also an arrangement that works well with the slide-out – as an island bed can sometimes create a narrow walkway around it because of the slide-out partition but in this case, the problem just doesn’t arise.
CATERING AND DINING
A surprise in this Patriot SEL-X van is the size of the kitchen bench area. It’s quite well appointed with the expected cooker/grill/oven and sink/drainer but there’s still plenty of work bench space and a generous amount of overhead lockers, cupboard and drawers. The microwave sits relatively low in the overhead locker space, which reduces OH&S issues for those who are height challenged.
Across the way, the dinette will seat four without too much trouble, although it does come with the compromises associated with a slide-out – a small step up, down-sized window and very small overhead lockers. The 240V and 12V outlets are located in the panel below the set cushion, in a similar fashion around the beds.
In the rear, the bathroom has a certain amount of class. Like the rest of the van, the cabinetry has a two-pack paint finish and large wall mirror comes with an LED frame. You do, of course, get the larger than usual shower cubicle complete with moulded seat and Sunland’s custom drainage system, the Dometic cassette toilet and a vanity cabinet complete with moulded washbasin and a handy top-loading washing machine.
ON THE ROAD
With at Tare mass of 2927kg and an ATM of 3500kg, this SEL-X Patriot is no lightweight and does require a large tow vehicle. That said, on my test drive up the D’Aguilar Highway and along some of the dirt roads in the Glass House Mountains area, the tow combination moved along in quite a smooth manner. Although the van was not carrying much load, it’s a good starting point – and something to keep in mind when distributing weight around the van when you’re packing to go.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In many ways, this Patriot SEL-X is a typical product from Sunland. Built for offroad use and extended remote travel, it differs slightly from the usual designs because it has both single beds and a slide-out. It, however, does not deviate from Sunland’s usual high level of appointment. Single beds aren’t for everyone but they do add a dimension to the overall layout, which is hard to ignore for those who appreciate the convenience.
HITS AND MISSES
- Well kitted out for offroad travel
- Self-contained for remote travel
- Single bed layout
- Large tow vehicle required
- Electrics (fuses) not labelled
Weights and measures
- Overall length 8.34m (27ft 4in)
- External body length 6.27m (20ft 7in)
- External body width 2.48m (8ft 2in)
- Travel height 3.05m (10ft)
- Internal height 1.95m (6ft 5in)
- Tare 2927kg
- ATM 3500kg
- Payload 573kg
- Ball weight 215kg
Price as shown
$153,225 Tow away
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #572. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!