Brian Hammond from ARV, Eden, not only sells caravans he likes to get away for some quiet time with his wife in a van whenever he can. On a weekend by the shores of a coastal lake, he pondered improvements to the layout of the Concept Innovation 550 they had taken away. He didn’t love the L-shaped lounge and felt the interior could be ergonomically better.
What they preferred was the design of the larger 600R version where the entry door was at the back, closer to the ensuite and away from the bed as in the version in which they were holidaying. I’ve heard this before closer to home – some travellers are attracted to a van with a private bedroom. And having the entry near the ensuite makes for easier access during the day and cuts down traffic with sandy shoes messing up the floor.
He roughed out his ideas on paper and put them to the designers at Concept who rejigged them on the computer before the new Innovation 550R was born. Mind you, moving furniture around isn’t a simple matter. The balance of the van has to be weighted to ensure it’s going to tow properly and the working space in the kitchen needs everything handy.
I imagine he would have liked the new van to be called the Brian, but Concept released it to its dealer network as the 550R and it has been an immediate success. I can see why. As soon as I stepped aboard, there was a real feeling of space and of everything being in the right place. I don't think it's a coincidence the new model is a compact, dirt-capable tourer as there seems to be a trend for smaller vans with a long list of standard equipment to enable extended travel and easier towing.
You would be forgiven for thinking so, but the Innovation is not classed by Concept an offroad vehicle and isn’t warrantied as such. It sure looks the goods though, sitting high on an AL-KO Enduro independent trailing-arm suspension dampened with two beefy absorbers each side and boasting “go-fast” red springs and shock covers. Even the coupling is a new style Hitchmaster DO35, so while it’s not a bush basher, it should handle a few corrugations on our secondary roads.
The van sits on a Preston Supergal 100x50mm chassis with a 150x50mm extended A-frame. Alloy wheels are shod with 245x16in offroad tyres, each rated to 1380kg, and brakes are 12in drums.
The frame is Meranti with a 16mm ply sheet across the front to increase rigidity and impact damage. Before the aluminium cladding is added, polystyrene insulating panels are meticulously cut to fit gaps in the frame. (You can check the build process out in a video on the Concept website.)
To keep weight at a minimum and the centre of gravity low, internal furniture is crafted from very light but strong composite panels. A durable and attractive gloss finish cover the surfaces.
Even though Innovation is the entry-level line in the Concept range, it looks like a premium product. Silver alloy above high black checkerplate and an orange stripe look sporty without going overboard, and a composite flat panel at the back emphasise the neat finish.
Two 9kg gas bottles on the A-frame connect to a regulator, which is protected by a metal guard like the tap lower down. A lockable alloy toolbox behind the gas bottles is suitable for storing the jockey wheel, chocks and other often-used items and an Anderson plug is standard for charging the electrical system when on the move.
A single spare is mounted on a neat bumper bar at the back, and the traffic and clearance lights are quality Narva LEDs.
Forward of the wheels, an outdoor kitchen slides out on smooth-rolling runners. The stainless steel frame is neatly finished and looks and feels very sturdy. It has an extendable shelf, a cutlery drawer and comes with two gas burners and a sink. Further back is a picnic table and 12V and 240V electrical outlets, so I wondered if the kitchen might be better placed if it was reversed, so the cook was under the awning and with easier access to the table. An interesting addition outside is a circuit breaker at the 240V power supply, which is fitted to comply with the latest regulations and I’m told that Concept takes pride in being fully compliant with all gas and electrical fitting and ADR rules.
Two 95L water tanks, each protected by galvanised sheets, sit either side of the axle, and there's a 100Ah battery attached to the chassis, charged by a 135W solar panel, 240V or the tow vehicle through a BMPRO 35A charger. A BMPRO screen just inside the van entry displays the water and battery consumption. These features, along with the gas capable fridge, will allow off-grid camping for a week or so, for those who want to get away from the crowds.
Two alloy steps and a stout grab handle lead to a well-lit interior with a generous 1.98m (6ft 6in) ceiling height. The ensuite is at the rear, with a comfortable cafe dinette and fridge to the driver side, the kitchen opposite, and the queen bed up front. Colours in the test van were conservative shades of grey over white walls and ceiling, while the execution of the furnishings is modern and clean.
Overhead cupboards include large shelves that can be moved around, which is a useful feature and somewhat unusual in most vans. The cafe style dinette features slide-out seat extensions with a 130kg capacity, so they can be used as footstools for sitting lengthways or can accommodate two more adults at the two-way table.
The kitchen includes a Swift 500 Mini Grill, rangehood with light and a stainless steel sink with draining board and both a mixer tap and drinking water tap with a filter. An NCE microwave is set high on a shelf, so care is needed when removing hot food. All drawers have metal runners, and positive catches and the laminate splashback runs full height to the generously sized overhead cupboards.
It was good to see power and USB points located around the van – at the dinette, in the kitchen and beside the bed. A 22in television swings out on a bracket so it can be seen from the dinette or bed and a FUSION stereo system has speakers in the bed base, which is a good idea as it improves sound quality. Pump up the base and rock yourself to sleep.
A 190L two-door fridge/freezer, finished in glossy black, is on the driver side forward of the dinette and within handy access of the kitchen. It runs on gas or 12V and 240V electricity.
There’s room to move freely in the ensuite equipped with two roof vents, a Thetford plastic toilet, vanity with sink and big mirror and an enclosed shower with a magnetically locking door. I liked the high lip on the moulded shower.
Each side of the bed has small storage nooks built into the wardrobes for personal items, as well as small side tables. Large Mobicool double-glazed windows at the sides and another at the bedhead offer ventilation and light. So, with an Aircommand Ibis 3 and a midi Heki hatch over the kitchen, fresh air is abundant.
Towed by ATV’s Mazda Bravo, the Innovation tracked nicely and showed no pitch or wallowing while the Enduro suspension soaked up any potholes and ruts with ease. Weight empty is 2092kg, and with a 420kg weight allowance, ATM is 2512kg, meaning it’s in the towing range of many mid-weight 4WDs.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Concept has produced more than 3000 vans since 2004. I am impressed with the attention to detail and the team’s ready adaptation of ideas that work. Couples expecting to encounter rough roads on the way to their travel destinations who like the idea of a compact van will be drawn to the Innovation 550R. It looks the part and is engineered to last. As tested with the outside kitchen, DO35 hitch, and extra bling it costs $71,370. Without some of these features, pricing starts at $65,490. Either way that seems good value considering its rugged nature and standard features.
HITS AND MISSES
High build quality and sporty appearance
Rough road suspension
Attention to detail in things like seat extensions, bed cubby-holes, high shower rim
External kitchen proximity to the table and awning
Weights and measures
Overall length: 7.65m (25ft 1in)
External body length: 5.6m (18ft 4in)
External body width: 2.45m (8ft)
Travel height: 3m (9ft 10in)
Internal height: 1.98m (6ft 6in)
Payload: 420kg (calculated)
Ball weight: 195kg
Price as shown
$71,370 (from $65,490)
To inquire about this van, phone ARV Caravans on (02) 6496 4411
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #573. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!