Hot on the heels of Al-Ko’s Enduro Outback independent suspension, which was launched late last year, the technological giant has again sprung into action, bringing a new, and lighter-duty, independent setup to market.
The result is the Al-Ko Enduro Cross Country suspension and we tested it recently under a Nova Pride Platinum. However, Nova is not the first caravan maker to fit Enduro Cross Country; Concept has had a caravan running around outback Queensland to evaluate it, and many of the other major builders are looking at making it standard, or optional, on their premium models.
The release follows Jayco’s bold move, in 2014, of fitting its new in-house JTECH independent suspension to all its range-topping, on-road Silverline caravans, as well as all Outback model camper trailers, pop-tops and caravans.
While the industry has long understood the rationale behind fitting independent suspension under offroad vans, where longer wheel travel, a softer ride over corrugations and greater under-belly ground clearance are important credentials, it was something of a game-changer when Jayco announced it was slipping JTECH under all its Silverlines.
Touring caravans traditionally sit lower than their offroad brethren, meaning there’s less space under the chassis or in the wheelboxes to incorporate a system whose signature feature is longer wheel travel. And an independent system is likely to weigh and cost more than the roller-rocker or single leaf spring alternatives.
And it’s for these reasons that Al-Ko Enduro Cross Country is initially finding its way only under the larger, heavier and more expensive models in a maker’s range, such as the Nova Pride Platinum.
The Pride Platinum is the flagship and most expensive model in Nova’s 2016 range and, in an industry first, Nova has listed the Enduro Cross Country as a standard feature on all Pride Platinums.
At first glance, Enduro Cross Country appears to be a fairly simple system that looks like a lighter weight alternative to the more rugged Enduro Outback, but its simplicity conceals significant smarts.
One feature of Cross Country that will make it appealing to many caravan manufacturers is Al-Ko’s drop-axle option, where the axle stub is welded on top of the front-hinged trailing arm to lower the van’s ride height.
And an unseen feature that should appeal to travellers is the maintenance-free bushes on the leading edge of the trailing arms. Once greased and sealed at Al-Ko’s factory in South Dandenong, Vic, they are sealed for life. Combined with locally-made King Springs, using Australian steel and telescopic shock absorbers made at Al-Ko’s global HQ to an Australian design and spec, Al-Ko is confident it has the right product for Australian travellers. And caravan manufacturers and their customers can take comfort from Al-Ko’s rigorous testing, benchmarking its heavier-duty Outback version, at Victoria’s Automotive Research Centre in Anglesea.
Apart from the strength and endurance ratings of the two systems, and the greater adjustability of Outback for camber and castor to accommodate harsh offroad treatment, the two systems are similar in many respects – except an important one. While Outback is available in non-load-sharing tandem form, rated from 2200-4100kg and in single-axle configuration rated from 1200-2400kg ATM, Cross Country is available only for single-axle vans up to 2300kg and tandem-axle vans up to 3500kg ATM. As our review Pride Platinum weighed in at nearly 3100kg Tare and 3500kg ATM, which is heavy for what is primarily an on-road van, it was equipped with the 3.5t version of Cross Country.
I’ve become accustomed to having heavy-duty Vehicle Components Cruisemaster or similarly beefy Control Rider or Simplicity suspension under offroad vans of this weight, so it was interesting to experience the Al-Ko system on roads that an adventurous couple might take their pride and joy.
We chose the unsealed roads in the Lerderderg State Park, adjacent to Victoria’s mineral springs-rich area north-west of Melbourne, to see how Cross Country performs in a real-world situation. The unsealed roads adjacent to this popular tourist area are likely to be traversed by couples keen to explore the region’s regenerative waters, food and markets.
O’Brien’s Road, which runs through the park and effectively links Gisborne to Blackwood, is a popular cut-through that is also popular with 4WDers and campers because of the more challenging roads that branch off it. Because of its periodic corrugations, it’s not the sort of road that most would take a conventional leaf-sprung caravan, but as Al-Ko states Cross Country is designed for comfort, control and durability on bitumen and graded dirt roads, it was ideal.
A feature of this road, like many others that cut through undulated, wooded areas, is the corrugations that form from downhill braking and these often extend well into the corners that allow the road to wind up and down the hilly terrain. So when you’re hauling a caravan that is heavier than its tow tug, there’s a tendency for it to skip sideways on the corrugations, particularly when braking into downhill corners. It says something for its poise that, despite its near-9m overall length, the Pride Platinum never felt like it was wagging our Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit at any stage.
Ground clearance was something we didn’t have to worry about when we pulled off the road and, although Nova has specified a drop-axle version of Cross Country for its Pride range, there is still so much chassis height and clearance that we had to invert the tongue on the Jeep’s hitch to allow the van to tow level.
It can be hard to tell what’s going on inside a caravan on these sorts of roads, so we deliberately left a few things loose inside – some cushions, a copy of Caravan World on the table, etc. – and we were interested to see where they ended up after several runs up and down the road, so we looked for every pothole we could find.
I recall previous outback trips on corrugated roads where everything from cupboard drawers to microwaves and even mixer taps jarred open, broke loose from their mountings, or unwound on their locating washer. However, despite the relative brevity of our test with the Pride, we were pleasantly surprised to see they had moved only slightly, a good sign that the caravan and its fittings were not having too hard a time back there.
Back on the bitumen, where big touring caravans like this will spend most of their time, the Pride tracked well behind the Jeep through the winding roads, with no hint of the destabilising body sway that you might expect from a relatively tall-riding, softly-sprung caravan. This says volumes about Al-Ko’s local development work on the telescopic shock absorbers.
Al-Ko says its test results, both on the bench at the factory and in real-world local conditions at the Australian Automotive Research Centre, shows little to no bush deformation or wear, significantly less dampening degeneration, superior heat dissipation and a failure point 40 degrees higher than that of competitor products they tested.
Combined with a comprehensive network of sales and service agents, that’s excellent news if you plan to take your Pride down the Tanami Track or the Great Central Road because, with Al-Ko Enduro Cross Country suspension under your touring van, you probably can.