Best Aussie Vans 2016: Judging, a tough gig

Malcolm Street — 23 January 2017

Whew, AL-KO Best Aussie Vans (BAV) 2016 is over… well, at least the judging and photography/video week. No sooner had I arrived home, though, there were emails from CW editor, Laura using the words ‘early’ and ‘deadline’ in the same sentence. Now, that’s guaranteed to bring any magazine contributor out in a cold sweat.

I have to tell you, it was a tough week, judging wise. I should also mention our fearless video and photography crew, who didn’t always have the option of running for shelter (like I did) when the inclement weather delivered varying quantities of rain. But back to judging. Determining the scores for each van is not always straight-forward and, at times, there was considerable and vigorous discussion over the merits of various features.

POINTS OF DIFFERENCE




On-road and offroad caravans are obviously built differently; the most obvious features being the suspension and chassis. So, when allocating points, an offroad van will score well in some criteria because it’s ‘built tougher’ and has more ‘X-factor’ features. Yet an on-road van, such as the Jurgens Lunagazer, will certainly be more than adequate for its intended purpose and, in many cases, be considerably lighter – a very attractive feature for many caravanners – so that will score well in different categories. Then there is the Winnebago Mossman, the only van at BAV with a slide-out  – so how many points get allocated for the extra living space and (sorry Laura, I couldn’t resist) a van that differs from the more common front bedroom/full-width rear bathroom layout?

Even among the offroad vans, it’s not always straight forward. Take the Trakmaster Pilbara Explorer  for instance. It was smaller and lighter than all of its competitors – a bonus for an offroad van – but it doesn’t have an internal bathroom. Should it lose points for that? But its lack of size and weight make the Trakmaster van ideal for rough bush tracks and even sandy beaches, where a smaller van is highly desirable for easier towing. So how many points get added on for that feature, and is the lack of a bathroom more or less important than towability? As you can easily see, sometimes it comes down to the user’s choice, not the judges at BAV.

WEIGHT OF OPINION


Some features don’t have a specific judging category at all. One of my particular interests is manufacturers who work at getting the weight off their vans. I don’t mean by removing things but by the engineering work on the chassis and body. It’s something of a challenge to maintain a caravan’s strength whilst, say, slimming down the chassis and building more rigidity in the bodywork.  It was heartening to see that a number of manufacturers have clearly decided to look seriously at this and make some positive moves away from the more traditional heavy steel chassis and timber or aluminium-framed structure. There is often a financial cost in doing this and it’s sometimes tricky to get your head around that and the engineering (often different between manufacturers) that has been undertaken.

There is no doubt that having four judges was definitely very useful – each having their own opinion and varying experiences of caravanning. Caravan World is always very careful about the judges’ scoring. We do the final tally after the BAV week is over and make our own minds up about our own scores, with no external (subtle or not) influences – something I greatly appreciate.

As I said, the judging was tough. After all the manufacturers were advised of the results, one phoned me to ask where they had gone wrong. Given the high standard of all the vans in that particular category and the embargo in place at the time, I could only say “not much at all really”. In horse racing terms, the result was almost a photo finish.

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #558. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!

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AL-Ko BAV Best Aussie Vans 2016

Photographer

Ellen Dewar, Nathan Jacobs