I recently attended the 2018 AL-KO ‘Toughest Tow Test’ (TTT) at historic Eldee Station (just out of Silverton) within the unforgiving terrain of the Barrier Ranges and Mundi Mundi Plains where several AL-KO products were showcased. And I experienced first-hand how they performed under grueling conditions—particularly the Enduro Outback and Enduro Cross Country independent trailing arm suspensions fitted to the caravan convoy.
We set out with six caravans in tow with a clear set of objectives: find out how tough these Australian made caravans truly are, test the rebound, articulation and compression of AL-KO's Enduro trailing arm suspension and the toughness and dust-proof ability of the new Off Road Pin Coupling and Off Road Ball Coupling.
But let’s hark back to last year when the genesis of AL-KO TTT was to prominently display its running gear in a ‘real world’ hostile offroad environment.
A GROWING TRADITION
It commenced within the old-world township of Dargo, nestled in the foothills of the legendary Dargo High Plains. And their execution along dusty corrugated roads, rolling countryside, water crossings, steep terrain and rock hopping was certainly impressive.
The vans that were hauled through Dargo, Jamieson, Mansfield, Bright and finally Mount Hotham cut the mustard during their acid test amid stunning alpine scenery, sprawling mountain pastures, and a fantastic array of terrain classifications.
A 93km stretch of winding turns and steep inclines on a narrow unsealed road, from Licola to Jamieson, wasn’t the most arduous of offroad environments but it certainly was testing all the same.
This was rugged escarpment country, with wide open grasslands and magnificent panoramic views along the spine of the Victorian Alps, and the vans handled the conditions on their ear.
But the 2017 AL-KO TTT adventure was far from over, and the following morning the convoy headed for Mansfield—albeit with a couple of detours that included the historic hamlets of A1 Mine Settlement and Gaffneys Creek, both of which are situated in a steep valley within mountainous terrain. The trek was much more demure than the Licola-Jamieson run, but the convoy was still kept up to the mark and not allowed to rest on their laurels.
Intrinsically, this was an expedition with the aim of providing authentic offroad tests, which it achieved.
HARDER AND FASTER
Although last year’s AL-KO TTT wasn’t exactly a ‘cream puff’ setting, this year’s event was much more demanding and exacting. We set up courses with abrupt banks to test the compression and composure of Enduro, found steep banks to dig the couplings into and deep washouts to test how much articulation the different Enduro products had. Each van was subjected to the same courses, sometimes over and over to prove the results.
My personal observation, it was more taxing on the caravans’ underpinnings and also the caravans in general (internally and externally).
In fact, I reckon it was taken to a new dimension. The idea was to make it tougher and take it to the limit, and the brief was certainly met.
The rocky outcrops of the Barrier Ranges and seemingly endless sand dunes of the Mundi Mundi Plains is hellishly tough country and as they say, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going!”
AL-KO’s independent trailing arm suspensions—plus AL-KO ESC—felt tailor-made for Eldee Station giving a safe and comfortable ride proving why they’ve grown in popularity at a staggering rate!
To release a class-leading suspension system, AL-KO has worked on a lot of things, including the heat dissipation of its shock absorbers and coil springs selection; they’re of better quality than those from overseas and they’ve just had to swallow the cost implications.
Enduro Outback ticks all the boxes for adventurous travellers. Its sturdy trailing arms employ coil springs manufactured from high quality, high stress, Australian-developed King Springs made from local X5 steel that is up to 30 per cent lighter than standard grade steel alternatives, reducing unsprung weight without any detriment to performance.
Released early in 2016, the Enduro Cross Country—a lightweight version of AL-KO’s extreme offroad Enduro Outback suspension—is designed for comfort, control and durability on bitumen and graded dirt roads. It is also suitable for use on corrugated roads for short distances.
And the majority of the caravanning cavalcade was riding along with an award-winning safety upgrade—AL-KO ESC, a revolutionary world-first breakthrough in caravan towing safety introduced by AL-KO in May 2012.
Within the space of six years, the Australian caravan industry’s overall uptake (new and aftermarket) for this leading edge technology has been phenomenal if not overwhelming.
Specifically designed to provide the best possible response in an emergency avoidance manoeuvre, AL-KO ESC is a sophisticated brake actuation system in critical towing situations that could save a life.
AL-KO ESC brakes all wheels on the caravan simultaneously as soon as a dangerous sideways movement is detected by the lateral acceleration sensors inside the unit. It continuously evaluates the data and when critical lateral movements are recognised, ESC activates and applies the electric brakes immediately to bring the vehicle back into line in a smooth and controlled manner.
Victoria’s High Country is revered as an ultimate 4WD destination. And true to form, the 2017 AL-KO TTT meted out some punishment to the caravans.
But the 2018 AL-KO TTT was totally different terrain! A bit like chalk and cheese you might say.