There is a lot in the name of the Essential Cruiser Design 22”10 F3. It tells you it is a 22-footer, sits in the family Design range of Essential caravans and the F3 is a layout — I’ll keep it simple and call it the F3 or we’ll run out of space to talk about the finer points.
I picked up the keys to the F3 to deliver a photoshoot for Essential. We had three vans to do in two days which gave me the chance to have a really good look at what life was like with an F3. Hitching it up behind a new and also borrowed D-MAX, we shot off to one of our favourite spots, about 130km north of Melbourne, near the Macedon Ranges. It's a popular spot for us. A working pine plantation, it offers good views, access to the M79 and proximity to the towns of Macedon and Woodend, both full of charm and good curry. But I digress.
WHO IT’S FOR
Count the beds, look at the layout and it’s clear this is a family van. With a typical centre entrance, front main bed, central kitchen and rear ensuite opposite either two or three bunks, it is not a new layout, and the decor is familiar for those that have sampled a Cruiser from Essential before. What really stands it out are the inclusions and the small price to pay for them.
VALUE FOR MONEY
I tend not to jump into value for money early in my reviews, as there is always construction, towability and quality to cover first but the thing with the F3 is that every part of it, from the build to the suspension, how it tows and to the inclusions, are all driven with value to the buyer in mind and its impressive.
The price, $66,990+ORCs, is pretty damn impressive. You’d have to cross shop with the other big names like Jayco and New Age to find a real comparison or go to a small company that does not have the legacy and support of the big three, which I suggest can be risky, to find cheaper. So now you know the price, let's talk about the inclusions, and keep that $66,990 in mind, I’ll be coming back to it.
No, not you, the smart option is this van. Essential buy smarter by leveraging their bulk-buying power to epic effect. I was once having dinner with David Wilson of Essential and he told me he had ordered three container loads of water heaters — not three units, not three pallets, three containers of them. This got his per-unit price down dramatically and you, the customer, win from that.
The same likely applies to the Dometic Ibis-4 AC and the Safety Dave camera, both of which are listed as standard, but here is where I stop rattling off well-known brands as inclusions because the build list changes according to who Essential is getting the best deal from. Listed is a 190L three-way fridge which in our test van was a Dometic but in yours, could be an upgrade to the Dometic RMD10.5XS 3-way AES fridge, like we saw. We saw an excellent Thetford stove with integrated grill in ours, but yours might be a competitor's product. Don’t despair though as I’m yet to see knock-offs in an Essential. It’ll be a brand with a warranty and proven quality.
CONSTRUCTION AND LAYOUT
The chassis is locally made by ARV and heavy duty with six inch main beams, with the same in the A-frame which extends to the suspension hangers.
The suspension is hollow axles on leaf springs and brakes are 10in drums at each wheel with 235/75R15 All Terrain tyres. I love the low and safe feel of leaf springs and there is no questioning they are reliable, and that chassis, wow, it was impeccable. Essential's internal frame is constructed of Merranti timber, which is by far and away the most common construction method. There are age-old opinions and arguments on which is the best frame construction At the end of the day they all have pros and cons. The main advantage of a Merranti frame is the flexibility of the timber as the caravan is rattling down the road — as long as the van is sealed properly.
To Essential’s credit, they use Sikaflex around the windows, doors and hatches, and fold the checkerplate at the base of the walls. The sealing work looked neat and very well done.
There are some good things inside those walls, floor and ceiling too. The ceiling uses gold-class bats for insulation and the walls use solid styrofoam while the floor is one-piece ply with vinyl top. The cabinetry is all wood and laminated, as are the benchtop and hi-lo table, which are well sized for the family. There is good overhead storage and a microwave mounted above the fridge. As mentioned the fridge and stove are generous in size, so all that is left is the lounge and beds.
The lounge is superb, a great size, well-padded and covered in a supple leatherette so cleaning up a spilt cuppa is no real issue. Underneath it is good storage. To the rear, the bunks are a good length and feature individual windows and power points. Opposite is the ensuite, which in the 22ft 10in van has a separate shower and good amount of drying room. Just outside the ensuite, between the bunks and door is a good volume of storage clearly also designed to take an optional washer, should you choose.
Housing and feeding the hoards are important but what if, god forbid, their phones run out of charge, or the shower runs cold? I’m not big on kids but my friends with them will tell you they are not fun when they can’t have what they want, so self-sufficiency is important.
I am not going to compare the F3 to a fully-fledged, offroader that is designed to survive the apocalypse with 1000W of solar and a battery bank that would make Elon Musk blush. The F3 is a holiday park caravan and should have the ability to stop a couple of nights here and there. So can it do it?
With a 100Ah battery charged from either the Anderson plug, mains, or a 195W solar panel via a quality, lithium compatible BMPRO35 HA power management system, it’s ok. That panel could feed in as much as 65A over a typical sunny day or 8–10A continuous, which is pretty good. Knowing the fridge will flick to gas when off mains, assuming the lights will draw 3A when on, you should be able to keep the phones charged, watch some tv and run the sirocco fans as wanted — not the AC though. Should you add an inverter, you’ll be ok to run a kettle a few times a day as well and keep laptops charged, just steer clear of the coffee maker too many times.
To fill the coffee pot, you can draw on twin 95L water tanks that flow to a filter at the kitchen and throughout the van. I noted a tap at the drawbar too, handy for washing mud off shoes and cleaning hands. The 180L capacity is good, if each member of a five person family uses 10L per day, that’s still more than two weeks.
The hot water system is a combination unit, drawing on gas when off-grid and using electricity at the holiday park. With twin 9kg bottles, you’ll struggle to run out even if using the gas hobs inside, the fridge and shower regularly. Doing the sums, the F3 is more than capable for most family tourers wanting to skip the holiday parks every now and then.
So that Volcanic Amber D-MAX that did the work pulling the 2400kg tare, 2900kg ATM F3, how was it? Fantastic, as they always are. On account of Isuzu helping us when we need a good looking tow tug, the D-MAX is the vehicle I’ve towed with the most, aside from my sorry-looking LandCruiser.
Caravan World has reviewed the last few generations including this latest X-Terrain spec from 2020 and all have been glowing appraisals. Is it the right vehicle for the F3? I think so. It has the payload (a touch over 900kg) to take the kids’ gear, and the leaf-spring suspension is well suited to the 195kg ball weight of the van. Power is good and it has lots of low-down torque without chewing up fuel (I saw around 18L/100km driving spiritedly up to Macedon and back). The passive safety tech is class-leading though should be turned off while towing as some sensors are easily spooked by the trailer behind.
The van itself is a great tow, again, leaf springs are the best for on-road and gravel, I believe. The F3 sat nicely at 100km/h and braked well in part thanks to the Redarc Tow Elite controller in the D-MAX.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I asked you, the class, to keep in mind the $66,990+ORC price of the Essential Cruiser 22”10 Design F3. Now take in its size (did I mention it has a 2.05m ceiling?) and the space that creates for a growing family. Look back at the inclusions and tell me if you know of a better buy. I constantly look as it is vital to my confidence in being able to suggest a van is a good buy and I can honestly say, I don’t know any better in the F3’s bracket.