It’s said that Jayco command half the RV sales in Australia every year. That’s a lot of vans across their vast offering of campers, pop-tops and caravans, and with a dedicated research and development crew they are continually updating their products with fresh ideas.
The Journey on review is a case in point. It was so new that when we arranged the test, they still hadn’t decided on a model name! So let’s call it the Journey Cargo for its innovative bunk bed design, which converts to a very useful cargo hold.
The Journey 17.53-3 is a seventeen footer in Jayco’s caravan catalogue of budget tourers. It can be optioned as a smooth road Touring version or the dirt road Outback model on review here. Layouts in both versions are the same, but suspension is different, as you might expect. The Touring model is for tar roads and the Outback is designated for graded gravel roads.
Jayco’s composite wall panels give a smooth clean look to the exterior and efficient thermal protection. A high stance and relatively short length gives the Outback version a mean and purposeful look. Lower sections of black checkerplate against a white body, along with black wheels and chunky offroad tyres add to the rugged impression.
In reality, the look and the Outback name might be a tad misleading because the van isn’t intended for serious off-roading. According to their warranty document, the van is designed for limited unsealed roads and, because of mandatory low gas vents, not crossing water more than floor deep.
That still leaves a lot of country travel and exploring as long as you drive sensibly and lower tyre pressures over uneven surfaces.
The van sits on a hot dipped galvanised chassis built in house. A 6” A-frame and chassis uses a tandem Jayco heavy-duty J-tech suspension with trailing arms and a single shock absorber on each arm. Wheels are 15” alloys shod with 235x75 all-terrain tyres. Green valve caps indicate they are filled with nitrogen, which is often recommended to maintain constant tyre temperature in extreme conditions.
At the A-frame are a standard 50mm ball hitch and a tap with no guard. The ABS front panel is recessed slightly to accommodate two 9kg gas bottles that have a fibreglass covering for a neater look. The tinted front window also has a fold out fibreglass cover to protect the double-glazed Perspex when travelling.
A full-width tunnel boot has generous storage and a smaller one close to the entry door reaches into the storage space under the bed. Other features include a set of weatherproof speakers, 12V and TV connections and an electrically operated awning, which is way cool and very practical. Control from a smartphone through Jayco’s wireless hub adds to bragging rights.
But the best and newest feature is the rear cargo space, accessed through a wide door. Items like bikes, smaller kayaks, and all manner of camping equipment can be stored when travelling by folding the lower bunk inward to its frame. When you arrive at your destination, unload the gear and the bed folds down to its normal position for sleeping. The large side access door is an option on all similar Journey models for $795.
The extra storage space is a smart innovation and again, it shows that the Jayco R&D department is on the ball. This feature will be very useful for families wanting to keep the young ones entertained by bringing their favourite toys when camped. It’s all well and good tying everything to a rear rack, but I am always fearful of losing the lot somewhere on the way. Having everything safely secured inside seems like a great idea.
Unlike some of the other vans on review this month, the Jayco isn’t your quintessential large family van. It’s a compact and pared back seventeen footer with the basic essentials and just enough room to be comfortable. So, while there are compromises on space, it’s ideally set up as an easily towed option, with the ability to get into some more easily accessed off-grid campsites for a few days.
There’s a folding step and, because of the extra height, most folk will need it for access into the Outback model. Interior design dictates an east-west queen bed to the front, bunks along the curbside rear wall, a compact ensuite opposite and a central living space.
Colours are straight from the understated Jayco palette, with some added zaniness from the Kosciuszko zigzag pattern on the lounge. The overall theme of white walls with light grey curtains and benchtops is a sensible and kid-friendly. Large windows at the bed head and at the dinette light up the interior and give views to the driver side, but surprisingly there are no windows on the kitchen side. This means the only view in that direction is through the door. Additional cooling comes from two small overhead hatches and a roof mounted Ibis 4 air conditioner.
A small drawer under the queen bed makes a handy storage option and leaves room and quick maintenance for the house battery, hot water system a 12V Sureflo water pump, as well as the J35 BMPRO battery management system. In a family van storage is important, so it’s good to see all possible wall spaces are utilised. Cupboards above the bed run along the curbside, across the front and then all the way past the dinette on the near side.
Seating at the L-shaped dinette would handle two adults and two smaller children around a rectangular table. The table can be dropped for an extra bed with an infill cushion if needed.
There’s good news and less good news in the kitchen. The good news is that you get a Thetford Triplex Plus oven, grill and cooktop, but on the downside, at first glance, bench space is limited to about 300mm alongside a circular stainless steel sink and the lid over the cooktop.
But wait, there’s more. In another smart idea, an extension folds up next to the sink for an extra 400mm. It does close off the exit when it’s in place, but I’m sure it will be well used for food prep or washing up.
Feeding older children is always a challenge, especially on the road, so the 171L Thetford fridge/freezer will be a boon. A Sphere microwave sits on top of the fridge for use when hooked up to 240V power, while rearward of the fridge is a floor-to-ceiling pantry to help feed the mob.
The combination ensuite has the essential shower and cassette toilet for bush camping, while a second shower outside will help keep the van clean at the beach. A wind-up roof hatch takes care of ventilation and I liked the handy toiletry cupboard and six-slot toothbrush holder. A moulded sink folds out from the wall to add room when showering. It creates the feeling of a railway sleeper and adds to the fun, holiday atmosphere.
The double bunks each have an opening window and a reading light, while the top bunk has a movable ladder that seemed strong enough for the job. But I felt the top bunk’s plywood sides looked a bit light for burly teenagers who would inevitably use them to help climb to the higher bed.
A small cupboard over the dinette houses Sphere Wi-Fi hubs, the main isolator switch and a manual control for the Care Free awning. Alongside is the JHub, Jayco’s version of the BMPRO monitoring system that accesses battery management, power inputs and water levels.
A winning feature of the Outback is its compact size and manageable weight. At 2107kg unladen and with a modest 475kg payload, there are many medium-sized four-wheel drives capable of towing it with ease.
Behind the Bayswater Jayco Holden Colorado the Outback felt well balanced and without any vices along metropolitan motorways and out into the shire roads north of Melbourne. We managed minimal dirt driving and over some rutted tracks the suspension worked impeccably. There’s no reason to think that, driven sensibly, the Outback can’t tackle short stretches of rougher dusty roads when necessary.
The warranty is two years on the body of the van and five years on the structure including for leaks, cladding delamination and the suspension and chassis. However, equipment and fittings not manufactured by Jayco, including appliances, are said to be separately warranted by those suppliers.
Starting at $57,990 the Outback is good value in its size range. Extras including: Reversing camera, picnic table, external shower, and 160W solar upgrade take the as-tested price to $59,503.
A lot of vans in the 17’ range have single axles so the Jayco’s tandem suspension on review stands out as a well-engineered rig, despite the builder’s conservative recommendations about its modest offroad ability.
The modern styling is a winner and younger family members especially will take to the latest technology on board. While the size might be rather compact, it’s a good balance of usable space and ease of towing
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 7.08m (23ft 2in)
External body length 5.42m
Internal body length 5.33m (17ft 5in)
External body width 2.47m
Travel height 3.04m (8ft 1in)
Internal height 1.97m (6ft 4in)
Ball weight 151kg
Payload 475kg (calculated)
Chassis 6" hot dipped galvanised
Suspension Tandem trailing arm independent with shock absorber
Brakes 10in Drum
Wheels 15' alloy
Water 2 x 82L
Battery 1 x 110Ah
Gas 2 x 9kg
Sway control No
Cooking Combination oven
Fridge 171L 3 way
Hot water Yes
Reversing camera, picnic table, external shower, 160w solar upgrade
PRICE AS Tested