If you wait in Melbourne for a nice day to take photos, you could be in for a long wait. This was my thinking when wind and rain were forecast for our review of the new Wonderland Hornet, a day after it wowed show-goers at the Geelong Camping and Caravan Show.
The big brash bronze behemoth stood out in a sea of white vans at the show, and while we would have loved some sunny skies to show it at its best, time was short so we hit the road hoping for better conditions.
The weather wasn't the only thing not on our side. When we pulled over in a quiet street near Lorne to reconnoitre with our photographer, Marcus, who was travelling behind, an irate resident accosted us with a demand that we move on. “You’re blocking my view,” he exclaimed, not appreciating that the drop-dead gorgeous Hornet was a better sight than the grey ocean half hidden by a misty sea fog. Welcome to Lorne.
As it turned out, the photos of the van were amazing and worth the drenching Marcus copped when we drove past. There was even a long enough break in the deluge to complete detailed photography and for a good look around the van.
Wonderland RV began building vans when friends Kevin Dani and Robert Uzelec joined forces after individual careers with Retreat Caravans and Meridian Caravans. Their experience led them to create innovative, high spec, offroad vans.
Their choice of a plywood frame was based on the material’s strength, lightness and flexibility. All furniture is double-laminated and precision cut from lightweight ply for a perfect fit and maximum strength, while quality control at all stages ensures a well-built van that will last.
In the over 40 designs, there are 20 family layouts in models that span 4.7m (15’6”) to 7.3m (24’), and with a long list of options, it’s unlikely that any of the over 400 vans produced so far are exactly the same.
Coming from a custom builder that will go the extra mile and specialising in offroad family vans, the Hornet sits under Wonderland RV’s top of range XTR as a backcountry traveller. With a long list of standard and optional features, it’s designed to get to remote places so you can enjoy them in comfort for as long as your food and water hold out — camp near a supply of fresh water and fish and that could be a while.
Wonderland RV has settled on a construction method of computer designed CNC cut structural grade ply walls and an outer skin of composite DiBond. Wall panels are joined in a jigsaw pattern to create a strong structure with voids meticulously cut to incorporate high density foam insulation. A single-piece ply floor and fibreglass roof are screwed and bolted to the sidewalls and ends for a sturdy and durable body mounted to a heavy-duty, galvanised Roadking chassis.
Under the van are four water tanks, including two 100L for general purpose, a 100L grey water tank and a 50L tank connected to a filter and dedicated to drinking water. Built from 5mm food-grade plastic that is highly resistant to damage from flying stones, the tanks don’t need protective covers.
The metallic bronze exterior is a marine grade Dibond composite exclusively from the German manufacturer, adding a level of difference to the already impressive look.
Up front is enough storage for extended travel, plus big alloy toolboxes alongside two 9kg gas bottles and high mount bike racks. Dexter Electronic Stability Control and a breakaway system help with safety, and high black checkerplate skirts will keep the cladding looking new. An overhead work light lets you find things at night, while the orange glow of exterior LEDs along the side set a laid-back mood and reduce insect attack.
Also along the side is a slide-out Sovereign BBQ and sink, with storage to the rear and a second tunnel boot further back. This second boot includes access from inside and significantly increases storage for larger items like kayaks. Other features here include an entertainment hatch with 240V, 12V and TV connectors, a large foldout picnic table and a hatch for the Cruisemaster Air Panel that adjusts the airbags independently to level the van when parked. A Dometic awning covers the passenger side and a set of Fusion outdoor speakers with lights built into the central dome add to the contemporary look.
Digital, zigzag graphics at the back and along the rear quarter break up the expanse of bronze and if you would like a different colour there are plenty of hues on offer. A hefty bar across the back has twin jerry can holders and can carry two spares, although the test van had only one on show. There’s also a Safety Dave rear view camera with light — helpful when backing into a tight spot.
What’s up top is also worth mentioning. As well as a new Ibis 4 air-conditioner, there’s a Dometic DRS285 Dust Reduction System to reduce dust and pollen ingress. The system raises cabin pressure by forcing air inside as the van is moving, thus stopping dusty air sneaking inside. Filters can be removed for cleaning and interestingly, given recent events, the system is easily blocked off when travelling through smoke.
Our review van was a family friendly van, but you can choose from 40 or so layouts or let this custom builder make a van to suit your needs. They have a full time designer on hand and encourage customisation from clients. An advantage of the ply wall construction is it allows almost unlimited arrangement of furniture within the van and by ducting the electrical supply, power points and appliances are also easily moved.
The layout of the Hornet on test had the main bed at the front and a set of bunks along the rear driver-side wall, with the ensuite opposite. The central section is devoted to a dining setting and kitchen.
The main bed area is a new feature that might catch on with young families in particular. Instead of open spaces either side of the bed, this area is an infill of upholstered storage nooks that create a full-width bed with enough room for everyone to spread out to watch TV or hang out together. The extra storage and the big king bed space are beneficial, but access and bed making are compromised, so it will be interesting to see if the idea catches on.
At the side are over-and-under windows for better airflow and security, while overhead is a large hatch for even more light and ventilation. There is the usual collection of side and overhead cupboards and each side has two 240V and USB fast chargers.
A family van needs a good-sized dining area and the Hornet’s will handle two adults and three smaller children but might need an extra chair in the aisle for teenagers, or they could always sit on the bed. The upmarket Nuova Mapa table has a sturdy base and a top that slides to various positions for easy entry, and it drops to make an extra bed if needed. Microfibre upholstery looks classy and the lounges proved comfortable.
Furniture throughout is beautifully crafted from 16mm lightweight ply with fine joins and superior catches and hinges. On the passenger-side kitchen, the white ceramic sink and white designer mixing tap look terrific set in a natural ash timber benchtop. There’s enough food storage space for family travel, including a slide-out pantry and overhead cupboards on both sides of the van. The 188L compressor fridge should also be enough, but if more cool storage is needed the front toolboxes have slide outs big enough for an 80L fridge.
Preparation area is limited to a small section near the sink and the lid of the Swift 500 cooktop when its closed, but in a family van with an ensuite its only natural that compromises need to be made somewhere. Given most of the cooking will be done on the outside BBQ, I’m sure most families will cope quite well.
There’s an overhead microwave, which brings me to an interesting point about the van’s electronics. In most vans a generator is needed to run a microwave when free camping. But this Hornet has enough power to run one from the battery. Three 160W solar panels charge a 200Ah LifePO4 lithium iron phosphate battery and a 2600W Enerdrive inverter powers the 240V appliances. Redarc’s Manager 30S3 keeps things humming along nicely and tells you the state of charge and expected battery life.
The rear of the van, with two bunk beds and ensuite, can be separated from the living space by a concertina door. At 19.m and .78m wide with a 120kg capacity the bunks are extremely roomy — large enough for teenagers — and sturdy. Each bunk has its own window, while USB, fan and triple bunks are optional. The cupboard on the back wall adds a huge amount of extra storage for clothing and bedding for everyone.
The ensuite includes a full-size shower, elegant vanity with mirror and, surprisingly, a composting toilet. This Nature’s Head system is a sensible alternative to a cassette toilet with the associated problems of regular maintenance and odour. I’m told with part-time use it can last for months without emptying. It looks similar to a conventional cassette system and, as an added benefit when free camping, it uses no water.
HIGH RIDING HORNET
Riding high on 18” alloy wheels, offroad tyres and Bluetooth enabled airbag suspension, the big Hornet cut a fine if incongruous figure behind Wonderland MD, Kevin Dani’s black VW Tourag, as we headed into the pelting rain
At 6.45m (21’2”) the Hornet pushes the practical size for an offroader while the 2900kg tare and 600kg payload means it needs a competent and heavy rated tow vehicle. Consider the gross vehicle mass of a prospective tug because these weights can push a lot of twin cabs into illegal territory. The Hornet is easily upgraded to a 4000kg by changing the hitch from the standard Cruisemaster DO35 to a DO45-4T — at this rating it will probably be most happy behind a Dodge Ram or similar.
Airbag suspension adjusts for rough road travel, and softens the ride for differing roads. At the standard ride height the van travelled smoothly on the main roads without any sway or roll through bends. Later, on dirt tracks, the same applied, with the airbags and twin shock absorbers working faultlessly across bumps and corrugations. When we parked for the photos the airbags took care of a sideways lean, which is pretty cool.
Warranty does not cover 4WD-only tracks, and careful driving with lower tyre pressures is recommended in the owner’s manual on unsealed roads to avoid hard impacts. Service intervals are at three months then every six months or 10,000km.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Aimed squarely at a younger market, the Hornet family van is sure to attract a good following from this growing sector. Let’s face it, the demand for vans from the boomers has to end sometime, so it makes sense to appeal to more than my ‘adventure before dementia’ crowd — mind you, there will be lots of grey nomads who would love this van for the extra room to take the grandkids along on part of their travels. Wonderland’s technology and attention to the customer needs flows across all their models and plenty of folk across all demographics will appreciate the thoughtful inclusion of contemporary design and electronics.
Considering the Hornet’s offroad ability and the number of quality options fitted, the $128,000 as tested price looks like extremely good value. A standard Hornet is $108,000, and lower spec offroaders in the Wonderland range are even less.
The Hornet is a capable long-distance adventure rig that will need a well set up and powerful tow vehicle to keep out of trouble in the bush and clear of the law on the road. For those seeking out of the way places to camp for extended stays, the comfort and top class off-grid ability are there to enjoy
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Length 6.45m (21ft 2in)
Length overall 8.8m (28ft 10in)
External width 2.4m (8ft)
Internal height 1.98 m (6t 6in)
Travel height 3.05m–3.13m (height adjustable air bags)
Tare 2900 kg
ATM 3500 kg (can be rated to 4000kg with coupling upgrade)
Ball weight 200kg
Frame Structural ply interlocking
Cladding Dibond /Alcuabond (German made)
Chassis Roadking AllGall
Suspension Tandem Cruisemaster Level 3 wireless Airbag
Brakes 12” drum
Wheels 18” Allied alloy
Water 2 x 100L plus 1 x 50L filtered drinking water
Grey Water 1 x 100L
Battery 200Ah Lithium
Solar 3 x 160w
Air-conditioner Ibis 4
Gas 2 x 9kg
Sway control Dexter ESC
Cooking Swift Minigrill cooktop
Fridge Dometic 188L Compressor
Toilet Yes, composting
Shower Yes, no external
Hot water Swift 28L gas electric
Airbag Susp Level 3
18" Lc 200s + Bgf Tyres
4 Sirocco Fans
Twin Side Bedroom Windows
Thule 3b Rack
Bug Lights X 7
White Sink & Hardware
Custom Doors Ilo Thetford Door 4'S X 4
PRICE AS SHOWN