I f first impressions account for much in the caravan buying experience, the designers at Masterpiece Caravans have done a pretty good job. When I initially saw the Optimum Extreme glinting in the early morning sunshine on the forecourt at Brisbane RV’s, it looked stunning.
Part of the appeal is the unusual Desert colour of the body, which turns out to be exclusive to the brand, but there’s more. The high stance and tasteful graphics add to the positive impression, and perhaps there is a positive subliminal message that the branding of ‘Masterpiece’, ‘Optimum’ and ‘Extreme’ all transmit.
Masterpiece Caravans started out in 2016 when Remon Raffaello put his 15 years of caravan building experience and engineering background into establishing his own brand. His plan was simple — to build a range of dedicated offroad caravans with a luxury look and feel, equipped with the best technology. Just looking at the van, you would be tempted to agree he has met his aim because the vans exude a purposeful intent and standout style.
Surprisingly, Raffaello has chosen to build his vans with a timber frame. He explained that the traditional build has many benefits in an offroad van, where the body is subject to flex over extremely rough ground. He went on to explain the only problem with a properly built timber van is water ingress, but told me that if you can’t seal a van properly, then you shouldn’t be making them. Amen to that.
Let’s also be clear that most alloy or composite vans have timber furniture, so they can also be subject to water damage if not properly sealed. Each van is subjected to a high-pressure water wash as part of its quality control, and the production team has been kept to a tight group, preferring to stick with five vans a week to uphold quality control.
Raffaello’s civil engineering background has also taught him a thing or two about timber construction. All the joins in his frames are met at 45 degrees and glued and screwed for maximum strength. He also sticks with a marine ply floor, in the belief it’s the best medium to fix the internal timber furniture to.
In the interest of durability, Masterpiece Caravans use 100 per cent silicon to meet the harshest conditions, with minimal shrinkage. The chassis has been engineered for strength from 4mm Australian steel and finished in 450-grade zinc. It’s heavy and very robust, for which Raffaello make no apology. “It’s an offroad van, and it’s built tough.”
A hint about the thinking here might be the 4.1t rated suspension, and 4.5t chains fitted as standard, making it only a matter of changing to a DO45 hitch to upgrade the ATM to 4t using a more capable tow vehicle.
The Desert toned Alucomp composite walls matched with Nickel Pearl checkerplate has been a signature Masterpiece Caravans colour scheme from the beginning, and so far, no other brand has been bold enough to copy.
The van sits on a Roadking 150 x 50mm chassis with a 50mm riser under the body. The graphite coloured chassis is another individual touch that adds to the unique impression. The suspension is the Cruisemaster XT trailing arm coil spring system with twin F41 shock absorbers. 16in alloy wheels are shod with 265 x 75 Cooper ST Max tyres, and 12in drum brakes effectively bring the show to a stop.
Alloy toolboxes, each with slides, sitting either side of two 9kg gas bottles on the extended A-frame are protected by a wide stone guard, while lower down rubber flaps reduce stones flying back under the van. AL-KO ESC is standard.
Along the passenger side, we find a picnic table, a gal- lined tunnel boot with a light and a high mount gas bayonet, which will be handy for portable barbeques. Further back an entertainment hatch has power points and a Fusion sound controller for the high mount external speakers. A Dometic awning offers shade, and the rear opening security door avoids any clash with window openings.
Around the other side are chassis-mounted battery boxes for two 150Ah lithium batteries which are wired to three 175W solar panels on the roof, but also with an Anderson plug for a portable panel as well.
An extra storage box along the side towards the rear is a handy feature, taking up some spare space in the ensuite inside. The heavy-duty four arm rear bar has a wood box and two jerrycan holders, and while it only has a single spare, it could cope with a second one if needed. An outside hot and cold shower is handy to the entrance and would be suitable for a quick wash down before heading inside, especially with the instant heating system.
The 20ft 8in version of the optimum Extreme has two layouts, both with rear door and a straight kitchen design. The only difference is that one has the kitchen on the kerbside, while the other is on the offside. I’m not entirely sure why you would choose one over the other but perhaps having the fridge on the same side as the kitchen is more ergonomically appealing. As both have a rear door and front bedroom, either will be a popular choice.
As we have pointed out previously, the rear entrance, rear bathroom and front bedroom win for most couples as it offers a degree of privacy for the bed and easy access to the toilet, without dragging dirty boots across the kitchen floor.
A pull-down step was a bit of a disappointment. I expected the swift deployment of an electric one, but I guess that’s an option for gadget lovers.
The interior design has the same immediate appeal as the outside, but without the rugged intent. Masterpiece Caravans is determined to get you to the edges of civilisation and wrap you in comfort and luxury while you’re there.
A couple of features stand out to reinforce the upmarket impact. Firstly, the expanse of beautifully pleated warm tone Italian leather at the lounge and the pelmets over the windows which are so old school that they must be contemporary again. Steve from Brisbane RV’s explained there is more than fashion here. Modern window systems have sliding blockouts if you want privacy, but they stop any flow of fresh air, whereas having blinds gives privacy with some airflow.
Walls are white, and most of the joinery is finished in a similar caramel colour to the lounge, so, while there is plenty going on, it doesn’t look too busy. The lounge has wide seat bases and some lumbar support, and while I initially thought the padding was a bit hard, I soon got used to it. Expansive Dometic windows at the lounge and kitchen are well placed for views to either side, and two Sirocco fans circulate a good flow of air.
The kitchen is neatly finished with a gloss splashback and a stone laminate benchtop, but with the cover over the stove raised, there isn’t a tremendous amount of preparation space. You do get lots of storage though, and smooth running drawers and overhead cupboards with shelves at various heights and piano hinges.
The full fan-forced oven is a useful feature as is the generous size 220L Dometic Compressor fridge and the nifty tap with a button for filtered water.
The island bed has easy access and a Pillowtop mattress. There are storage nooks either side and 12V and USB chargers on the side tables. Under the bed, storage shares space with a gas heater, which could use a protective cover to separate it from the inevitable pile of odds and sods that will end up down there. Masterpiece Caravans have informed us since the review that the 2020 model does indeed have a cover.
The rear ensuite continues the contemporary fit-out with a moulded fibreglass shower, Dometic toilet, wide vanity and a 3.5kg washer.
Those 300Ah lithium batteries should do the work of twice that amount of AGM batteries, so there is a surfeit of power onboard for off-grid living. RedArc supply the charger and a 3000W inverter for running 240V appliances for short periods.
A 28in television is connected to a Fusion sound module over the kitchen, and there’s a pod for various phones to link into your entertainment both inside and out.
For our review, Steve and Jack from Brisbane RV’s thought we should hit some of jack’s favourite offroad tracks between Beerburrum and Woodford. It wasn’t long before corrugations put the van to the test, and dust had blended nicely with the desert paint scheme.
The Extreme has a tare approaching 3t so it was a good match for the 200 Series LandCruiser and it towed faultlessly at motorway speeds and along the rural winding roads on our way to the bush.
Not happy with rough tracks, Jack pointed the Cruiser at steep 4WD inclines for our photos. The van handled the punishment with no complaints or any shifting of equipment or fittings inside.
Interestingly, although the exterior was covered in dust at the end of the day, the pressure hatch on the roof, as well as proper sealing of all openings, kept the interior completely dust-free.
The Optimum Extreme waves the flag for traditionally built Aussie offroaders and makes a credible claim that there’s life left in a well-built timber frame. A high level of finish and engineering along with the extensive standard feature list all go to justifying the $108,000 price ticket.
WEIGHTS AND MEASUREMENTS
Overall length 8.8m (28ft 10in)
External body length 6.3m (20ft 8in)
External body width 2.5m (8ft 2in)
Travel height 3.1m (10ft 1in)
Internal height 2m (6ft 7in)
Payload 545kg (calculated)
Ball weight 189kg
Cladding Composite panel
Chassis 6in A Frame, 6in Main Frame 2in Riser
Suspension 4.1T Cruisemaster XT
Coupling Cruisemaster DO35
Brakes 12in Drum
Wheels 16in alloy with 265.75 Cooper Tyres
Water 2 x 95L, 62L drinking, 100L grey
Battery 2 x 150Ah lithium
Solar 3 x 175W
Air conditioner Truma Aventa
Gas 2 x 9kg
Sway control AL-KO
Cooking Swift fan forced oven
Fridge Dometic 220L compressor Microwave 25L
Bathroom Full width with Shower and toilet
Washing machine 3.5kg
Hot water Instant
Options fitted nil
Price as shown $108,990
270 Bruce Highway, Burpengary QLD 4505
P: (07) 3888 3273
W: brisbanervs.com.au and masterpiececaravans.com.au