Many offroad caravans built in Australia often have similar characteristics — they are relatively heavy and usually require a heavy-duty vehicle, like a Toyota LandCruiser, for towing.
It was something of a surprise, therefore, when I came across a Summer Life RV Xplorer 5.8 caravan, which is built for offroad use, but has an external body length of 5.8m (19ft) and a tare of just 2300kg.
Summer Life RV is headed up by James Kaufmann and based at Newcastle, NSW. It has been around for quite a while but previously concentrated on the fifth wheeler and slide-on camper markets. More recently though, Summer Life made a move into the caravan sector, using the same building techniques as in its other RVs.
Starting at the base, the Xplorer 5.8 has a 450 grade steel chassis with 150mm x 50mm (6in x 2in) main rails and drawbar finished with a two-pack paint system. The chassis is not built in a total box section style, instead using the 30mm fibreglass floor for some of the strength component. A benefit of the thickness of the floor is the insulation it provides.
Being an offroad caravan, the Xplorer comes fitted with Cruisemaster XT independent suspension fitted with coil springs, dual shock absorbers and trailing arms, and 12in electric brakes are fitted to 16in alloy wheels.
In addition to 160L freshwater tank and 100L grey water tank — both protected by alloy checkerplate — the spare wheel and the two deep cycle batteries are mounted underneath the front area of the van. While it’s a convenient storage location, it does make them a bit awkward to get at.
Undoubtedly the centrepiece of the Xplorer’s construction are the high gloss composite walls and roof. Vacuum bonded, the composite structure gives the dual benefits of strength and light weight, and everything is held together by high strength adhesives — not a screw or rivet to be seen. The end result is a floor, walls and roof that form a solid structure, albeit one with a somewhat square appearance.
Euro Vision double glazed acrylic windows are fitted all round and the door is an Aussie Traveller item, complete with security screen. Just for something different, it’s nice to see an offroad caravan that isn’t plated with black alloy checkerplate.
There’s no external entertainment unit but there are two external speakers for use when sitting out under the awning. Along with the grab handle light, there’s a wall strip light beside the door, but I reckon a light above the BBQ wouldn’t go astray.
A feature point of this van is the external storage. In addition to the front tunnel storage, which in this case came with a slide-out BBQ, there’s a couple of smaller bins along the mid offside and one in the rear wall. While not oversized, they are handy for smaller items.
Other options for more storage space is a large box on the drawbar, one fitted with doors on both sides, or a heavy-duty slide with a generator tray.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
In its standard form, the Xplorer comes with two 100Ah lithium batteries and two 180W solar panels. If that’s not enough, there are extra battery and solar panel options available, as well as 2000W and 3000W inverters. That, together with an optional 160L water tank, should satisfy anyone’s remote travel needs!
ROOM TO MOVE
Stepping aboard the Xplorer van, almost the first thing noticed is that it’s rather a big step up, so the fold out two step is a welcome feature.
Inside, the front bedroom/full width bathroom looks a bit familiar, but some things, like the individual leather recliner chairs and the bed up front, don’t. More about that shortly.
All the furniture is constructed with aluminium tube framing, aluminium composite and plywood. Except for items like the bench tops, it’s all finished off in a glossy acrylic finish. The end result is quite a clean looking interior.
Recliner chairs are a little unusual in a caravan, but there’s no doubt about the ‘sit down and relax’ offered to anyone who steps into the Xplorer — which is what I did to contemplate the van layout. Both the chairs are strapped to the wall, so that they don’t move around when travelling. It’s quite amazing just how much difference the freestanding chairs make to space perceptions.
Between the chairs is a small wall cabinet with a small compartment built in, as well as a 240V power point and USB charger outlet.
At first glance there doesn’t seem to be any sort of table for the chairs. However, under the bed is a table top that clips into a wall bracket and, hey presto, a table for two! If something a bit larger is needed, a freestanding table could be used. Overhead lockers are fitted above the chairs, but there’s no reading lights.
Opposite the lounge chairs is quite a substantial kitchen bench area. It’s longer than usual, and comes with a Thetford three burner cooktop, square stainless-steel sink and an under bench fitted microwave oven. For those who like a few more cooking facilities, a fan forced oven and a separate grill are options.
Being the size it is, the storage space is quite generous with three large drawers, one cutlery drawer, two overhead lockers and two cupboards. One of the cupboards is multi shelved and built into the entry door end of the bench.
Just in case you are wondering, the fridge, a Thetford T2175 174L model, makes use of the space between the rear lounge chair and the bathroom wall. It’s a 12V compressor model meaning it’s very efficient when running off the batteries.
Across the rear of the caravan, the bathroom isn’t oversized, but is still spacious enough to have a nearside shower cubicle, offside Dometic cassette toilet and a decent vanity cabinet which is large enough several drawers, upper and lower cupboards and a fair bit of shelf space. The two towel rails mounted on the sliding door and the offside wall respectively are more substantial than usually found in a caravan.
In RV jargon, many a caravan comes with a ‘caravan queen’ bed, which is slightly deceptive because it’s not as long as many people think. However, in this case the Xplorer 5.8 does indeed come with a 2.03m x 1.53m (6ft 8in x 5ft) bed, long enough to suit most people. However, there’s one slight disadvantage. While the offside corner of the bed is easy to walk around, then nearside is quite close to the kitchen bench — a small price to pay perhaps for a decent length bed.
Overhead lockers are fitted above the bed and instead of the usual wall mounted reading lights, recessed LED fittings are mounted under them. Each side of the bed gets a wardrobe and drawer. Instead of a bedside shelf, a small pillow cubby that includes a power point and device charger is fitted into the corner. It’s neatly done but a tad fiddly since it’s right in the back corner.
Lifting the posture slatted bed base gives easy access to the compartmented storage area underneath.
Summer Life RV offers a 12-month warranty on the material and workmanship in its caravans and a three-year warranty on the chassis and structure. Like most manufacturers, the appliances retain the original manufacturer’s warranty.
Although the caravan is classed as offroad, there’s a rider that the van is not produced for extreme offroad — that is, where low range 4WD has to be used.
TAKING A DRIVE
Not surprisingly given its weight, the Xplorer is a smooth towing prospect on the road. Certainly, the Nissan Navara tow vehicle handled the van without any problem at all. My only caution would be when making tight turns either forward or backwards, there’s a limit before the rear bumper bar and drawbar impact with each other.
The most notable item was that without using any weight distribution gear, the caravan sat very level behind the tow vehicle — a little something to keep in mind when loading the van.
THE BOTTOM LINE
As seen in the Xplorer caravan, it’s clear that Summer Life RV had stepped away from the usual construction techniques for many offroad caravans. The end result is a slightly square looking van, but, more importantly, one that is not an overweight towing prospect while having plenty of load capacity. Inside the layout is quite spacious and looks good too. All up, a very good choice for an offroad caravan that’s a little different.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Body length 5.8m (19ft)
Overall length 7.3m (23ft 11in)
Width 2.48m (8ft 2in)
Height (incl DRS)3.27m (10ft 1in) Tare 2300kg
Ball weight 180kg
Cladding Fibreglass composite
Chassis 150mm x 50mm (6in x 2in), DuraGal® & 2 Pack paint
Suspension Cruisemaster XT independent
Coupling Cruisemaster DO35
Brakes 12in electric
Wheels 16in alloy
Water 160L fresh, 100L grey
Battery 2 x 100Ah lithium
Solar 2 x 180W
Air conditioner Truma Saphir
Gas 2 x 9kg
Sway control Lippert
Cooking Thetford 3-burner
Fridge Thetford T2175 12V comp 175L
Bathroom Dometic cassette toilet, separate shower cubicle
Hot water Truma Combi 240V/LPG 10L
Lippert Sway Control
Front storage box
Front storage box generator slide
Sizzler stainless steel BBQ on heavy duty slide
Sphere 24in RV with antenna
Furrion Bluetooth stereo
PRICE AS SHOWN
Summer Life RV
42 Mitchell Road
Cardiff NSW 2285
Ph: 02 4953 7141