If the stats can be believed, there could be as many as 150 caravan and camper builders scattered across our country. One of the joys of being involved with Caravan World is being able to shine a light on some of the smaller builders, especially when they are producing something special.
Urban Caravans are one of the quiet achievers. Still, when I spotted one at the Brisbane Caravan show on the Hinterland Caravan display, it immediately impressed as unique and worthy of a closer look.
As it turned out, there's quite a backstory to the Urban brand. Company founder, Steve Trajevski, has been in the industry for many years. His father and uncle began Opal caravans, which morphed into Regal before becoming a victim of the late ‘90s recession.
By this stage, the younger Trajevski had done his time as an apprentice furniture maker. This trade served him well when he decided to start the Urban brand, initially building bespoke remote travel hybrids for Gas and Mining Exploration, prospectors and other adventure travellers.
These custom hybrids were set up as real offroad bulletproof weapons, with enough water and solar power to support life off-grid for weeks at a time.
In early 2019, Bill Parsons from the Hinterland Group suggested they team up to produce semi- and full-offroad vans to Parson’s design for the recreational sector. The business has gone from four staff in a small factory to over 30 employees in a much larger facility. At present, the turnover is seven vans a week through a full spectrum of rugged vans, from a softer dirt road Tourer to the exceptionally rugged Tungsten X-Treme. The name Tungsten derives from the build process where the box section aluminium frame is welded together using a TIG process (Tungsten Inert Gas).
Urban is said to be one of only a few builders who TIG weld their aluminium box-section panels for the frame in a process that is cooler and less likely to distort or crack the metal. While it is slower and needs skilled tradespeople to complete the job, Trajevski maintains it’s worth the effort for the extremely durable result.
After the walls, floor and roof sections are welded, they are Nylec bolted together to give the right amount of flex and strength required for extreme offroad travel. Each frame's prototype is subjected to 47 degrees of longitudinal twist and 62 degrees of lateral twist to ensure it can handle movement without cracking.
Outer walls are covered in panels of the latest Thermal and Sound Resistant structural-quality composite Probond panels, and many colours from the supplier are unique to Urban. Dedicated staff cut polystyrene foam pieces between the walls' aluminium structure and take pride in ensuring a tight fit for maximum thermal insulation.
In another building method Trajevski believes is unique to his brand, Polyurethane glue is cured overnight to permanently adhere a single sheet of 3mm fibreglass to the ceiling and the internal wall sections. This is a process Urban developed for their hybrids and has been failproof over time.
The X-Terrain sits on a Supergal ARV chassis built from 3mm Australian steel. Both drawbar and chassis are 150 x 50mm with a 50mm riser under the body. Joins at the walls, roof and honeycomb floor are permanently sealed to make a dust-free interior. Suspension is a 4.2T rated trailing arm system, also from ARV, and fitted with twin Pedders shock absorbers. Again this went back to the hybrids and was chosen because of the Australian built quality and strength.
Furniture is completed in Urban’s separate furniture factory, run by Trajevski’s wife Mariana, and specialises in fit-outs for the RV industry. With their own CNC equipment, edge-bander and upholstery section, they can control quality to a high level and quickly turn out custom requests.
All the furniture has dovetail joins and are screwed and glued together and securely attached to the aluminium frame.
Our review model is a 21ft family van, placing it in a very competitive section of the market. Because of limited overseas travel opportunities, lots of younger families are looking to explore the outback, and a van with the X-Terrain’s offroad ability should meet the expectations of many intrepid travellers.
The van might be a notch down from the top as a Tungsten X-Terrain, but it looks tough and capable in the style of modern offroaders. The model we are reviewing is finished in an unusual rose gold, but, with higher than usual black checkerplate below, it gives a classy and not too radical impression. Silver racing stripes break up the black ends and reduce the amount of the sun-soaking dark colour.
Cruisemaster’s DO35 hitch mounts low on the drawbar to accommodate ride heights of many 4WD tow vehicles and keep the high-riding X-Terrain level. Protecting a pair of side-by-side toolboxes are a full-width stone guard and a set of rubber flaps lower down. The driver’s side box has a slide, so it will be useful for storage or for a generator, and the other has two 9kg gas bottles, safe from weather damage and theft.
Along the passenger side is the usual assortment of a full-width tunnel boot, picnic table and entertainment hatch, while at the back a single spare mounts to a galvanised three-arm bar.
Water tanks are well shielded underneath, and the electrical and plumbing installation looks neat and professional. The ARV Alpha Components suspension also looks sturdy and well-built, and includes red colour matched twin shock absorbers, and nylon bump stops inside the coil springs.
I’ve talked with several relatives with young children recently about the ins and outs of family size caravans. All of them are stepping out of camper trailers and preparing for the big lap. The step up to towing a big caravan instead of a camper weighs on their minds, and while vans out to 23ft seem to have the ideal room, the extra weight and overwhelming size are daunting.
It’s interesting, too, that a few years back, a big van was typical, while these days the trend is away from vans over 22ft. There’s no denying the difficulty getting into tight caravan spaces and down gnarly tracks with a long rig. But for a family, a 19ft van is somewhat confined when packing the children and all their paraphernalia.
So, the 21ft Urban seems like an ideal compromise of towing ease, storage space and room to move. The extra length ensures you can fit a decent size north-south double bed and a usable dining area.
The Urban layout has a front entry and a parent’s bed forward, central living space and the bunks to the side at the back, with an east-west ensuite opposite.
A couple of years back, when the Urban layout was first introduced, it was an innovative design feature, and while the format is now commonplace, it’s still the most practical for families. It gives both parents and children their own space, plus room for meal times or relaxing at the L-shaped lounge. And, rather than a flip-up seat extension, the lounge has a slip-on cushion, which looks much sturdier, especially when teenagers are involved.
Cupboards and cabinets throughout are finished in a mirror-finish glossy black, which is striking against the white walls and ceiling. It may not be a favourite for everyone, and it's a colour that will show any imperfections of the build, but I couldn't find any.
The stark theme continues at the dinette with black seating and a white table, but the overall effect is toned down by the grey timber coloured flooring. Of course, you can choose from an extensive palette of colours if a less showy display is your preference.
The upholstery is beautifully finished, as you might expect with Trajevski’s furniture making background and from a company with its own dedicated factory. But when I asked if the black covering was leather, he answered that it’s commercial quality vinyl with a five-year warranty — leather has only one year. He claims it’s better wearing, and he should know.
Many builders place the fridge on the same side as the dining space, but Urban decided to maximise the seating by dedicating the driver side area of the living space to a big L- shaped lounge. The payoff is that a family has room to sit together, but you lose out on preparation space at the kitchen. For a family van where you are probably cooking outside a lot of the time, I think this is a good compromise.
The 190L compressor fridge should cope well. A considerable storage cupboard at the back is a bonus for families and includes a 4kg front loading washing machine, which should save dollars on the road.
Two 190W solar panels on the roof charge twin 120W AGM batteries for enough to run the van for a few days in cloudy weather. Long-term travellers might like to add a generator for the trip or perhaps upgrade to lithium as an added precaution. Two 95L water tanks will be okay if used sparingly for showers, and a grey tank is included for national parks.
Our review of the X-Terrain took us out into the hills behind the Gold Coast, along freeways and then winding roads to our photo location. ATM is 3500kg but the empty tare of 2550kg was legal and comfortable for the Toyota HiLux tow vehicle. The balance was right, and It towed smoothly and without any lurching or banging over the rougher sections. While we saw limited dirt, I have no concerns that it will take rough roads in its stride.
We have every faith in Urban’s and Hinterland’s dedication to customer care, and the five-year warranty reflects the reality of Australian Consumer Law. All build processes including furniture and the structure are covered. However, although Urban will assist with helping sort problems, appliances are covered under those manufacturers’ warranties, which isn’t ACL compliant. The warranty document properly describes customer rights.
Urban’s X-Terrain family van offers a well-equipped van with a sensible amount of space for those looking to attempt a lap of the country or forays into some remote campsites. It has the suspension and build quality to handle long runs of corrugated roads and the comforts for extended camping.
Urban and Hinterland are continuing to develop new features for the range. Future models will have an even more robust 390mm trussed chassis, larger tyres, checkerplate under-armour, larger water tanks and a dust suppression fan.
By bringing as much as possible of the build in house, Urban has been able to keep costs down, and the as-tested price of $82,990 is remarkable value. Urban has the build quality and timber free construction that the market is asking for, so they deserve a look if you’re in the market for a tough rig. I think you will be impressed.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 8.63m (28ft 3in)
External body length 6.42m (21ft)
External body width 2.45m (8ft)
Travel height 3.1m (10ft 2in)
Internal height 2.02m (6ft 7in)
Payload 950kg (calculated)
Ball weight 195kg at tare
Frame Tig welded RHS alloy
Cladding 3mm Alubond panelling
Chassis ARV RHS boxed Supergal ARV RHS BOXED SUPERGAL
Suspension Alpha components, 4.2T twin shock/coil trailing arm
Brakes AL-KO 12in drum (disc optional)
Wheels 265/70X16 10PR All-terrain Mudzilla
Water 2 x 95L, 1 x 95L grey
Battery 2 x 120Ah AGM
Solar 2 x 190W
Air conditioner Dometic IBIS 4
Gas 2 x 9kg
Sway control Optional
Cooking Swift 240/gas cooktop and grill
Fridge 188L Dometic compressor 12V
Bathroom Full ensuite
Washing machine Camec 4kg front loader
Hot water Swift 240/GAS
PRICE AS SHOWN
Series 2 soon to be released featuring: 390mm trussed chassis, checkerplate underbody armour, 265/70x17 Mudzilla tyres, dust suppression fan, dedicated drinking water tank, 2 x Sirocco 12V fans, 2 x110L water tanks
110 Scanlon Drive, Epping, VIC 3076