Describing a van as an offroad model is simple. There have been plenty of builders that slap some graphics of muddy splatters on the side, and glue on some fake checkerplate to give the impression their van is a go-anywhere weapon capable of being dragged to the Cape the hard way. Actually building a van that can handle some abuse in the real world is a different thing altogether.
According to Titanium builder, Jason Grech, if your tow vehicle is up to the task, you can take the 19ft 6in ATX anywhere you want. That's pretty creative marketing because no one in their right mind would drag their $120k pride and joy down a winding track where dead branches are going to gouge big welts in the new aluminium sides, or risk bogging it halfway up to the windows in a mud hole. Offroading has limits defined by common sense and financial pain.
In the real world, you can take an offroad van overland if you want to, but does that mean you will be covered by insurance if you stuff it between two trees and need a tractor to extricate it? Again, it’s common sense.
Offroad caravans have evolved organically to travellers’ demands who want to get out into the bush for some peace and quiet. Catch a few fish, watch a calming sunset and settle in for a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed away from insects and reptiles. To meet the purpose of adventure travel, vans are built tough on heavy-duty chassis with capable suspension and a list of appliances and features that make caravan parts suppliers smile.
For most travellers, being able to cross long, wearying sections of deep corrugations and rocky gibber tracks are the benchmark for offroad capability. It's here that the well-considered engineering of the Southern Star Hardcore ATX would exceed.
Titanium is a builder that saw the potential for a robust, custom-built van using modern materials and technology. Any van destined for rough road travel must ensure enough strength and flexibility is built into the caravan body so it can stand up to the punishment, without cracking the frame or chassis, or all the cupboards landing on the floor after the first unexpected cattle grid from hell. And while it might be true that a timber frame can flex, latter-day caravan buyers are scared of the horror stories about rot that can lead to expensive repairs or worse.
An aluminium frame avoids the rot, flexes where necessary, and can be light in weight if correctly engineered — all these are all pluses in my book.
The Hardcore ATX Southern Star is exclusive to Caravans Coffs Coast and is a design collaboration between the dealer and factory. ATX — All Terrain Xplorer — refers to the trick suspension which is the top of the tree for the brand, and, as the name suggests, it’s a high-end model with a lot of unique features.
First up is the hot-dipped FP chassis made from Australian steel and engineered with a 6in A-frame leading back to laminated 8in x 2in rails and sturdy cross members. A hot-dipped chassis is probably 60–70kg heavier than Supergal, but it will last a lifetime in the extreme conditions which a van like the ATX might be subjected to.
All wiring and plumbing are neatly led to avoid stone damage, and it should be noted that Titanium completes all work on the van in-house with their own qualified tradespeople. Unlike most medium volume builders, they don't employ outside contractors, like plumbers and electricians, for the specialised work.
The next point of difference in the ATX is the Australian built and conceived Cruisemaster ATX tandem trailing arm airbag suspension. Wireless controllers adjust the air pressure for ride height variations when travelling and to level the van when parked. This is a system that’s made to last and has an over-engineered 3.7T capacity, heavier axles and bearings, plus sensational stopping power courtesy of disc brakes at each of the shiny black alloy wheels.
Dark colours are the trend at present, especially in offroad vans, and there's no departing from that with our review van. High panels of black checkerplate help protect the bottom sections of the exterior, and dark grey composite cladding covers the rest. The roof is a single composite sheet permanently bonded to the walls, so weatherproofing is as good as is possible.
A full-width stone guard covers the front section of the van, and as you might see from the photos here, it does an excellent job of keeping mud and stones away. Twin 9kg gas bottles sit on the A-frame, and there's checkerplate protection for the regulator.
Moving back, we find a pair of jerrycan holders and a large toolbox with slides for barbeque and generator on each side and a brilliant slide-out drawer for tools over the driver side slide. The well-placed lights covering the front, sides, and rear of the van are a nice touch.
A custom made stainless steel slide-out kitchen is located in the through tunnel boot, leaving more storage space opposite.
For relaxing outside you get a picnic table, entertainment hatch with 12V, 240V, and TV outlets, and a 2.4m colour-coded rollout awning.
A 19ft 6in van is the most popular size for couples intending to spend long journeys away from home. This length gives enough interior space room to be comfortable whilst being a sensible size to tow, especially along any of the tighter tracks we might encounter when looking for the ideal campsite.
Interior colours play off the grey exterior, but there is plenty of white to keep things bright and airy. Quality 100 per cent Australian leather covers the cafe dinette, and the finish of the joinery is excellent and includes superior quality hinges, struts, catches and runners.
The rear entry layout places the ensuite at the back, the north-south bed up front, and the living space central. I found plenty of room to move in the well-lit and ventilated bathroom, which includes a washing machine and a good offering of storage cupboards.
The lounge's window is an oversize one that gives a great view of your surroundings when seated. I like the double windows at the bedroom as it provides a natural flow of air and allows you to keep the bottom one locked for extra security when camped near town.
Appliances include a 224L compressor fridge with an external hatch to provide better airflow for cooling when camped, and a Whirlybird extractor for travelling.
The level of electronics on the van is super impressive. Three 170W solar panels on the roof charge two 200Ah Lithium batteries through Enerdrive chargers and a 2600W inverter. According to Eric McCarthy, Caravans Coffs Coast sales manager, this will let you run the air conditioner for 4–5 hours in the right conditions. But importantly for some, this amount of power lets you run appliances like an air fryer, Thermomix or coffee machine.
Three 85L water tanks give a total of 255L of water, which should be enough for a couple of weeks' worth of conservative showers while away from a fresh water supply.
The high level of fit out and appliances comes at a cost. The tare is 2785kg, which is getting up there for a 19ft 6in van. The heavy-duty engineering plays a part, but the extras that go into a contemporary offroader all add up. ATM is 3500kg, giving 700kg of payload, of which the water tanks will take 255kg if full.
Our review through some rough country west of Coffs Harbour saw us tackling secondary tar and dirt roads before encountering rough bush tracks and even scrambling over rocky creek beds. The 2L Ranger Wildtrak towed the van easily at highway speeds and up steep hills, and the van was smooth and well balanced through the whole ordeal.
Titanium offers a five-year warranty on the structural components and two years on the rest of the van. While that's in line with what you would expect under Australian Consumer Law, the warranty for appliances reverts to those suppliers. I am confident Caravans Coffs Coast will walk you through any warranty issues that arise, even if you're a long way from home.
The Hardcore ATX is a premium caravan with engineering and build quality capable of tackling the worst our road system has to throw at it. You can take it where you want to with confidence and enjoy a high comfort level when you get there.
The price of $129,450 puts it at the top end of the market, but still a lot less than some of the iconic brands with which it competes. Will any of those go further into the wilds? I doubt it.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 8.76m (28ft 9in)
External body length 5.96m (19ft 6in)
External body width 2.46m (8ft) (Inc Awning)
Travel height 2.95–3.1m (Airbag)
Internal height 2m
Payload 705kg (calculated)
Ball weight 142kg Unladen
Frame Aluminium Wall Frame and Composite Fibreglass / Foam floor and roof
Cladding Composite 3mm Premium RV Panel
Chassis 8in chassis — dual 4in x 2in box section laminated beam
Suspension Cruisemaster level 3 Wireless Airbag ATX with Cruisemaster Disc Brakes
Wheels Alloy Wheels & 285/75 R16 MT Offroad Tyres
Water 3 x 85L freshwater, and 95L grey
Battery 2 x 200Ah Enerdrive Lithium
Air conditioner Truma Aventa
Gas 2 x 9kg
Sway control N/A
Cooking Swift 3 Gas 1 x Electric cooktop and mini grill combo
Fridge 224L Dometic Compressor
Bathroom Separate Shower and Toilet
Washing machine 3.5kg Top Load
Hot water 28L Stainless steel swift, Gas & Electric
$129,450 Registered NSW 12 Months
PRICE AS SHOWN
Caravans Coffs Coast
186 Pacific Hwy Coffs Harbour 2450
Ph: 02 66525523