We love receiving letters from our readers. Most appreciate what we are doing, but they also keep us on our toes when we go off track. One of the enduring themes from readers recently is that we concentrate too much on larger vans, so when Karen, our Queensland salesperson, highlighted an innovative builder of smaller vans, I jumped at the chance to check one out.
Silversun Caravans began about 10 years ago when founder Bojan Matviko put his various skills together to create affordable motorhome conversions. Over time, customers started asking about caravans, and Bojan realised there was a gap in the market for a compact and economical van. So in 2015, he introduced his innovative range of full height caravans.
Crucial to the plan was a van body that was light in weight but strong enough to suit a range of blacktop and offroad uses. Like many high-end builders over the last few years, Bojan turned to fibreglass composite panel for walls and roof. The product is made in Brisbane from 2.5mm Australian fibreglass internal and external bonded securely to a 25mm Italian DOW closed-cell Styrofoam panel. Being closed cell foam, thermal insulation is excellent, and there is no way water can penetrate. The fibreglass exterior is hail resistant and easily repaired in the event of an accident but will probably need a polish every few months if stored outside to keep it in good condition.
All wall and roof panels are triple bonded to the structural ply floor using a neutral-pH high-quality European sealant to form a solid and rigid monocoque entity. To achieve the curved shape of the sloping roofline, slots are cut in the internal forward section of the panel, then glassed over and finished with a fabric cover.
A Sydney engineer designs the chassis, which is made in house by a qualified contract welder using Australian Orrcon steel to suit the application of each van. The suspension can be simple leafsprings for blacktop use or various AL-KO trailing arm systems for offroad travel.
Our review van is a Neptune 402S, destined for mainly bitumen and graded dirt roads, and came with a 100mm x 50mm rectangular hollow section (RHS) chassis and A-frame with leaf springs and shock absorber suspension.
All the furniture is made from lightweight balsa cored plywood cut and assembled in the factory, and because output is limited to only two vans at a time, there is ample opportunity to do things properly. After spending time at the factory, it's easy to get the impression that this is a builder more interested in quality than in quantity.
Each finished van gets a weighbridge certificate, and both gas and 240V electric systems are certified.
At only 4.02m or 13ft, it should be no surprise the most obvious impression of the Neptune is that it looks small. It's well proportioned, though, and two horizontal charcoal stripes reduce the impact of the glossy white exterior. The back end is squared off, but the two-stage aerodynamic front end minimises any boxy effect.
The Neptune rides near to the ground on 14in alloy wheels and relatively low profile tyres, so it should be a level ride on most smaller tow vehicles. The extended A-frame is long enough to allow sharp turns without damaging rear panels and should mean backing the van is straightforward(or back).
A 50mm ball hitch connects to the tug, and a single 9kg gas bottle sits well forward ahead of an aluminium checkerplate panel protecting the front of the van. Hitching up was easy with the side mount jockey wheel and the very light ball weight of only 60kg. More on this later.
Features outside are minimal, with a tunnel boot up front and a 3m Thule wind-out awning covering most of the passenger side. At the back, a single spare mounts to a wall bracket, so without a bumper bar, the rear end looks very neat and clean.
A checkerplate stone guard hangs low at the leading edge of the van to protect the 100L water tank, and all electrical and water fittings are well out of harm’s way and look professionally installed.
A fold-down step and a long grab rail assist entry into the van, and once inside, the amount of room in such a small van is surprising. White joinery matching the white fibreglass interior walls is a standard feature, but you have a wide choice of colours for the benchtops and soft fabrics of the trim and upholstery.
At the doorway to the left is a set of shelves that will be handy for storing smaller items, while to the right, laid out across the rear of the van, is a compact but very usable kitchen. The essentials are all there, including a sink and two-burner cooktop, both with fold-away lids for extra bench space. Under the roll-formed benchtop are deep drawers and cupboards as well as a microwave.
Set into the rear driver-side corner is a compact ensuite with a cassette toilet and a moulded shower space with a retractable shower screen and sensible sump with a grid to drain water away.
Forward of the ensuite is a cabinet with a Vitrifrigo 150L fridge. That’s a good size for a small van, and these Italian made products have an excellent reputation for reliability in the marine industry and they are getting traction in the RV market. On the other side is a low storage cupboard, and there is more space under the beds.
Our review model was the S version, signifying twin single beds that run north-south at the front of the van. This layout adds to the roomy vibe, as the walkway between the beds opens up space considerably, especially with an excellent 1.95m (6ft 4in) ceiling height. The 402D version has an east-west double, but I’m told most customers like the roominess of the singles layout.
The beds double as day lounges, and a set of drawers between the beds includes a nifty slide-out table that turns the sleeping space into a dinette.
I was surprised at the light 60kg tow ball weight, but on the road, even without water in the front tank, there wasn't any sign of sway or rattles at the ball, which can appear if there’s too much weight at the back. The van is well balanced, and the modest ball weight is designed to cater for the low rating demanded by some European vehicles like a VW Passat, which is limited to 90kg. When loaded with water, the ball weight increases to around 80kg, and you should still be able to balance the load to suit.
The real selling point of the Silversun range is that lightweight vehicles as diverse as Ford Falcon, Renault Koleos, Subaru Outback, Mitsubishi Outlander, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, and Nissan X-Trail are capable of towing the Neptune safely and legally.
Just because the Neptune boasts a minimalist philosophy doesn't mean it lacks the versatility of an off-grid lifestyle. A 200W solar panel is standard, and the 125Ah deep cycle battery will keep lights and radio running for days. So too, the 100L of water is enough for a quick tub and plenty of cups of tea.
For extended travel, there's over 400kg of cargo capacity, and that's plenty for most couples, even on a big lap.
The warranty is five years on the workmanship of the van. Components have their own warranty period, but I like that the Silversun team advise customers they are the first contact with any problem. That's how it should be, of course, but not all builders and dealers are so accommodating.
The Neptune should satisfy buyers who are thinking about a compact caravan to tow behind a family car. I like that, while it's small, it has all the necessities that we demand these days. Getting a decent size ensuite, as well as a kitchen, into a 4m van is a intelligent design, and I can see a lot of converts from awkward camper trailers thinking hard about swapping over.
The build quality and contemporary thinking should deliver a durable and capable long-distance traveller for formed road travel. If your aspirations are more adventurous, then the van is easily optioned with tougher suspension.
Keeping the weight low yet still offering a degree of off-grid living adds to the appeal. And with a price of $39,990, in my opinion, the Neptune is a winner.
Readers have been asking for ideas on compact vans, and this Queensland builder is delivering just that. The smart design doesn't miss on the essentials for comfortable living, and the price makes it an affordable option for budget-conscious buyers.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 5.7m (18ft 7in)
External body length 4m (13ft)
External body width 2.27m (7ft 4in)
Travel height 2.6m (8ft 5in)
Internal height 1.95m (6ft 4fin)
ATM from 1600kg
Payload from 400kg
Ball weight 60kg
Chassis 100mm x 50mm Australian-made Orrcon steel
Suspension Standard leaf spring with optional upgrade to independent
Coupling AL-KO 50mm ball
Brakes 10in electric
Wheels 14in alloy 195x14 load rated tyres
Battery 125A AGM deep cycle
Gas 1 x 9kg
Sway control Option
Cooking 2 burner glass lid cooktop
Fridge Vitrifrigo 150L
Bathroom Yes, separate shower/ toilet
Washing Machine Option
Hot water Yes
PRICE AS SHOWN
$39,990 + registration
37/20–22 Ellerslie Rd Meadowbrook QLD 4131
Ph: 07 3200 5535