Spinifex vans are tough but classy offroad caravans. The meticulous build process and robust engineering delivers a van made to last the distance over the harshest of road conditions. With a company ethos of practicality and usability, the steely foundations combine welcoming and contemporary interiors with layouts that maximise available space. And although Spinifex models include high levels of standard features, most vans leave the factory with customisations to suit customer needs.
This new ElecTrex model from Spinifex has been built for the company owners, Steve and Elise and will also serve as the company demonstrator. The new model debuted at the recent Brisbane Go Caravanning Show, where it marked its place at the pointy end of self-sustainable off-roading. The electrical system has enough solar-generated power and redundancies to run domestic appliances effectively for days. There is enough electric power to do away with reliance on gas altogether.
Before we delve too far into the watts and hows, let’s explore the company and the build. Spinifex has been making vans from its Deception Bay factory just north of Brisbane for 15 years and ranks among Australia’s premium off-road builders. Spinifex bases its engineering on a heavy-duty twin 75mm (2.9in) beam chassis constructed in-house and then sent off for hot-dip galvanising.
Steve and Elise could have gone for any size van in the range but based their choice on a 5.9m (19ft 6in) platform as it offered the roominess inside with the easy manoeuvrability of a mid-size offroader.
Rivetted 30mm (1.18in) C-section aluminium sections make up the walls and roof, and the sturdy frame then bolts to the chassis. The combined chassis and frame are designed to offer the right combination of flex and strength for travel on uneven surfaces without damage, and the timber-free frame construction ensures the van will be rot free. Close-cut styrene foam fills the wall voids for efficient temperature insulation, and the sides and roof are clad in single sheets of core matt reinforced fibreglass. Instead of the ubiquitous checkerplate to protect the lower edges of the van, Spinifex has chosen the classier finish of aluminium propeller plate and finished it in powder coated dark grey to match Steve’s Landcruiser.
The suspension and brakes are as good as it gets because the big Spinifex rides on Cruisemaster level-4 airbags with twin shock absorbers at each wheel. Braking is superb with 12in (30mm) disc brakes operated through a 1600 PSI Hydrastar system to deliver serious stopping power.
Spinifex completes all the internal joinery in-house. The computer numerical control (CNC)-cut lightweight ply furniture has tight tolerances, and the timber features offer an organic feeling and a homely environment. High-quality Italian leather completes the interior fitout of the Thompson’s van and adds exceptional levels of luxury on board.
The van has been configured for a 3500kg ATM to allow options in displaying it at shows. Even so, the van has upgraded suspension, a Cruisemaster DO-45 hitch and 4.5 tonne safety chains meaning the ATM can be easily upgraded to a higher carrying capacity down the track if Steve swaps to a higher-rated tow vehicle.
An extended A-frame houses a custom toolbox with slides on each side and a handy top section for chocks and hoses. You might note here the lack of gas bottles. In their place is an eight-litre diesel tank for the Trauma D6 combi air and water heater. Ten-litre jerry cans supplement the diesel supply for weeks of heating if needed. Apart from the heater, no appliances rely on petroleum products.
It’s along the side of the van that things get interesting. A front through-boot has a kerbside all-electric custom kitchen that slides out under the full-length awning. There's room here for an electric barbecue, a decent size sink and bench space for an induction cooktop. But pride of place was the Weber Pulse 100 barbecue, and on the day of our review, the crew was on a promise of a baked dinner later that evening to prove the value of the sun-powered system.
Moving back, we found most of the features of a well-equipped offroader, such as a picnic table and plenty of outdoor lights. Still, the entertainment hatch significantly differs because it can house a full-size 240v television.
Down the back, a single spare sits on a sturdy bar although twin spares are an option if required. Some of the neat ideas on the outside include a foam-backed vinyl cover over the front of the van to guard against rocks launched by vehicles travelling in the opposite direction and a SOG fan/filter that directs odours out of the toilet through a charcoal filter.
The van has several high wow-factor design features that are sure to impress buyers. Doing away with overhead cupboards at the bed and in the ensuite creates a very up-to-date ambience and the swathe of light timber at the bedhead looks sensational and sets the van apart.
These simple changes combine with matt black features to deliver a clean, modern, minimalist look. Natural timber features and distressed black Italian leather upholstery at the dinette work to round off the tasteful impression.
The cafe dinette is plush and roomy, and the flip-up seat extensions make it a great place to relax. And on the relaxing side, it looks like there will be plenty of time for movies and sports as the big TV mounts near the bed and connects to an Oyster auto-connect satellite system with a Viewer Access Satellite TV (VAST) box for apps, including Foxtel.
Most inside cooking will happen on a 27-litre combination convection microwave/air fryer. The kitchen bench is a wide expanse of preparation space because the couple uses a portable induction cooktop, so it's only there when needed and stored in a dedicated area when it isn’t. Rounding out the kitchen is a 190 litre Bushman compressor fridge and a backup Engle freezer in the front storage box.
The black and timber colour theme continues through to the ensuite, where the absence of overhead cupboards enhances the roomy and airy feeling. And with 450 litres of water on tap, you shouldn’t feel too guilty having extended showers.
Watts the Go
The essence of the ElecTrex is a thumping 240v power supply for an (almost) unrestricted off-grid lifestyle. The OzXcorp DSC system is an Aussie innovation brought to life by the company’s founder Andrew Huett. It is a complete package of supply, charger, inverter and battery that's a plug-and-play option with benefits of relatively light weight and redundant safety. By creating a fully integrated package, he has removed the possibility of mismatching components and eliminated the blame game if something fails across various brands. In addition, battery and electronics boxes are replaced easily in case of problems.
On the roof are four 470w commercial quality SunPower panels for a total of 1780w feeding a 14.3kWh (kilowatt-hour) lithium battery tucked up between the chassis rails under the floor. Some of this jargon might sound unfamiliar. However, Andrew explained that he describes his system in the universally recognised watt rating rather than by the outdated amp-hours value we see on most 12v batteries. Watts is a universally measurable unit regardless of volts or amp-hours and is accepted across many technologies, including vehicles fitted with hybrid and internal combustion engines. Kilowatt-hour (kWh) refers to the amount of energy used in an hour. As an example, you could run a 1000w appliance for 14.3 hours before the battery needs charging.
Without getting too Professor Julius Sumner Miller, maybe a summary of the terms might be appropriate. Amperes or amps measure the current or flow of electricity – specifically, the number of electrons that pass a certain point each second. Volts measure the potential or force of the electrons. Watts is the combination of amps and volts to measure the amount of energy being produced. As a reference, the DSC battery has the equivalent of a 1300ah.
In practical terms, higher voltage of the OzXcorp installation to the inverter allows for reduced wire size and weight, produces less heat and electrical loss and delivers higher power capability. We also see the benefit of being able to run a high output dual voltage inverter. And as part of a plug-and-play capability, the 5kva inverter, 13.1v, 100amp power supply and DC-DC/AC-DC chargers are all built into a single housing easily accessed under the dinette.
OzXcorp's battery is an NMC (Lithium Nickle Manganese Cobalt) variety from the automotive industry rather than the more common LiFePo4 type we see in most vans. NMC batteries offer lighter weight and smaller volume, but even so, the Spinifex battery weighs in at 132kg. While that might sound heavy, a LiFePo4 install would weigh 159kg. Equivalent AGMs would weigh 676kg, and there would be 24 of them!
Off Grid Living
The ElecTrex brings new meaning to off-grid living by allowing any number of domestic appliances to run from the power bank. Coffee machines, air fryers and Thermomix cookers don’t have to stay home. Being able to run an air conditioner at night in stifling weather is a major attraction because even with effective insulation it can get pretty warm in a van.
For those on the road for extended time, the saving on gas and powered sites can be significant but the main advantage is being able to get into isolated places and stay there indefinitely. Coupled with the electric power, there’s also lots of water on tap with 360 litres in a fresh tank and a dedicated 83 litre drinking tank. Given the large water potential, most owners will opt for the four tonne ATM and choose a suitable tow vehicle.
Power to Burn
We regularly hear about the fire dangers of lithium, and OzXcorp takes this risk seriously, claiming it is the only battery and power system with electrical fire alarms for both battery and inverter. In addition, the battery has a redundant fire suppression system with two extinguishers that flood the case with inert gases to rob the fire of oxygen. You can also be assured that installation follows the new Road Vehicle Standards Act for solar installation.
Talking about power to burn, our task for the afternoon was to cook a decent four-kilogram butt of beef on the Weber. As this was the van's maiden voyage, the electronics on board had yet to be proven, so it was with some trepidation that Steve loaded the roast into the cooker. He shouldn't have worried - he had technology on his side with a probe in the meat that sent an update of the cooking temperature to his phone. So, feet up, we waited.
A second induction cooktop had the vegies done to perfection, and the photos show the result. But I must admit the evidence didn't last long. It's hard work out there, don't you know?
The Bottom Line
I love that this Australian-built solar innovation delivered the anticipated result. A sun-cooked meal on time and perfectly rendered. With two cookers running for a couple of hours under the afternoon sun, the power levels on the control panel hardly moved. Andrew tells me a couple will never run out of power under average use. However, in sustained rainy weather, you could charge the system from a generator, a vehicle or 240v power with a 10amp plug.
The battery can stand for three months without concern and can be rebooted from empty if needed. You can even plug the van into your domestic power and run the house.
You would expect to pay around $15,000 for this solar package, so our ElecTrex hits the scales at $210,000 with options like the external kitchen and leather lounge. In today's market, that's what you should expect for a premium offroader with remarkable off-grid proficiency.
HITS AND MISSES
- Beautifully finished interior
- Rugged offroad ability
- Leading technology solar system
- Needs high-capacity tow vehicle to take full advantage of carrying capacity
Value for Money : 8
Top shelf offroader with superb off grid ability
Suitability for Intended Touring : 9
Designed to get into the bush and live in comfort
Build Quality : 9
Superbly finished inside and out
Liveability : 9
Comfortable interior with modern ambience
Self-sufficiency : 10
The OzXcorp system is excellent
Customer Care : 8.5
Spinifex builds a good van and looks after clients
Innovation : 9
Credit where its due. The system is a winner
X-Factor : 9
Bold looking and lots happening under the bonnet.
Spinifex ElecTrex Specs
Weights and Measures
|Body length||5.975 M (19ft 6in)|
|Overall length||8.175 M (26ft 8in)|
|Width||2.450 M (8ft)|
|Height||3.1 M (10ft 1in)|
|Ball wight||240 KG|
|Payload||540 KG (calculated)|
|Ball to Tare ratio||8.1%|
|Chassis||Dual 75mm beam hot dip galvanised|
|Suspension||Cruisemaster XT Freestyle Air Bag|
|Water||360L Fresh, 83L Drink, 83L grey|
|Battery||OzXcorp 14.3KW (1,300 a/hr at 12v)|
|Solar||SunPower 4x 430W panels (1720W)|
|Cooking||Portable twin induction cooktop|
|Hot water||Trauma Combi D6 Diesel|
Slide out kitchen with electric Weber pulse 1000/single induction cooktop /sink with hot and cold water, larger oven inside, upgrade to premium Italian leather, 32L Engel fridge to front box
Price from $202,500
Price as shown $210,200
Supplied by Spinifex Caravans
THE NEXT STEP
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