When Aravinda Samarakoon and his partners at Highclere saw a gap in the market, they grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Highclere was formed in March 2021, a time when consumer demand substantially exceeded supply across the industry. Aravinda told me he saw it as a pretty easy decision to start up another brand when most caravan builders had lead times exceeding 12 months, and he and his partners could hit the ground running slashing customer wait times to two months.
The obvious question is does this start-up know what it is doing? Aravinda told me the four partners have 35 years of collective experience in the caravan industry. I also had the opportunity to have a good look around the factory, see the manufacturing equipment, and how the vans are built. Highclere immediately demonstrates its credentials when you see it has invested in its own CNC machines and edge banders for in-house furniture manufacturing. These are big-ticket items and are the cornerstone of manufacturing a caravan. When you think about it, the vast majority of small-to-medium players buy a rolling chassis, materials to put a body together, and appliances to fit the van out. We will look at the construction method in a bit more detail shortly, but it is worth understanding that a big chunk of building a caravan is designing, cutting, and assembling furniture.
Highclere’s idea of hitting the ground running was to build 80 vans in 2021 and aim to build 300 vans in 2022. Highclere offers road touring vans, semi-offroad vans, and full offroad vans. Aravinda tells me the sales are roughly evenly split between the three different types. They have a number of layouts for couples and families. It was interesting to hear that family vans represent a significant part of Highclere sales.
This brings us to the van on review. We were able to go out and play with the Royal 22ft double bunk family van road touring variant. Aravinda says this has proven to be a very popular van with families who may be new to caravanning and have likely spent previous holidays heading overseas.
This particular van had an ARV chassis underneath, but it is worth noting that you will regularly find a Silvershine chassis underneath a Highclere. Either way, Highclere specifies a steel chassis with 150mm x 50mm sections forming the extended A-frame, which then continue through to the chassis rails; 50mm risers sit on top of the main rails to lift the van body and reinforce the chassis.
The running gear comprises standard 50mm ball coupling, old-school roller rocker leaf-spring suspension, and 15-in wheels with all-terrain tyres. All of this is perfectly adequate for the on-road application asked of this van.
Atop of this is a one-piece 12mm ply floor supplied by Worthingtons — one of the main players in the game. I am a fan of a one-piece floor, as even if some of the fastenings to the chassis happened to fail over time, it is more likely to retain its structural integrity than a floor with multiple pieces.
Observing a number of partially built vans in the factory revealed neatly constructed meranti timber frames. I could also see that Highclere uses Probond cladding, as the brand was emblazoned on the protective film still attached to the sheets. Probond is widely used throughout the industry. It is a 3mm composite panel with a coated aluminium skin on both sides with a low-density polyethylene core.
Aravinda described their furniture as hybrid construction, which means the cabinets combine modern CNC-cut sheets with traditional timber framing in selected locations for increased strength. Highclere’s standard construction method is a slightly “pitched” roof built with a meranti frame and clad with a one-piece fibreglass sheet. Again, I like the one-piece approach in this case, as it eliminates potential leak points.
We parked up by a little lake not far from the factory and I got a good chance to take my time poking around in all the nooks and crannies getting a feel for the Royal. Let’s start at the back of the van where the twin bunks run north-south along the door-side wall. Two bunks always feel nicer than the three bunk examples we sometimes see because they afford more headroom and provide more manoeuvring space to get in and out of bed. The bunks are long enough to accommodate “six-footers” which is more than enough for most primary school kids. Taller, big kids are going to have to curl up but that never seemed to bother my 6’3” son, who has tagged along on many of our RV adventures. Handy wall pockets provide “bits and pieces” storage in the bunks. Plus, 240V power points and USB points in the reading lights are on hand for charging devices.
On the other side of the van is the functional bathroom that runs along the offside wall. There is enough room for a separate shower, toilet, and compact vanity. The typical trade-off of limited cupboard space in the bathroom compared with a bathroom that runs across the full rear of the van applies. Reasonable storage is nestled between the bunks and the bathroom by means of a generous linen cupboard and a single drawer. Below the storage is a nice sized 3.5kg Destination RV front-loading washing machine. Of course, it gobbles up storage space, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too!
In the middle of the van is the kitchen and dining area. All the appliances are up to scratch, with the Dometic 188L three-way fridge and Thetford full oven, grill, and cooktop important armaments in feeding a hungry family, ably supported by the Sphere 25L microwave. The Houghton Belaire 3.2kW reverse-cycle air-conditioner will be welcomed in our variable climate. The L-shaped lounge has enough room for two adults and two kids to sit and eat comfortably inside on a rainy or cold day. Storage in the kitchen and dining areas ticks the boxes and I especially like the little slide-out pantry with two doors that can be accessed internally and by standing just at the doorway.
Up front, we have a queen-size bed with an inner spring mattress. The usual lift-up bed configuration reveals good storage space underneath. Storage on either side of the bed is good too and a decent-sized window throws in plenty of natural light.
This is a road touring van that is very comfortable to slip off into a national park for a few days off grid and is not too precious to handle some reasonable dirt roads.
You get two 170W solar panels on the roof connected to a popular BMPRO battery management feeding two 100Ahr AGM batteries. Two 9kg gas bottles are upfront just like 90% of the vans we review and there is room to throw a generator in the front tunnel boot if you want some 240V happening off grid. Water tanks are on par, with two 95L fresh and one 100L grey.
While the roller rocker suspension is old-school, countless caravans have traversed our backroads with this setup. The underside is very well protected against stones for an on-road van. The fresh and grey water tanks are well shielded with metal guards and the A-frame mounted tap up front also sports a sensible metal shield.
We cruised at freeway speeds, plenty of 80km/hr urban roads, and ventured onto a tiny bit of gravel. The van felt poised in all these conditions. At tare, the towball to overall weight ratio is 8%, which is in the range for stable van towing dynamics. When packing all vans, owners should always be conscious of distributing weight so that the front does not become too light. Sensible packing utilising the toolbox on the A-frame, front tunnel boot and under-bed storage should make this very doable.
Even though this van was perfectly well behaved, I believe we have got to the point where manufacturers should provide electronic stability control (ESC) as standard. It is such a valuable safety feature to counter the unexpected that inevitably happens on the road. Do yourself a favour and tick yes to ESC on the options list.
It would also be remiss of us not to point out that the Toyota Prado (3000kg towing capacity) used for the review is not a viable match for the Royal Bunk 22ft. The van data plate shows an ATM of 3500kg and a tare of 2705kg. Therefore, unloaded, the van is fine behind the Prado. However, in the real world, it would be completely impractical, as you would be limited to a payload of 295kg. Fortunately, there are heaps of 3500kg tow vehicles to pick from as long as you keep GCM in mind.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you are looking at getting away with the kids this summer and bush bashing is not on your agenda, the Highclere Royal on-road variant is a worthwhile contender. It has a functional layout, is equipped to handle smooth dirt roads, and can stay off grid for a few days. The price is right and importantly in this current market, they are currently available with a quick lead time.
HITS AND MISSES
- Solid construction with decent components and appliances
- Good practical layout for two adults and two kids
- Access to the slide-out pantry without having to step into the van is a nice touch
- You may wish to consider optioning in ESC as it is not standard
Highclere Royal Bunk 22ft Ratings
Value for Money: 8
Opting for an on-road spec van can give you substantial savings over an off-road equivalent
Choose the correctly rated tow vehicle and all will be sweet
Suitability for Intended Touring: 9
Packs a good punch for an on-road tourer
Build Quality: 8.5
These guys know how to build a decent van
Comfortably accommodates two adults and two kids
For a road touring van, it is more than up to the job
Customer Care: 7
A one-year warranty is below par
A largely conventional van with some nice little touches
It’s a good van at a fair price that you won't have to wait a year for
Highclere Royal Bunk 22ft Specs
Weights and Measures
|Body length||6.8m (22ft 2in)|
|Overall length||9m (29ft 5in)|
|Width||2.4m (7ft 10in)|
|Height||2.9m (9ft 6in)|
|Cladding||Probond composite aluminium|
|Chassis||150mm x 50mm steel, painted|
|Suspension||AL-KO roller rocker leaf spring|
|Coupling||AL-KO 50mm ball|
|Wheels||15” alloys with 235/75R/R15 tyres|
|Water||2 x 95L freshwater tanks and 1x 100L grey water tanks|
|Battery||2 x 100Ahr AGM|
|Solar||2 x 170W panels|
|Air-conditioner||Houghton Belaire 3.2kW reverse cycle|
|Gas||2 x 9kg|
|Cooking||Thetford full oven, grill, and four-burner cooktop|
|Fridge||Dometic 188L three-way|
|Bathroom||Separate shower and toilet|
|Hot water||Swift 28L gas/electric|
Highclere Royal Bunk 22ft price from $83,990
Highclere Royal Bunk 22ft price as shown $90,000
Supplied by Highclere Caravan
THE NEXT STEP
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