Just like his innovative and hard core offroaders, Sunland Caravans owner, Roy Wyss has taken the road less travelled on his path as one of our most outstanding manufacturers. Roy started Sunland Caravans in 2003 and purchased Phoenix Caravans around 10 years ago. Roy reckons Phoenix was the first offroad caravan builder anywhere. The brand began as a caravan repair company before branching out into modifying touring vans of the early 90s with a tougher suspension to cope with outback travel. Eventually Phoenix took to making offroaders from the ground up.
These days the combined Sunland/Phoenix business operates over two sprawling factories on opposite sides of the road in the Caboolture industrial area where the business builds almost everything in-house.
Getting hold of a Sunland for review was almost impossible because the demand is so strong that the vans are on their way to new owners as soon as quality control is complete.
However, we were lucky enough that the new owner of the model on review had to delay his journey to Queensland for pickup and was happy to hand it over to us for a morning. Every Sunland is a custom build, but this 21’6” Phoenix Custom is even more individualised than most. Many options were included, and because of the extras and a desire for a bigger payload, the ATM was increased to 3900kg from the standard 3500kg. The owner’s tow vehicle is an upgraded 200 series LandCruiser.
AN INNOVATIVE BUILD
Over the past 20 years, Sunland has improved build processes as technology changes and has evolved from building with timber frames to the current range’s sandwich panels or aluminium frames. Our review van has the 29mm (1.4in) composite option. The smooth walls look sharp, have better insulation, a weight advantage and are easily repaired after an accident. The fibreglass-clad foam panels are joined with high-quality adhesive, with edges getting a flexible outer covering.
Composite caravan bodies are becoming quite common among savvy caravan builders, but it’s under the van that Roy’s innovative thinking takes a different path. The chassis is a beautifully crafted mix of aluminium and steel bolted together in a way that takes advantage of the lighter weight of aluminium and the superior strength of steel at the A-frame. Roy told me he had experimented with an aluminium A-frame, but the extra thickness needed would make it just as heavy as steel. Using a composite floor reduces the chassis weight even further by requiring fewer cross-members.
Sunland was an early adopter of Cruisemaster’s suspension, and this continues here with a tandem ATX air bag system rated at 4500kg. A remote control allows adjustment for the ride height when travelling on rough ground or for levelling or lowering the van when parked.
Off-grid camping is well covered with no fewer than four poly water tanks, including 190L and 130L general supply, a 60L dedicated drinking tank and 130L for grey water. The tanks are mounted high between the chassis rails, so they are out of the way of flying stones, and the hoses and fittings are generally well protected. One of Roy’s innovations in all his vans is a rain-catcher system that diverts water falling on the roof in a storm into one of the tanks. Another water saver is the red water valve that circulates the hot water supply until it’s warm enough so that cold water isn’t wasted while you wait for a shower.
It’s interesting how many high-end offroad builders that have moved into composite construction have left the high skirts of checkerplate in the past. It makes me wonder if the checkerplate isn’t more a fashion statement than a helpful add-on. And when you consider the extra weight, it seems counterproductive. The lower sections of our review van’s sides are finished with a Raptor-style coating, where stone chips are easily touched up. The black panel helps break up the white finish to give a lighter and well-balanced profile.
A DO-45 Cruisemaster hitch and higher-rated chains are an upgrade for the extra ATM, and a Black Jack electric trailer jack mounts permanently to the A-frame for easy lifting. At the rear of the A-frame is a custom toolbox with slides on each side and a dedicated compartment for twin gas bottles. There’s plenty of room for hoses and tools, but it leaves safe space around the gas fittings.
There’s a full-width tunnel boot with a kerbside custom kitchen and room on the other side to store equipment like chairs, a table and other essentials. Over-and-under windows face into the front bedroom, and they make sense from a security viewpoint because you can leave the top one open at night with an eye on security while getting a flow of fresh air.
The rear section of the van includes some exclusive Sunland features, starting with the rear tubular metal bar that doubles as a pole or fishing rod holder. It’s a great idea. Hatches on the back wall open to access the plumbing, the water heater and the main electrical panels. The layout gives easy access for maintenance, but Roy told me he had a second purpose. It stops owners from modifying the back of the van with add-ons like bike racks, wood carriers or spares, which would interfere with the van’s well-considered balance by putting undue weight where it will do the most harm. Instead, the spare is mounted under the van just forward of the axle, and there’s a wind-down jack if needed.
A TOUCH OF CLASS
A double electric step at the forward entry leads into a beautifully appointed living space. An advantage of the airbag suspension is being able to lower the van when camped to make it easier for us oldies to climb aboard. The bed is at the entrance, so the en suite is down the back, leaving a roomy kitchen and lounge in the central space. At 21’6”, the Phoenix is relatively large for a couple’s van, keeping in mind that plenty of models this size will include bunks. So, it’s roomy inside and takes advantage of the space with a large dining area.
As mentioned earlier, Sunland completes most of the build in-house, including the well-crafted joinery and leather upholstery and features. At the stairwell are two map pockets, controls for the stairs and an electric awning as well as the main light and power switches.
The light and dark grey interior colour palette follows the conservative appeal and enhances the relaxing and roomy atmosphere of the living space. This is a van priced in the market’s upper echelon, and it feels like it. The fit and finish of the joinery are superb and the hardware fittings are top-shelf. Black tapware and sink continue the contemporary vibe, while Evostone benchtops have a classy marble look but are lighter than stone or Corian.
You may notice in the photos hereabouts the lack of a stove in the kitchen bench. We’ll come to it further on, but the power supply in the van is a ripper and with a 3000W inverter, the owners will rely on a removable induction cooktop and the overhead convection microwave. Of course, that’s when the weather is crook because most of the cooking will happen outside.
The interior is clean and uncluttered without appliances, and the long bench has loads of room. The roomy dinette has ample foot room, and the lounges seem a little wider without hindering passage to the en suite and large 224L Dometic three-way fridge down the back. The lounges are well padded with thought to how comfortable they will be over time. Sunland’s showroom has a couple of dinette variations to make choosing your preferred module easier.
The bedroom has usual charging points and side nooks and good access along the sides. There is plenty of light and breeze from the big windows and two Fantastic roof hatches. Storage under the bed is divided into sections for easy packing, and a side hatch has slide-out stainless-steel racks for storing shoes. And in smart hands of one-upmanship, the bed lifts on rams through remote control and the television gets a hand-crafted bag for storage.
The full-width en suite is roomy and well ventilated and includes a SOG extractor fan and filter system to keep things fresh. The long vanity has a 4kg front load washer underneath and a decent size mirror, while the moulded shower has a seat and shelves for toiletries. A nice touch is a motion sensor light for night-time trips to the bathroom.
INTO THE WILD
As we have seen, the van has ample water for off-grid camping, and as you might expect, the solar supply is also set up for extended independent living. Six 180W solar panels cover most of the roof, and three 225ah batteries are charged and controlled through a Victron system. A 3000W inverter supplies enough 240V power to run a suite of appliances, including the air-con, for as long as the weather holds, and a backup generator is on hand if needed. And if the rain sets in, there’s Foxtel satellite television and a quality sound system to keep you entertained. A Cel-Fi Go booster increases phone and internet coverage.
All the size and technology in the van add up. Tare weight is a hefty 2940kg, and the payload is 960kg for a maximum weight of 3900kg. While that looks like a generous carrying capacity, and it is, fresh water and gas will take around 400kg. So, you need a more capable than usual tow vehicle to legally tow it when loaded. The Sunland Isuzu 200 light truck was well up to the job as we headed off to find a suitable photo location.
Most owners will opt for an upgraded LandCruiser, but something like a 2500 Ram might be your best option for a safe ride.
The van towed smoothly behind the Isuzu, and the 12” drums did their job well. Interestingly, Sunland opts for drums over the disc brake options as Roy believes they are more reliable, less complicated and lighter overall.
The Phoenix has a five-year off-road warranty and 20 years on the chassis. Roy boasts that his company was the first caravan builder to comply with the new RVSA regulations and was one of only a few that met the 2022 deadline.
A base model will set you back somewhere around $184,990, and by the time you add the options on this version here, expect a bill at $192,00 in today’s pricing.
It’s hard not to be impressed by such a well-equipped and capable van as the Phoenix 21’6”. X-factor is off the dial, and I am drawn to its understated presence. This is a van that will cope with miles of rough tracks and make a comfortable retreat for weeks of adventure in the bush.
Hits and Misses
- Beautifully finished inside and out
- Rugged offroad capability
- Generous electronics package
- Needs a higher capacity tow vehicle
Sunland Phoenix 21'6" Ratings
Value for Money
The price reflects the van’s place in the upper end of big offroad models but it holds up well against its competition
The hefty weight means it needs a higher capacity tow vehicle. Sunland engineers its vans for optimum weight distribution to ensure safe travel
Suitability for Intended Touring
Here’s a van that’s meant for travel to remote off-grid destinations with comfort in mind
Sunland is a custom builder with high attention to detail. The finish is superb
A big van with room for a couple to move in comfort and style
Ample power and water for extended off-grid living
A five-year off-road warranty and 20 years on the chassis demonstrates confidence in the product
Unique composite metal chassis and lots of unique touches
Very desirable genuine offroader with style and modern electronics
Sunland Phoenix 21'6" Specs
Weights and Measures
|Overall length||6.53m (21ft 6in)|
|External body length||8.7m (28ft 6in)|
|External body width 2.48m||2.48m (8ft 1in)|
|Travel height||3.08m (10ft 2in)|
|Ball to tare ratio||11.4%|
|Body||Composite fibreglass sandwich panel|
|Suspension||Cruisemaster XT Airbag|
|Water||190L and 130L general purpose, 60L drinking water, 130L grey water|
|Battery||3 x 225ah lithium|
|Solar||6 x 180W|
|Gas||2 x 9kg|
|Cooking||Induction cooktop/external kitchen|
|Fridge||215L three way|
|Hot water||Instant gas|
Foxtel, bed lifter, and more.
Sunland Phoenix 21'6" price from $184,990
Sunland Phoenix 21'6" price as shown $198,990
Supplied by Sunland Caravans
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