The first Jayco Expanda rolled off the Dandenong factory floor in 2000. Ever since – and some 20,000 caravans later – it has filled a niche in the market as an easy to tow tourer for families looking to make the leap from camper trailer to caravan.
Traditionally the Expanda was hybrid between the two, offering the best of both worlds … the compact footprint, affordability, towability and fold-out beds of a camper with the creature comforts of a full-size caravan, such as internal bathroom and plenty of living and storage space.
Twenty years ago, they were a great option for families at a time when it was not easy to find a caravan with bunk beds. Preloved models that had bunks were snapped up quickly. The Expanda soon became the most popular family van in Australia.
The Expanda was once available in 10 different iterations – five pop-tops and five caravans – of various layouts and sleeping arrangements. But Jayco recently made the decision to pare back the popular range and now there is just one layout available, the six berth 17.56-2 ensuite pop-top tandem axle model in both touring and outback versions.
Dealer Principal of Page Bros Jayco in Moorabbin, Steven Page, said the reason for the scaled-back offering is the rise in sales of larger, more comfortable vans.
“We seem to be finding that the younger families are wanting more luxury and comfort when they go camping,” Steven said. “Therefore, Jayco produces only the one tandem axle, shower and toilet Expanda now.
“The Expanda is still popular with families, and I think this model will continue, however customers are seeking more comfort and therefore larger caravan sales are on the rise.”
Page Bros has been selling caravans for more than 50 years and has been teamed up with Jayco from the very beginning.
“Caravanning is essentially the same as it was 50 years ago when I used to go away as young boy with my family. Caravans, caravan parks, facilities and roads have improved immensely over the years and this certainly adds to the overall experience – but it’s still about getting outdoors and seeing Australia, which we all seem to love doing.”
For our review, Page Bros RV supplied an Expanda 17.56-2 on-road, six-berth, tandem, pop-top, which we hooked up to a 2022 Isuzu MU-X 3.0 for the trip to Portarlington on Victoria’s pretty Bellarine Peninsula.
We booked into the Bellarine Bayside Foreshore Caravan Park for a couple of days over the Melbourne Cup long weekend, which is technically not a long weekend, but try telling that to a Melburnian. So, our quiet weekend away was spent with half the population of Victoria.
We have been Jayco owners for the best part of 18 years, graduating from a Swan camper to Expanda number one (circa 2004) and Expanda number two (Outback circa 2011), so we were looking forward to seeing how this new model compared with the old faithfuls that had served us well over many years.
The internal layout of the Expanda 17.56-2 hasn’t deviated much over the years. Technically this is a six-berth van with its two double beds at either end and bunks along the offside wall opposite the bathroom. You could squeeze another couple of small people in to sleep if you converted the dinette to another small double bed at night, but it’s not big enough for adults.
Entering from the front entry door, the dinette which seats four is directly opposite. On the left is a small bench and the cupboard above is the wall mount for a television.
To the right of the entrance is the kitchen with all the necessities – sink with mixer tap, cooktop with four gas burners (no electric), grill and microwave underneath. There are two overhead cupboards, one large under-bench cupboard, four drawers and pull-out pantry. The 153L compressor fridge is opposite and big enough to cope with family feeds. On attempting to plug in our electric kettle, I thought it was an oversight that there is no visible powerpoint in the kitchen. On investigation, it is tucked away in the cupboard below and there is a little hatch in the bench through which to feed your cords, which is very neat.
Next to the kitchen on the nearside is a small wardrobe with some hanging space and the combo shower/toilet – a smallish cubicle comprising a cassette toilet and a hand basin that folds up out of the way when using the shower. There is a small mirror affixed to the outside wall.
Mattresses have not been one of the strengths of previous Expandas we have owned … big thick wads of fabric-covered foam, split one-third along the width to enable them to be folded away. What this meant that someone had to sleep on the crease. Invariably this was me and after a few nights, I was generally not a happy camper.
I’m pleased to report that the mattress situation has improved significantly. They are now thinner, but proper inner-spring mattresses and the fold is directly in the middle which makes for a much more comfortable night’s sleep for a couple. And a much happier camper.
Opposite the bathroom on the offside is the top bunk and underneath another small dinette that converts to the bottom bunk. This little space is great for kids to have their own place to do activities on a rainy day.
Completing the interior appointments is a roof mounted Dometic heater and air conditioner, plenty of overhead cupboards and lots of windows to let in the natural light. Within easy reach of dining area is the CD/radio with internal and external speakers which is optional on both the touring and outback models. The display for the Projecta power management system is also located here.
There is a choice of interior colours and decor with upgrades from fabric to leather/leatherette available.
Unlike a plug-in and prop full caravan, there’s a little bit of work to do to get the Expanda ready for habitation. After many years we had it down to a fine art, with each member of the family assigned responsibilities for certain tasks – one person inside, another outside and the kiddo doing the miscellaneous bits such as winding down the legs.
Popping the top and winding out the awning are pretty standard tasks. The process for setting up the end beds hasn’t changed since the advent of the hard lids – unlock and lift up the lids at each end and fold out the base of the beds. Inside it’s a matter of unfolding the mattress to its full width and inserting an aluminium arm in the appropriate fittings to keep the canvas top up. Flyscreens on all three sides of the fold out beds are ideal to let the air flow through on hot days and nights.
The exterior of the model we reviewed was all white with minimal decals, so it looked very clean.
A plastic cover on the drawbar at the front protects the two 9kg gas bottles from the elements. The spare tyre is tucked away under the gas bottles, which has been a bugbear in the past as you must remove at least one gas bottle to get at the spare.
Elsewhere on the exterior is a lockable tunnel boot under the front bed, exterior lights, 240V and 12V power outlets and the door to empty the toilet cassette is located on the nearside, so this is a task you don’t want to be doing while outside entertaining or dining. A picnic table wasn’t included on the review model, but it is an option.
For some years now, Jayco has been building vans using its Tough Frame technology. This vacuum-bonded and quad-layer wall construction is designed to be stronger and lighter than conventional timber and tin aluminium clad walls, built on a lightweight aluminium frame. External 3mm composite board is used to increase structural strength and the fibreglass exterior is hail and dent resistant. High-density polystyrene foam provides insulation.
Jayco uses aluminium extrusions incorporated into the furniture framing to increase strength and durability and the tent canvas around the fold-out beds is Australian 14oz heavy-duty canvas, double stitched.
Let’s face it, the Expandas, even the outback model, are not heavy-duty rigs that are designed to go off-grid. You’ll find most of the touring models in caravan parks during school holidays, perhaps with a day or two of free camping in between and there’s enough battery power and water storage to do that, but not much more.
The touring model comes with a 100Ah battery and an additional battery is optional, as are lithium batteries. A 180W solar panel is included in the outback but optional in the tourer. There’s two 80L freshwater tanks and an external tap on the A-frame.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Jayco has pared right back on its once extensive range of Expanda pop-tops and caravans which have been serving Aussie families well for more than 20 years. Despite this, the Expanda is still a great choice for families who want to make the leap from tents or camper trailers to something a bit more comfortable. Their affordability, towability and the Jayco reputation seals the deal.
HITS AND MISSES
- Easy to tow – don’t need a big powerful tug
- Family layout with all the mod cons
- Only one layout now available in Expanda range
JAYCO EXPANDA 17.56-2 RATINGS
VALUE FOR MONEY
Good value for money given the family size and features
Easy to tow, doesn’t need a massive tug
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING
Designed for on-road touring and caravan park stays
Jayco’s Tough Frame technology is used in the build
Plenty of sleeping and living space for families
Enough battery and water to free camp for a day or two
Two years manufacturing and five years structural warranty
Enough space to sleep six to eight people in a tried-and-true layout
Neat and functional, there’s nothing gaudy about the Expanda
JAYCO EXPANDA 17.56-2 SPECS
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
|Body length||5.62m (18ft 4in)|
|Overall length|| 7.98m (26ft 2in)|
|Width||2.47m (8ft 1in)|
|Ball weight ||(at tare) 158kg|
|Ball to tare ratio ||8%|
|Chassis||Hot dipped galvanised|
|Roof||Hail resistant one-piece skin with insulation|
|Insulation||Fully insulated Toughframe|
|Suspension||Axle and leaf springs|
|Coupling ||Cruisemaster DO35|
|Wheels||185/R14 HT including spare|
|Water||2 x 80L freshwater|
|Gas||2 x 9kg|
|Cooking||Four-burner cooktop with griller|
|Fridge||Dometic 153L compressor with built in freezer|
|Bathroom||Combo toilet and shower|
Jayco Expanda 17.56-2 price from $65,490.00
THE NEXT STEP
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