Australia has well over 100 RV manufacturers and a big chunk of those are based in Victoria. Many of these Victorian manufacturers are located in the northern suburbs of Melbourne around Campbellfield. There is a proud history of often multigeneration family businesses building a significant industry and creating major employment opportunities in the area. Many new companies have arisen along the way as entrepreneurial employees have broken away to forge their own path in RV manufacturing. As the Caravan World journo based in Victoria, I have the opportunity to review many vans that come from this manufacturing hub. In the main, the companies are driven by passionate people building quality, traditional vans.
The majority are meranti frame, aluminium skin-clad structures built to a very similar methodology. Layouts also tend to be very similar among manufacturers. ‘Same, same’ manufacturing and layouts have evolved because they work and work well. But it feels at times consumers have limited choice.
Owners of Lyfe RV, Danni Tedesco and her partner Lou, explained to me that they saw an opportunity to do things differently. Chatting with the duo was quite a revelation. They kicked off in January 2020 with no direct experience in the RV industry. They are avid caravanners and have owned multiple caravans over the years. Danni’s background is in accounting and she has been involved in construction. Lou also has a mechanical and construction background and the couple saw their skillsets being highly transferrable to the RV industry. The duo researched the market and identified a gap in Victorian manufacturing for high-end offroad products dominated by NSW and Qld players. So, they were confident there was a space for them.
They are also not scared to try new things and have opted to build quite narrow vans that are around the same width as most tow vehicles. This makes them far more suited to negotiating tighter terrain in offroad situations. Lyfe RV started its range with small hybrid-style pop-top vans and has expanded to include full-length, hard-top vans. This brings us to the van on review, Lyfe RV19f Off-Road. As the name suggests, it’s 19ft 6in long and we had the triple bunk layout to check out. It’s aimed at families who are looking for extended touring capabilities with more adventurous goals of where they take their van.
The shell is frameless and constructed with contemporary materials. It’s not like they are radical, untried materials. It’s more a case of materials that have been gradually adopted by the more progressive manufacturers over the last decade or so.
The roof and walls are one-piece composite panels with a fibreglass skin and a foam core. This material does away with the need for an internal frame, but Lyfe RV does specify internal reinforcement in openings such as the doorway and the roof-mounted air-conditioner for greater strength. The floor is a one-piece honeycomb polymer-style material known for its light weight and strength. All these panels are supplied by Creative Composites/Worthingtons who are among the market leaders in this space.
Lou tells me premium polyurethane adhesive is used throughout and silicone is only used for caulking. He reckons the cost for polyurethane per van is around $1000. Sealing is achieved by adhering aluminium corner caps to the walls/roof joints and walls/floor joints. In a previous life I project managed the rework of a range of vans where ABS corner capping had failed. After extensive research we opted for aluminium corner capping similar to that used in this Lyfe van. In my humble opinion, this is a great sealing and good-looking solution.
Selected internal panels such as the queen bed base are powder-coated aluminium rather than the conventional ply. Lou opted for this method for lighter weight and superior moisture resistance.
The chassis is a pretty typical Australian-made steel setup manufactured by ARV with 150mm main beams. The A-frame features a black coating known as LINE-X which looks pretty rugged. An optional Black Jack trailer jack upfront takes the effort out of getting the van up and down and there’s a conventional jockey wheel there just for back up. Recovery points complete with shackles are attached to the rear of the chassis and are at the ready if you need to be pulled out of a tricky situation.
This model had been optioned up to the Cruisemaster ATX trailing arm independent suspension complete with airbag springs. This is the top-of-the-range offer from Cruisemaster, classified as suitable for prolonged corrugations and rock crawling! You may not take the van rock crawling, but it is nice to know the suspension is up to it. The bells and whistles include the Cruisemaster air control kit which enables you to adjust the ride height for greater ground clearance when you need it, plus automatically level the van when parked up.
Cruisemaster also takes care of the coupling up front. It’s a pin coupling with multi-axis articulation which is ideal for offroad applications. We see a lot of D035 (rated to 3.5t) couplings on the vans we review, but this van had the D045 (rated to 4.5t). This is because the customer asked for an ATM upgrade of 4200kg to accommodate some of the options and achieve a whopping 1200kg+ payload. More on that later.
INSIDE AND OUTSIDE LIVING
Lyfe RV has a different approach to how it uses its inside and outside space. I think it is partly influenced by the fact it builds hybrid vans, which tend to have a stronger focus on outdoor living, and partly attributed to lateral thinking. Plus, it is driven by the necessity of a narrow van having limited space to work with. The way I see it, internal space is finite and external access is practically infinite.
So here are some things that are different mainly from an external perspective. The washing machine sits under the queen bed and is accessed externally via a large hatch. The pantry is accessible both internally and externally. Again, the external access is via a hatch which also serves as a decent-sized table. The two fridges cover all bases. There is a tall but quite narrow Thetford 152L compressor fridge/freezer just inside the doorway — probably because there is nowhere else to put it, but it also means you can grab some food without traipsing through the van.
There’s a second fridge/freezer (dual zone myCOOLMAN 96L chest style) accessed externally from a slide-out. On the same slide-out is a fancy cooker combination convection oven, microwave and air fryer. And on another slide-out is a comprehensive camp kitchen complete with an induction cooker. All this externally accessed stuff is much more user-friendly than the cramped setup you would have with internal access.
There is plenty of storage in the toolbox upfront because there is no need for gas bottles. On top of the box is a neat firewood tray and in front of the toolbox are four jerry can holders.
Taking a look at the inside, the feel is quite different. You do notice that the van is narrower. It is most apparent in the queen bed area where room on either side of the bed is limited. There are quite narrow wardrobes on either side of the bed but no bedside drawers like you see in most vans. The space on either side of the bed is closed off with a long narrow horizontal surface which could be used for storing bits and pieces, but this means you can’t walk around either side of the bed. This means that you enter the bed from the foot. As the bed is quite tall to provide under-bed storage, most people will find it easiest to step up onto the lounge to get into bed. This won’t suit everybody, but I think it is a perfectly functional compromise.
The kitchen area feels more typical with good storage but the standout feature for me is the induction cooktop. My experience at home is they are a pleasure to cook with due to their rapid boiling capabilities. The seating is decently sized for five people and very comfortable. The bunks are quite typical, but the bathroom is more compact than most vans of this length featuring a combination shower and toilet rather than a separate shower and toilet. Another interesting difference is the Separett urine separating toilet. It is designed to separate solid and liquid waste, to reduce smell and volume of waste to be handled.
CUTTING EDGE OFF GRID
Lyfe RV has gone the whole hog with a 48V system powering the entire van, allowing extended use of all appliances off grid and eliminating the need for gas. Put simply, 48V setups can be far more efficient than 12V systems, allowing you to put more power in quickly and have access to more power to run more things for longer.
The system is fed with 1210W of solar panels and 12–48V 1.5kW DC to DC charge converters, giving great solar backup. What’s more, the system is online with remote support 24/7, giving peace of mind for travellers.
A bank of Safiery Lithium batteries total 800Ah and give you plenty of storage, and a 6000W inverter delivers that power to run appliances. Lou tells me that you can run multiple electrical items at one time, including the air-conditioner for nine hours straight in 30+ degrees ambient temperature before the system warned the battery was getting low.
The van comes standard with 220L of freshwater storage and 110L grey water storage. The owner has optioned 330L of freshwater and cut back to 43L of grey water capacity. If you are in locations where you can run water on the ground, all good, but it will be a problem if you are in locations that do require capturing grey water. All this freshwater is pushed around with twin pumps. A second pump gives you some redundancy and you can use it to draw water from a creek to replenish your supply.
HEAVY BUT NARROW TOWING
As previously mentioned, this model would normally be rated with an ATM of 3500kg but has been uprated to 4200kg. This means when loaded, the LandCruiser 300 pictured would not make the cut. So, you are definitely in big American pickup truck territory to tow this beauty. We towed with the van empty, and it cruised along comfortably on freeways, country-style roads and a little bit of playing on easy offroad.
One of the van’s claims to fame is an external width of 2170mm, making it appreciably narrower than most other comparable vans. Visibility out the back is great, and Lou opts not to run towing mirrors as a result. While we didn’t try to drive through anywhere squeezy, I can see the narrow profile would be advantageous.
Lyfe RV offers a typical warranty of five years on chassis and suspension and two years on its factory build. Third-party components are referred to respective suppliers which is not uncommon in the industry but is short of best practice where the van manufacturer takes full responsibility for the van in its entirety.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This van won’t be for everyone. First of all, you’ll need a big budget. And the interior layout dictated by the narrow design may put some people off. Having said that, there is a lot to like about this van. If you like the idea of a hybrid van but you want a bit more length for better internal seating and mod cons like a washing machine, and a pop-top roof is not your thing, this van makes a lot of sense. Plus, the amazing performance of this 48V power system is pretty compelling.
HITS AND MISSES
- The narrow profile will find this van venturing down narrower tracks where bigger vans fear to tread
- The 48V electrical system can run your appliances for extended periods and top up very quickly
- As optioned, this van has a massive 1200kg+ payload
- Some will find access to the main bed and lack of bedside storage not to their liking
Lyfe RV19F Off-Road Ratings
VALUE FOR MONEY
This is a big budget van with no expense spared — if you’ve got the money, it has a lot to offer
The van comes standard with a 3500kg ATM but has been optioned up to a 4200kg ATM which calls for a serious tow vehicle
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING
If extended offroad touring with a penchant for outdoor living is your thing, Lyfe RV hits the mark
You wouldn’t think for a moment that these guys are new to building RVs — it looked great
Highly functional layout for its width. While I find it agreeable, some may find the narrow setup too much of a compromise
Outstanding capacity for living off the grid for extended periods with an abundance of power and freshwater
The warranty program on offer is in the upper half of the scale but not at the top
Lyfe RV stands out from the crowd with a unique combination of contemporary materials, a distinctive layout and a cutting-edge 48V power system
The technology and creativity that goes into this van makes it top shelf
LYFE RV19F OFF-ROAD SPECS
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
|Body length||6m (19ft 7in)|
|Overall length||8.6m (28ft 2in)|
|Width||2.17m (7ft 1in)|
|Driving height||3m (9ft 8in)|
|ATM||4200kg (standard is 3500kg)|
|Ball weight at tare||239kg|
|Frame/cladding||Composite panel walls with internal reinforcement at major fastening points|
|Chassis||Hot dip galvanised ARV chassis|
|Suspension||Cruisemaster Stage 3 ATX|
|Brakes||Cruisemaster 12in Electric Brakes|
|Wheels||17in alloy rims with LT285/70R17 Mickey Thompson Mud Tyres (standard 16in)|
|Water||330L freshwater and 43L grey water (standard 220L freshwater and 110L grey water)|
|Battery||600Ah lithium, upgraded to 800Ah|
|Solar||700W, upgraded to 1210W|
|Air-conditioner||Webasto Cool Top Trail 20/24|
|Gas||Completely gasless system|
|Sway control||BMPRO SwayControl|
|Cooking||Dual hob induction cooktop/3 in 1 convection oven, microwave with air fryer|
|Fridge||Dual Zone myCOOLMAN 96L fridge/freezer|
|Cooking||Dual hob induction cooktop|
|Fridge||Thetford 152L compressor fride/freezer|
|Bathroom||Combination shower and toilet (Separett Tiny urine separating toilet)|
|Hot water||Truma Combi D 6A — diesel hot water and ducted heater system|
Lyfe RV195 Off-Road price from $165,000.00
- 48V electrical system
- Extra wheel carrier at the back
- Custom wheels
- LINE-X on the drawbar and toolbox
- Cruisemaster ATX suspension
- ATM upgrade to 4.2t
- Custom toolbox on the front with four jerry can holders
- Black Jack Electric Trailer Jack
- One additional 110L freshwater
- storage tank
- Breville combination cooker with air fry, convection and microwave
- Washing machine — mini
- Solar panel upgrades to 1210W
- Extra in pump room, six double USB and six cigarette
- Anti-sway BMPRO sway controller
Lyfe RV195 Off-Road price as shown $205,000.00
THE NEXT STEP
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Watch the Toyota LandCruiser Sahara 300 Series tow-test