Back in time, when the major oil producers in the world were causing severe economic problems with high oil prices and everybody was downsizing their tow vehicle sizes, pop-top caravans were very popular.
Since then, the market for pop-top caravans has waxed and waned somewhat. Of course, there’s still a demand, particularly among hybrid caravan travellers, and Queensland-based Vision RV is one manufacturer with pop-tops in its range. I was able to take a typical example, a VH-14 hybrid, out for a run in the hinterland area behind the Sunshine Coast — an excellent location for finding plenty of rough road tracks to give any van a workout.
Vision RV designs its own hot-dipped galvanised chassis. It is made from Australian steel and has 3.5mm thick 150 x 50mm (6in x 2in) rails and a drawbar. Built for serious offroad travel, the pop-top has a Cruisemaster DO35 hitch and Vision’s independent trailing arm suspension with airbags and ARB dual shock absorbers. A benefit of the airbag suspension is that it can be manually adjusted by switches located behind a nearside panel. Mickey Thompson 285/70 tyres are fitted to the 17in alloy wheels and for practical reasons, the wheels are available in stud patterns to suit most tow vehicles. There’s a spare mounted on the rear bumper bar. Instead of standard drum brakes, hydraulic disc brakes provide the stopping power.
There are often clues about how the rest of the caravan is built when you take a look underneath it. The sub-chassis area of the VH-14 hybrid is a good example, being very neat and tidy. The water tanks all have alloy sheet protection, and the pipework and cabling are all neatly strapped up and in minimal damage positions. That includes the grommet protection, where the piping goes through the chassis structural items.
The composite body is not made in Australia, but it is manufactured into a robust yet lightweight shell. It’s a whole monocoque structure so that the body can be lifted off the chassis as a single component. This design means the body does not rely on the chassis strength, which keeps the weight down.
There’s something of a Teutonic theme about the body construction; the walls and roof are 30mm German composite panels with 2mm fibreglass inner and outer layers with a closed-cell polypropylene inner core of efficient insulation. Everything, including the honeycomb floor, is bonded using a German glue that joins the walls, roof, and floor into a permanent structure. Vision RV likes to make a big point: its caravans are 100 per cent timber-free.
On the road
There are several towing benefits to the VH-14 pop top. It only has a width of 2.14m (7ft), making it ideal for narrow bush tracks. It has an overall towing length of just 6.59m (21ft 7in), which is useful on undulating bush tracks.
Because of its size, the VH-14 has a tare mass of 2000kg and an ATM of 2900kg, resulting in an excellent payload of 900kg. All that tallies up to a towing package suitable for a decent range of tow vehicles, including any number of dual cab utes, especially if the temptation to fully utilise the payload is resisted.
Given the impressive fit-out along the nearside, the VH-14 hybrid is anything but a normal caravan. Upfront and fitted into the bodywork is a slide-out for a dual zone fridge/freezer that is well incorporated into the overall external kitchen layout.
Adjacent to the fridge, the stainless-steel sink also slides out. It’s a decent size with hot and cold running water. Above the sink is a set of two drawers, which is an exceptional use of the storage space. Above the drawers, there’s a row of switches, mainly for the external lights but also for the airbag controls.
The rest of the external kitchen consists of a hinged benchtop, part of which includes a slide-out three-burner gas hob. Built into the van’s bodywork are sets of narrow and deep shelves, offering a generous amount of storage capacity. Like much of the design in the rest of the van, it’s all a very efficient use of space.
The front storage box has been designed to accommodate a small slide-out Weber barbecue for extra cooking capability. In addition to the barbecue, the storage box is quite multifunctional. There’s a second slide-out on the opposite side designed to take a generator, as well as a firewood tray on top of the box, and a front extension that houses two 4kg gas cylinders and has space on either side for water and fuel jerry cans. The hot and cold taps fitted to either side of the storage box are a practical inclusion.
A surprising feature of the VH-14 hybrid is the amount external storage. In addition to the items already mentioned, two decent-sized storage bins are built into the front offside of the van body. These bins are large enough for all the camping essentials with minimal size restrictions. A small part of one of the compartments is taken up by an air-holding tank, designed to be used with an onboard air hose for easy tyre inflation.
Setting up many a pop-top usually involves unclipping the roof at the four corners and getting some arm exercise by lifting the roof inside from either end. With the VH-14, the top still has to be unclipped, but it takes just a push of a switch, and the roof elevates. Inside, a straightforward layout is a characteristic of this van. Ventilation and natural light is assured by the lower wall windows, all of which are double-glazed acrylics, and the screened windows in the gusset.
Up front, the north-south bed takes up all the space. Adjacent to the bed are two sideways-facing lounge seats and the rear area is taken by an offside corner combo shower/toilet cubicle and a kitchen bench.
As well as the external kitchen facilities, the VH-14 also offers internal cooking. The bench is fitted out with a round stainless-steel sink and a Vitrifrigo 115L compressor fridge/freezer. Instead of a gas hob, an optional induction cooktop is available. Behind the kitchen bench, the electrical panel has the necessary switches for lighting, air compressor and water pump. Additionally, there’s a mains power point and device charger sockets.
Tucked in the corner, the combo shower and toilet cubicle has room to turn around, is well-ventilated because of the pop-top roof and has a small two-door cabinet built into the rear wall. Unlike most cassette RV toilets, the composting unit fitted to the VH-14 is something that requires much less cleaning.
Adjacent to the bed are matching lounge seats that face each other. There’s space to move and when needed there’s a simple slide-out table that sits under the bed when not in use, which is an excellent minimal-fuss arrangement. A notable feature in this area is the number of drawers that can be used for storage space.
Easily accessible, the bed is great for a comfortable night’s sleep. It does sit a fair way off the floor, but the seats on either side make good steps. The windows on each side of the bed are an attractive feature, and there’s the bonus of wand reading lights and Sirocco fans that help elevate the experience.
Anyone concerned about off-grid water and electrical capacity doesn’t have to look much further than the VH-14. It has three 90L freshwater tanks and one 70L grey tank. The power system has a similar set of impressive figures; the lithium LiFePO4 battery has a capacity of 300Ah, and the two solar panels are rated at 330W each. The composting toilet considerably reduces dependency on dump points.
Warranties are not always as straightforward as they could be, but Vision RV’s is relatively clear. The manufacturer offers a three-year, full offroad warranty on its van build, but OEM appliances have their own warranties. To assist customers in the event of a problem, there’s a nationwide support network, an in-house warranty manager and a dedicated warranty portal on the Vision RV website.
The bottom line
The VH-14 hybrid is packed with features for a relatively small pop-top caravan. It’s all quite impressive and results in a van that’s well designed to handle offroad travel when travelling in outback Australia. Best of all, it’s not really a heavyweight towing prospect for an offroad van.
HITS AND MISSES
- External and internal kitchen facilities
- Ease of pop-top operation
- Practical storage capacity
- Good towing prospect
- Combo bathroom might be a problem for some
VISION RV VH-14 RATINGS
VALUE FOR MONEY
There are larger vans available for the same money but this one is packed with features
It’s an easy towing caravan and well suited to a 4WD ute
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING
Well designed for outback travel but not in an overly large towing combination
Overall, the Vision RV van looks to be very well put together
It is not a big van, but it is very practical with inside and outside living/cooking areas
Excellent battery and water capacity for extended off-grid travel
Vision RV offers a three-year, full offroad, structural warranty
Disc brakes are certainly unusual, as is the composting toilet
A great deal of thought has been put into the effective use of storage space, inside and out
VISION RV VH-14 SPECS
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
|Body length||4.27m (14ft)|
|Overall length||6.59m (21ft 7in)|
|Travel height||2.6m (8ft 6in)|
|Ball weight at tare||171kg|
|Frame||Frameless, composite wall structure|
|Chassis||Hot dipped galvanised, 150mm (6in) rails|
|Suspension||Independent airbag with dual offroad shock absorbers — (button controlled)|
|Brakes||Ventilated hydraulic disc brakes|
|Wheels||17in alloy, Mickey Thompson 285/70 tyres|
|Water||3 x 90L (270L total) freshwater, 1 x 70L grey water|
|Solar||2 x 330W (660W total)|
|Air-conditioner||Truma Aventa reverse cycle air-conditioner (optional)|
|Gas||2 x 4kg|
|Cooking||Dometic external three-burner gas hob, (Internal induction cooktop is optional)|
|Fridge||Vitrifrigo C115 115L 12V compressor fridge/freezer|
|Bathroom||Combo shower and composting toilet|
|Hot water||Truma AquaGo instant gas hot water system|
Vision RV VH-14 price from $128,990
- Truma Aventa reverse cycle air conditioner
- ARB Zero Dual 96L slide-out fridge/freezer
- Waabiny decals
- 24in smart TV
- External TV point
Vision RV VH-14 price as shown $139,288
290 Nicklin Way
Warana, Qld 4575
THE NEXT STEP
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