AL-KO Best Aussie Vans 2018: Zone RV Z-21-6 SS Review

By: Tim van Duyl, Photography by: MATT WILLIAMS AND CAM INNISS


Back for another crack at the top prize, Zone RV’s entry may be the most expensive van we've seen but our judges find there's value supporting the cost.

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In the Zone

Tim van Duyl

There is no denying past winner Zone RV is one of the best, most innovative RV companies in our industry. Its marketing, design and manufacturing are all cutting edge but this comes at a price. We should point the torch at the elephant in the room: the Z-21.6 02 Off-Road Summit Series tested at AL-KO Best Aussie Vans 2018 has a retail drive-away price of nearly $225,000. Almost enough to buy each of the other two vans in its $100,000+ category, or four of the budget vans on show this year.

The thing is, though, there are no other vans with a  true carbon fibre body, nor are there any with the same level of technology internally. Our judges debated long and hard about the relative Value for Money of the Zone RV and, although they scored it lower than some of the other vans at this year's event, all agreed that the way the company pushes forward in technology, the quality of the build and the fixtures used mean its overall value is still high.  

Our expert judging panel were unanimous in their praise for the Zone’s level of Self-Sustainability, Innovation and Quality of Finish, with almost perfect scores all round. Also high on praise was Towability, no doubt due to the clever chassis design and good weight distribution throughout. Finishing the event with a score of 92 from a possible 100 is an impressive outcome.

Sharing time with us in Echuca Moama at this year's event was Zone RV's managing director, Matt Johns. Matt made the long drive down from the company's Sunshine Coast home. His enthusiasm is only exceeded by his expectations of perfection. Up early and always available to talk to the team, Matt impressed us all with his product knowledge, not just specifications  - everything that went into the van was calculated and considered right down to the featherweight doors and aviation-spec through-floor seal around plumbing and wiring. It was obvious to us all that Matt and the team choose only what is best for the caravan and owner, no corner is cut at Zone RV. 

In the Z-21’6 02 Summit Series, Zone RV have once again excelled in making one of the Best Aussie Vans. With the support the company provides owners and the detail in each build, it is no wonder there is a waiting list to become part of the Zone RV family, no matter the price.

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Peter Quilty

Total score: 94 

Zone's Summit Series 19’6 02 sets a new benchmark, if not a whole new ball game, in caravanning. Even Zone itself concedes it's a van for those who want to "keep up with the Joneses".
I simply gravitated to its unrivalled level of autonomy, call it integrated push-button technology. And was spellbound by its genuine carbon fibre cladding (a stiffer, thinner biaxial cloth) that saves around 40kg over fibreglass, plus the sidewalls have a PVC foam core for increased thermal properties.
It would also be remiss not to mention the in-house lightweight chassis that saves around 80kg, along with the remote-controlled Cruisemaster ATX airbag suspension with smart auto levelling system.
Additionally, Zone’s bonding techniques totally eliminate any possibility of water/dust ingress.
This top-end van is also in a zone of its own internally, using carbon fibre and fibreglass cabinetry. And all the furniture is bolted to the floor, including the cafe dinette, which comes complete with leather enhancements and adjustable headrests.
All the mod cons are on show - a massive 218L Dometic RPD218 fridge, 2kg Daewoo wall-mounted mini-washer and a full oven and 20L NCE microwave (Zone believes these are necessities off-grid).
And there’s oodles of room – everywhere, exemplified by the spacious ensuite. Even a wide dining table doesn't encroach on space.
More innovation comes in the form of a Nature’s Head composting type toilet (with churner and enzyme breakdown) that has a one-month solid waste capacity. Now that’s ‘thinking outside the bowl’.
Geez, there’s even an electrically operated bed lift!
Meanwhile, the 32mm solid floor (also with a PVC foam core) forms part of the structural integrity.
And a 3000W inverter charger runs the Truma Aventa air-conditioner.
Other nice touches are the top-of-the-line mattress, Garmin-controlled entertainment system, internal speakers setup, acrylic benchtop, four-stack wire basket pull-out pantry and acrylic shower door.
Attention to detail is further accentuated by laser cut aluminium plates, with rubber grommets, that are used to cover any floor cavities.
Quite simply, the Zone Summit Series 02 is a work of art!


John ‘Bear Willis

Total score: 90

"When only the best will do" - Zone RV. This is the van destined for those who enjoy the very best in life, appreciate premium products and can afford them. However smart investors also realise that quality and innovation cost real money and return high resale value should the time come to move on.

Speaking of moving on, the Zone RV is built to follow you through thick and thin, high and low, wet or dry, hot or cold - and do it in total comfort and style. The attention to every detail ensures trouble free touring and the humongous amount of power and water storage and supply is topped off by the low energy consumption and efficiencies throughout, thanks to innovations like the composting toilet that requires little water other than to wash your hands after a visit.

Not only is the Zone RV a modern engineering masterpiece, it is beautiful, liveable and features all-electronic operation, with an easy App that's a breeze to navigate even for technically-challenged old codgers like me. You simply don't have to flex a muscle to open a flap, lift the bed, wind a jockey wheel or even pull out a mounting stairwell. All of these effort saving features make the Zone RV particularly appealing to those with reduced strength or mobility.

The interior features terrific flow; a beautiful dinette with plenty of comfort, tummy room and a large table; a huge amount of storage; a magnificent ensuite with a huge shower; kitchen with tremendous facilities and plenty of bench space; and a really inviting north/south bed with ample access.

From the ground up the Zone RV is build to go the distance in Australia's challenging environments, offering not only creature comforts, but also exceptionally strong construction and air bag-assisted Vehicle Components independent trailing arm suspension. The underside features exceptional ground clearance with a rugged chassis and very neat plumbing and wiring that simply won't let you down with passing debris or the constant sand blasting from those seemingly endless off-road corrugations.

This is the caravan for totally escaping in for extended periods, fully independent of the rest of society. I have to ask myself, what could be better? This is the ultimate presentation but comes at a high price!! It is simply a masterpiece.

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Malcolm Street

Total score: 91

Zone RV's entry this year is a very streamlined looking caravan. Much like some of the European  manufacturers, Zone RV has used the monocoque construction technique to get more strength into the overall body structure, and so requires less steel in the chassis.

The company seems to have resisted the temptation to go for the "off-road" look favoured by some manufacturers, instead opting for a "cleaner" look. Part of that "includes the angled down drawbar, which has  been designed that way to accommodate the van height without the need for a laminated rail construction. The chassis and drawbar use 150mm/6in RHS rails but there are fewer than the usual number of cross members; the space is filled by the alloy chequer plate-protected water tanks. DuraGal steel is used for the chassis but unusually it has a Raptor Polyurethane coating.

ATX Cruisemaster independent suspension with twin shock absorbers and auto-levelling air bags keeps the van on the road. AL-KO 12in electric brakes are fitted to the 18in alloy wheels. For better control on the road, a Dexter sway control system sits up front, and, this being an off road van, so does a Cruisemaster DO 35 hitch.

Normally for the frameless body work, Zone RV use a double sided fibreglass skin with high density XPS foam core in between, in a "sandwich" panel structure. In this case, though, in what the company calls a "summit series" upgrade, carbon fibre replaces the fibreglass, which adds considerably to the price. For minimising water leaks and maintaining body strength, everything – sidewalls, front panel, rear panel, roof and PET floor –  are all one piece items. Also worth noting is the specially designed plate fitted with grommets that makes a very neat entry point for the cables and piping to the underfloor area, often a weak spot for letting in water and dust.

 

Inside, there's no timber to be seen in the general cabinetry; it’s all made from a laminate and fibreglass composite structure. Like the body, the emphasis is on strength and minimising weight. Many of the interior cupboard doors have a carbon fibre finish, like the external cladding.

I reckon Queensland caravan manufacturers  have a distinct advantage over the mainstream industry, managing to achieve both a different look and alternative construction methods. Zone RV is no exception. Its vans have a very "clean" look both inside and out, and the company is not afraid to think outside the box, particularly in chassis and body construction. Although adding somewhat to the cost, the use of carbon fibre panels is an interesting step and shows the company is prepared to try new products.

 

Laura Gray

Total score: 93

Waiting to see what creation Zone RV would bring to AL-KO’s Best Aussie Vans 2018 was like being a kid waiting for Santa at Christmas. We knew it would be bolder and bigger than ever before but, this year, even our wildest dreams were blown out of the water with the Z-21.6 Off-Road Summit Series. The new Summit Series range is Zone’s premier product, designed to showcase every possibility in luxury offroad caravanning. And it does just that - but it comes at a price. The Z-21.6 rings the register at $223,865, making it the most expensive van we’ve ever seen by a significant margin.

But the quality of the fit, finish, fixtures and fittings on this van are out of this world. Wow. That carbon fibre skin on the outside really takes this van into a whole different realm as far as caravan style goes. However, the carbon comes at a lazy $30K (roughly) option, so it’s worth questioning whether you really need it - or if you just really want it (and that’s fine, too!). But it’s not just aesthetic - it serves as super tough, impact-resistant body armour, which is significantly lighter and stronger than aluminium or steel used for the same purpose.

I could talk all day about the  cavalcade of fixtures and technology that come with this van - from the 360-degree birds-eye view camera and the Cruisemaster XT remote airbag suspension system, to the 100 per cent timber-less build and the Zone-designed digital control system for every light, pump and switch on board. But what impressed me most about the Z-21.6 is it’s 100 per cent self-sufficiency. Many manufacturers throw a few solar panels on the roof and claim their caravans are self-sufficient, but how long are the water reserves going to last? How will you refill them? And where will you empty your cassette toilet when it inevitably fills up after two or three days? It’s not the 1100W of flexible solar panels on the roof that make this van truly self-sufficient, it’s the Nature’s Head composting toilet in the rear bathroom. The toilet uses absolutely no water (helping maintain your reserves) and breaks down waste to the point where it only needs emptying about once a month.

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Peter Quitly

Laura Gray

Malcolm Street

John Willis

 

Value for Money

8.50

6.00

8.00

7.00

7.38

Self-Sufficiency

9.50

10.00

9.50

10.00

9.75

Towability

10.00

10.00

8.50

9.00

9.38

Suitability for Intended Touring

9.00

9.00

9.50

10.00

9.38

Layout

9.00

9.50

9.00

9.00

9.13

Quality of Finish

9.50

10.00

9.50

9.00

9.50

Build Quality

9.50

9.50

9.50

9.00

9.38

Creature Comforts

9.50

10.00

9.50

9.00

9.50

Innovation

10.00

10.00

9.00

10.00

9.75

X-Factor

9.50

9.00

9.00

8.00

8.88

Totals

94.00

93.00

91.00

90.00

 

Judges Average

92.000

 

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MORE INFORMATION

To enquire about this caravan, please visit: zonerv.com.au or call (07) 5471 6410

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #582. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!