TESTED: WESTERN ASHBURTON
One for the family
In the world of camper trailers, SA’s Adventure Offroad Campers is a long established and respected manufacturer, but its owners have been mindful that some of their customers have been embracing the more comfortable caravan option. Wanting to service this demand, the Adventure team has established Choice Caravans at its Adelaide base.
"We searched far and wide looking at caravans at every trade show we attended," says Choice Caravans’ Paul Tabone. "Being manufacturers ourselves with the Adventure Offroad Campers, build quality was our number one criteria for any caravans we’d be selling, followed by a good range of floorplans and options."
The products of WA manufacturer Western Caravans– which builds only two vans per week– impressed Choice Caravans the most, leading to Choice becoming the SA dealer for the Western range. Having tested the Adventure campers in the past and knowing Paul’s insistence on quality, I was eager to get my hands on a Western.
Choice Caravans offers three different Western ranges: the small and economical Park; the 15ft to 20ft 6in (4.6m to 6.25m) Standard; and the flagship 19ft 6in to 24ft (5.95m to 7.32m) Homestead. With Paul keen on promoting ‘true’ family vans, he supplied the 24ft (external body length) Ashburton model from the Homestead range. It features a queen-size bed in the rear and two bunk beds with a separate shower/toilet at the front of the van.
Does the Ashburton live up to Western Caravans’ motto "Built to Last"?
From the ground up, it uses a box steel DuraGal chassis, with attractive 15in Speedy alloy wheels attached to a leaf spring suspension setup. "The walls are attached to the trailer floor with a Z-section," Paul says. "This adds to the strength, and as they’re constructed with solid timber framing we know these vans aren’t going to fall apart on unsealed roads."
Underneath, the van looks to be a robust proposition, with 1600kg parallel beam axles beneath the main 6in chassis rails and 2in box section rails to ensure it feels solid underfoot. Positively, the under-chassis area is neat and tidy with all lines and cables neatly tucked away, while also on view is a pair of 82L freshwater tanks with galvanised stoneguards that come standard with the Ashburton.
The van’s aluminium cladding (the roof and walls are fully insulated) is of standard, attractive design, and comes with a full-height, padded pebbleguard at the front. The boot is generous in size, while the drawbar sports a pair of 9kg gas cylinders and a centrally-mounted 6in jockey wheel.
Entry to the van is via a Camec triple locker front door. The tinted Galaxy windows come with flyscreens. The outside of the van is well illuminated at night time, thanks to the standard external 12V lighting, while an exterior 10A power outlet and TV antenna point are conveniently placed underneath the roll-out awning.
For a van of this size and strength, its towing weights have been kept down sufficiently to allow for a greater range of tow vehicles. Our Ashburton came in with a Tare of 2040kg and an ATM of 2500kg; not bad for a van that measures 28ft 6in (8.72m) overall. Our LandCruiser naturally had no trouble handling it both on and off the bitumen. Smaller and, dare I say it, less talented 4WDs shouldn’t be troubled, either.
While the Ashburton’s exterior may be conventional, the fact that it is a van dedicated to sleeping a family of four is less so. Having said that, though, it’s clear family vans– in particular those with dedicated sleeping quarters for the littlies– are making a comeback in Australia. Many family vans otherwise rely on the lounge/dinette area to double as a bed, which can prove quite a hassle with the constant packing up and putting away.
In this instance, as well as the queen-size bed at the rear there are two bunk beds neatly tucked away at the front. Paul Tabone says that the Ashburton can be built with a third bunk bed, although this would certainly make things cosy. The 3ft-wide (900mm) bunk beds aren’t large enough to comfortably sleep most adults, but they look perfect for kids.
Also at the van’s front is a large wardrobe and generous cupboard space, and beside this, on the nearside, is the bathroom.
Due to the extra space required for the bunk beds, the shower/toilet area isn’t as large as in most vans of this size that have sleeping quarters for just two. A fold-down sink and vanity saves some space here, and though some people prefer their toilet separate to the shower, at least this integrated arrangement provides plenty of space around the toilet itself.
The general interior ‘feels’ very positive, with bright walls and a clean design. Above the main bed are two-tiered storage cupboards that look good and offer plenty of room, while the bed lifts on gas struts for more storage. As a family van, any extra space that can be included is invaluable.
The floorplan of the Ashburton and that of other Western caravans is customisable, and this van has been specified with a café-style dinette rather than an L-shaped offering. This means it’s a bit of a squeeze around the table (but it should be fine for two adults with two small kids). On the plus side, you get an extra set of cupboards just beside the front door.
The soft upholstery in the dinette can be specified in numerous different colours and fabrics, while the kitchen is also open to customisation. Our Ashburton was fitted with a 150L fridge, but there is space to include something larger.
The same applies to the cooktop. In this van a Spinflo MiniGrill four-burner with grill was specified, which allowed slide-out pot draws to be fitted below it. With a microwave included above the fridge this setup may prove sufficient for some families, but at the expense of losing some cupboard space, a larger oven may be the better option here.
You’ll want for little else inside, with conveniently placed double powerpoints dotted about, a 19in flatscreen LCD/DVD TV on adjustable arm (an option) and a mixture of fluorescent and halogen lighting.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There’s a lot of van here for the $63,711 (tow-away, SA) asking price, and I’d recommend it to those seeking a good family van. It doesn’t feel as roomy inside as some other vans of its size due to the bunk bed layout, but the convenience the bunks provide helps make up for this.
It isn’t awash with luxury and expensive features (although such things can be specified), but since it is aimed at families with young children, convenience and durability rather than Italian leather sofas and marble benchtops are probably more practical. If you’ve caravanned with kids before, you’ll know what I mean.
In all, this is a robust caravan that should be able to take in long-term travel around Australia, all the while keeping smiles on the kids’ dials.
Thanks to Adelaide Shores Caravan Park (www.adelaideshores.com.au) for providing the photoshoot location.
- Supplied by Choice Caravans, 100 Daws Road Edwardstown, SA 5039, (08) 8276 5577. For information about Western Caravans including your nearest dealer, phone (08) 9256 4000.
Words and pics Iain Curry. As featured in the April 2010 editon of Caravan World magazine, issue 476.