TESTED: SUNLAND PATRIOT SE-L
The Sunland Patriot is a tough offroader that employs plenty of lateral thinking and stand-out features.
Sunland Caravans is a boutique caravan manufacturer under the direction of Roy Wyss, who is always looking for a new innovation or a different (and better) way of building caravans.
I hadn’t been to the Sunland factory for a while when Roy advised me that he had a number of new models ready to roll, so it was with considerable interest that I arranged a visit and a review.
The subject of this review, the Patriot, is not a new model. In fact, it has been around for a while, though it has gone through a number of changes, which include a revolutionary chassis. I looked at the top-of-the-line SE-L model, which includes a large number of features as standard fittings.
Because the Patriot SE-L sits quite high, the new chassis can be easily seen and, to the untrained eye, it may look like someone has just bored a number of large holes in it. But this is one of the features of the composite aluminium and hot-dipped galvanised steel chassis (see page 127).
At the pointy end, a Hitchmaster DO35 keeps everything hooked up. An unusual feature on the drawbar is the 12-pin flat socket. The idea is that, instead of the electrical connection dangling on the ground when the van is parked, it is actually a short connected lead that can be removed when the van is not being used.
THE ROUGH STUFF
For the offroad stuff, the SE-L comes with 3.3t-rated Cruisemaster independent suspension with trailing arms, coil springs and two shock absorbers per wheel. It has good ground clearance, with everything strapped very neatly out of harm’s way.
Like any other Sunland caravan, the SE-L has a box section-welded aluminium frame with a moulded fibreglass exterior – the floor is fibreglass, too, but it’s a composite structure. Insulation (25mm) is fitted all around, including the floor. A Raptor coating – which sounds like something out of Star Wars but is actually a protective urethane finish – has been applied to the front, sides and rear. There isn’t a front boot as such; instead, there is a toolbox-style bin on the drawbar and a front tunnel boot.
Every new Sunland caravan that comes off the production line has a distinctive interior and the Patriot is no different. There’s nothing like a bright orange Akril kitchen splashback, electrical panel and cabinetry base boards to catch the eye, especially when much of the caravan is white. The cabinetry is timber, which can be left au natural but, in this case, it has a two-pack white finish. All of this is offset by the darker benchtops, upholstery and bed spread, the reflective finish on the fridge doors, and the stylish inserts in all the cupboard and overhead locker doors. I realise that colour appreciation is in the eye of the beholder but I thought it was a good look.
Sunland has not strayed from tradition with this layout: front bedroom, full-width rear bathroom with living area in between. Having an entry door forward of the axles adds bit more versatility and essential space where it’s needed – such as around the bed.
Like any good caravan kitchen, this one comes with all the essentials: moulded sink and drainer, and four-burner cooktop/grill in the main kitchen bench. The microwave is above the sink but below the overhead lockers, thus negating the common problem of it being too high for some people to use. On the opposite side, the 184L fridge sits between the bathroom and dinette. That leaves room on the benchtop for a reasonable amount of working space, which can be added to by the flush-fitting lid of the cooktop. Behind the sink/drainer, the garbage bin holder with a ring insert for holding the garbage bag in place works quite well.
General storage space in the kitchen is impressive, with an assortment of cupboards, wire basket slide-outs and overhead lockers. One of the issues I know Roy has been trying to solve in recent years is the amount of air space the kitchen and bathroom sink drainage pipes take up. It seems to me that by offsetting the pipework in both locations, he has come up with a good solution to this problem.
The kitchen is the electrical nerve centre in this van, with an up-to-date technology panel in one of the overhead lockers and more electrical controls in a cabinet under the sink.
Fitted with leather upholstery and fixed wall cushions, the café dinette is a comfortable place to sit. It accommodates two people quite easily. And, by turning sideways and putting their feet up, both can quite easily see the flatscreen TV mounted on the wall opposite. Fitted between the seats, the tri-fold table can be moved in or out as needed. Behind the front seat is a useful hinged shelf, so you can sit on the bed and work on your laptop computer. The shelf does create a narrow space between the bed and the seat back, but that’s easily solved by folding the
shelf down when it’s not needed.
Because of the white finish, the bedroom looks a bit plain but that is deceptive as the queen-sized bed has all the normal bedhead features such as overhead lockers, side wardrobes and bedside cabinets. Lifting the posture-slat bed base reveals a decent storage space underneath.
Instead of large windows on either side, Sunland has fitted smaller frames with one above the other. This still gives the same amount of breeze but allows for a bit more control over just how much breeze you let inside. It also creates a bit more personal security for night time use as you can have one open and keep the lower one closed.
Any surprises in the bathroom area? Of course! The layout is pretty standard, with a nearside shower cubicle, offside Dometic cassette toile and mid-station vanity, but there are a few Sunland additions, like a more functional drain grate, the new Rollaway shower curtain, the Akril inserts in the shampoo/soap recesses and a corner cupboard with a roller shutter door. Plus there is all the usual cupboard space, including a cabinet for a top-loading washing machine.
THE BOTTOM LINE
From everything I’ve mentioned above, you might get the impression that this is a heavy van. Not so. From what I could see, a great deal of attention has been paid to keeping the weight off, not only with the chassis design but with items such as the lithium batteries, which are expensive but have a good power to weight ratio.
It’s difficult not to be impressed with the new Patriot. It comes with all the usual features you’d expect in a luxury offroad caravan but it also comes with some interesting and impressive innovations.
A REAL PATRIOT
While I was looking over this new Patriot SE-L, I happened to meet up with another happy (near new) Patriot owner Kevin Bridge. He told me that he particularly appreciated the strength and quality of his Patriot. Kevin and his wife have previously owned eight caravans so have plenty of experience in the RV lifestyle.
"For us, at least, we have learned not to have a van of under 6.3m (20ft 6in) in length" he said. "That gives plenty of flexibility with the interior layout and we especially appreciate a full-width rear ensuite. I also really like the extended drawbar that allows for the large toolbox."
STRONG AND STEADY
The composite chassis on this caravan is something significantly different, so I asked Roy Wyss (right) of Sunland for a fuller explanation of the thinking behind the design...
"The new chassis has the main structure composed of structural aluminium alloy with a hot-dipped galvanised steel A-frame and suspension sub frame.
"With the length of this Patriot van, the main structure’s strength exceeds the required structural requirement by a safety factor of 6.7 times. Vehicle Standards Bulletin (VSB) 1, section 23.3 (which covers caravan design requirements) states that while there is no legal requirement it must be fit for purpose. It also states a safety factor of 3 for on-road vans and a safety factor of 5 for offroad vans.
"The one-piece foam core fibreglass floor panel is an integral part of the caravan’s strength and, once all the components of the chassis are considered, the strength factor increases to 7.2. For a van the length of the Patriot, the lighter, stronger materials save 15 per cent in chassis weight over the previous generation steel chassis. The corresponding weight carrying capability over a steel chassis with a safety factor of 5 is 45 per cent.
"The one-piece composite floor is immune to the normal degradation that can occur with timber ply floors over time. And being one-piece, there are no joins between sheets, preventing ingress of water from below the caravan. The floor also has better impact absorption compared to ply and, if damage dose occur, it can be repaired without necessitating the lifting of the floor.
"The aluminium alloys used in this chassis are used in the marine industry and are designed for low corrosion. The adhesives used are permanently flexible polyurethane based to allow movement between the floor and main chassis structure. This improves energy absorption when high loads are placed on the caravan.
"The aluminium and composite components also have a greater flexibility than the steel and ply they replaced, meaning a high load is going to be less damaging to a structure that can bend with the allied load."
· Design effort on composite chassis
· Interior look
· Good load capacity without the van being overly heavy
· Use of new material
· Sink drainer pipework design
· Use of lithium batteries
I WOULD HAVE LIKED...
· Nothing: this is a well put together caravan
Originally published in Caravan World #516, July/August 2013