Review: Kedron TopEnder
The Kedron TopEnder is most at home in rough country.
WATCHING AS THE Kedron team hitched up their latest TopEnder van to a Toyota LandCruiser, it looked to me like our trip was going to be a bit of fun - as it proved to be.
The guys at Kedron, aka the Gall Boys, are old hands in the caravan travel and photographic business, and David Gall was soon able to eye a great spot for the photoshoot.
A SERIOUS VAN
Kedron caravans are built for serious travel, both rough and smooth, and the TopEnder is no exception. With a length of 7.1m (23ft 3in) and an ATM of 3500kg, this is not a lightweight van.
This meant my LandCruiser 70 Series tow vehicle, with its 4.5L 151kW turbodiesel engine and 3500kg towing capacity, made a good match. Admittedly, this 'Cruiser is a lot more agricultural than the 200 Series, but at nearly $20K more, it's a lot to pay for some sophistication. In any case, the 70 Series handled the TopEnder with ease.
Like all Kedron vans, the TopEnder is built on a hot-dipped galvanised chassis with tandem 100x 50mm (4in x 2in) rails running the full length of the van.
Designed to Kedron specifications, the Cruisemaster independent suspension has military-style leaf springs, trailing arms and shock absorbers. The 12in brakes are designed with flush plugs in the event of getting wet through creek crossings. Fitted between the chassis rails are three polyethylene 100L water tanks, and side-protection bars are fitted along the side of the van.
At the pointy end, a McHitch coupling keeps the van on the towball while still giving plenty of articulation. Also on the drawbar are two 9kg gas cylinders, two jerry can holders, a diesel tank for the heater, a mains tap, and mesh between the rails for off-ground storage.
At the rear, a very solid bumper bar, also designed for rear drag protection, is the mounting point for two spare wheels.
THE OFFROAD QUESTION
As we motored around the Qld countryside, I took the opportunity to put a few questions to my co-pilot, Glen Gall. In particular, I was interested in the van's body structure.
I asked because there are many manufacturers who will take a standard van, lift the ground height, beef up the suspension, do nothing about the body, and call it an 'offroad' van. For true offroad use, it's my opinion the body needs some attention, too.
"In the production of our DVDs we've learnt quite a few things about our vans," Glen said with a grin.
He told me Kedron begins by looking at how the walls are secured to the chassis. In a Z-channel recess they are "huck" bolted (a collared bolt with a circular thread clamped on) downwards and sideways. This creates a very secure base, and the furniture is then glued and screwed for added strength.
Cupboards and pine frame structures receive increased support, and the frontal frame structure is also crafted from solid Tas oak timber, as are the drawer fronts and doors. These are mitred and have extra V-nailing for strength. Drawer runners are steel-sided, and the base is made from solid benchtop-style ply.
Experience in rough corrugations has shown that, without a good base, the weight of cooking utensils and food tins bouncing around can have a negative effect. Timber strips are used on the inside of the drawers to minimise movement when the drawer is closed.
To prevent the movement of appliances, powder-coated angle brackets and stainless steel screws are used.
In keeping with the chassis design, the body has a full aluminium frame fixed together with Henrob punch pins rather than conventional rivets, and the roof frame is fully welded.
Aluminium cladding is used for the exterior finish, and the lower part of the body is protected by aluminium checkerplate. Somewhat differently, a padded cover is used as protection for the top half of the front of the van, including the front window.
The usual items are all fitted - Seitz double-glazed hopper windows, Camec triple-locker door, wall/grab handle lights and an awning. External storage is all at the front of the van, with standard and three-quarter tunnel boots, the opposite end of the latter containing a slide-out generator. A second compartment on the nearside contains a slide-out Engel fridge. It should be noted that this does take up part of the interior bedside space.
In the front boot are three 120Ah deep-cycle batteries, so there is no shortage of 12V capacity. In addition to a 40A mains charger, they are supplied by four 130W solar panels.
Although the TopEnder might be a van built for the rough stuff, there is no suggestion of that in the internal décor.
Indeed, the van has a very comfortable and practical layout, with a front bedroom, rear bathroom, nearside dinette and offside kitchen. Windows all-round give a very light and airy interior.
One point of interest is the internal storage. In addition to the usual inclusions, there is a good-sized cupboard/cabinet between the dinette and bedroom, four drawers fitted under the bed and drawers under both dinette seats.
A front-loading washing machine, often located in the bathroom, is fitted under the kitchen bench. That does reduce the kitchen storage slightly, but it also allows for a slightly smaller bathroom, which isn't a bad thing.
THE BOTTOM LINE
What I like about this Kedron TopEnder is that it has plenty of testing experience built into it, and that's important for an offroad van. It towed very well behind the LandCruiser - a large tow vehicle is definitely required.
The internal layout reflects current design trends, but the van does have a few features that stand out from the crowd and make the van a good choice if serious outback exploration is planned.