Soul 22 Review

By: Malcolm Street, Photography by: Malcolm Street


New kid on the block Soul Caravans is ‘starting from the ground up’ – in more ways than one!

Soul 22

Soul Caravans is a newcomer to the world of caravans. So new indeed, that its very first caravan only appeared at the Brisbane show in June this year. But while its caravans are new, the manufacturers aren’t. Directors Curt Goldring and Adam Skelton have had plenty of experience in the offshore powerboat business and are now applying the same manufacturing methods to caravans.

Soul’s first effort wasn’t timid at all, to say the least. Building a 6.7m (22ft) tandem-axle caravan with a slide-out that takes up about two-thirds of the wall, and using an unusual (for caravans) construction technique are good ways to attract attention!

CORE STRENGTH

The Soul 22 has no frame and the entire van body and floor is a one-piece monocoque structure. And it’s specifically designed to be as waterproof and dust-proof as possible. That is achieved by using a closed cell foam core fiberglass construction and joining the two halves of the mouldings together – the same technique for joining the hull and deck of an offshore powerboat, where strength and waterproofing are essential.

Most caravan manufacturers these days opt for something like the Dometic Seitz-style of windows (a hopper style that is acrylic, double-glazed and tinted). Soul has done this for the front and offside windows but the awning side is completely different. The large, custom-made aluminium windows are electrically operated, like the awning. Apart from the door, the windows take up more than two-thirds of the van’s length and lift horizontally, thus giving an almost panoramic view of the outside world. It’s a very impressive outlook!

Additionally, the rear window can be used as a TV viewing platform. When not being used, a 50in flat screen TV hides in a cabinet below the window. However, when raised it can either be seen from the lounge or bed inside, or swivelled around so as to be easily seen and heard from the outside. External speakers are fitted below the TV window.

Soul 22 1

Some external features are fairly conventional, like the front boot and external 240V and 12V/5V USB outlets but other items, such as the camper-trailer style slide-out kitchen complete with sink and two-burner cooktop are not. Although the two 9kg gas cylinders are technically in the front boot, they actually have their own compartment complete with slide-out that is moulded into the front nearside corner. It’s very neatly done and not obvious at all from the outside.

A control panel for the airbag suspension, slide-out and 240V circuit breakers is located on the opposite side to the gas cylinder bin. It’s also where the 12V fuses and 240V connection socket are situated. The control panel might look a bit simplified but that is mostly because the rest of the 12V fuses and circuit control gear are located under the bed. I made note of the fact that all the circuits have detailed label, which is not a given in most vans!

ENGINEERING MATTERS

From an engineering point of view, I found it interesting that the Soul 22’s slide-out is used to house the instantaneous hot water heater and the bin that contains the 200Ah lithium batteries, inverter charger and the attendant controls and cabling. That adds weight and also increases the complexities of flexing cabling and gas connections. It does make access to all those items quite easy, given the bin height, but it must have created some engineering issues.

The electrics are digitally controlled so that power consumption can be monitored on an iPad/tablet and the LED lighting can be controlled in the same way. That might sound very sophisticated but the Soul 22 has quite a complex electrical setup and the ability to monitor both charging and discharging currents is very useful.

A conventional DuraGal chassis supports the 22’ body with its 100x50mm (4in x 2in) main rails and drawbar, the latter item running right back to the suspension mounts. However, it has far fewer cross members than usual, with much of the steelwork around the suspension mounts. The suspension is a Cruisemaster setup with trailing arms, airbags and two shock absorbers per wheel. The water tanks are fitted between the chassis rails, as is the spare wheel mounting which, given its slightly awkward position, comes with a handy lowering mechanism.

Soul 22 2

A NEW OUTLOOK

The most striking aspect of the van’s interior is the panoramic view out of the side windows – it is really something to be seen. A large window fitted into the front wall also provides a great view for anyone standing at the kitchen bench. Soul has resisted the temptation to use the popular front bedroom, rear bathroom layout, instead maintaining the rear bathroom but utilising the large area created by the slide-out to fit an east-west bedroom. The extended width also incorporates a lounge with table and a separate sideways facing lounge. That same philosophy works with the front kitchen – locating the fridge/freezer and the pantry in the front of the slide-out really opens up this space. The interior finish has a light timber look but it is refreshingly different to most contemporary-looking caravans and the van has all the modern comforts (and a few more) that we have come to expect. Careful attention has obviously been paid to lighting with a generous supply of downlights, reading lights and LED strip lighting – some concealed, some not. Some of the cupboards even have lights, operated by switches in the door frame.

KITCHEN REWORK

The kitchen is a great example of Soul’s ‘out of the box’ thinking. The moulded benchtop comes with a twin tub sink, a three-burner cooktop and a microwave under the cooktop. There is no grill but that shouldn’t be a problem for a custom order. Under the bench, the space is considerable and filled with seven drawers plus a decent-sized cupboard. The overhead lockers fill the corner space on either side. Piano hinges are fitted to the doors and all the drawers slide in and out very easily.

In the slide-out, the NovaKool fridge has the fridge part above and the freezer below. Instead of having an adjoining full-height slide-out pantry, it’s only half-height with the alcove above available for something like a coffee-making machine.

The seats on both sides of the lounge/dining section are leather upholstered and very comfortable to sit in. And the table sits on a sturdy mounting but has to be folded over when the slide-out is closed up – there’s no access to the rear of the van without opening the slide-out.

Meanwhile, the rear bedroom exudes comfort, with the caravan-queen-size bed sitting between two full-height wardrobes that offer both hanging and drawer space. On the opposite wall, part of the waist-high cabinet is occupied by the aforementioned 50in LCD TV but there still is some cupboard space on offer plus some handy shelves built into the exterior of the bathroom wall.

Although the layout is familiar with a nearside shower cubicle, offside cassette toilet and rear wall vanity unit, the bathroom certainly has a touch of class about it – everything from the clear glass shower cubicle door to the strip lighting down the mirror and along the floor. Waist-high cabinets are fitted into the vanity cabinet, with the upper rear corner space used for a wall-mounted Daewoo washing machine.

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But all of these classy features do add to the van’s overall weight. With an ATM of 3500kg and a Tare of 3000kg, the Soul 22 does have a fair load capacity but, at the same time, it will require a heavy duty tow vehicle such as the Toyota LandCruiser we towed with or something else in that class. But the suitable unladen ball weight of 245kg means the ball weight won’t be over the top when the van is fully loaded.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Soul has not taken a standard caravan design and added all the goodies, instead it started from the ground up with a fully-moulded fibreglass body for the Soul 22 and did some serious engineering with features like the slide-out and the awning side windows. That does come at a price of course. But Soul describes its new van as a "luxury studio apartment on wheels", and that pretty well sums things up.