Best Aussie Vans 2016: Sunland Patriot SEL-X

By: Malcolm Street, Photography by: Ellen Dewar, Nathan Jacobs


The high-end Sunland Patriot SEL-X is laden with smart, techno-savvy features that put it at the forefront of caravan design.

There’s no doubting that Sunland’s entry into 2016 AL-KO Best Aussie Vans – the Patriot SEL-X – is an immediate eye-catcher! The striking outback scene wrapped around the van is impossible to miss, and the front of the van, with its signature Sunland shape, ensures it grabs attention. That is all intentional, of course. Sunland buyers like to stand out from the crowd and the vans’ points of difference are what their buyers love about them. Despite all of that, however, some of the Patriot SEL-X’s best bits are hidden a little deeper and you have to look under the skin to discover them.

Sunland Caravans has gained a reputation in the caravan industry for testing and applying not only new methods of caravan construction but also using new technology to its best advantage. And one of Sunland’s major focuses is the ongoing challenge of maintaining a caravan’s strength and rigidity while keeping the weight down and/or giving buyers a better payload. There are a number of examples of this in its 2016 Patriot SEL-X.

Sunland -Patriot -SEL-X-9

The chassis is a prime example. Many manufacturers have shied away from using aluminium in the chassis. But Sunland has taken up the challenge with a design that indicates it is thinking outside the box.

Most offroad caravans are built with a substantial 150x50mm RHS steel chassis. However, a few years ago, Sunland took a different approach with its main chassis structure and made it of structural aluminium alloy. The drawbar is also aluminium but the sub-frame that supports the suspension retains convention by being manufactured with hot-dipped galvanised steel. The alloy chassis components are reminiscent of Swiss cheese, but the holes are a simple technique for retaining strength while reducing weight. Unusual though it may be, Sunland is so confident about its design that it offers a 20-year warranty on the chassis.

There are other features of note on the drawbar, namely dual handbrakes – one for each set of wheels. This ensures your state-of-the-art caravan will stay safely where it’s meant to at all times – not always a given with caravan handbrakes. And the steel cables, instead of running under the chassis, run neatly inside the C-section drawbar rails.

Sunland -Patriot -SEL-X-3

The grey water tank under the chassis is not just a standard tank but is specially moulded to fit in and around the chassis rails behind the rear wheels. And the fresh water tank, again custom made, is fitted directly above the suspension, neatly solving the balance problem that can occur with empty tanks.

At the corners of the chassis, quick-drop AL-KO corner stabilisers are fitted all round and the caravan rides on 3700kg-rated Cruisemaster independent suspension fitted with coil springs and shock absorbers. The area under the chassis is very tidy with no obstructions and everything vulnerable is strapped well out of the way – even the punched holes on the chassis rails are used to good effect.

Like the chassis, the Patriot’s body is built with an aluminium frame but it’s in a box section style, using 25x50mm and 25x25mm components that are all welded together. Fibreglass resin core moulded panels are used for all the walls and the roof and Black Raptor coating covers all the lower sides, including the enormous front storage bin.

Sunland -Patriot -SEL-X-1

Sunland employs composite fibreglass for the floor panel which, used in conjunction with coolite, makes a great insulator. While many people may only think about the body of a caravan being insulated, a recent winter camping experience has me appreciating the benefits of floor insulation, too. Large Seitz double-glazed acrylic windows are used, including the recognisable feature of the security-conscious double-decker arrangement used in the front bedroom.

Up front, the large storage bin has been designed to hold the two 9kg gas cylinders in the centre compartment and a 2kVA generator in the offside compartment. There is also plenty of room for other caravanning essentials such as water hoses. But just in case all of that isn’t enough storage, there is also good-sized tunnel storage across the front of the van.

EASY ACCESS

A truly unique feature of this Sunland is the utility compartment, or service area, at the rear of the Patriot. The impressive alloy bumper which hosts the spare wheel and pole/fishing rod holder, is side-hinged and swings wide open to allow access to a huge rear bin built into the back of the van. This hatch is home to the instantaneous hot water heater, the water pump, Giant Power battery management system, other essential electrics and the lithium batteries. This is a genuinely innovative, and very welcome idea, as the Patriot is a sophisticated van and putting most of the serviceable items easily accessible in one place is a real winner.

Sunland -Patriot -SEL-X-8

The Patriot’s roof is a surprisingly busy place; in addition to the usual hatches, an Oyster satellite dish and four 180W solar panels, there’s also the signature Sunland rainwater catchment system that’s moulded into the roof and drains into a water tank. And, in a style slightly reminiscent of James Bond, the solar panels can be elevated to allow a better angle to catch the sun. On this review van, they couldn’t be rotated as well but I’m sure that’s not too far away!

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

Sunland -Patriot -SEL-X-7

The Patriot SEL-X’s interior layout is a thing of beauty. Sure, it has the standard front island bed, full-width rear bathroom layout that many modern vans exhibit but there are a considerable number of Sunland additions that put the van a cut above most, such as the two-pack finish on all the cabinetry and the generally immaculate fitout throughout.

The full-width bathroom, again, has a few extra touches that make it stand out from the crowd such as the moulded fibreglass shower cubicle with its Sunland-designed drain, the recessed compartments in both the shower and beside the toilet that add an extra bit of storage (wet or dry) space, and the flexible sliding shower door that will never smash or break en-route. And then there’s the Marilyn Monroe-style mirror surrounded by little lights that adds more than a touch of glamour, and even comes with convenient motion detector so you don’t have to faff around with lights in the middle of the night.

Sunland -Patriot -SEL-X-4

And while it might be tempting to linger in this bathroom, there are better places to do that, such as the café-style dinette which is upholstered in genuinely beautiful, soft Italian leather, right up to the headrests. This leather is used throughout the van and adds a serious touch of class and elegance to all elements it touches. Another novel touch in this area is the overhead lockers which have a moulded ceiling extension that matches that of the kitchen on the opposite side.

The Patriot’s kitchen is truly befitting of the van’s style and size and comes with a full cooktop/grill and oven and a custom-moulded sink/drainer which still leaves a very generous amount of benchtop space. The kitchen is fitted with an equally generous number of cupboards and drawers, all on soft-close runners, plus a pull-out, wire basket pantry. But, in true Sunland style, there’s even more – a rubbish shute! Going from the kitchen to the outside of the van, where it can be accessed through an external locker door, this feature offers rubbish storage of a level not seen before in a caravan.

Sunland -Patriot -SEL-X-6

The microwave is fitted into the overhead lockers above the sink but is set a bit lower, so is easier to use for shorter people to safely reach.

The length of the kitchen bench also allows enough space for a 32in flatscreen TV to be mounted on the wall.

Up front, the bedroom has an island bed and surrounding bedhead of lockers with features such as 240V and 12V sockets on both sides, a Sirocco variable fan and wire basket drawers under the bed, rather than just empty space.

Sunland -Patriot -SEL-X-5

The Patriot’s electrics are something to behold. The heart of the system is the Giant Power inverter/charger and the two 200Ah LiFe batteries. That’s all controlled by a very sophisticated switching/monitoring system located in the bathroom above the loo – an interesting but, nonetheless, quite convenient location. Such is the technology used, that the batteries can be used to drive the latest inverter technology Dometic air-conditioner – so there’s no need for hot sweaty evenings when bush camping! Also keeping up with the times is the RV WiFi unit – as someone who looks for the WiFi signal in every town, that is definitely a plus.

THE BOTTOM LINE

LEAD-PIC-Sunland -Patriot -SEL-X

It’s hard not to be impressed by the Sunland Patriot SEL-X. Yes, it is an expensive van, there’s no denying that. But it’s also an extremely well-built, put-together van that is packed with features and ones that are at the cutting edge of technology.

Everything from the chassis design to the electrical setup is representative of that and all of which puts Sunland very much at the forefront of caravan design in Australia.

The customer is the winner here.

MEASURING UP

Pros…

  • Chassis and body design
  • Utility service bin at the rear
  • General storage
  • Battery and inverter capability
  • Small features that make a difference
  • Drainage setup in bathroom and kitchen

Cons…

  • Pricey – but you get what you pay for!

The full test appears in Caravan World #559 2017. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!