Best Aussie Vans 2016: Zone RV Z-20.6 Off-Road

By: Philip Lord, Photography by: Ellen Dewar, Nathan Jacobs


New kid on the block Zone RV makes a stellar first impression with its Z-20.6 Off-Road.

While many caravan manufacturers are adopting elements of new technology to build their vans, none appears to have done as much as Queensland’s Zone RV to incorporate high-tech design and manufacturing processes into the build of its caravans.

The results of AL-KO Best Aussie Vans’ (BAV) debutante Zone RV’s investment in technology can be plainly seen in its BAV contender, the Z-20.6 Off-Road.

The drawbar is the first thing you notice – at first glance, it looks bent like a banana – surely that can’t be right, you’d think. Yet this drawbar is no mistake – it’s the result of hours of CAD testing stress points and finding the best way of ensuring good ground clearance (especially at the crucial point just past the drawbar) while also putting the hitch at the appropriate height. It’s gusseted and plated at crucial stress points, and all tested on computer simulation as is common practice in the motoring industry. The drawbar has two jockey wheel clamps as the van comes with a hydraulic jack, giving a couple of drawing lifting options.

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The underbody doesn’t have any plumbing or wires hanging down (although I thought the tank outlet pipes could perhaps have been routed a little closer to the chassis), and the tanks have solid checkerplate protection.

The suspension is as sophisticated as you’ll find on a caravan – in fact, it’s similar to what high-end luxury SUV manufacturers, such as Range Rover, use. The Vehicle Components Cruisemaster XT independent setup has lower trailing A-arms with tandem shocks per wheel and air springs.

PUSHING BOUNDARIES

Having gained a reputation for pushing the boundaries of design, Zone RV pushes even further with its 100 per cent ‘timberless’ caravan. If you like a bit of structural timber in your caravan, you won’t find any in the Z-20.6 Off-Road. All cabinetry is aluminium-framed with a 2mm aluminium composite panel finish. Again, it’s all designed and modelled on computer and then CNC-cut. Polyurethane glue bonds the structure.

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Another element of Zone RV’s design philosophy is to build the van as a monocoque structure. While it isn’t strictly a monocoque design – 6in chassis rails makes that pretty obvious – the company didn’t want to rely on a heavy, beefed-up chassis as the van’s sole source of strength. Instead, the floor and body share the load.

The 35mm vacuum infused floor, for example, gives structural strength so that 150kg of steel can be taken out of the chassis. Again, this has all been tested by computer simulation then again during actual testing.

The Z-20.6 Off-Road doesn’t have a frame and it doesn’t need one. The walls and roof are fibreglass composite that are bonded together. All are CNC-cut, again using a CAD, to ensure precise matching of the components.

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All these measures help to save weight and, at 2690kg Tare, the Z-20.6 Off-Road is very light for a van of its size and with its features – an increasingly important factor these days. The 810kg payload is a realistic, and generous, one; again, not always the case with a van like this. It gives you around 400kg to play with once the water tanks are full.

The Zone RV approach to wiring is ahead of the pack, too. The company gets plug-and-play looms made up so there’s far less opportunity for wiring problems and any factory electrical options you want fitted later on do not need wiring routed though the van – it’s already there in the loom. All that’s required is to find the junction point and plug in the new equipment.

While ‘streamlined’ and ‘caravan’ are words that don’t usually go well together, Zone RV has made a supreme effort to smooth the blunt edges of its vans to help them slip through the air under tow, rather than bludgeon their way through behind the tow vehicle.

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Grey Raptor coat protects the lower panels from stone damage, and breaks up the gloss white of the rest of the exterior.

External storage is well catered for, with large twin toolboxes mounted on the drawbar, and a tunnel boot extending through from the nearside to the offside.

Pleasingly, there’s an external stainless steel kitchen that slides out of the nearside hatch, giving vanners cooking options aplenty while out on the road. The opposing offside hatch is for storage and there’s also nearside hatch at mid-point down the van that is primarily intended to house the TV/audio system. In this lockable, dust-sealed compartment, there’s also the master control for the Vehicle Components air suspension and a two-pole 240V outlet and one 12V accessory port.

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On the offside is a hatch to allow better airflow for the fridge when at camp – a simple but clever addition.

The rear bumper supports the spare wheel and there’s a pair of MAXTRAX secured to the rear wall that comes as an optional upgrade in case you do need to recover the van offroad. It’s a small but welcome feature. There’s also a ladder secured on the back for roof access, as well as two jerry can holders.

On the offside, behind the wheel set, there are brass inlets for water to fill the tanks. The Z-20.6 Off-Road can pump in creek water if you’re running low when bush camping.

STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD

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While the internal layout is fairly conventional, with a front island bed, centre kitchen/cafe dinette and rear bathroom, the overall impression upon entering the Z-20.6 Off-Road is of a well-proportioned, stylish and extremely well put-together caravan.

There are a few neat features in the bedroom that really make it stand out. The first is the nooks on each side of the bed near the bedhead; there’s enough room to store your reading material and reading glasses but also there’s a two-pole 240V outlet and 12V accessory port to keep your devices charged. Under the bed is your typical storage space, but here in the Zone RV there are two cloth bags to store clothes and the like with press-studs to keep them in place. You can remove them to pack your gear at home and simply clip them in position in the van. How good is that?

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The Z-20.6 Off-Road’s kitchen has the one thing that many vans do not – a decent amount of free bench space. You could leave the cooktop glass cover closed to allow even more space while preparing food but, even with it open, you won’t have to resort to using the dinette table to chop the veggies unless you’re preparing a five-course feast. There’s a TV mount between the kitchen and bedroom so you can while away your cooking time watching TV. The only downfall in the kitchen is the microwave position – like so many vans, it’s positioned too high up to be safe when removing hot liquids from it.

The dinette, opposite the reasonably wide walkway from the kitchen, is one of the few such set-ups that you genuinely have seating space to fit four people. But, as so often happens with this layout design, the wheel arch eats into floor space so legroom is limited at the nearside wall. Plenty of power is available here – there is a brace of three 12V ports (including two-port USB outlets) and a two-pole 240V outlet plus the head unit for the audio system.

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The bathroom has ample room to move, something you can’t always count on even in a 20.6ft van like this. The 2kg washing machine is mounted at a good access height but you can’t get to it straight on easily as the cassette toilet gets in the way.

Bush camping won’t present any difficulties for this van, with its enormous 400L water capacity, three 120Ah AGM batteries and 400W of solar. You’d run out of perishable food before anything, but then there’s enough room (and certainly enough power) to run a portable fridge if you wanted to.

THE BOTTOM LINE

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The Zone RV Z-20.6 Off-Road has very clearly been built using a high degree of engineering know-how and the result is a light van (for its size) that is strong and extremely well put together. It also incorporates incredibly smart, forward-thinking features (such as the fridge vent hatch and the clothes storage bags) and a generous 810kg payload that set it apart from other vans.

MEASURING UP

Pros…

  • Thoughtful engineering
  • Light weight
  • Clothes hampers
  • Fridge vent hatch

Cons…

  • Excessive use of screw/fastener wall covers
  • Main switch location

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