Zone RV ZF-18.6 Off Road: Review

By: Tim van Duyl, Photography by: Jack Murphy, Video by: Cam Innis


We put Zone RV’s new offroader to the ultimate test in remote Cape York.

SEA CHANGE

Offroad caravans are in vogue. Head to any showroom or event and the swing to high clearance, off-grid capable vans is obvious. Talk to salespeople and they will confirm what you see – the market wants more capable caravans. Zone RV knows this and continue to expand its offering, having moved aggressively into the segment only two years ago.

The ZF-18.6, like all Zone RVs, is made using single-piece closed-cell composite panels for all sides and even the floor, which also gets a fancy polymer infusion for more strength again. We have covered the revolutionary system at length before but its value cannot be understated. With each panel a single piece, with CNC-cut openings for all fittings, the risk of water and dust ingress is practically all but removed. Add in being lightweight, fire resistant and patch repairable and you really do have the new standard for caravan construction.

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The standard ZF-18.6 uses a RHS DuraGal steel chassis. It can be optioned to be hot-dip galvanised version once assembled but the standard Raptor coat, the same as seen on the lower edges of the caravan itself, offers a good additional amount of corrosion prevention over the DuraGal. It is hard wearing, hence the five-year warranty, and aesthetically clean.

The drawbar on our test van was lengthened, which raised a few eyebrows on arrival. We all know longer drawbars reduce clearance when articulating up and down but the extra length made space for a Thule bike rack, massive front boot and optional firewood rack; looking back at the trip, I would option the same.

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A DO-35 hitch took care of keeping movement smooth while a massive stoneguard kept the leading edge mark free.

Walking around the outside, the look of the ZF-18.6 is clearly well considered. Colour use and texture through the Raptor coating and pale greys look modern and restrained; it won't draw too much attention but when you do look, you will be impressed. One of the most interesting options sits up top of the van. Peeking on the roof via the optional rear ladder you can glimpse the 4G mobile phone booster, a bit of tech I had no experience with but soon appreciated. Effectively it picks up and boosts signal around the caravan making it a popular spot for travellers who know as much.

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On the underside, plumbing is tidy and tucked away around the triple 100L water tanks (two are standard, one is optional) and 100L grey tank but the standout is the optional ATX airbag suspension from Vehicle Components. As standard, the ZF-18.6 will ride on XT Coil springs but our van had the book thrown at it, so to speak. Ride height adjustable through simple switches found tucked away under the body near the wheel arch, the system is great for levelling the caravan at your camp spot but also for when traversing particularly tough terrain. Running the ZF through dust bowls and at speed over some of the Cape's finest corrugations never unsettled the caravan or car, it worked flawlessly.

Probably my favourite option is the Weber and sink pull-out. I have to admit, I appreciate them on all caravans not only for keeping cooking smells away from sleeping areas but also for their ability to bring people together. A good barbecue attracts friends, and sharing the experience under the Dometic 5200mm awning and Bat Wing wrap-around is my kind of way to spend an evening. Clearly, the team at Zone agree as LEDs feature yellow lighting and there are ample AV options lest you yearn for cricket or some Kenny Loggins.

HITTING THE TRACKS

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Our trip had a singular goal, test the ZF-18.6 to its limits and possibly beyond. We are not irresponsible so planned to avoid low-hanging branches and 2m drop-offs but we were not going to hold back, where we could. Fearless trip leader and Cape York veteran Dan Everett of sister publication Camper fame planned our journey. We were to meet in Cairns, head straight to Cape Tribulation, head further north, veer east to Elim, back west to Laura, up to Weipa and on to the tip across the Jardine through the towns of Bamaga and Seisia. Being there to represent Camper meant the roads north included the Old Telegraph Track, one of the most famous and challenging paths in Australia. We had 12 days to find out what the ZF-18.6 could really do.

THE COMFORT INN

Wow. If the specification, construction and external styling didn’t impress you enough, wait ‘til you step inside a Zone RV. We at Caravan World have known for a long time that Zone RV is a leader in interior detailing, styling and using only the finest options for appliances and fittings and nothing has changed with this Off Road Family range.

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Walking up to the ZF-18.6 the internal layout was obvious, a front centre door sits neatly beside a large through-boot and map table and looking at the small and high-set rear hatch, the bathroom is to the back. With the airbags deflated for a low stance, in we stepped.

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Immediately to your left is an east-west double. Not everyone's favourite bed layout, but it does allow for better space use in the 18.6ft and with bunks to be found, good space utilisation is a welcome feature. Ahead is the lounge, which converts to overflow bedding and opposite it, the kitchen. Complete with lightweight composite benchtop, the style is clean with white and various accents of grey. Overhead cabinets are set back to reduce head knocks and house a Samsung microwave as well as control systems. A nice touch to the cabinets are the rounded handles that will not snag when walking past as well as a good sized oven and stove top.

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Opposite the kitchen, separating the bunks from the galley is a 190L Dometic fridge/freezer while a reverse cycle air-conditioner lives overhead. It does creep into the headroom a touch but at 1.98m it won't impact many. At the rear of the caravan are twin bunks that suit children best with a robe built between them and the bathroom. Although only an 18.6 footer, the bathroom features separate shower and toilet which, when you think of the four fixed beds, size of the lounge and appliances, is a good effort. It is well ventilated and has around 1.85m headroom and quality tapware.

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Standard throughout the layout are power and USB charging points everywhere you look as well as fans for the bunks and bright LEDs. The end result is a beautiful modern finish with everything a young travelling family needs.

THE BOTTOM LINE

There is no denying the ZF-18.6 is a true offroader. With Vehicle Components’ excellent XT Air suspension, decent standard water storage and powerful solar cells, it stands to reason that with planning, you and your closest family could easily head off grid, but what stands out more is how the team continued the level of sophistication and quality from its earlier offroad models. The ZF-18.6 could be the perfect caravan for the modern Australian traveller.

HITS AND MISSES

Pros...

  • Sophisticated luxury 
  • Strong construction
  • 1010kg payload

Cons...

  • Wait times (sold-out until August 2018)
  • Option heavy

Weights and measures

  • Overall length 8.2m (26ft 11in)
  • External body length 5.64m (18ft 6in)
  • External body width 2.5m (8ft 2in)
  • Travel height 3.1m (10ft 2in)
  • Internal height 1.98m (6ft 6in)
  • Tare 2390kg             
  • ATM 3500kg        
  • Payload 1010kg (calculated)
  • Ball weight 185kg

Price as shown

$143,025 (from $117,900)

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #572. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!