If there is a more sophisticated off-road caravan built anywhere in the world, I’d be very surprised. Since being purchased by technophile Bruce Loxton, the already popular Kimberley Kampers brand has been at the forefront of camper and caravan technology – first innovating how much power can be carried in a camper, then transforming how we can get it to our caravans utilising advanced solar, fuel cells, and more recently, lithium batteries. The Toyota Prado-friendly new single-axle Kruiser S-Class is the pinnacle of that development.
A scaled down version of the longer, dual axle Kruiser models, the new caravan is actually better equipped (in standard S1 form) than the equivalent bigger brother (Kruiser Classic), for $10,050 less. For 90-large, you get independent air suspension with Fox shock absorbers, 260-litres of water tanks (three of them), 220W of super thin solar panels on the roof and 120Ah of lithium batteries, over and above anything else you’d expect on an every day caravan. If you start looking at the top-spec S3 there’s 480Ah of lithium, 480W of solar and a 2.0kW ducted diesel-heating system. Nothing is forgotten.
But according to Loxton, it wasn’t just a matter of making the Kruiser shorter and losing an axle. He told us it was an exercise in weight reduction and perseverance to create the van and make it light enough to accommodate a decent payload, yet still keep it legal behind a Prado. “It got to the point where the engineer and I were weighing every component on some scales to find small gains that would add up,” says Loxton.
A large portion of weight was saved in the S’s composite chassis. The chassis is built from hot dipped galvanised steel. The sub-frame, which supports the floor and accessories, is alloy. The whole lot has been two-piece riveted together, much like you see on aircrafts. According to Loxton, the chassis of this 18-foot Kruiser is nearly the same weight as the all steel, 17ft Karavan’s. Weight isn’t the only advantage, according to Loxton, the chassis is rigid enough to maintain on-road composure, but flexible enough to weather knocks associated with off-road towing.
Interestingly, Kimberley never considered offering the Kruiser with a coil spring option. Loxton tells me it would be too harsh and too kangarooey. Instead, the independent air suspension with monotube shock absorbers and an anti-sway bar is standard across all models. There’s a great deal of technical information about it’s vibration frequencies and shock absorption compared to coils on the Kruiser website, which I’ll leave up to you to delve into. I’ll just say that it’s excellent that the ride height of the Kruiser can be adjusted; that it can be levelled out at campsites by dropping or raising one side and comes with a spare bag in case one punctures (which I’m told is unlikely).
On road, the van tows exceptionally well. Not only does the air suspension soak up bumps well, but also it buffers the van well against strong crosswinds (70km/h on our drive). Off-road it’s just as good and I am really grateful for the high rear clearance over a few washouts into the Wollondilly River Station campsite we choose. In fact, around the campfire later on, Peter Hands, one of the Kimberley dealers and a true gentleman of the caravan industry, comments on how confident I seemed coming down the long, steep, winding hill into Wollondilly. I would never have been so, if the van weren’t so stable behind me.
Kimberley also had to move the bed 200mm forward to accommodate the single axle and keep the balance of weight right. The solution was the new nose-cone, which is a single piece fibreglass moulding imported from overseas. According to Loxton it has also improved the aerodynamics of the van (and in our opinion, made it look less like a horse float). The leading edge is actually designed to sit at the roof height and width of a Prado, so that air flows directly over and around it. The internal mould of the nose is 25kg lighter than the outgoing version.
The floorplan is sensible and spacious. The queen sized bed tucks into the front nose cone, forward of the door. Right at the back is a full width ensuite with a decent shower cubicle, sink and cassette toilet. As an optional upgrade, it can be replaced with a waterless, composting toilet. Not sure you should be emptying it onto your veggie patch, though.
The kitchen and dining area is spacious and airy – partly due to the lack of a tall fridge to take away bench space but mostly because of the frameless panoramic windows that stretch along much of the van’s length at both sides.
The kitchen is simple in looks, but well designed. There are no cupboards, only drawers, so accessing the storage space is much easier in the narrow corridor. The solid-surface bench top features a stainless steel sink and diesel cooktop, which, with now gas appliances inside, means there’s no need for gas compliance venting and as a result, no dust ingress. In fact, so well sealed is the body, that the door is hard to open as it needs a solid shove against the seals to help release the latch. Under the bench you’ll find a microwave and the main control panel for the vehicle’s electrical system, including a touch screen monitor most services.
A second kitchen outside the van opens up possibilities. It slides out from under the internal dinette and features a two-burner gas stove, large wok burner and in the S2 and S3 models a Weber Baby Q or hooded barbeque. It’s certainly more effective and functional than a gas bayonet screwed to the chassis somewhere.
If we are to criticize anything, it’s the fiddliness of the awning, even though I think the awning is excellent. To increase aerodynamics, it has been intergrated into the caravan’s body and rolls out of a letterbox style flap. Three curved bars support it, although they are kept in the front boot and the canvas needs to be pulled over four clips to locate it. It requires a little muscle, that some will have to develop. We also found that it needs to be carefully pulled over the outside bars at the caravan end or it slips off them. A compact, folding ladder came in handy. Some small loops at the offending point, fitted to the awning so we could use the winder hook to pull it over the bar would be a simple fix.
Put to Loxton, he agrees there are easier to use awnings, but is adamant that this is still the best option for the Kruiser. “We could fit an easier to use awning, but there is no way it could handle the sort of wind this one can,” he says. “It might be more marketable, but like everything, we are for true off-road, and this is what this product is for.”
The Kruiser does seem expensive, but really, if you measure it against its peers, it is still excellent value with the sort of quality and attention to detail that is lacking in the caravan industry at large.
To sum up, these new Kruisers are the result of a technical mind applied to a simplified existence. There is more electro-trickery packed into this van than most modern houses, yet it still encourages outside living, while the confidence of its pedigree will inspire people to travel into more remote areas and experience more of Australia.
View the full gallery of images here