With exceptional bang for your buck, the Design RV was a strong finalist at BAV 2019

With exceptional bang for your buck on a back-to-basics package, the Design RV Forerunner is a fantastic entry-level blacktop van.

TIM VAN DUYL

Design RV are one of the newest brands in the busy caravan marketplace but unlike some that vanish as fast as they spring up, they are here to stay. The reason I say this so confidently is the heritage that supports the brand behind the scenes. Built with oversight from professionals at Essential Caravans, there is over 35 years’ experience in the design and manufacturing process backing this affordability and quality driven brand.

At Best Aussie Vans 2019, we invited the Forerunner, a 7m bodied black-top tourer that is built for a couple looking for the essentials to stay away for a few days at a time, but at an affordable price. With a Thetford stove, NCE TV, washer and microwave, reversing camera, 190L Dometic fridge, Ibis-4 AC, 160w solar and 100amp/hr plus much more, most of us would expect a price tag around $70,000 but the Forerunner will surprise at only $57,990 ex Victoria. It is a bargain and it seems the judges thought as much too, scoring it equal for Best Value for Money across all comers, not just in its sub $65k category.

How it is built so affordably is down to its simplicity. There are no groundbreaking construction methods or oversized off road tyres, this is a van built simply — and well it seems, with our judges scoring it a commendable 7.2/10 for Build Quality.

So keen are the people behind Design RV to see it well represented at Best Aussie Vans that we welcomed Founder and Managing Director David Wilson to Inverloch to talk us through the brand, its goals and the build details. David was forthcoming on all aspects of the company, from their use of the buying power Essential brings to the belief in the caravan of the good old days, the affordable ma and pa road tourer to be proud of. Judging by the response from the public at our Showcase, there is not a lot left wanting from prospective buyers.

JOHN FORD

The Design RV team stakes its reputation on value for money and delivers with this feature-packed blacktop tourer for two, which rings up the cash register as equal cheapest in the competition. For $57,990, the Forerunner is a 6m (20ft) van with a roomy layout that includes a full-width ensuite and a kitchen with a usable 190L Dometic fridge, a gas/electric cooktop and microwave.

Most couples will be happy with the standard inclusions, but there is massive competition in this sector of the market, with several entry-level vans around this price. The Design RV appeals through a contemporary and well-finished feeling both inside and out that add to its value proposition.

A three-year warranty on the parts manufactured by Design RV suggests a strong belief in the product but needs to be tempered by a clearly stated requirement that the van is strictly for blacktop touring. Service intervals at six months for the first two services and then annually seem reasonable to comply with warranty. The company claims to react quickly to any problems, and help customers deal with problems with appliances and so on, even though their written warranty document appears to have some loopholes. They have a dedicated warranty team and claim to go beyond their legal obligations. Anecdotal evidence seems to support this and as a result of our questions, the company is reviewing their written document. In our discussions about this issue they made it clear they understand Australian Consumer Law trumps anything written in their warranty.

At 2330kg the van was 133kg over the stated Tare weight, but no problem for the Holden Trailblazer. ATM is 2750kg, so still legal for the Holden when fully loaded and ball weight of 180kg was only 10kg over the claimed specification. The van sat steadily on the 50mm ball during the test without any banging. A rearview camera is a standard feature, and it makes keeping an eye on the following traffic straightforward.

Like all the lighter vans on review, the wind was an issue over exposed sections of the road, and the Design RV was buffeted by stronger gusts. In parts of the way not affected by the wind, the Forerunner tracked smoothly and without pitch or yaw.

MALCOLM STREET

Design RV’s Forerunner has an external length of 6.2m (20ft 6in) and is built using a Meranti timber frame with aluminium composite cladding. Both the floor and roof are one-piece items. Even though the van is not an off-road model, black alloy checkerplate covers the lower wall areas.

Eurovision double glazed acrylic windows are fitted all round and there’s a security screen for the habitation door. Built into the van body is a front tunnel storage and a small bin at the offside rear.

The van rides on tandem axle load sharing leaf spring suspension which is well suited to the on-road caravan. 100mm x 50mm (4in x 2in) RHS is used for the main rails and the drawbar on the galvanised chassis. Galvanised sheet protected water tanks are fitted on both sides of the axles, giving a reasonable towing balance. Although the cabling and pipework was mostly strapped up out of the way, there were a couple of areas where it could have been neater and easier to trace out in the event of a problem. All the electrical and gas fitting is done by outside contractors. CNC cut plywood used for all the internal cabinetry, as well as the one-piece floor.

Both a 100AH deep cycle battery and 160W solar are fitted as standard features, with the battery being located under the front bed. Those are controlled by a BMPRO Battery Plus35, a handy battery management system that includes a 20A multi-stage charger. As with many a caravan these days, LED light fittings were in all the right places and strip lights were also used effectively. Power point locations were generally okay, although the 240V GPO and USB hubs under the table were a bit fiddly to get at.

Generally speaking the fit and finish was quite good even down to things like sealant used around the internal roof timber edges. Outside, the lack of J mould on the lower rear edges is designed to prevent water ingress.

VIV AND RON MOON

The Design RV is classified as an on-road van and while it has a seemingly reasonable warranty, that only covers the van for bitumen roads. For touring this wide brown land that seems highly restrictive, stopping people even going to such close-in places as Arkaroola in the northern Flinders Ranges in SA, free camping along the Buckland River in NE Victoria, or a host of other places in Australia that are just a few kilometres off the blacktop.

The leaf sprung solid axle suspension performed reasonably well over the lumpy bitumen that we subjected it to, but we noticed the rock and roll of the van from side to side and a touch of ‘ball slap’ from the tow coupling.

Even if you stuck to the blacktop you’d want to fit an optional grey water tank to this van to be able to make use of the free camps that proliferate around the continent or even nearby in your home state. Most councils frown on grey water being dumped on their parklands and footy ovals, so a grey water tank is near essential.

So as a touring van we only rated this unit as fair to good, appealing to those who will stick to the blacktop, first time buyers or those on a strict budget.

As far as self sufficiency goes the Design RV van has a couple of 95-litre water tanks, a 105AH battery backed up by a 160W solar panel to keep it charged. Two 9kg gas bottles will keep the hot water flowing, the stove burning and the 3-way fridge/freezer doing its thing for a fair amount of time.

Talking of the 3-way Fridge, it’s a 190-litre Dometic unit which will keep enough of your beer cold and the salad crisp for a stay of a few days before you need to look for a resupply. Combine that with good storage space elsewhere in the van and bench space to cut veggies and the like, and you have the makings of being pleasantly self sufficient for a lazy few days.

MATT WILLIAMS

Without a shadow of a doubt, the major drawcard for the Design RV Forerunner is its low cost. The team from Essential Caravans have opted for a package that squeezes in a well credentialed standard features list at a very attractive price point.

Starting at $57 990, the Forerunner is an entry level van offering value for money, but still with the ability to customise further if required.

Being an entry level van, there’s every chance that the design and construction will play a rather traditional tune, with groundbreaking innovation and technology not likely to be utilised.

That is indeed the case with the Forerunner, where a ply lined meranti frame and a single piece plywood floor sit atop a galvanised box chassis with leaf spring suspension.

However, the ultra modern look of a metallic silver aluminium composite exterior, with crisp decals gives this van a fresh look on road.

And on road is where this van is designed to be towed (and warranted). So don’t get mislead by the lower sections being trimmed in aluminium checkerplate, which is normally reserved for vans that will hit the gravel more often than not.

While on the subject of the aluminium checkerplate, I did like how it wraps around the bottom. By removing the standard J-mould, you effectively remove the chance of water ingress and damage around the bottom of the frame.

Inside, the Forerunner also follows a traditional floor plan with entry via a rear door. The queen bed takes pride of place at the front of the van, the kitchen/dinette reside in the middle while the toilet/ensuite runs full width across the back.

Contemporary styled interiors have taken their cues from the domestic housing industry, with hard wearing and easily cleaned finishes used throughout. Big windows either side of the bed provide plenty of light and ventilation. As the windows are fitted with midgee-proof screens, the air con would only get called up for duty on the hottest of nights.

There’s an impressive amount of storage available both inside and out. So much so, that you might have to leave a few things at home due to the Forerunner only having a stated payload of 430kg.

With only one in five Forerunner vans being upgraded over the standard package (with the two most common upgrades being ESC and gas heating), the crew from Essential Caravans have got a well priced van that is going to suit a lot of newcomers to the RV game straight out of the box.

John FordMalcolm StreetViv MoonRon MoonMatt Williams
VALUE FOR MONEY8.578.08.08.58.00
TOWABILITY7.065.55.07.06.10
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING7.077.05.08.06.80
BUILD QUALITY7.07.57.07.07.57.20
LIVEABILITY7.56.57.59.07.57.60
CUSTOMER CARE7.06.53.53.07.05.40
SELF-SUFFICIENCY6.06.56.56.07.06.40
INNOVATION6.067.56.05.06.10
X-FACTOR6.06.56.06.55.06.00
Totals62.059.558.555.562.5
JUDGES AVERAGE59.6

HOLDEN HAULED — Ged Bulmer

Fuel Consumption 17.4L/100km

Tow rating 3.5/5

Purely by coincidence we concluded our test day with the lightest van on test, the Forerunner Design RV, which tipped the scales at just 2330kg, some 630kg lighter than our heaviest contender. However, at 180kg the Forerunner’s ball weight placed it mid-field in this metric.

Whether it was the fact we could see the finish line after a long day of towing, or that like a horse that sees its home paddock the Trailblazer pinned its ears back, this combination set a scintillating circuit average of 70.9km/h. This was far and away ahead of the next fastest average speed of 62.5km/h, and some 25km/h faster than the slowest contender. No doubt the lighter tare made a difference, but the weight difference between the Forerunner and the next lightest van was only 89kg, which doesn’t adequately explain the 20km/h speed difference between the two. Suffice to say the Forerunner felt so comfortable behind the Trailblazer that it was the first van at which 100km/h felt to be a safe and comfortable towing speed.

Countering this observation were some adverse stability-related comments from judges who towed the same van earlier in the day, indicating that the late afternoon wind conditions may have favoured it. The phenomenon of wind speed dropping as the earth cools in the early evening is well documented, so it’s entirely possible this factor helped the Forerunner’s cause.

Regardless, we can only report what we experienced, which was a modest amount of trailer pendulum-effect and the related adverse handling impacts, which afflicted all combinations to varying degrees. Despite an impressive turn of speed this combination still sipped diesel with modest frugality of 17.4L/100km, which placed it roughly mid field in this regard.

SPECS

WEIGHTS AND MEASUREMENTS

Overall length: 7.9m (25ft 11in)

External body length: 6.1m (20ft)

External body width: 2.45m (8ft)

Travel height: 2.95m (9ft 8in)

Interior height: 1.98m (6ft 6in)

Tare: 2220kg

ATM: 2720kg

Payload: 400kg (optional upgrade)

Ball weight: 170kg

EXTERNAL

Frame: Meranti timber internal wall frame

Cladding: Aluminium composite

Chassis: Galvanised box frame

Suspension: Leaf spring

Coupling: 50mm AL-KO hitch

Brakes: 10in drum

Wheels: 205/75/R15 light truck alloys

Water: 2 x 95L (fresh)

Battery: 100Ah AGM

Solar: 160W

Air-conditioner: Ibis 4

Gas: 2 x 9kg

Sway control: Optional

INTERNAL

Cooking: Recessed Thetford mini grill — gas and electric

Fridge: 190L Dometic RMDX21

Microwave: NCE Stainless 23L

Bathroom: Dometic porcelain bowl toilet and shower (optional external shower)

Washing machine: NCE 3.2kg top-loader

Hot water: Swift 28L

OPTIONS FITTED

No options fitted

PRICE AS SHOWN

$57,990 on road, Vic

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