Squeezing more into a confined space is an art form. Many would opt to make the given space larger – an easy approach!
Others tackle the problem head on, perhaps concede a few limitations, but work within those restrictions to provide what customers want.
The Jayco Expanda is the epitome of the later; a small(er) compact, some say ‘nuggety looking’ van while in travel mode, but expansive, ‘longer-than-it-looks’ and even ‘Tardis -like’ when set up.
Indeed; we’ve had fellow campers, non caravanners and seasoned veterans – they’re the ones with the leather-like skin – comment that
“nah mate, this thing can’t be a seveneen anna ‘arf footer”… ‘it’d be more like a tweny oner… let’s pace her out eh”.
Of course, no amount of pacing and repacing by those seasoned ol’ fellas will see them concede they’re down right wrong…
“me strides musta shrunk kido”
… I love old timers’ excuses!
Anyway, this van on review is indeed only 17’ 6” in travel mode, but does expand out another few feet either end with both front and rear beds set up. Perhaps adding to the optical illusion of size, or lack thereof, is the fact that it’s also a pop top. With the top down, this Tardis-like contraption only reaches 2.455 high on the measuring stick – not much higher than the 4WD roof racks.
Now, I dunno about you, but while it’s great to have all the mod-cons and that roomy feel inside a van, I would rather be hauling a shorter and lower van as possible about our great country side. Sure, this won’t be every one’s cup of tea… having to pop the roof and set the bed ends up… but for some, it ticks a damn lot of boxes and it only takes a few minutes to execute.
Adding to the huge internal package, I’m reckoning most would say I’ve flipped one too many pancakes if I said this van sleeps six – easily! Yep six full sized bodies and that’s not going down the route of the hassle of using the dining table to slap two pint sized bodies on. No siree; let’s do the count… two in the front fold down double bed, two in the rear fold down double bed and two in the bunks… yep, you have to set the two double sized beds up, but man-o-man what a win-win for all those who want to go compact combined with having more than the national average of 2.4 kids.
Ok, this is where I’m gunna let out a little secret; I have 4 rug rats, plus a wife (only the one) and I’ve been looking around for heaven-knows-too-long for the perfect van for my mob. My criteria was for the van to be as small (short and low) as possible and had to be able to sleep all of us without utilising the dining table. As much as I looked, researched, had custom vans scaled up on CAD, I just couldn’t find anything else that could compete with the Jayco Expanda.
And then there was the price: oh my, there are some high prices in the caravanning industry! Now, I’ll happily admit there are more robust, more offroad orientated and more well-appointed vans available, but mentioning some of the prices to my dear wife was grounds for being left outside in the swag. The Expanda pricing, on the other hand, was at least given the nod and allowed me back inside to enjoy the reverse cycle air-conditioning… something no swag can compete with!
Expanding on my little secret, I’ve been looking and wanting to buy my first van for a while (stepping up from camper trailers) and settled on the Expanda you see here. Given I actually own this van, I will spend a lot more time in it than usual test vans and will get feedback from four kids and a happy wife, that makes this review a little unique.
We opted for the Outback version; not because we wanted to evoke irreparable damage while hauling it to Cape York, nor risk bouncing it over rash inducing boulders that would see even serious 4WDs belly out. Rather, we wanted to be able to travel the lesser graded remote roads, pull off to the sides of those back block tracks for a free camp and venture to the slightly harder to reach places… as well as obviously the more easily accessible National Parks and caravan parks. So far, the Expanda is ticking every box and I fully expect it may have to be left at some places while we tackle more extreme 4WD scenic areas.
Probably like most husband and wife teams; I rejoiced the decision for Jayco to turn towards independent, trailing arm suspension with coils and shocks, while the fairer half couldn’t give a damn about it. She did however like the interior facilities and layout… which I just nodded and said I loved her colour choices. That running gear, Jayco gave it the fancy name of ‘Jtech’, was just one of the improvements over the older models that I figured would make the rougher roads kinder to the overall van buy not shaking the living daylights out of it. The Jtech suspension features Pedders offroad shock absorbers set at a decent upright slant (not laying almost flat out horizontal like some others) combined with an internal Aeon rubber spring within the metal coil spring to help aid in the progressiveness of the suspension during compression. This rubber also acts as a bump stop, plus a limiting strap is attached top and bottom to the shock to avoid over extension. The suspension is adjustable for toe in/out and camber to ensure wheel alignment is correct. While I’m not sure of the weight saving (if any) and the overall increase of suspension movement (if any), I reckon it’ll give a smoother ride on corrugations and potholes.
While we’re underneath, the galvanised 150 x 50mm ‘Endurance chassis’ and 125 x 50mm draw bar bear the weight of the ‘Tough Frame’ of five layer vacuum bonded fibreglass and plywood walls which are packed with high density polystyrene foam for insulation. It’s claimed the outer fibreglass walls are hail resistant… time will tell if they can stand the test of my four kids belting them with the cricket ball and dropping the push bike handles against them.
AL-KO offroad brakes are wrapped with fancy 15-inch alloy rims shod with 235/75R15 off road orientated LT rated tyres to provide good overall ground clearance on par with most… so long as you don’t look at the ridiculously low-slung spare wheel set partially below the draw bar. The positioning needs at least one of the LPG bottles to be removed to access the wheel in the event of a flat tyre. Why oh why did you do that Jayco?
The tyres are filled with Nitrogen (signified by the green dust covers on the valve stems) that supposedly reduce fuel usage, tyre wear and blowouts and improve ride and handling. Now, I’m no scientist, but I can’t see any of these supposed advantages being significant enough to notice, plus, I for one won’t be refilling with Nitrogen come pump up time in the bush. Plain ol’ free ‘air’ will do for me.
Getting back to the brakes, this van is also fitted with an AL-KO electronic stability control system which is a brilliantly simple safety device. Basically, if the van starts to sway, the stability control system partially applies the van brakes to pull it back into line and then releases the brakes. I figure that if it saves the van and my family just once, it was worth the extra outlay of cash.
While this van is an ‘Outback’ model, it’s only been fitted with a standard 50mm ball coupling. The only options we were given at sale time were the ball or a polyblock coupling, which I wasn’t interested in. Never fear; that ball coupling will get changed and featured in an upcoming issue along with a few other mods I’ve got planned.
Twin gas bottles, twin 82L water tanks and twin 100 amp hour deep cycle batteries were all opted for to help with those remote stopovers. The120 watt roof mounted solar panel is a standard fitment and much appreciated to help keep the battery bank charged. Also perched up on the roof is a Denso reverse cycle air conditioner… ah the luxuries not found in any of my camper trailers or old swags!
This particular size van came with two floor layout options; one with a shower and toilet and one without, which gains extra storage and benchtop space. We opted for no dunny and shower cubicle, figuring we’d use the amenities while at parks and use the optional outside hot and cold shower system combined with a pop up tent if needed for a quick scrub. The extra internal space is a boon for us… ever seen how much space clothes, shoes and toys for 6 people take up?
Being an Outback model, it cops the fancy black checker plate to enhance the rugged ‘look’ of the whole package. That combined with the extra-large wheel arches evoke that go-anywhere attitude… although I’ll not be pushing the limits too much.
Inside, besides the ability to sleep 6, the kitchen sports a four burner (3 gas and one electric) cooktop and griller, plus a microwave to enable nuking your dinner while on 240V. Hand and mains pressure taps draw from the dual water tanks and levels are monitored via a Drifter control panel which also keeps track of the two 12 V batteries. This particular system also tells us how much power is going into the batteries (via the solar panels) as well as how much is going out and an estimated time till flat.
All lighting (inside and out) are LEDs, so draw little from the power reserves. The interior dome lights allow for white or blue outputs… I’m hoping ‘blue’ sends the kids to sleep quick smart. I’d reckon the lack of curtains around the bunks will work against us, so we’ll add them soon… so we can veg out child free for a couple of hours before hitting the sack.
All windows feature push out tinted double glazed windows with inbuilt roller blinds. I reckon the system is beaut being able to choose from mesh, blind or part of each… but struggle to see them lasting long with my little boys’ non-angelic touch. Time will tell. Same goes for the week plastic hooks that the bed end curtains run on – one broke first tug by number two child. A piece of fencing wire will toughen it up a little!
Given the small(er) van size, the bench top space is limited, so it’ll be a balancing act to cook, prepare and serve grub each meal time. I expect that many meals will be served outside; that way I don’t have to clean up the bamboo look vinyl flooring!
While most bedding can be left in situ when packing up the two end beds, some will need removing (pillows) and some does slide around a little, but that’s one of the limitations we conceded to keep the overall length down. More of a limitation is the lack of head room while climbing in and out of these two beds – a bit of care is needed.
At the time of writing, the only trips we’ve completed were a few nights in our acreage backyard to keep the kids happy. Now all we have to do is stock all the extras needed to be further away from home and for a lot longer. Our initial plans for the Expanda are weekenders within a couple of hundred kms from home – pick the kids up from school on Friday arvo, then drop ‘em back Monday morning. Later, we’ll pull them out of school for a term (or two) to really hit the tracks and test the van out.
Make sure you check back in from time to time, as I’ll be making a few custom changes to our Jayco Expanda. The first – relocating that low slung spare wheel and adding bed curtains, but one thing’s for sure, it’ll keep on confusing all those old fellas who can’t come to grips with the fact that their legs have shrunk. I can’t wait to hear more yarns and reasons why the van can’t be as short as it really is.
Model: Expanda 17.56-1 Outback
Body length: 17’ 6” (5.33m)
Travel length: 6.864m
Travel height: 2.655m
Tare weight: 1850kg
Towball weight: 180kg
Price as tested $50,971.90 including extras: external shower, hot water system, extra LPG bottle, extra water tank, extra battery, Drifter control panel, TV and stereo system, wind up antennae, AL-KO stability control.