Couples looking for a simple van that’s easy to tow and park will love this little van from Snowy River.
Snowy River has catered for a touring couple with their smallest model, the SR15. And while it’s a compact touring van, it also fills the needs of most travellers with a comprehensive list of must-have inclusions and more room inside than you might imagine in a fifteen footer.
To be fair, their definition of fifteen feet is a little off the mark, because this smallest van in the Snowy River range measures internally at fifteen feet six inches (4.7m) meaning you get more for your outlay than you bargained.
As Australian as it sounds, the Snowy River brand is an offshoot of sister company Regent Caravans, which has a long history locally. The main components of the van – the chassis and body are built in China under strict quality control from a team recruited from Regent’s hierarchy. The same team designed the layout and developed the unique construction methods that make the Snowy van robust and visually appealing.
Snowy River includes fibreglass clad walls, roof and floor built into a robust monocoque construction. The four walls are fibreglass reinforced composite panels on an internal structure of an aluminium frame and high-density, closed-cell XPS insulation foam, similar to those used in refrigerated trucks. After bonding the walls to a single piece 40mm floor and 32mm roof, again using XPS insulation, the solid and robust integrated body is complete. It is then bolted to a 100mm Duragal steel chassis with 50mm risers and a 150mm A-frame.
The suspension is the well-proven rubber torsion bar system that is used widely in America on the iconic Airstream brand and is also used in many heavy-duty commercial trailers here.
On completion, the bodies are shipped in containers to Melbourne where the fitout is finalised using quality components. All appliances are fitted locally. This includes the finalisation and checking of the electrical wiring to CE certification and plumbing to the Australian Watermark Standard.
Designated as the less than poetic SR15, our test van from Snowy River came with a stark white – let’s say snowy white exterior with some splashes of colour along the sides and a black boot stripe over a 300mm high black checkerplate bottom section. I liked that colour options for the outside walls include mocha and silver, and there is a big list of tones for the graphics to give your van an individual touch. The coloured panels help keep the exterior from looking too boxy, which can be a problem in such a short van, and the overall effect is well balanced and modern.
At the front the streamline entry has a hinged cover over the front window, while the drawbar has a 50mm ball hitch and twin 9kg gas bottles with a storage tray for water hoses, levelling chocks and such. Further along the passenger side is a full-width tunnel boot, the forward entry with three-way security door and fold down step, a picnic table and a four-metre awning covering most of this outside area.
A twin-beam rear bumper has a single spare wheel and, with limited storage options, the rear bar could be upgraded to house a couple of extra toolboxes as long as you were careful with the weight. A reversing camera is standard, and all clearance/traffic lights are large and bright LEDs.
Twin 95L water tanks are located high between the chassis rails, so they are well protected when travelling, as are all the electrics and water lines. A thoughtful touch is the provision of two external battery boxes, even though a single battery is standard. It makes for an easy upgrade if you want more off-grid capability.
Before we step inside, we need to accept that the designers of the interior of a fifteen-foot van face a lot of compromises. You don’t buy a small van because you expect to include all the luxuries and space of home when you travel. A compact van has the benefits of economies of the initial purchase price and ongoing towing costs. It’s easier to tow and doesn’t need a monster truck to get you to your destination.
Owners of small vans embrace a simpler lifestyle, in many ways reminiscent of the 60s vans of a generation or two back. And while there are similarities to an old Chesney in size, the differences are immediately apparent. We now demand an ensuite, ample water for a shower, entertainment system, cooking facilities and a big fridge, a usable dinette, air conditioner and a big comfortable double bed.
That’s a big ask for a space of only ten square metres. It’s like packing your whole house into the spare bedroom, so I take my hat off to the backroom designers who achieve so much with so little.
With all that in mind, I didn’t step into the little Snowy and go “Wow, it’s so roomy”. I did think, though, how remarkable it was to pack so much inside and still achieve a welcoming feeling. You could enjoy travelling with the SR15, and I don’t mean just for the weekend.
The main compromise is in the east-west bed at the front. You simply can’t fit a lengthways bed with access both sides and a full-width ensuite into a van this size. The reality is either you go up to the SR17’s layout or learn to live with a bed where someone has to crawl across their partner at some stage at night. (Because it’s confined, making the bed is also harder, but it can be solved with a fitted sheet and a doona).
One advantage of locating the bed into the forward corner is that it leaves a space opposite the door for a large roof height wardrobe over the 93L absorption fridge to augment ceiling-high cupboards around the bed’s perimeter.
Furniture is finely finished, and the convex storage cupboards add to the modern appeal of the marble splashbacks and benchtop. Appliances include a high mount NCE microwave and Thetford cooktop and grill with a 12v NCE rangehood.
Cloth fabric and thick upholstery make the dinette a comfortable place to relax, and with room for three, you can spread out when watching TV or reading. The large table swivels around for easy access, and the window is at the right height to take in the view. Window blinds have a sturdy quality and feel like they should last the distance with reasonable care.
The small van misses out on nothing in the ensuite. To the driver’s side is a Thetford cassette toilet, there’s a central vanity with lights and mirrors and a roomy shower opposite. A roof hatch/fan in both sections give excellent ventilation, and a side window helps with natural light. The builders have taken advantage of any space on the ensuite’s walls to add lots of storage, which is welcome.
The SR15 will suit couples who like things simple but aren’t prepared to forego the essentials. With a 120 solar panel and a good supply of water, travellers can be independent either in the bush or on cheaper non-powered sites in caravan parks.
The suspension is subtle and smooth on both tar and gravel roads. The van felt well balanced and showed no signs of banging or sway during our tests, but as always take care with spreading the load thoughtfully when travelling.
Its Prado friendly ATM of 2500kg makes it an easy-tow option, and with a drive away price between $46,990 and $48,990 depending on dealer location, it’s good buying considering it has everything you need already on board.
- Stylish design and high level of finish
- Composite walls nearly free of timber
- Light weight and easy to tow
- Well equipped and reasonable off-grid ability
- By its nature, it has limited storage
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Manufacturer: Snowy River
Overall length: 6.6m
External body: 5.0m
Internal body length: 4.74m
Travel height: 3.05m
Internal height: 1.9m
Tare weight: 1843kg (actual on the plate)
Ball weight: 168kg