We took the New Traveller Utopia for a run to Loch Sport where John Ford discovered a luxury van with a world first innovation for managing the van’s on-board batteries.
The growl of a big V8 reverberated up the street long before it came into view. I had arrived early to Loch Sport for our review of the Traveller Utopia and had been enjoying an early morning coffee at the bakery when the silence of the sleepy seaside town was torn asunder by what I though had to be a wild street machine. But it turned out to be the Traveller, hitched to a Ford Raptor pulling away from the town’s stop sign.
The rig pulled up and out stepped Zoren Dimivski, the friendly owner of Traveller Caravans, on a mission to feed his kids some breakfast before we got to the business of talking vans.
With the children happily cradling their pies we headed off to photograph the van against brilliant blue water of Lake Wellington. As tough as the Raptor looked, the high riding semi-off road Utopia hitched on the back matched it perfectly. Dark grey and black seems to be the current prevailing colour scheme in adventure vans and its well proportioned lines looked great against the blackest black of the Ford tow vehicle.
Zoren has been making Traveller vans from his factory in Campbellfield on Melbourne’s outskirts for over a decade and has established a deserved name for a build quality and sturdy construction. And, as I was to discover, he is keen to include the latest innovations to make life on the road more enjoyable.
The name Utopia melds images of both an ideal place from Greek mythology and the isolated aboriginal community in the Northern Territory known for its unique artworks and both of these references are embodied in this outback-capable and luxurious cruiser.
The Utopia sits in the Traveller range as a semi off road van with extended free camping potential. The 22’ body rests on a 6” chassis and Control Rider independent suspension with coil springs, shock absorbers and trailing arms for a setup that should allow a secure ride over rough roads. Coupled with 15” alloy wheels, Traveller have also provided decent ground clearance.
Even before we went inside I found plenty to inspect on the exterior of the van. Towards the front on the kerb side is a slide-out, stainless steel BBQ and aft of the doorway is a picnic table and an impressive entertainment unit incorporating television mount, 12v and a couple of 240v outlets, RCA leads for video and a remote for the Fusion sound system that sends stereo to a pair of outside waterproof speakers or a second set roof mounted inside.
The system got a good workout later in the day when Zoren’s children were entertained watching videos as we waited to photograph the van against the setting sun.
With a full-length awning offering protection from the elements this setup for outside living makes sense. Most travellers like the idea of being in the fresh air to experience their surroundings, and being able to cook while being entertained with music or video would keep the family together.
At the rear corner is a narrow hatch just right for storing chairs when on the move and easily accessed for a quick stop.
On the back a heavy-duty mount has room for two spare wheels, again reinforcing the van’s intended long distance capability while LED signal lights and reversing camera are mounted high out of harm’s way.
To the rear on the driver’s side is a compartment for a large generator and further forward are fillers for three 95lt water tanks, one of which is dedicated to drinking water with its own filter and pump. Zoren also pointed out the storage system for a set of three 105 A/H batteries that are easily accessed and well protected from damage. Charging is through two 130W solar panels on the roof or via 240v where accessible.
It has to be remembered that this extra water storage adds weight so there would need to be some consideration of when to top them up to keep the payload within legal limits.
Up front, I liked the black finished drawbar, hitch and safety chains, reinforcing the rugged look of the van and the attention to detail that sets the brand apart. Also on show were controls for break-away brakes and an AL-KO electronic stability control system that help make towing the van safe and predictable. During our test the van towed flawlessly behind the Raptor and although the powerful, big Ford was hardly challenged the van’s nearly three ton weight will need a large tow vehicle.
Entry to the van is just forward of the wheels where lightweight alloy steps fold down for easy access, assisted by an outside grab handle with built-in LED light. There was a second light in the van’s stairway where padding along the entry well gives a hint to the well-appointed interior.
Stepping inside reveals a clean design with an uncluttered, modern feel. Colours follow the black and grey theme of the outside with benchtops softened to a less stark charcoal tone. Cabinets have a square finish and are coated in high gloss paint – grey for high cupboards and black for those below the benches, while lounges have luxurious leather bases with striped grey and black material covering the cushions.
It all contributes to a well-conceived, contemporary feel inside the van and with generous windows in the bedroom and along the living area it’s bright and airy for a good sense of space.
At the entry Traveller have included a Drifter electronic control system for electrical appliances and battery monitoring. It can be operated from the panel or an app can be downloaded for control by phones or tablets. In a world first Traveller have partnered with leading Australian technology company, BM Pro to include a special app for phones that gives live information about the charging condition of on-board batteries and includes an alarm if voltage drops to a critical level. That’s pretty cool.
The interior design follows the modern trend to maximize the living space with the bedroom at the front and a full width ensuite to the back, leaving a large central living area with a roomy relaxing ambience.
Double glazed windows either side of the queen bed flood the van with light and are fitted with insect screens to allow a flow of fresh air. Close fitting roller blinds can be closed for privacy at night and add to a cozy feel inside. There are three overhead cabinets and a set of drawers and hanging closet with mirrored door either side of the easily accessed, north/south bed.
In the living area is a kerbside kitchen with a long food preparation bench. Towards the rear it incorporates a stainless steel sink and draining board which spreads out into the walkway to create more workspace.
Overhead of the sink is a 240v Sharp microwave, while under the bench a Swift fan forced oven has a griller and one electric and three gas burners. Twin hatches and an Ibis reverse cycle air conditioner are built into the roof and there is also a rangehood overhead and a long window to take care of cooking smells.
Generous storage includes a large pot drawer and a tall slide out panty alongside a 225lt Waeco compressor fridge/freezer to the rear of the driver side dinette. All cupboards and drawers have well finished interiors and are fitted with contemporary style self-closing catches.
Up-to-date styling continues in the ensuite where a round ceramic bowl with flick mixer tap is set into a dark vanity. There’s lots of light and the moulded fibreglass shower has plenty of room to move and is fitted with a modern European style, sliding showerhead. To the driver’s side is a ceramic Thetford toilet, a linen cupboard and a Dometic front load washer that is located at a convenient height above the floor.
There has been a trend over recent years to larger and better equipped vans and as travellers broaden their horizons vans need to be built with the durability to traverse rough outback roads. The Utopia combines a well-appointed van with a strong build to offer comfort on the road and confidence that the trip should be trouble free.
Price as tested is $78,750 and includes a long list of inclusions for extended journeys and a high build quality for years of service.
Body Length: 22’
Tare Weight: 2560kg
Ball Weight: 220kg
Price as tested: $78,750
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134 Metrolink Ct, Campbellfield Victoria 3061
Ph 03 9303 7499