FIRST LOOK: LOTUS CARAVANS OFF GRID
If the Incredible Hulk was reincarnated as an off-road caravan, well then, you’re looking at him. Enter the new Lotus Caravans Off Grid – a dazzlingly bright new 13.5-foot off-road caravan. And yes ladies, it has a shower.
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As you probably know, Lotus Caravans has made its name in the hand-made luxury caravan market. With five to six vans coming out of the Melbourne factory every week, and a six-month waiting list for custom vans, Lotus units are in hot demand. Yet for some, the dual-axle Freelander and Trooper models are too large for their tow vehicles; so hence the Off Grid was born. The trimmed chassis and the move to a single axle has saved some weight– the model tested sat unladen at just under 1,800kg, and sports a ball weight of just 140kg (well within the 3,000kg capacity of our Amarok). And on the road it was immediately evident that the Off Grid was a well balanced, easily towed unit. Sure, with a full complement of gear on board for a trip it would tow a little differently … but not markedly so.
The Off Grid is stitched together similarly to its bigger brothers. A galvanised chassis from G&S provides the rigidity, while the latest Series Two Control Rider independent suspension features twin shock absorbers to handle the corrugations. The body is based on a timber frame, which Lotus Caravans says provides the flexibility required for rough terrain. And it’s great to see a couple of meaty Bushranger rated recovery points mounted to the back of the chassis, in case you need to tow the Off Grid out of trouble.
Step inside though, and it’s pure luxury. The leather seats are comfortable, and the inner-sprung bed is the same size as the one in the Trooper – however, it has been placed sideways … so you’ll have to climb over your partner if you sleep up front.
The fit and finish is tasteful, modern and first-class, boasting good-looking graphite and silver finishes throughout. In an effort to fit the shower and toilet into the rear corner, Lotus Caravans has opted to put the stove and fridge outside the van (which, in our climate, makes sense). However, this pre-production model had no shelter over the exterior kitchen … a real issue in inclement weather. We’re told that this issue will be solved in the production models, and there is also talk of a slightly longer van to accommodate more exterior bench space.
Sitting astride the kitchen is a thumping big Waeco 80-litre fridge, perfect for those roadside cuppas. A Thule Omni awning is a great addition to the exterior: It’s quick to deploy and provides ample shade.
If you’re in the mood to enjoy some tunes while you’re outside there are two external speakers for the Fusion stereo unit and another two inside the van if the weather’s not so nice. If that’s the case you’re not short on entertainment options with a 24in television to watch the latest Game of Thrones episode, or if you have kids, endless repeats of the movie Frozen. You can even warm up some popcorn in the 25L microwave.
Even if you’re camped in the tropics you’ll be kept comfy with the Sparrow air-conditioner and the LED lighting throughout ensures visibility will never be an issue, even on the darkest of nights.
Powering all this electric gadgetry is a pair of 120A batteries that are kept topped up by a Redarc 30A charger. The van is connected to the tow vehicle via an Anderson plug and there’s also an extra Anderson plug for those who want to run solar panels on the roof.
As mentioned, the low ball weight makes towing the van a relatively painless affair, and there’s plenty of off-road inclusions for those who want to travel beyond the caravan parks and venture deeper into the bush. The Hitchmaster DO35 coupling makes hitching up and towing over rough terrain a snap and the 2.5T Control Rider coil sprung, independent suspension with twin shocks per wheel means that you’ll be in some seriously tough tracks before you find the limit of the Off Grid’s capabilities. The underbody is even coated with chequerplate for protection and there are front and rear galvanized bumper bars to make sure the panels stay straight.
The rolling stock consists of never-lose-them-in-the-dark pearl green 16in Primal Force alloy rim that are shod with the highly regarded 265/75R16 Mickey Thompson MTZ rubber – a clear indication that these things are designed to get you there (no matter where ‘there’ may be) and back again.
With the massive toolbox on the drawbar and heaps of cupboards inside the van, there’s no shortage of storage space, despite the shorter overall length. All up, if you wanted to get right away for a couple of weeks (or months for that matter) without wanting the hassle or fuel bill associated with a full-size van, the Lotus Caravans Off Grid could be just the thing you’re after.
SPECIFICATIONS: LOTUS CARAVANS OFF GRID
|Chassis||6in boxed, hot dipped galvanized chassis|
|Coupling||Hitchmaster DO35 coupling|
|Rims & Tyres||Primal Force pearl green Alloy rims with 265/75R16in Mickey Thompson MTZ|
|Suspension||2.5 tonne Control Rider independent coil with twin shock absorbers|
|Electric Brakes||12in electric|
|Water Tank||2 x 95L tanks with filter|
|Canvas||Canvas? Do people still use that stuff?|
|Price as tested||TBA once in production|