Fifth-wheelers have never really caught on in Australia, but Sunliner reckons that’s going to change and with its new Northshore fiver it aims to be at the forefront of this niche market
Sunliner has been operating for 44 years. Back then, founders Tony and Sue Hunter travelled across the ditch for a honeymoon and built their own converted Kombi as a camper. They sold it before they got to use it and discovered a camper conversion market here in Oz; they’ve never looked back.
They started building motorhomes with camper conversions on Volkswagens, which over the years has led to working with modern vehicles such as Mercedes, Ford, Fiat, Renault, Toyota and Iveco. These guys have a manufacturing facility that allows them to engineer, design and build locally. We all know that locally built means jobs, but it also means that the vehicles fully comply with Australian Design Rules and are suited to Aussie conditions.
While the move into fifth-wheelers is not new for Sunliner, Tony and Sue know it’s a very niche market in Australia. Feedback is such that they are confident the market will sustain this product and in fact in the years to come demand more, as people realise there are distinct advantages to a fifth-wheeler over a caravan.
In brief, a fifth-wheeler can be manoeuvred more easily than a van due to the hitch being over the rear axle of the vehicle. This fact also allows for a bed space over the body of the vehicle, which means the interior space is bigger compared with a similar body length on a van. The hitch over the axle also allows for a stable tow with less chance of sway compared to a caravan on an A-frame.
The Northshore is built around a six-inch DuroTorque chassis (a Sunliner-engineered product) with AL-KO IRS tandem-axle suspension, 12-inch electric brakes and 15-inch alloy rims shod with LT235/75R15 tyres.
Sunliner has fitted electric/manual drop-down stabilising legs on the chassis. These sit low-ish on the unit and I thought they might get in the way, but driving through some washaways they didn’t even get close to being hit. Underneath we find the spare wheel, a 120-litre water tank and a 120-litre grey water tank. I also found some exposed wiring connections that could easily be damaged.
This was such a simple fix as the wiring just needs to be placed on the opposite side of the chassis rail, but other than that the underneath is quite tidy.
Body-wise Sunliner manufactures the ThermoTough one-piece walls, offering strength, durability and insulation properties. The DuraRoof features a fully bonded and insulated construction and according to Sunliner it’s tough enough to be partied on. On the driver’s side there is a slide-out lounge room as well. The rear sports a fibreglass bumper section and everything ties in well to the package.
Around the body, double-glazed windows feature alongside a two-piece door with an electric entry step. External extras include a Dometic A&E awning with full LED strip for mood lighting, twin speakers and a shower at the rear on the driver’s side.
A boot at the front accommodates longer items and also houses the controller for the drop-down legs. A locker on the driver’s side holds twin 4kg gas bottles while another locker on the passenger side at the rear allows for internal access under the seating. Up on the roof are a King Jack Antenna and a Belaire 3400 reverse-cycle AC unit.
Stepping up into the Northshore and turning right we find a bright, neat looking living area with the kitchen to the right, a slide-out with lounge seating is on the left, a wraparound dinette runs across the rear and everything is upholstered in quality fabric. This dinette can also be converted into a double bed.
There are windows everywhere and roof hatches that really light up the interior with LED lighting just adding to the smart interior look.
Let’s get started on the detail. The kitchen sink, complete with flick mixer tap, is at the end of the bench near the door and this could be a good thing as it allows for two people to do the dishes! A Thetford three-burner gas cooker with oven sits in the middle of the bench. The bench space is not huge, however, the L-shape layout makes it quite practical. Above the kitchen bench are three separate cupboards and of course there’s a rangehood as well.
Under the sink are drawers while the corner space between the sink and the cooker features a slide-out pantry with dual action, providing another pantry cage that utilises the space under the sink really well. Between the cooker and the dinette is another standard slide-out pantry; I really liked this functional system. In the wall behind the kitchen, Sunliner has created some funky cutouts for extra storage.
Opposite the entry door between the bedroom and the slide-out is a Dometic three-way, 190-litre fridge with manual control rather than an automatic sensing fridge. This is a preference for Sunliner. Above the fridge is a Sharp microwave.
Electrics in the van include a Truma hot water service in partnership with a 12V ducted heating system. Above the door are the various controllers. These include a Projecta solar regulator display wired into the Projecta solar controller, which is located in a cupboard above the sink. Also tucked in here are a 25-amp 240V charger display and a CBE 12V control system that deals with the water pump, lighting and gauges plus a Bluetooth
AM/FM unit. Other electrical gear includes a
100-amp/hr battery and Projecta charger, which are in a box in the bedroom at the foot of the bed and a 140W solar panel on the roof.
Up in the nose cone is a bedroom that features a queen-size mattress with cupboards either side. Between the bed and the main living room is an ensuite. On the right of this, looking into the bedroom, is a contemporary round-style shower with two sliding doors. Next to that near the bed is the vanity unit with ceramic basin.
Opposite the shower is a smallish toilet room complete with Thetford swivel toilet and storage space. Between the toilet and the bed is a large storage unit with hanging space and two large slide-out drawers.
This room is light and bright, again LED lights feature and there are storage spaces tucked under the steps and wherever Sunliner can build them in. Yes, as you’ll see from the pics, a tall person can’t walk around the bed, however, there’s excellent headroom above the bed when sleeping, reading a good book, or enjoying brekkie in bed.
To be blunt, I liked the interior although it’s hard to see the dollar value on first glance. Taking that thought a bit further, the fit and finish is very neat and when you add the appliances I can then start to see the value.
Overall, apart from maybe a bigger toilet space there was very little to pick on – it’s simply tidy without a massive wow factor.
Setting Up The Vehicle
When looking at a fifth-wheeler it’s important to set up the vehicle properly. In Sunliner’s case the dealer gets involved to help set up the vehicle all the way from the hitch to the wiring needed.
The Ford Ranger we used for the review has been fitted with a Reese hitch system. This system is a fully rated, two-way unit and built specifically for that model. This is important so that the weight of the hitch and the fifth-wheeler is located as closely above the axle as possible.
In some cases the suspension may need an upgrade to even out the ride height but our review Ford Ranger worked really well on its standard suspension. This would be addressed on a case-by-case basis.