It may be a Malibu in name, but you’ll feel right at home touring Down Under in the Thunder
Tango Caravans has had vans manufactured for them for several years now, so they know what works and what doesn’t. When an opportunity to join forces with Malibu Caravans came up, they decided these vans would complement their range well.
We had the opportunity to take out either a full-sized van or a pop-top and opted for the pop-top as something a little different. It’s easy to store, less height on the road to impact fuel economy, and, being a single-axle, it’s very manoeuvrable. We teamed this van up with a new Holden Trailblazer to test this touring package.
The backbone of the Thunder is a G&S black Duragal six-inch chassis with a six-inch A-frame. Coupled to the chassis is a single-axle independent suspension system which, on our review model, was painted blue to match the decals on the body. 12-inch electric brakes handle the stopping while a 16-inch alloy wheel-and-tyre package keep the van rolling along. Van and vehicle are locked together via a DO35 off-road hitch, while up front on the A-frame there is an eight-inch jockey wheel, cable brake and break-away system.
A cross-frame supports twin 9kg gas bottles and twin jerry can holders. Behind that is a toolbox with a slide-out draw for a barbecue or gennie, and a storage locker. Both these compartments can be accessed from the door that lifts up at the top of the box.
Underneath the van are drop-down legs and twin 90-litre water tanks with an RV Electronics gauge mounted in the van. There’s also an Omni-Step Manual, mudflaps and some reasonably tidy plumbing, aside from a rear stabilising leg which could hit the downpipe of the shower under harsh conditions. A rear bar holds the spare wheel. Body-wise, the Malibu features plenty of Alucomp bodywork with lots of black chequer plate and eye-catching decals.
The pop-top is a one-piece roof; heavy-duty vinyl is used between the body and the roof and for the internal flexible wall to the ensuite. Around the insulated body are several features, including a full-width tunnel boot, generator box, picnic table, and EuroVision double-glazed windows with Aussie Traveller blinds and flyscreens.
An awning, gas bayonet, stainless-steel grab handles, twin external speakers and an external shower are also handy features. Finally, up on the roof are two 170W solar panels, a fan hatch for the ensuite and a Winegard aerial.
Access into the van is via a drop-step in front of the wheel. The master bedroom is against the front wall, with a queen-size bed with pillow-top inner-spring mattress and upholstered bedhead. Large windows provide plenty of light and ventilation. There’s reasonable storage above and below the bed and in the wardrobes on either side. A Finch reverse-cycle ducted aircon system lives under the bed.
A corner cupboard is mounted on the driver’s side wall between the bed and the kitchen with a 24-inch flat screen telly mounted on a bracket above, making it easy to see from the bed or the dinette. As you’d expect from a smaller van, the kitchen is compact and practical. There is a deep sink with draining board, flick mixer and water filter tap.
Next to that is a Swift 3&1 cooktop and grill, with an NCE rangehood mounted above. There’s also an NCE radio/CD/disc player. Below the stove is a Sphere microwave, which is positioned quite low and may bother some people. Behind a cupboard under the sink mounted on the floor is a Swift gas/electric hot water system. Between the stove and the ensuite is a Dometic 184-litre three-way fridge, a great size for touring.
There are as many cupboards with a high-gloss finish as Malibu could build into the van, which makes storage handy. Opposite the kitchen is an L-shaped dinette, very cosy for a couple. The swivel table provides extra work space for the kitchen and a row of three overhead cupboards are great for storage. In the end cupboard next to the ensuite are the electrical gauges and switches that manage the van’s appliances. This includes the unit to show how much power is left in the twin 105Ah batteries.
Across the back of the van is the ensuite, with a ceramic basin with flick mixer, fibreglass shower, swivel toilet, NCE 2.5kg washing machine and plenty of cupboards. The large mirror is perfect for grooming duties. A heavy-duty vinyl screen seals off the ensuite from the main living area and a curtain slides across the doorway for privacy.
Bar a couple of issues, the fit and finish of the Malibu is impressive, and with a nicely laid out interior and full ensuite, it’s going to make a good touring van. The fact that it has some dirt road ability is an added bonus.
On-road, the Thunder sat well behind the Trailblazer for the run up the highway towards Seymour and back. With a Tare of just over 2100kg, it will suit plenty of mid-size vehicles on the road.
Something else to consider is the introductory price of under 60K, which is pretty darn good given there is a lot of gear built into the Thunder. Anyone looking for a pop-top of this size and style would do well to check it out.
Body length: 5.36m (17ft 6in)
Body width: 2.36m (7ft 9in)
Tare weight: 2130kg
Price as tested: $57,990 driveaway ex. Melbourne (introductory offer)
Overall fit and finish
Ladder may be needed to reach the roof latches
Low position of microwave
Wiring hanging down in the toilet cartridge boot
One roof hatch not fitted right
BLAZING THE WAY
Holden’s Trailblazer is becoming a popular tow vehicle that can haul up to 3000kg with its powerful combination of a 2.8-litre, four-cylinder Duramax turbo-diesel and six-speed auto. There’s 147kW available at 3600rpm while the pulling force of 500Nm comes in between 2000 and 2200rpm. This works well with the auto and 4WD system, making the Holden pretty capable off-road on the dirt for towing and for playing.
With a week behind the wheel of the Trailblazer I got a good feel for the way it towed, as well as what it was like to drive around town, so I can say this mid-sized wagon is good for everyday use as well as towing. Going from the highway to backroads, dirt roads and even crawling into the parking spot by the river with the Malibu on the back, the maneuverability of the combination was great.
I liked the seating position and vision and of course the LTZ has a huge range of creature comforts and safety systems. In fact, I was amazed at just how many features are packed into the Trailblazer. I was also impressed by the amount of boot space with the two seats in the back folded down. This makes the seven-seater great for families or a couple who want to take a fair bit of gear away with them – or in our case, a large dog!
Holden MY19 Trailblazer LTZ
Model: Trailblazer LTZ
Engine: 2.8-litre Duramax turbo-diesel
Power: 147kW @ 3600rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 2000-2200rpm
Gearbox: Six-speed with Active Select
Drive System: 4WD shift on the fly
Towing Capacity Braked: 3000kg
Towing Capacity Unbraked: 750kg
Max Ball Weight: 300kg
Kerb Weight: 2203kg
Fuel Consumption (Combined): 8.6L/100km
RRP: $56,481 with tow pack, driveaway