With so many families turning to caravanning for their holidays, the release of the MY22 New Age Road Owl couldn’t be more significant. Could it be the perfect tourer for a modern family on a budget?
As I pulled out of the New Age factory with their latest MY22 Road Owl family van in tow, the sky was darkening with threatening storm clouds and three days of rain in the forecast. Not the greatest weather to be doing a caravan review. As it turned out, it gave me the opportunity to look at this van as something more than just your typical five berth family caravan. The weather forced me to experience life in this van under the most undesirable conditions. It is a very good test of the livability of New Age’s latest budget family tourer.
The model we tested was a prototype or pre-production model of the MY22 Road Owl R019BE Comfort. It is a 19-foot internal length, 5-berth caravan with a full ensuite, east/west queen-size bed, and a side club lounge. According to Darren Swenson, New Age’s General Manager for Sales and Marketing, this is their most popular model/layout. It is easy to see why as this caravan packs a lot of usable storage and features into quite a small space compared with other longer, and subsequently heavier, family vans.
Darren was keen to describe how this new model came to be. “The product development process at New Age Caravans is to design a new product on paper and then build a one-off prototype to ensure the design can be built. This helps to identify any issue with either materials, layout, weight etc. Once the prototype has been built, it is road tested to identify any changes/updates that need to be actioned based on “real world” testing. Following this process, we then do a “pilot run” that is a small batch of units that are run through production to identify any production challenges that may come up based on materials, tooling etc. After the pilot run has been completed and signed off, the van is then released into production.”
The van we had was the one-off prototype so I was expecting a few niggles. To my surprise, the van was extremely presentable and in excellent shape. The interior fit and finish of the marine ply furniture were top-notch. All the gaps between the cupboard doors were even and all the corners and edges were finished off perfectly. All the electrical and plumbing gear worked. If this is a prototype, the production model should be very impressive.
It was the same story outside. The new rear mould and the aluminium composite wall are both practical and look good. The rear mould also allows the spare wheel to be stored in a recessed compartment. This takes the additional weight off the rear bumper providing extra safety. It also means that every New Age caravan fitted with this moulding will meet the new Road Vehicle Standards Act by ensuring each van meets any height regulations for rear lights, reflectors, number plate etc.
There is a new location for the water pump and the control valves. When a van has more than one water tank, New Age would normally run two water pumps located under the van on the driver side. With the new model, they are testing a single water pump with valves to switch between water tanks as required. New Age believes this will be more efficient, drawing less power and providing greater control for the consumer. The pumps are now mounted in a separate external battery box on the door side of the van for greater protection and access.
The microwave oven is now secured by a custom made surround to support the microwave during travelling. Given the number of microwave ovens you see on social media that have fallen out of their cavity, this would seem to be a sensible change. The unit in the test van certainly felt rock solid in its mounting.
The cabinetry is cut using a new edge banding process that is very similar to how modern household kitchens are built. This is replacing the standard “t mould” that New Age uses today and provides a stronger and more visually appealing finish. This will also allow New Age to try new and different materials and designs in future builds. As I mentioned earlier, the new cabinets do look good.
One of the features that I really liked, and I believe families will appreciate, is the new reading and bedside lights with inbuilt USB ports. Given the number of connected devices a family of five would likely be taking with them on their travels, this will prove to be a real convenience. There is at least one USB port for every member of the family.
Finally, there are revised cushion depth and materials where New Age has taken some of the expertise within the Walkinshaw Automotive Group and applied them to the upholstery. The club lounge feels firm at first but is very comfortable if you have to sit there for a few hours, something I had to do thanks to the ordinary weather. The fabric on the prototype looked a bit lose but I expect that to be fixed in the production vans.
Going through the interior from front to back, the first thing to note is the main bed. It is a full caravan queen that is mounted east/west. As a result, three of the sides are hard up against a wall which makes making the bed a bit of a challenge. Some may find it annoying while others will appreciate that this configuration is necessary to maximise space in the 19-foot layout. The mattress is firm but comfortable. There are handy storage compartments at the head of the bed.
The side club lounge is just large enough to fit four people and their meals with the legroom compromised a bit by the table stand. Given the kids will likely eat outside under the awning, this shouldn’t be a problem. The table includes a convenient fold-down section so you can have more room to move in the kitchen area. Just watch your fingers as the springs in the mechanism are quite strong.
One thing I do like is the positioning of the television. It allows the TV to be seen from the main bed and from the dinette. Unfortunately, it also means there is no window on the opposite side of the bed. That said, if you did need extra airflow at night, you could just open the door.
The kitchen is quite reasonable given the interior layout. On the plus side, it has a lot of cupboard space for a kitchen of this size. The plumbing has been routed to maximise the available space in the cupboard under the sink. The Thetford cooktop/grill is a quality item with a very sturdy cast iron grate over the four gas burners. And while it doesn’t have an oven, the grill itself is quite large. I would like to see a bit more flat bench space for meals preparation but you could always use the dinette table if you need to. If you’re looking for a pull-out metal pantry, you’ll be disappointed although in my experience they are pretty useless and, if it was my van, I would be much happier without one. All the drawers have high-quality metal runners but they are not self-closing. Again, at this price point, who cares?
The fridge is a Thetford 171-litre 3-way unit. It has a decent-sized refrigerator compartment but the freezer is quite small. If you were camping away from civilization for more than a week with a family of five, you might want to run a separate car fridge as a deep freezer.
The three bunk beds are great but they are only really meant for kids. The middle and top beds are rated at just 80kg so I wouldn’t recommend any adults try to sleep here. I did try out the lower bunk and my 5’11” frame only just fit. Children sleeping here will appreciate having their own window and reading light with a USB port.
The ensuite is quite generous especially when you consider this is a 19-foot van. The shower is full size and very usable by adults and kids. You could also wash the dog in there if you had to. The toilet sits quite low but it is still functional. The vanity is quite small and I can imagine kids splashing water everywhere using it. Again, this is a necessary compromise and I believe most families would rather sacrifice this space in favour of a larger shower. Be careful with the shower door as it will knock against the toilet when opened fully.
In between the ensuite and the bunks is a wall-mounted front load washing machine. It is rated at 3kg but in reality, I think you would be struggling to fit that much laundry in it. This sits above a reasonably sized cupboard that would function well as a linen press.
Climate control duties are taken care of by a Gree roof-mounted air conditioner. This is a quality unit that has a low internal profile and adjustable vents that can be pointed down towards the floor. It also features a remote control.
Entertainment is provided by a 28″ Smart TV with an inbuilt DVD player, a Clarion car stereo with Bluetooth, internal and external speakers and a Winegard TV Antenna. This is a very decent package given the price of the Road Owl. The mounting of the stereo unit looks a bit untidy without the plastic surround. Something for New Age to fix in the production model.
The electronics package with the Road Owl is another quality feature. Based on the BMPRO BatteryPlus 35-II-AH management system, it features an inbuilt MMPT solar controller and a lithium charging profile. The tested van was supplied with a single 100ah AGM battery, a 150-watt roof-mounted solar panel and BMPRO Trek-3 monitor that displays all the van’s vital statistics. I also noted New Age has fitted an Anderson connection for an external solar panel. This is a brilliant idea as it allows you to boost solar recharging when the rooftop panel is insufficient to recharge the battery. The battery itself is housed in an external box on the chassis. Like most of these boxes, it does not have a lock so your battery is vulnerable to theft.
When it comes to family holidays, external storage is a major consideration and here again, the Road Owl doesn’t disappoint. The full-length tunnel boot is empty except for the jack. There’s also a large external cabinet on each side of the van next to the tunnel boot for more external storage. It’s more than enough space for storing camp chairs, tables and other outdoor gear. There’s no toolbox on the drawbar so you may be struggling to store a large generator if you need to carry one. There’s one small light in the tunnel boot but no lights in the other compartments.
A very good feature is all the external hatches are keyed with the same lock reducing the number of keys you have to carry around. The Swift hot water system is also a good choice for families as it has a large capacity tank and does not rely on a sacrificial anode for rust protection.
On the road, The Road Owl is a stable van to tow at highway speeds although I couldn’t say I don’t notice its presence behind my 200 series Landcruiser. On good flat freeways, the van is barely noticeable but on a few less than average back roads on the way to the test location, the basic Alko Rocker Rolle suspension struggled a bit at soaking up the bumps and potholes. It is not unstable in any way. In fact, the Road Owl tracked really well around some sweeping bends with mid-corner bumps. It’s just without shock absorbers, the van tends to rock around a bit and you will feel it behind your tow vehicle especially if it is smaller than the Cruiser or a dual cab ute. On the plus side, this suspension is very basic and easy to maintain.
One huge bugbear I have with many caravans is the location of the jockey wheel. They are usually tucked up close to a toolbox or another part of the frame and they usually have 2 screw claps to fiddle with. The Road Owl has a single, unobstructed clamp holding the jockey wheel in place making it very easy and quick to remove and refit the jockey wheel. Thank you New Age…!
As I mentioned earlier, the lousy weather meant I had to spend more time inside this van than I normally would on a test. This gave me the opportunity to experience actually living inside this van for an extended period of time, assess the comfort of the van and how well it might work as accommodation for a family. While fitting five people into a 19-foot van is always going to be a challenge, I can honestly say the interior of the Road Owl is a nice place to be. Everything is clean, airy and it feels like it’s built properly and designed by people who understand caravan living.
To sum up, I was very impressed with the New Age Road Owl RO19BE Comfort especially given the test van was a prototype. It is clear New Age has put a lot of thought into this van and it is remarkable how much space and storage is available in just 19 feet. Yes, a few compromises have been made but that is to be expected. When you consider that this van has a TARE weight of just 2,330kg with a 600kg cargo capacity, New Age has done a great job keeping the weight down and still provided useful load capacity suitable for a family of five. With a list price of just $61,990 inc GST for the van as tested, (the range starts at just $53,690) it is excellent value for money.
For more information, please contact your local New Age Caravans Dealer or visit www.newagecaravans.com.au
RV Daily wishes to thank Jan and Ollie Mathews for allowing us to use their property for this test.
VAN NAME / MODEL
- MY22 Road Owl Caravan – RO19BE Comfort
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
- Travel length 7870m (ft in)
- Travel Width 2500m (ft in)
- Height 2950m (ft in)
- Tare 2330kg
- ATM 2930kg
- Payload 600kg (calculated)
- Ball weight at tare 100kg
- Frame Meranti timber
- Cladding – White low profile front & sides with smooth white aluminium composite rear panelling c/w rear mould kit and recessed spare wheel
- Chassis Walkinshaw hot dipped galvanised
- Suspension Alko Rocker Rolle
- Coupling 50mm towball
- Brakes Drum
- Wheels 235/75 R15 tyres and wheels (manufactured by Goodyear)
- Water 2 x 110lt water tanks
- Battery 1 x 100a AGM
- Solar 1 x 150w solar panel c/w controller
- Air-conditioner reverse cycle
- Gas 2 x 9kg gas bottles
- Sway control BMPro Sway Control / BMPro Trail Safe
- Cooking Thetford 4 burner mini grill cooktop
- Microwave NCE 23L FB with surround
- Fridge Thetford 171lt 3-way
- Bathroom Ensuite with separate shower & toilet
- Hot water HWS gas/electric
- Lighting Interior & Exterior Lights LED
- Oyster Roof Lights
- USB/Reading Light Combo
PRICE FROM $53,690 (inc GST)
OPTIONS FITTED (standard on Comfort model)
- Air conditioner
- 28″ Smart TV & DVD player
- External speakers
- 1 x 150W solar
- 2 x 9kg gas bottles
- 2nd 110L water tank
- Display unit c/w water gauges
- TV Winegard antenna
- Picnic table
- Gloss cupboard doors
- Thetford 171 fridge upgrade (caravan tandem models only)
- Higher side trimming (approx. 360mm)
PRICE AS SHOWN $61,990 (inc GST)