2018 BAV: Phoenix Sunland

Tim van Duyl — 24 April 2019

Wow was the word of the day when the Sunland Phoenix rolled up at AL-KO’s Best Aussie Vans 2018. Imposing on first sight, thanks to its raised chassis and grey body work, its detail soon revealed the Phoenix’s underlying capability and purpose. 

Look closely and you'll realise the high clearance hasn’t resulted in an overly tall tow height (it's a bit over 3m) and the fibreglass front is sculpted to aid aerodynamics. But there's more. The front bin is massive and laid out just how an owner would want, the external coatings are heavy duty and the windows are positioned to make the most of both light and ventilation. Some serious thought has gone into the Sunland Phoenix. 

The culmination of decades of travel, this is the last van its owners, Geoff and Sharon McLean, expect to have. After racking up close to 250,000km on the road, the vast bulk with a Sunland in tow, the McLeans, manufacturer's ambassadors and former dealers, had this van built to suit them. 

But its appeal is far reaching. Inside the layout is designed around the couple’s personal experience. Some details may look out of place, such as the TV over the kitchen bench, but one look at the lounge, complete with sumptuous cushioning and headrests, and it suddenly makes sense — this is where Geoff and Sharon unwind when the weather packs in. 

Look closely and the same touches show up in things such as the moulded seat in the shower. This is a truly personalised van. 

All of this personalisation sits on a bedrock of innovation and intellectual property that Sunland has developed over many decades. 

Look under the heavy duty clad body and you’ll see moulded water tanks designed specifically for this van's suspension and chassis layout. There is no compromise to fit an off-the-shelf water tank under the Phoenix. Similarly, the two spare wheels are mounted mid-ships to aid balance and towability. 

Keep looking around and details such as the plumbing lines, stone protection and one-piece honeycomb floor keep impressing. Then there is the chassis itself which carries an almost unbelievable 20-year warranty.

Using alloy beams, supports and bracing has shaved weight out of the build. As alloy is less resistant to impact damage, the A-frame remains steel, as does the support structure for the airbag suspension. It is this clever, no-compromise approach that we have grown to love about everything Sunland does. 

JUDGE 1: PETER QUILTY

The Sunland Phoenix MY19 is fitted out like a ‘palace on wheels’, but that doesn’t mean it lacks anything externally. It’s impossible not to be impressed by its heavy-duty fibreglass cladding and Raptor coating, not to mention its stylish front fashioned on aircraft aerodynamics.

Ditto, a ‘toolbox on steroids’ that comprises three compartments and a multifaceted pole carrier. It consists of two 150mm aluminium tubes that fold down to expose two hatches — one houses such items as the 3000W Victron inverter, three 180Ah lithium batteries, labelled fuses and a wiring diagram, while the other is for the ducted gas heating and water filters.

Sunland has sensibly positioned the three rotomould water tanks (one 190L fresh; one 60L drinking; one 130L grey) in the centre of the van so they don’t affect towability. 

More lateral thinking comes to the fore courtesy of four 180W ‘angled’ solar panels that are airflow friendly and don’t allow dirt to settle on their surface.

Sunland builds its own alloy steel chassis, with a safety factor of nine, and the Phoenix runs with a 4.2t-rated Cruisemaster XT airbag suspension. 

This van also comes with a high-volume compressor for deflating tyres, and Sunland even supplies a torque wrench for the locking nuts on the wheels.

Caravanning claustrophobics rejoice —there’s abundant space in every internal zone. Yes, ‘big is beautiful’ in the Phoenix’s lavish interior: large fridge, dinette, ensuite and shower. But by no means does that create a sense of being hemmed in. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

The angled kitchen is a study in designer smarts, complete with hand-sprayed 2pac cupboard doors (all cabinetry is built in-house), with arthritis-friendly handles, and a stone benchtop. 

An ultra-modern lighting panel, also in the living zone, is highly effective. There’s even a horizontal bar for hanging kitchen utensils and a recessed rubbish bin in the benchtop, as well as an overhead cupboard housing built-in satellite equipment.

The leather café dinette is a genuine four-seater and converts to a berth. 

Meanwhile, the roomy ensuite has a shower recess with a polycarbonate door and a moulded box-style ‘seat’ that’s terrific for washing down the kids. There’s also plenty of elbow room around the toilet.

I also liked the thinking behind a vinyl concertina sliding ensuite door. Likewise, the fact that all 12V wiring is located inside the walls, thus easily accessible.

The Phoenix oozes ‘animal magnetism’ on the outside complemented, by sheer opulence on the inside.

BREAKDOWN

VALUE FOR MONEY 9

SELF-SUFFICIENCY 9.5

TOWABILITY 10

SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 9.5

LAYOUT 9.5

QUALITY OF FINISH 9.5

BUILD QUALITY 9.5

CREATURE COMFORTS 9.5

INNOVATION 9

X-FACTOR 9.5

SCORE: 94.5


JUDGE 2: JOHN 'BEAR' WILLIS

There comes a time in life when many of us want to leave the rat race behind and explore our great land. Where once it was usually those whose kids had grown up and wanted to spend the inheritance on themselves, nowadays it’s often well-centered mid-lifers who can manage to treat themselves to that gap year or extended vacation. After all life is no dress rehearsal. 

Geoff and Sharon McLean fit the mould perfectly. They worked hard throughout their professional lives to achieve a great level of comfort and freedom. One could say they are fanatical about quality and will accept no less than near perfection, but they’re still very mindful of value for money. 

They are also highly experienced caravanners and travellers who have learnt the essentials, and understand their wants and needs. That’s why they are repeat Sunland customers and proud to show off their latest pride and joy.  

After enjoying their hospitality in their Sunland Phoenix, I wrote simply: “Lots of caravan for lots of money, but you get what you pay for with Sunland, including peace 

of mind!”

The Sunland Phoenix is a long term travelling proposition both on and off the grid. Its enormous power and water capacities make it a capable and comfortable companion for solitary exploration in Australia’s often harsh environments.

Premium build quality is evident from tip to tail, enhanced by innovative ideas in construction and design. 

Every effort has been made to maximise strength but minimise weight, and Sunland’s selection and placement of components combines world-class equipment such as the Victron Energy electronics with remote monitoring, Cruisemaster XT airbag suspension and triple lithium batteries, all mounted in innovative, easily accessible and serviceable positions.

The Phoenix was truly the standout for creature comforts at this year’s BAV, thanks to its inviting and spacious internal layout with a clean and modern accent. We all loved the flow throughout, from the big shower and ensuite, to the exceptional dinette, large island bed and fully catered kitchen — all accentuated by the trim quality, beautifully shaped benchtops and the large windows to bring the beauty of your surrounds into everyday cruising.

The Sunland Phoenix is a very smart and capable caravan designed for serious travellers who know what they want, without compromise.

BREAKDOWN

VALUE FOR MONEY 9

SELF-SUFFICIENCY 9

TOWABILITY 9

SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 9

LAYOUT 9

QUALITY OF FINISH 9

BUILD QUALITY 9

CREATURE COMFORTS 9

INNOVATION 9

X-FACTOR 9

SCORE: 90.0


JUDGE 3: MALCOLM STREET

It may not be everyone’s prime interest but the Phoenix chassis attracts my attention mostly because, like the rest of the Sunland range, it is an alloy chassis, something quite unusual in the caravan industry. Structural alloy rails, triangular in shape, replace the usual 150mm x 50mm RHS items, in order to reduce weight while maintaining strength. 

The chassis is not totally alloy, though — the drawbar rails and suspension subframe are hot-dipped galvanised steel. 

There’s no welding, all the chassis components are bolted together, and a special compound is used to minimise corrosion between the different metals. 

All the water tanks, fresh, drinking and grey, which fit between the chassis rails are rotomoulded to a Sunland design so they are a perfect fit. 

Given the Phoenix’s distinctly Australian flavour, it does have a few Euro touches, such as the one-piece, foam-cored fibreglass floor which is an integral part of the van’s structure — a bit like a monocoque where all components are designed to complement each other. Although this might sound like a radical design, Sunland express their confidence in it by offering a 20-year manufacturer’s warranty. 

As a van designed for serious offroad touring, there are no surprises in the suspension department, at least not for those of us accustomed to contemporary caravans.

Sunland uses Cruisemaster XT independent suspension rated at 4200kg and fitted with airbags, and an auto levelling system, supplied by an on-board air compressor. Cruisemaster also supply the DO35 offroad hitch.

As for the body structure, there’s no timber frame and aluminium cladding to be seen. Instead there's a machine-riveted aluminium frame, and fibreglass is used all round, including on the very distinctive moulding on the front wall. 

The lower edges of the walls are protected with a Raptor urethane coating. Naturally full insulation is used all round. 

The extended drawbar provides plenty of storage, with a bin that's large enough to house two 9kg gas cylinders with ample space left over for hoses, camp chairs and jerry cans. 

If that is not enough, the front tunnel boot should fit anything left over. 

For windows, the usual Euro Vision awning style is used all round, including the trademark twin windows on either side at the front. Although there are four windows instead of two larger ones to open, it does mean the upper window can be left open at night with minimal security risk.

What stood out for me in this van was the considerable amount of attention to detail. Clearly the experienced owners had a hand in this but a number of traits that the Sunland team have developed in recent years also made their mark — items such as the alloy/steel hybrid chassis, spacious dinette, and drainage.

 I know the latter is not something everyone necessarily checks out but some thought has gone into both the shower and basin drainage. 

Another maintenance feature that I appreciated were the two hatches on the rear wall that gave easy access to the electricals and water connections. Far too many manufacturers never give that a thought from the user point of view. 

BREAKDOWN

VALUE FOR MONEY 9

SELF-SUFFICIENCY 9

TOWABILITY 8.5

SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 9.5

LAYOUT 9

QUALITY OF FINISH 9.5

BUILD QUALITY 9.5

CREATURE COMFORTS 9.5

INNOVATION 9

X-FACTOR 9

SCORE: 91.5


JUDGE 4: LAURA GRAY

We warmly welcomed previous winner Sunland Caravans back to Best Aussie Vans this year, eager to see which luxury offroad beast they’d throw into the ring. And we weren’t disappointed — the MY19 Sunland Phoenix is a prime example of the company's long-standing expertise 

and innovation.

Custom-built for the McLeans, every inch of the Phoenix represents years of vanning experience, not just the couple’s but also that of the Sunland team. 

It is a true luxury offroad traveller for the couple who like the best of everything. It’s fitted with every conceivable piece of vanning technology and feature that a discerning caravanning couple, who also have the nous and ability to travel seriously offroad, could want. This includes an in-built satellite system, top-of-the-range Cruisemaster XT automatic airbag suspension, 540Ah of lithium batteries, a Victron management system, electric jockey wheel and heaps more, all with Sunland’s 20-year chassis warranty. 

Inside, the Phoenix wants for absolutely nothing — from the genuine stone benchtops, super-soft leather upholstery and glamorous 2pac-spray cabinetry, to the spacious layout and huge shower.

But what impresses me most about Sunland, year after year, is not only their commitment to innovation and best-quality fitment, but also the forethought inherent in all their designs. From the rear bumper service hatches, which give easy access to all the van’s electrics (making future servicing or replacement of appliances easier), to the purpose-built padded covers for the fridge, and the door vents to stop dust ingress offroad. These are small touches that show Sunland’s innovation in design, as well as a genuine care for  customers and their future travelling happiness. 

BREAKDOWN

VALUE FOR MONEY 9

SELF-SUFFICIENCY 9.5

TOWABILITY 10

SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 9.5

LAYOUT 9

QUALITY OF FINISH 9.5

BUILD QUALITY 9.5

CREATURE COMFORTS 9.5

INNOVATION 9

X-FACTOR 9

SCORE: 91.5


JUDGES AVERAGE SCORE: 92.125


WEIGHTS AND MEASURES

Overall length 8.9m (29ft 2in)

External body length 6.55m (21ft 6in)

External body width 2.49m 

(8ft 2in)

Travel height 3.05m (10ft)

Internal height 1.975m (6ft 6in)

Tare 2940kg 

ATM 3500kg 

Payload 650kg 

Ball weight 130-350kg


EXTERNAL

Frame Aluminium 

Cladding Heavy-duty fibreglass 

Chassis Aluminium with hot-dipped galvanised A-frame

Suspension Cruisemaster XT airbag

Coupling DO35

Brakes 12in electric

Wheels 17in

Water 190L (fresh), 65L (drinking) and 130L (grey)

Battery 540Ah

Solar 720W

Air-conditioner Aussie Traveller

Gas 2x9kg

Sway control Dexter

Kitchen BBQ on slide


INTERNAL

Cooking Gas cooktop with grill

Fridge Dometic 215L compressor

Microwave Samsung

Bathroom Full-height shower and Dometic toilet

Washing machine NCE

Hot water Girard endless gas

Accessories 3000 watt Victron inbuilt inverter, Victron solar regulator, Sirocco fan, Fantastic hatch, satellite system, water filter, dedicated drinking water tank, separate pumps for general and drinking tanks


PRICE from $111,540


OPTIONS FITTED

Additional batteries and solar, Victron electrical system, airbag suspension, stone benchtop, double rear bar, BBQ, external tables, satellite system, washing machine, larger fridge (standard is 184L), DSC grey and drinking tanks, additional draw ATM, upgrades in kitchen, fibreglass ceiling

Price as shown $139,990


MORE INFORMATION

To enquire about this caravan, please call (07) 5499 2250


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bestaussievans caravan reviews bav sunland