With room for the family to grow inside this tall 22-footer, the Essential F2.6 has a quality feel to its great layout, and it’s all at a bargain price.
Image credits: Phil Cerbu, Cam Inniss, Marcus Cozzolino, Matt Williams
TIM VAN DUYL
Such has been the growth of Essential Caravans that Managing Director David Wilson claimed to have overtaken New Age to become the country's second largest manufacturer.
Success is not born overnight, especially in caravans where buyers invest a significant amount of time and money in making their decision, so the company’s rise speaks volumes about its ability to satisfy and support its buyers.
The Essential Cruiser Family F2.6, entrant in the fiercely competitive $60,000-$80,000 category at BLA Czone’s Best Aussie Vans 2019, is unquestionably a known formula. It features a simple design, layout and low price but in each area Essential seem to have moved the game forward enough to make us all stop and listen. With composite external construction and an all-Aussie chassis, a layout that supports a family but does it in style and a price that has to rank as one of the most affordable 22-foot family vans for sale, it should be on the shopping list for anyone looking to hit the road with the family in tow.
Along with David was Scott Grant of Ian Grant’s Caravans, Essential’s leading retailer based out of Traralgon, Vic. Chatting to Scott, and he might not like to see this written, he let slip he carries as many as 150 Essential’s in stock, selling and replacing dozens each week such is his sales success and confidence in the brand. Not only confident in the brand though, Scott plays a major part in the design process with neat little ideas like the full height pantry, tall 2.07m ceiling and oversized medicine cabinet.
A traditional build with a traditional look means the F2.6 didn't really draw a crowd at our overcast and blustery Showcase day but the feedback was positive, especially on its value for money. This was reflected by our judging panel who rated it highly in that criteria with an average score of 7.8/10. It also did well in Build Quality with a strong 7.5/10, one of the highest overall scores at this years’ event.
With simplicity and support front of mind, will they overtake Jayco to claim number one? Unlikely in the near future but believe you me, David, Scott and the full team at Essential has them in their sights and should they keep the formula of well-made simple designs that remain affordable, I would suggest Jayco will start paying a lot of attention to the fast rising Essential.
At the lower end of the price category and the most affordable in its class, the Essential sells for $62,990, which seems excellent value for what is essentially a great family van. It rates highly against its competitors, because there are plenty of families who would see it as ideal for holidays in caravan parks or easily accessible National Parks.
A lot is packed into the 6.2m interior, which includes an ensuite and bunk beds, but still with room to move. Sturdy furniture is well finished, and the big fridge and full oven should combine to keep everyone well fed without hitting the takeaway shops too regularly.
The company hasn't skimped when it comes to the critical bits and there are ample USB points around the beds, while the bunk ladder will be sturdy enough for rough teenagers.
The owners of Essential say that looking after their customers is part of their DNA, and I have no reason to think otherwise. The company has dedicated warranty staff, a decent network of repair agents and a good reputation amongst owners. There’s a three-year warranty on the body of the van and the fittings and normal warranty on electrical accessories. The van is suitable for dirt roads but not for excessive speed, hard impact or use of the Caravan in unsuitable 4WD or offroad applications.
Essential’s contractors cover electrical and plumbing installation for three years. Plumbing workmanship is covered for five years with three years for pipes and lines.
Essential is aware that Australian Consumer Law outguns any factory warranty and their written document is one of only a few that includes the statutory ACL wording.
Tare Weight on the builder’s plate was 2400kg, and the van weighed in 70kg over that, which was explained by residual water in the fresh and hot water tanks. Tare is 2700kg, so well within our Trailblazer’s limit when loaded. As one of the lightest vans on our test, it towed effortlessly over steep ground and was easily managed in the tighter sections of our test track.
There was some banging from the 50mm ball on rougher sections, but I found it one of the better-managed vans in the wind, on a day when most sensible travellers would have found an excuse to be anywhere else but on the road. A rearview camera is standard and a sensible addition for safer and socially appropriate motoring.
Essential’s Cruiser was built for a family and to accommodate that, it has a body length of 6.7m (22ft) and an ATM of 2900kg. It has a typical bunk bed layout with an island bed up front, offside kitchen, nearside L-shaped dinette and a double bunk and bathroom area in the rear. All that requires a mid-wall entry door. Points of note in the interior design are the better than average aluminium bed ladder and the extra cupboard space in between the dinette and bathroom.
Not too many surprises in the SupGal box section chassis which has 150mm x 50mm (6in x 2in) main and drawbar rails and a ball coupling. Being a road caravan, it comes fitted with tandem axle leaf spring suspension and 15in alloy wheels.
For a tourer, the ground clearance isn’t too bad, even with items like the galvanised sheet protected water tanks that are fitted on both sides of the axles. All the electrical and gas fitting is done by outside contractors and CNC cut plywood used for all the internal cabinetry and the one-piece floor.
The body construction is very traditional, it being a Meranti timber frame, old style ribbed aluminium cladding and aluminium composite for the roof. Black alloy checkerplate is used for the lower areas all round. Large stainless-steel grab handles are fitted on all corners but are not strictly useful unless the van is standing on flat concrete.
External storage is quite good on this van, with a front tunnel storage, a mid-wall bin and a rear offside door that gives access to the under bunk area — all very handy in a family van for those little extras like fishing rods, body boards and tennis racquets.
Electrics are fairly well set up with a 100Ah deep cycle battery and 160W solar panel plus a BMPRO battery management system. If more temporary solar panel capacity is required, then a wire up Anderson Plug is fitted to the front offside chassis rail.
VIV AND RON MOON
This family van was designed for a husband and wife with a couple of kids. As such, there were a few compromises made as far as storage, seating and bench space goes, which we think impacts its touring capability. Still, this van had significantly more storage than a 3-bunk version fitted with a washing machine, which made any compromise easier to live with.
Of all the leaf sprung, solid axle vans tested this unit towed the best over our test route of second-rate bitumen and wider better blacktop. It seemed better balanced showing little rocking and rolling to the side, no pitching or yawing and very little coupling movement from the 50mm ball. For long distance towing, minor differences like this make for an easier day behind the wheel.
The van has a reasonable warranty but it only covers on-road use — read 'black top' — which no matter how you cut it, limits where you can travel, especially if you want to head outback even to such close destinations as White Cliffs or Tibooburra in northwest NSW.
While stocked with reasonable water, gas and 12V supplies the Essential Cruiser does not have a grey water tank as standard but it can be fitted as an option — it would have to have one to freecamp around the country.
Squeezing a large fridge into the Cruiser — in this case a 3-way 190-litre unit — is always a good thing as far as self-sufficiency goes; it keeps those visits to the supermarket down to a minimum. Still with four people feeding and drinking from it, the amount of time away from a store is going to be limited to just a few days without some real planning and compromises.
With two 95-litre water tanks you have a fair amount of water for such a group while the gas supply is more than adequate for a few days.
A 105Ah battery along with a 160W solar panel to keep it charged will keep everything 12V running for a couple of days at least. Still with the proliferation of USB devices we'd like to see more USB charging points (there are only 2) in this van so internet and social media savvy kids aren't upset with flat devices.
What's not to like about a four-berth family van that you can pick up for less than $63,000 and hitch up when school holidays roll around to head off to your favourite beachside caravan park, where the crashing waves provide the soundtrack to everlasting family memories?
Coming to us from Essential Caravans, the Cruiser Family F2-6 is just that. A traditional, 22-foot-long van that will tick a lot of the boxes for the touring family that doesn't want to stray too far from the well beaten path.
With the current trend towards the slick, aluminium composite exterior panels, the Cruiser walks to the beat of its own drum. Utilising high profile white aluminium cladding on the exterior, wrapped around a meranti frame, this van is as traditional as it gets, and it’s this traditional look that helps the Cruiser stand out in the market. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the Cruiser Family F2-6 is suffering from an identity crisis, and this could be an issue for the unsuspecting buyer. It has the look of a semi-offroad van with its AT tyres and checkerplate protection around the lower sill areas, but it is only warranted for on-road use.
The team from Essential obviously get out there and use the vans themselves and it is this hands-on approach that has clearly influenced the final design and fit out. Plenty of well thought out storage areas will never go out of fashion, neither will quality fittings and finishes. Take the position of the external, galvanised lined generator hatch, which is located above the rear wheel on the near side. While not looking like much from the outside, it's the innovative use of space on the inside that caught my attention.
Located above the generator hatch in the ensuite is a large medicine cabinet that provides a serious amount of storage. Back in the kitchen, a full height pantry fills the space created behind the medicine cabinet and generator hatch — very clever indeed.
Essential Caravans have done a really good job with the Cruiser Family F2-6, shoehorning in a lot for a fairly budget friendly price tag. It looks like there really is no reason not to get out there and explore your own backyard.
Essential Cruiser Family
VALUE FOR MONEY
SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING
HOLDEN HAULED — Ged Bulmer
Fuel Consumption: 16.5L/100km
Tow Rating: 2.5/5
This was the first van tested and as such became the benchmark by which the towing comfort and performance of the other vans was measured. We quickly established that the 2470kg van sat comfortably at between 80 and 90km/h, which became the default towing speed for most of the vans on these roads in these conditions. As with all the other vans to varying degrees, the Essential F2.6 was pushed around quite a bit by the buffeting side winds and this, in combination with the pendulum effect of the drawbar on tow ball, did create some adverse handling characteristics. The van’s 190kg ball weight rated around mid-field but the Trailblazer’s steering still felt light at times, especially when tracking through bends, where you could feel the trailer subtly moving the vehicle around. Despite this, the Holden’s ride comfort remained impressively compliant throughout. However, we ultimately decided that this configuration would become tiring after several hours at the wheel, unless you had some sort of trailer sway management device fitted. There were, however, no issues with the Trailblazer’s transmission or engine handling this 2470kg configuration. The engine sat comfortably at 1500–1800rpm on the flat and at a steady 3000rpm and 80km/h on longer inclines, leading to the third quickest average speed and the second most economical fuel consumption (16.5L/100km) across our circuit, indicating good aerodynamic efficiency.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Overall length 8.62m (28ft 3in)
External body length 6.7m (22ft)
External body width 2.45m (8ft)
Travel height 2.97m (9ft 9in)
Interior height 2.07m (6ft 9in)
Payload 500kg but can be raised to axle group loading limit
Ball weight 195kg
Frame Box galvanised
Cladding Composite aluminium front and rear, aluminium on sides
Chassis Galvanised box frame
Suspension Leaf spring
Coupling 50mm AL-KO hitch
Brakes 12in drum
Wheels 235/75/R15 All Terrain light truck alloys
Water 2 x 95L (fresh), grey water tank optional
Battery 100Ah AGM
Air-conditioner Ibis 4
Gas 2 x 9kg
Sway control ESC Optional
External kitchen Optional
Cooking Recessed Thetford full oven (gas and electric)
Fridge 190L Dometic RMDX21
Microwave NCE Stainless 23L
Bathroom Dometic porcelain bowl toilet, full-sized internal shower (external optional)
Hot water Suburban 22.6L
Washing machine Optional in Family Van model (standard in touring)
Van shown as standard
PRICE AS SHOWN
$62,990 on road Victoria
To enquire about this caravan, contact Essential Caravans, 68-74 National Boulevard, Campbellfield, Victoria 3061.
Ph: (03) 9357 5934