Nova’s Family Escape 176 is slightly shorter than the usual and with a slightly different take on the layout.
Victorian based Nova caravans is something of a boutique caravan manufacturer. Building everything from the aptly labelled Metrolink to the flagship Pride Platinum with the offroad Terra Sportz in between, the company has a relatively small but quite impressive range of caravans.
Included in the Nova stable is the well-named Family Escape range, or to give the full handle, the Signature Z Series Family Escape. I’ll just stick with Family Escape, for this review, the 176-8C model, which came from Penrith-based (NSW) Sydney RV. Like many dealers at this time, Sydney RV is suffering from a general stock shortage but fortunately the 176-8C was readily available for a test drive.
ON THE ROAD
Looking at the van, a few vital statistics are that it has an external length of 5.73m (18ft 10in), an aggregate trailer mass (ATM) of 3088kg and a tare mass of 2488kg. So not only does it have a payload of 600kg, but it’s a good towing prospect for a decent range of vehicles. In my case, it proved to be an easy towing prospective for the Jeep Grand Cherokee I was using. My test circuit included the Great Western Highway across the Blue Mountains west of Sydney and both van and tow vehicle performed very respectably. There’s something to be said for a tow vehicle with plenty of kilowatts under the bonnet and considerable spare capacity in the tow rating. It makes for stress-free travel, if nothing else.
Like most of the Nova van range, the Family Escape has a very stylish, streamlined look about it. In addition, the grey roof/white wall colour scheme grabs the eye too. Aided somewhat by the black and blue striping, along with the ever-present black alloy chequer plate for the lower areas, ProAl aluminium sandwich panel is used for the Family Escape’s wall construction and one fibreglass is used for the roof. The use of one-piece walls and roof is intended to minimise water ingress. The overall frameless construction is designed to offer a strong and lightweight structure.
External storage on the Family Escape isn’t too bad. In addition to the front tunnel storage, there’s a storage bin at the rear offside and a chequer plate storage box on the drawbar. It’s partly dedicated though with the two 9kg gas cylinders in a separate compartment on the nearside. A slide-out tray on the opposite side offers a storage option for a generator.
Supporting the van is a box section DuraGal® RHS chassis with 150mm x 50mm (6in x 2in) main rails and drawbar. It looks very busy in the sub chassis area but that’s mostly because of the tandem axle suspension plus the two freshwater tanks and grey water tank. A little point of interest is that the latter is fitted in between the freshwater tanks, rather than the more usual position at the rear. Both battery boxes are mounted on the front offside chassis rail.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
In case you were wondering about the Signature Z Series name, it’s not just a fancy title. The Z series is a reference to the Semi-Offroad Pack that comes with this van. It’s quite an inclusive package that features AL-KO™ independent suspension, Cruisemaster DO35 coupling, front toolbox, 50mm (2in) raiser, two 105Ah AGM batteries, two 170W solar panels, A-Frame extension and the aforementioned 150mm (6in) chassis and grey water tank. Semi-offroad is not exactly a clearly defined term in the RV industry but is taken to mean a van capable of handling rough country or national park-type roads rather than just graded gravel.
Nova offers a three-year warranty on all its caravans. According to the Nova brochure, that’s backed up by dealers in all states, along with a substantial number of “approved and qualified service centres”. None of Nova’s manufactured items are subject to the individual manufacturer’s warranties.
Just in case you missed it, the 176-8C is a family van with a double bed up front for mum and dad and two bunks down the rear for the junior members. 5.73m (18ft 10in) is perhaps a little short for a conventional bunk van layout but Nova has used a couple of space savers by having an east-west double be up front and a bathroom that takes up two thirds of the rear wall rather than a nearside arrangement. A bit of a compromise but it allows for a better sized dinette and a bit more space in the kitchen. Using a contemporary colour scheme – white and various shades of grey, the internal look does have quite a pleasing appearance. Although the natural light is quite good, large diameter LED ceiling lights do add to the brightness by day and certainly by night also. We tend to take LED lighting for granted these days but there’s no doubt just how much the technology has improved in recent years, not only in terms of brightness, but also low energy use. Many of us can certainly remember gradually dimming incandescent lighting as the battery voltage dropped during evening times.
By night and by day for that matter, the 176-8C has sleeping accommodation for four. Up front, the transverse double bed measures 1.9m x 1.5m (6ft 3in x 5ft). There’s a bit of walkway space at the foot of the bed, thus making easier access for the wall occupant and a wardrobe/bedside drawer squeezed into the front offside corner, along with a pillow cubby that’s not near the pillows. Overhead lockers are fitted across the front wall and there’s a handy shelf area above the bed head. Each bed occupant gets a wall reading light, What the bed doesn’t have is much window area, with just one in the offside wall. A facing window would be a bit awkward given the presence of the awning arm. There are two 12V Sirocco roof fans, something I found handy since I was taking the photos on a very warm day. There not being any 240V power, I was not able to use the roof mounted Belair 3400 air conditioner. Mounted on the nearside wall is the extendable arm plus power/antenna connections for a TV. That makes it an okay position for viewing from both the bed and the offside club lounge but a little bit of care is necessary because it’s in an ideal head banging position … Nova has fitted a drawer under the bed, which is a good idea, being much more convenient than lifting the bed base where there isn’t much storage space anyway, given the presence of both the water heater and front tunnel storage.
Down the back, the two offside bunk beds measure 1.87m x 0.76m (6ft 1in x 2ft 6in). Each bed has a window and a reading light at the forward end. I’m a bit unconvinced about the stylish but somewhat impractical ladder for the top bunk. Under the bottom bed, each occupant gets their own drawer. The bed base can be lifted but there’s not much point given the external access that’s there for the corner access.
Many a family caravan diner I have looked at often seems on the small side. This club lounge setup does offer a reasonable amount of space, although I suspect that with two teenagers, an aisle seat may be more practical. I did like the contoured cushions, mostly comfortable when sitting down and stretching out. Reading lights are fitted at either end and there’s a power point under the rear seat. There’s an apparent lack of USB charger points but they are located in the bases of the reading lights. Which are okay as long as you don’t mind dangling cables. The front seat sports a drawer but since the rear seat storage contains the battery management system, there’s little room for anything else.
As you might expect in a van like this, the kitchen is fully equipped. Built into the kitchen bench is a Thetford four burner cooktop/grill/oven and a stainless-steel sink/drainer. There’s a decent amount of bench top area but the sink drainer is on the small side. Three drawers, three overhead lockers and a double cupboards give the necessary kitchen storage. A slight oddity of this design is that the Thetford 175 litre, 12V compressor fridge with the microwave oven above is more in the rear bedroom area than the kitchen. However, the fridge with drawer freezer below and the microwave are all at user-friendly heights.
Like many a caravan kitchen, a fourth overhead locker is devoted to items like the electric control panel, RV WiFi unit and main switches for items like the air conditioner and hot water service.
Not quite as big as a full-width item, the bathroom is a nice compromise item. Right in the corner is a separate shower cubicle. In the adjacent space, there’s a Thetford cassette toilet, and corner washbasin. Other bathroom fittings include a towel rail and ring, wall mirror and a wall mirror. Although the shower cubicle is of a reasonable size, the door opening does require a bit of dexterity when getting in or out.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There’s something to be said for the slightly different layout of this Nova van. It’s length and weight mean a few compromises but that’s outweighed by being a good towing prospect for a range of vehicles. It’s definitely a classy bunk van inside and out, one that’s well appointed.
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Bunk van layout
Designed for semi-offroad use
Internal storage including the under bed/seat drawers
Slightly different internal layout
Not a super heavy van
Nicely finished inside and out
Window space around front bed
Shower door opening
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Body length 5.73m (18ft 10in)
Overall length 8.02m (26ft 4in)
Width (Incl Awn) 2.4m (7ft 10.5in)
Height (incl AC) 3.02m (9ft 11in)
Ball weight 203kg
Ball weight/Tare ratio 8%
Cladding Nova Pro-Al sandwich walls and one piece fibreglass roof
Chassis Galvanised, 150mm (6in) rails and drawbar
Suspension Independent with coil springs, trailing arms and dual shock absorbers
Coupling Cruisemaster DO35
Brakes AL-KO™ 12in electric
Wheels 16in alloy
Water 2 x 95 litre
Battery 2 x 105Ah
Solar 2 x 170W
Air-conditioner Houghton Belaire 3400
Gas 2 x 9.0kg
Sway control AL-KO™ ESC
Cooking Thetford 4 burner, grill & oven
Fridge Thetford T2175L 174 litre 12V compressor
Bathroom Thetford cassette & separate shower cubicle
Hot water Swift 28 litre gas/electric
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