One place to start is how large of a van we really need — if size was unimportant, we would probably all go for the biggest available.
However, while size should be one of our primary concerns, keeping everyone happy in a more compact family van can mean compromising. The upside of downsizing is seen on the road, where the smaller the van the easier and less expensive it will be to tow.
The choices keep on piling up when we look at various construction methods. It’s probably no secret that the review team at Caravan World are all drawn to vans with both modern components and technolo›y. This favouritism especially comes into play when the van is destined for a hard life on hard roads to distant destinations.
While every build method has advantages, the stars align here for a strongly-engineered aluminium frame on a robust chassis. In offroad conditions, where wheels are riding on uneven ground, the builder needs to consider the twisting stresses on the caravan frame and body. If the frame is too stiff, there is danger it will crack. If it is too flexible, the attached furniture and cladding are in danger of falling off or cracking.
Eden Caravans address this engineering conundrum with an aluminium frame held together with hydraulic-pressed steel rivets for a body that has just the right amount of give for a lifetime of extreme use. And, according to Andrew Altschwager from Caravans Coffs Coast, for an enduring and functional fit out inside, their attention to detail is up there with the best. I’d agree.
For practical purposes a 19ft 6in van is around the smallest we might consider for a family, so this Eden meets a lot of criteria for a practical and tough adventure van. Included are the travelling family essentials of a caravan queen bed, the choice of two or three bunks, a bathroom, and a reasonable size kitchen and a dinette. The van tips the scales with a tare of 2680kg, which is pretty reasonable considering the level of standard equipment and bulletproof design.
The robust build starts with an FP chassis from Melbourne builder Frank Panella. He took the brand name from his initials when he started the business back in 2004. He now builds 1000 chassis a year for clients he says appreciate his hands-on supervision of his tight 15-strong team.
The Wildtrax chassis is built from 3mm Australian Tube Mills steel, finished in an internal and external DuraGal coating. DuraGal saves around 60kg over hot dipped galvanising and is said to give comparative protection over the life of the van. A 150mm x 50mm A-frame leads back to a laminated chassis of two main beams 100mm x 50mm beams welded together for a stronger construction than a single 200mm x 50mm section.
The one-piece marine ply floor sits rigidly on a maze of 50mm risers supported by 100mm x 50mm crossbeams and all the electronics and plumbing are well protected close to the floor.
The baseline suspension for the Wildtrax series is Cruisemaster’s very capable XT independent system with twin shock absorbers. FP build a unique Framework for the Cruisemaster with a single member supporting the shock absorber mount and the Trailing arm. It’s claimed to be lighter and superbly strong. Down below, 16in alloy wheels shod with 265x75 mud terrain tyres add to the nuggety appearance and the high ride of the van.
The body of the van comprises a wall frame of 25mm interlocked aluminium C-section rivetted together with aircraft quality fastenings. Voids between the frame are filled with close fitting polystyrene insulation before an outside cladding of 3mm composite aluminium and an internal ply sheet are fixed. The roof is a single 30mm thick composite sandwich pressed panel for strength, durability, efficient insulation, and weather protection.
With a colour scheme of grey and black, it’s only splashes of bright blue that keep the Eden from looking too severe. True to the current vogue for offroad vans, checkerplate protection runs low along the sides and across each end.
The Wildtrax rides high and has a really powerful presence and an unmistakable offroad intent that is reinforced with a sizable black toolbox at the A-frame and a smattering of hatches along the sides. Down the back a single spare wheel sits on a high bar, while up on the roof the Houghton Belaire 3400 air conditioner adds 22cm to the overall height.
The coupling is the popular Cruisemaster DO35 for easy hitching and safe performance from the wide articulation and ADR-compliant locking mechanism. There’s the obligatory brake away system but no sway control. The toolbox and a pair of 9kg gas bottles are protected by a full-width stone guard with lower Eden-branded mud flaps that should stop a lot of stone damage to the undercarriage.
Typical of the attention to detail Eden Caravans applies to their vans, a Weber Baby Q in the toolbox is colour coded to the blue on the sides. The barbecue sits on a slide and is positioned for quick access when cooking outside. On the driver side of the storage box is a second slide for a generator if needed.
Moving back along the passenger side we find a full-width tunnel boot, a large picnic table, and an entertainment hatch with internal points for 240V, 12V, and TV. External speakers and good LED lighting under a full-length awning add to the outdoor relaxing vibe.
A fold-out step is needed to scale the heights to the Eden’s interior but it’s worth the effort to take in the unpretentious but beautifully styled modern interior. Colour choices from the team at Caravans Coffs Coast are always spot on, and here the Graphite and Modern Concrete Black against the white walls and ceiling is simple and enduring. Sterling Silver backsplashes and nostalgic timber highlights of the Grey Bardolino benchtop and table combine for a desirable interior space.
The amount of attention to detail Eden applies is clear
Furniture is hand crafted for a tight fit and all cupboards have piano hinges and superior gas struts and catches. Soft-closing drawers are metal sided with positive locks.
The layout places an east-west bed forward of the entry with a central living space and the rear of the van split either side of the central walkway between a set of bunks and the ensuite. I would usually highlight an east-west bed as a potential problem for some buyers, but Eden has solved any access issues by leaving space at the foot of the bed. It’s a trick I have seen in other vans over the years, and I don’t understand why it’s not a more common design feature. But there is no denying that in this size van, a crossways bed is the only practical way to save space.
Another necessary compromise in a 19ft 6in van is the modest amount of kitchen bench space. The area is compact but a colour-coded timber cover over the stove helps, and the angled kitchen steals a little bit more. The high microwave isn’t a favourite of mine in a family van, but it would take a smarter mind than mine to find a safer place for it. I like the full oven though, and the 224L 12V fridge is a good size for all the ravenous youngsters aboard.
While the L-shaped microfibre lounge probably won’t fit a family of five, the design is thoughtful. The long table can drop to make an extra bed, and also swivels for extra prep area close to the kitchen.
A set of triple bunks down the back have their own narrow window for a view and some breeze, and each bed also has its own light, USB port, and storage nook. A built-in ladder will make access simple and a raised lip at the bed will prevent falls. At the end of the walkway a huge cupboard — even with the space taken by a 3.5kg washing machine — solves all the family’s storage needs. I sometimes wonder about the worth of washers in vans but while we were having a coffee after our review, we did the sums for a family on the road for six months and concluded the washer should pay for itself within that time. They are also very handy if you have a generator and a water supply when camped off-grid.
A bathroom of a decent size is important in a family van, and this one should be popular with everyone. The roomy ensuite has good ventilation and the single piece shower has plenty of room to move.
The Eden is all about getting into the bush and away from the crowds and the comprehensive power package is well up to the task. Three 170W solar panels deliver a total of 510W to the 200Ah Enerdrive lithium battery through a 40A DC/DC charger. A second charger handles input from 240V.
A total of 200L of fresh water is a decent amount for long stays if it’s not used for washing, but hopefully you can find a waterhole or a beach to keep fresh.
With all the equipment and robust engineering, it’s no wonder tare is 2680kg. And a payload as much as 820kg will take maximum weight to the 3500kg ATM. It was an easy task for the 200 Series to handle the empty van on the winding roads out of Coffs Harbour towards Nana Glen. The ride was smooth and without vice, so the LandCruiser was a good match. We didn’t overstretch the offroad capability, but given the well credentialled undercarriage, I have no doubt the Eden is up to the task of covering long stretches of rough road with confidence. Driving to the conditions is key.
Structural components including the body and furniture have a three-year warranty while components are covered for one year. I’m satisfied that Caravans Coffs Coast will make sure anything that’s a problem will be fixed so that the caravanning experience is nothing but pleasant.
The Wildtrax will suit a family of five who want to take on some of our iconic drives and with reliable power and a comfortable retreat at the end of the day.
With the cost of components rising every week, the drive away price of the Eden 19ft 6in family van has snuck up to $101,325. That’s still good value in the context of a capable offroader with a comprehensive electronics package.