Established by Fay and Max Watson at Coffs in 1987, and now in the hands of their sons Adam and Kris, Watsons Leisure Centre has been a Jayco dealer for most of that time. Their vast site on the highway is hard to miss on the road north, and in normal times they stock upwards of 130 various RVs.
COMPACT AND PRACTICAL
With such a wide range on tap, we could have chosen any number of vans for our review. I settled on the smallest in the Journey range because many of our readers request reviews of smaller and less expensive models.
The 16ft Journey is the smallest in the midrange of Jaycos, with Starcraft as the entry-level and Silverline as the brand leader. The van is a 16.51.3, and Kris helped me unlock the Jayco model name mystery — 16 for 16ft internal length, 51 for 5.1m external body length, and 3 for the model designation.
Weighing in at 1742kg and boasting a pretty reasonable 408kg payload, the littlest Journey has an ATM of 2150kg, unleashing it on a wide range of tow vehicles. These include the midrange SUVs like Land Rover Disco Sport, Holden Trailblazer, Toyota Fortuner, and Ford Everest, but with the money saved on the thrifty Journey, you might be able to stretch to a Tesla Model X.
Jayco is by far Australia’s largest RV manufacturer, with a capacity for half of the caravans produced here each year. Their size gives them the ability to keep nearly all of their production in house and allows for a generous research and development budget. Benefits of the experience and know-how include a lightweight but sturdy chassis and composite body construction — the company moved away from timber frames many years ago to take advantage of modern technolo›y.
The walls consist of an aluminium frame surrounded by an extruded foam panel inside a ply interior panel and a double exterior skin of ply and fibreglass. The four elements are thermo bonded into a single entity that is highly durable and with excellent sound and temperature insulation. Jayco’s marketing talks up the durability of the fibreglass cladding, making particular reference to its hail resistance, so it was a timely demonstration seeing all the undamaged vans in the yard.
Underneath is a Jayco designed and built Endurance Chassis, where 100mm x 50mm box section main beams extend along the A-frame to the coupling. Roll-formed and C-section beams supporting the floor are engineered for strength with minimum weight. The chassis is hot-dip galvanised for extended life. Suspension is a simple, single axle leaf springs setup, with the option of independent trailing arms as part of an Outback package available on all journey models.
A pair of 80L water tanks are located on either side of the axle, and the spare sits in a wind-down cradle ahead of the front water tank. Plumbing and electrical leads are well placed, and I noticed metal shields over any vulnerable components.
Interior joinery also uses aluminium extrusions in the construction for added durability. The joinery is CNC-cut for a quality finish, and the drawers and cupboards have positive locks and sturdy components.
Our Journey here is a couple’s blacktop tourer with standard suspension, so it doesn’t have the high ground clearance you would see in an offroader. However, combined with simple white sides and minimal graphics, it avoids the need for protective and garish checkerplate sides, which produces an understated and straightforward appeal.
The swept-back front section has a light fibreglass panel over the window and a soft vinyl pad lower down for protection. Meanwhile, a black ABS box keeps stones from damaging the two 9kg gas bottles and regulator. The A-frame has a 50mm ball hitch and an external freshwater tap. There’s provision for a removable jockey wheel, but considering the storage limitations in a small van, it would have been nice to see a fixed, swivelling system instead.
A sizeable full-width tunnel boot is along the passenger side with a handy LED light that switches between white and blue. Further back is a fold-out picnic table, while overhead, you get a light and a set of external speakers as well as an electrically deployed awning. It’s a nice touch and adds to the value proposition and ensures quick setup of the van when camped.
Down the back, black ABS mouldings break up the square white panels for a stylish finish common across the Journey range.
A 16ft van is considered small by current standards, so it’s pretty astounding how much usable space and amenities have been packed inside this Journey. Clearly, it’s aimed at touring couples wanting to keep things simple and light, but there isn’t much they will miss out on and plenty of benefits in economy and ease of towing.
Geared towards couples wanting to keep things roomy and light
The low height makes entry easy even without an outside step, and once inside, there’s close to 2m (6ft 5in) of ceiling height that contributes to an unexpected feeling of space. The double island innerspring bed is adjacent to the entry at the front of the van, and while not everyone loves that arrangement from a privacy perspective, it’s the only layout that makes sense of the available space because the doorway makes use of the dead space at the foot of the bed.
Large Dometic windows on each side of the bed and at the dining table, as well as a small one at the sink, allow loads of light and ventilation and can be blocked out when needed. Somewhat unusual these days is that all but the kitchen window had gauze curtains on tracks that lent a touch of hominess.
Storage options include the usual complement of overhead cupboards on both sides and a set of good size drawers set in the kitchen bench. There’s also space under the bed and lounge and extra room in a group of linen cupboards in the ensuite. Colours are a standard mix of whites and greys with some faux timber accents that seem to be in vogue at the moment. You can add your mark to the interior design with a choice of fabrics, and the review van has a splash of zany zigzags at the lounge.
The kitchen runs along the driver side and includes a Thetford stove with cooktop, grill and full oven, a circular sink a 171L three-way fridge with a Sphere microwave above. Admittedly, preparation space isn’t enormous, but the folding lid on the stove and innovative thinking like the removable cover over the sink help create some room.
Opposite the kitchen is an L-shaped lounge and a reasonably-sized dining table that slides easily to allow better access. The L-shape provides seating for three or for one person to stretch out for a session of Squid Game on the supplied 24in TV. It will be easy to stream content because each Journey now has a Sphere Wi-Fi router as standard.
Especially considering the small footprint of the van, the ensuite is remarkably roomy and includes a full-size shower, with a roof fan, a stylish vanity, and a cassette toilet with ample elbow room.
Even though it’s destined more as a caravan park tourer, a 180W solar panel is standard on the latest model and a Projector charging and monitoring system takes care of charging. It even features an app to monitor power and battery on your phone. The solar gives you the option of cheaper unpowered caravan park sites and a few days bush camping.
The significant advantage of a small van is evident when you hook it up for a drive. My LandCruiser was probably overkill, but the lightweight van will be a good match for the mid-range SUV set. Lippert Sway Control is a great safety feature that those new to towing will find reassuring.
The van towed smoothly without any sway or pitching and, being easy to position and reverse, I quickly managed to get into place for our photoshoot.
THE BOTTOM LINE
After a diet of mainly large vans over the last few months, it was refreshing to revisit a compact tourer — and it was surprising how much room there can be when smart thinking is applied. Priced from $59,490 ready to roll, the Journey is a well-priced van and, like, all Jayco RVs, resale is extremely good. Jayco have a long list of options and I’m told the most popular include bike racks, an external kitchen and leather seats.
The Journey 16.51.3 is an easily towed van that will suit those couples planning to spend much of their travels stopping at caravan parks. That said, a solar panel would open travel horizons to lots of national parks as well.
weights and measures
Overall length 6.77m (22ft 2in)
External body length 5.34m (17ft 6in)
External body width 2.47m (8ft 1in)
Travel height 2.86m (9ft 4in)
Internal height 1.98m (6ft 6in)
Ball weight 170kg
Frame Composite aluminium and fibreglass
Chassis 100mm x 50mm Hot-dipped
Suspension Single axle Leaf spring
Coupling 50mm ball
Wheels Alloy 215x70 x15
Water 2 x 80L
Battery 1 x 100Ah
Gas 2 x 9kg
Sway control Lippert Sway command
Cooking Dometic stove with oven
Fridge 170L three-way
Bathroom Full-width ensuite
Washing machine No
Hot water Continuous gas
Picnic table, gas bayonette
PRICE AS SHOWN
Watson Leisure Centre
251b Pacific Hwy, Coffs Harbour, NSW 2450
Ph: 02 6652 7544