WHEN I RECENTLY took a look over a Wildwood caravan, there were hopes of finding something that would make my travels to far off places comfortable and easy. We hooked it up to a Toyota LandCruiser, without any worry it was fit for the job, and headed into the Brisbane Valley to find a spot by Wivenhoe Dam, about 70km from the Qld capital.
Wivenhoe Dam isn't exactly out of the way, nor is it a pristine riverine forest, but the roughness of the surrounds wasn't the issue. This van is imported from the US to Australian specifications and standards, so the issue was whether or not it measured up to its promise of luxury travel.
ON ITS OWN FEET
On first looking at the rig, I had to double check to make sure the Wildwood was a caravan and not a small fifth wheeler: from the rear and sides it has the height and, notwithstanding the lack of a gooseneck, tall boxy profile of a fifth wheeler. Add to that its push-button electronic stabiliser legs and electronic jockey wheel, and you could be forgiven for making the same mistake.
Now, here's where things get even more unique. This Wildwood doesn't actually have a jockey wheel as such. At least, not in the sense most of us would expect. Instead, the centre of the A-frame is home to something that looked more like a 12V outboard motor for a canoe, an electronic jockey foot that can raise or lower the drawbar as required.
While at first glance the absence of a wheel seems somewhat counter-productive, it's worth remembering that wrestling a 7.1m (23ft 3in) van with a Tare of almost 2600kg into position over an errant towball is difficult at best.
For a medium-to-large van, that means the jockey wheel is less about side-to-side adjustment and more about vertical movement. From that point of view, a jockey foot will do just fine.
The electronic jockey foot and stabiliser legs definitely take the hard work out of setting up. Thankfully, the system features a manual over-ride, so you're not left tilting precariously if the motor dies or the remote control battery is flat.
On the underside, the 8in I-beam steel chassis is not likely to let you down in a hurry and makes a good base on which to mount the fibreglass composite body. And considering the van's offside slide-out, a hefty chassis such as this is essential.
The unusual frame construction features a combination of timber and aluminium, underpinning fibreglass composite walls. The timber framing sections are front, rear and on the roof. The argument here is that the timber provides a degree of flexibility in the areas that can move as you travel.
Leaf-spring suspension helps the whole construction move smoothly along the road.
The van features a handy bracket for an external barbecue. However, the gas line, and most other external services, including the electronic controllers, could be a little better protected from flying rocks and stones.
The van's large 189L water tank ensures travellers won't go thirsty, and a handy tunnel boot keeps bulky items out of harm's way.
Looking around the interior, it's clear this van is all about staying comfortable and cosy. The ducted under-floor heating from a gas furnace is evidence of that. You're never going to worry about cold feet or the echo of slippers scuffing across the vinyl floor of this rig. And as the day heats up, the van maintains a comfortable ambiance thanks to ducted air-conditioning in the ceiling.
With climate control taken care of, our review van boasted all the mod-cons we now expect, including full oven, sound system, washing machine, flatscreen TV, and a slide-out that provides extra width to the dinette.
Despite the slide-out providing around 500mm of extra width, the dinette is still limited to a side-by-side configuration. This could be annoying for anyone who enjoys a friendly face-to-face conversation. However, it is a setup that allows travellers to bring a guest along, with the lounge folding out to provide an extra bed.
Although the décor is dark, it actually adds to the peaceful atmosphere. More importantly, the furniture is well made, with drawers and cupboards never threatening to force a splinter into an unsuspecting hand. Unfortunately, there is no dedicated pantry for the kitchen.
The washing machine is placed by the kitchen and well hidden by a cupboard. But the top-loading configuration compromises the storage space above the machine.
In terms of stowing your gear, hanging space is limited, but there is adequate storage in the bedroom, including under the bed. Good reading lights also make the bedroom a great place for travellers who like to curl up with the latest Caravan World.
Like many people, I do my best thinking while hosing off the day's grime in the shower. But while the Wildwood's bathroom ticks all the boxes, and does its best with limited space, the shower is quite small.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Forest River Wildwood has the potential to make a significant impact in the domestic market.
As a newcomer to the Australian luxury caravan scene, it already has most of the right stuff in most of the right places.
While the look and some of the features, like under-floor heating, may seem either superfluous or overdone to some buyers, this van has success written all over it - at least as long as the Australian dollar stays strong and its US manufacturers continue to respond positively and rapidly to the demands of Australian buyers. On this point, only time will tell.
Source: Caravan World Feb 2012.