Caravan review: Bushmaster Ultimate Outback 20ft 10in - Caravan World Australia

Caravan review: Bushmaster Ultimate Outback 20ft 10in

Written by: John Ford

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The Ultimate Outback series is Bushmaster’s premium range, and this 20ft 10in model will suit a couple looking for a roomy, capable offroad van.

Two quotes on the Bushmaster Offroad Caravans website say a lot about the vans. First, if your thing is an all-electric Hollywood caravan park style, then a Bushmaster isn’t for you because they are more about camping down by a river with a fire and a bit of silence.

The second thing is that if you want to know anything about the van, call the owner, Terry Ryan, “any time” — his number is there for all to see. I guess that includes anyone with a warranty problem, and it’s refreshing to see that sort of dedication to customer service. I guess Terry isn’t often woken in the middle of the night with breakdowns, as they reckon on more than 90 per cent of vans going through the five-year warranty period without any issues.

In an age when the internet is clogged with owners complaining about unresolved issues with their new vans, Bushmaster is an outlier. Its warranty is for five years on everything in the van except the chassis and suspension, covering offroad use. Oh yeah, the chassis and suspension have a lifetime warranty. When we were running the review of the Ultimate Outback 20ft 10in on show here, there was a customer’s 10-year-old van in the workshop for a minor issue that Bushmaster was fixing for free. 

As the line about all-electric caravan parks suggests, the Bushmaster brand isn’t for everyone. The company owner has chosen an individual path in how he approaches building his vans, and Bushmaster has developed a solid reputation among owners for reliability and rugged sturdiness. There’s a dedication to quality and a ‘do it once — do it right’ attitude that you don’t find everywhere. The mix of components in the build represents a design ethos where the function is paramount, and weight saving and distribution are maximised. If you were planning an offroad van from scratch, the ideal setup might start with a Simplicity suspension under an aluminium chassis, aluminium frame and aluminium cladding. These are all standard features on this Ultimate Outback and ones that make it all the more desirable and unique. 

The complete checkerplate wall cladding is a practical solution for weight saving because it’s significantly lighter than composite aluminium. The checkerplate comes in an extensive colour range; if you prefer, smooth finish cladding is an option. But remember that the checkerplate is a practical covering for a true offroader, as minor scratches and dings from branches and flying stones are easily repaired.

Simply tough

Aligning the Simplicity suspension with its army heritage on the Bushmaster website is an attention grabber — these units can be found on heavy-duty army trailers which says a lot for how durable they are. Simply put, the load-sharing setup is bulletproof in its build quality and ultra-efficient in keeping all the caravan wheels in contact with the road without the need for shock absorbers. 

(Image Terry Ryan)

Terry told us he was among the first caravan builders to offer an aluminium frame as part of the build, and they have had no issues on the many alloy chassis vans he has built over the past 10 years. They save around 160kg and are standard on the Ultimate Outback series. Astute owners recognise the value in the weight advantage and bask in the exclusivity. The chassis is from ARV and uses a 150mm x 50mm an extruded beam with internal bracing (see image hereabouts), which is stronger than a standard rectangular hollow section. Strengthening gussets run under the main stress point on the A-frame, and the natural aluminium finish looks fabulous.

The build

Once the ARV chassis and suspension arrive at the Bushmaster factory in Campbellfield, Victoria, work starts on the 25mm x 25mm box section aluminium frame, and the Bushmaster fabrication method differs from most builders. The sections are joined with nylon connectors, which allow a degree of flex and cushioning to eliminate any danger of the frame cracking if it is welded or riveted. Sections of marine ply reinforce the walls on each side at the front and rear. The aluminium roof frame has a side-to-side curve to shed any water, but the single-piece fibreglass roof is waterproof in any case. Ply sheets cover the interior walls, and Bushmaster still uses the traditional timber frame construction for the joinery. Doors and drawer facings are lightweight ply.

The exterior

The van on review is a roomy couples van with a few extra features like side view cameras and a deluxe leather headboard in the bedroom that make up the Ultimate pack.

A high stance, monster toolbox, aggressive chunky tyres and dark colours all point to an extreme offroad van, but the full armour of checkerplate seals the deal. I don’t recall any other builder making such a bold visual statement, but it works, and customers love the exclusive look. A 300mm wide silver section midway up the wall breaks up the big black and dark grey panels, and a narrow line of scenic photos softens the impression even further. Side view cameras high up towards the front are a great safety feature and standard on the Ultimate.

The connection is an AL-KO Off-Road hitch that replaced the Hyland version when they stopped production, and Terry insists it’s the best and only one he will use. It’s coupled with weight distribution bars, which is a standard feature that adds to the smooth, safe handling of the van. A custom storage box has twin jerry can holders, a front hatch for two 9kg gas bottles, a passenger side slide-out for a standard Swift kettle-style barbecue and another slide opposite. We have a similar barbecue, and I like that they do everything you need for grilling meat and baking or pizza making without being too heavy or taking up a lot of space. A wide top section is ideal for hoses, wheel ramps and mats. A 10L poly diesel tank sits between the box and the front of the van, where it’s easily reached and well protected.

If you like the idea of camping by a river with some silence, then the outside setup should suit with no less than three picnic tables, a full-length awning and an entertainment hatch for all the electrical points if you plan on disturbing the peace with some TV or music. The high indicator lights have been a Bushmaster staple for years, and there are lower ones to keep things compliant.

A spare tyre sits on the rear bar, and a wide wood box is available for your firewood. There’s a bit going on up top with a Jack TV aerial, a Finch 3400 air conditioning unit and the Bushmaster-designed and built Dust Stop high-pressure fan. Your off-grid power is impressive, with 930W of solar panels across five panels.

Liveability

The entry is towards the front in the opening between the foot of the bed and the kitchen, and this layout makes the most of the space available. If you prefer, there’s a rear entry version in the same size and price, which also comes with an island queen bed. 

I was really taken by the white interior with a dark grey lounge and fridge for its fresh and modern look that’s conservative but timeless. More than 100 different tones are available, so you can mix and match cupboards, fabrics and benchtops.

Big double-glazed Aussie Traveller windows and maxi roof hatches spread fresh air, light and views of that silent river. The review van layout has a dinette on the driver’s side and the kitchen opposite, but you can opt for a club lounge or recliners in the same size van. Even better, if you can think of a layout that suits your needs more, Terry is open to seeing if it can work within the confines of weight distribution and layout restrictions. 

The kitchen is laid out on the passenger side. I have to say I’m a bit over black for interior accents, so it was great to see a chrome sink with chrome tapware set in the dark marble laminate benchtop that extends to the ensuite wall, where a small return adds preparation space. A stove with a full oven has a covered cooktop, while a 240V Whirlpool Crisp and Grill microwave is overhead. 

The driver side cafe dinette is luxuriously clad in rich black pleated leather that is both comfortable and roomy, and each seat has lifting extensions for spreading out after dinner. Aft of the dinette is a generous size 274L Thetford compressor fridge/freezer that vents through a whirly bird in the roof for minimal dust ingress. There’s a full-height pantry near the fridge, and overhead cupboards on each side have shelves, piano hinges and modern-looking positive lock catches.

The queen bed lifts for storage up front and is set into the very chic black leather headboard. Lights, power points and discreet USB points are in all the right places, but you might notice no wall fans. Instead, the company supplies a pair of portable rechargeable Digitech fans that you can place anywhere to keep yourself cool and stow away so that they don’t end up on the floor after a long trip down a hard road. 

A van this size is about 400mm (1ft 3in) longer than average, and you see some extra length in a bit more room in the ensuite. The colours are mainly white, so it feels spacious and airy. A front load washer sits on top of a handy exterior storage hatch, and there’s decent space at the ceramic toilet. The moulded shower is roomy and has a Euro-style showerhead that lifts to around 2m high. A roof hatch includes an extractor fan. 

Off-grid living

There’s no point camping down by the secluded river if you run out of power to keep the drinks cold. Don’t worry — this van has lots of electricity to keep you comfortable for as long as supplies last. The 930W of solar we mentioned powers four 120Ah Voltech lithium batteries mounted on the chassis. A 2000W Voltech inverter is located under the bed, and it’s wired to power outlets throughout the van, which are duplicated for when you are hooked to outside power. You can run your appliances, including the air conditioner, fridge and microwave, from the inverter, and there’s gas for the stove and a diesel heater for cold nights. Water storage is generous with dedicated 50L drinking water and a 60L grey tank. Three 95L water tanks will keep you hydrated, and the river will keep you clean, so the cassette toilet’s range might be something to consider if you’re planning extended stays off-grid. I’d consider a composting setup for simpler waste management.

The drive

Our tow rig for the trip to Terry’s farm in the hills north of Melbourne was Terry’s trusty Mercedes GL350. It’s a lusty 3L V6 with enough pulling power to easily negotiate the hills and highways.

The cameras mounted on the van’s sides are a fundamental safety feature for traffic and bush tracks. They are so good I’d be surprised if they aren’t a standard feature on most caravans soon. The Bushmaster has Tuson Sway Control and weight distribution bars that keep the van on track and safe without any pitch or yaw on the tar and without any lurching or unruly behaviour on the rough dirt tracks we negotiated for our photos.

The wrap 

The Ultimate Outback 20ft 10in is $141,350 as we see it here, so it’s well priced among its peers of genuine off-grid, offroaders. Bushmasters come with an extensive list of standard features, including the impressive electrical setup, the big fridge and the aluminium construction. An important aspect of price is resale value, and while you won’t find many second-hand Bushmasters, they bring a premium when you do. Terry is offering Caravan World readers a free aluminium chassis and a driveway price of $134,500, which is even better value.

In many ways, the Bushmaster Ultimate Outback 20ft 10in is an enigma. It’s a modern van with a luxurious, universally appealing interior inside a rugged exterior from a company with genuine old-school values. How many companies have such a generous and all-encompassing warranty? Everything about the Bushmaster suggests a passion for building adventure vans that you can confidently tow into remote locations at your own pace. There’s a loyal crew of Bushmaster owners with an open social media platform and a willingness to share and recommend the brand to friends. A quarter of sales are to repeat customers, and that says a lot in today’s market. 

MEASURING UP

Pros

  • Engineered to last
  • Lots of standard features and great value
  • Extended off-grid capability

Cons

  • Not everyone likes a door near the bed, but a rear entry is an option

BUSHMASTER ULTIMATE OUTBACK 20FT 10IN RATINGS

VALUE FOR MONEY
Excellent value for inclusions and build quality

TOWABILITY
Tows smoothly and backed by Tuson Sway Control

SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING
Couples will love the room and luxury

BUILD QUALITY
Top class components and neatly finished

LIVEABILITY
Room to move and all the right appliances

SELF SUFFICIENCY
Great solar and electronics setup and high water capacity

CUSTOMER CARE
Five years on “everything in the van”

INNOVATION
Designed by builders who know caravanning 

X-FACTOR
Individual look and style and plenty of offroad appeal

BUSHMASTER ULTIMATE OUTBACK 20FT 10IN SPECS

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES

Internal body length 6.3m (20ft 10in)
External body length 6.6m (21ft 6in)
Overall length 6.6m (21ft 6in)
Width  2.5m (8ft 2in)
Internal height 2m (6ft 6in)
External height  3.1m (10ft)
Tare  2740kg
ATM  3500kg
Payload  760kg (calculated)
Ball weight 340kg
Ball to tare ratio 12.4% (calculated)


EXTERNAL

Frame  Aluminium box section
Cladding  1.6mm checkerplate
Chassis  150mm x 50mm aluminium
Suspension  Simplicity load sharing spring
Coupling  AL-KO Off-Road hitch
Brakes  12in electric
Wheels 16in alloy wheels 265x75 General Grabber all-terrain tyres
Water  3 x 95L freshwater, 1 x 50L drinking water, 1 x 60L grey water
Battery  4 x 120Ah Voltech lithium
Inverter 2000W Voltech
Solar  4 x 200W and 1 x 125W (930W total)
Air-conditioner Finch 3400
Gas 2 x 9kg
Sway control Tuson (plus weight distribution bars standard)


INTERNAL

Cooking  Swift 500 oven
Microwave  Whirlpool 240V Crisp and Grill
Fridge  Thetford 274L compressor fridge/freezer
Bathroom  Full width, separate moulded shower and ceramic toilet
Washing machine Front loader
Heater Diesel 10L
Hot water Swift gas electric


Bushmaster Ultimate Outback 20ft 10in price from $141,350 ($134,500 for Caravan World readers)

OPTIONS FITTED 

Nil

MORE INFORMATION

Bushmaster Offroad Caravans
28 Production Drive
Campbellfield Vic 3061
P: 0408 194 481 (7am–7pm)
E: bushmasteroffroadcaravans@gmail.com

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