Caravan review: Jayco Journey 17.55-8 Pop Top Outback - Caravan World Australia

Caravan review: Jayco Journey 17.55-8 Pop Top Outback

Written by: John Hughes; Photographer: Capture Factory

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It’s no secret that Jayco Caravans' vans are made for the masses and have made it possible for countless Aussies to experience the joys of caravanning. They are not perfect, and you can see aspects of the vans that are ‘built to a budget’, but they get the job done. I reckon the Jayco 18ft pop-top is one of Jayco’s all-time classic crowd-pleasers.

As caravan journalists, we have the opportunity to review all kinds of beauties. There is probably a bit of a bias towards covering the biggest, fanciest, cutting-edge vans available on the market. It’s partly driven by manufacturers supplying the media with the most upmarket vans they have because that’s what their marketers get excited about. And it’s partly driven by our curiosity to see what the latest and greatest offerings are so we can keep abreast of advancements in the industry. While this may make interesting writing for us and hopefully reading for you, some of these vans are reaching ‘unobtanium’ status for the average punter with some vans pushing price tags towards $300k.

The Jayco Journey Pop Top range is far from unobtanium. This one is an 18-footer that has all the core things you need, including a bathroom, with prices that start from under $60k for the Touring model. In this review, we are looking at the MY23 Outback variant priced at $66,203 which is more rough road and off-grid oriented. I think this is the price bracket a lot of people would be shopping in. Let’s see what you get for your money.

The build

I have reviewed a few Jayco vans now. This Journey Outback Pop Top follows Jayco’s now well-established build regime. Underneath we have the Jayco-designed and in-house fabricated Endurance 2.0 chassis. It is hot dip galvanised and the main rails and A-frame are substantial 150mm x 50mm RHS steel. Additional rails feature cutouts to minimise weight. The chassis is matched to Jayco’s proprietary suspension system known as JTECH 2.0. It’s a trailing arm independent suspension that Jayco first launched in 2014. The JTECH concept utilising coil springs and shock absorbers is used across the Outback models while the Touring models sport a more basic leaf spring setup. 

The van rolls on smart-looking 15in black alloy rims and 235/75R15 all-terrain tyres. Sixteen-inch wheels are more the norm on most vans I see but I don’t think this will hold back the Outback as it appears to have good ground clearance — reportedly 185mm more than the equivalent Touring version when unladen. Upgraded electric brakes are another point of difference for the Outback. Both the Touring and Outback versions sport sway control by Lippert which is a great piece of kit at this price point.

Jayco also makes its own one-piece walls and roofs. The walls start with a welded aluminium frame marketed as Tough Frame. A fibreglass skin, outer and inner ply along with polystyrene insulation is then laminated to the frame in a vacuum press. Jayco claims it is both stronger and lighter than the conventional ‘timber and tin’ aluminium-clad walls and provides great thermal and acoustic insulation. 

Overall, the Journey Outback is a purposeful yet minimalist-looking van. The A-frame is not adorned with the ubiquitous toolbox but instead features a little pod to house two 9kg gas bottles. The optional jerry can holder sitting on the A-frame looks a bit odd to me, but it is highly functional. The rear wall is a cleanskin with no jerry can holders or spare wheel to be seen. The spare wheel resides under the chassis towards the rear of the van.

Talking about underneath, some of the plumbing does look exposed and vulnerable to stone damage. This is something the average DIYer could probably address with pool noodles and zip ties. Some of the plumbing fittings look reminiscent of what you see in home garden irrigation. They probably do the job fine, and this is an example of where Jayco can keep costs down. One of the plumbing lines was squashed though which would severely restrict flow, but this is something that could be fixed in less than five minutes.

Liveability

I like the inside of the Journey Outback. I reckon Jayco generally nails interior aesthetics and creates a stylish look that won’t offend anyone. This model has cosy seating with a compact table and overhead storage space is optimised for a pop-top van. Overhead storage is always a bit harder in a pop-top because you have less height to work with than a fixed-roof van to allow room for the roof to close. Our male model for this photoshoot was very tall and he was at risk of banging his head if he tried to sit under the overhead cupboards. Fortunately, this problem is easily negated by sitting on the part of the L-shaped seating not encroached on by cupboards.

The Journey Outback has a roof-mounted Dometic Harrier Lite air-conditioner which is the optimum position for cooling as cold air falls down. Some pop-tops have the air-conditioner fitted inside the van under furniture to keep weight off the roof. This makes it easier to push the roof up and puts less stress on the roof when bouncing around on rugged roads. We found the roof to be quite manageable to push up with the manual lifting mechanism and the roof construction appears to be sound, so the roof mount air-con is a winner

The appliances are all fine. A Thetford four-burner gas cooktop with a built-in griller is as good as you will find in much more expensive vans. The rangehood with 12V LED light and twin fans is up to the task as is the Sphere microwave right underneath the cooker. I am less excited about the old-school Dometic 153L three-way absorption fridge on board. Compressor fridges are capable of getting from ambient to operating temperature much faster than absorption fridges. Plus, compressor fridges can drop from ambient to operating while driving whereas absorption fridges are really only capable of holding temperature while driving. If I were buying this van, I would be looking at what needed to be done to run a small compressor fridge. To find out more about RV fridges and how they work, head here.

The bed area can be showered with natural light thanks to two huge windows and the surrounding storage is really good with side robes, drawers and more overhead lockers. The bathroom is pleasant and functional. A contoured storage nook with a very shallow benchtop allows enough space for the toilet. The nook has a nice big opening for housing towels, but the absence of doors means you wouldn’t be able to put tall items in there for the risk of them falling out when travelling. Showers in pop-tops always look a bit agricultural compared to full-height vans but the Journey Outback example is as good as I have seen. 

External liveability is very minimalistic. It’s nice to have a traditional rollout awning and picnic table included. If you want to cook outside you will be bringing your own little barbecue which can fit in the front tunnel boot. Apart from that, there’s not much to report. 

Off-grid

Minimalist is the keyword here again. You get a 100Ah AGM battery fed by a 200W solar panel working with a basic Projecta controller. There’s not enough oomph here to be doing anything fancy but that’s the whole point. You have to remember at the other end of the scale there are some vans with mind-blowing power packages that alone cost nearly as much as this entire van. If you want to learn more about powering your van for off-grid travel, read this article

The two 9kg gas bottles will give you plenty of old-school energy for cooking and powering that absorption fridge that I’m not a fan of. But here’s the thing, powering the absorption fridge with gas is the most initial outlay cost-effective way to do things.

Arguably the three 80L fresh water tanks are too much for this van — refer to the towing section below. A grey water tank does not come standard but can be optioned in. Your balance of fresh water to grey water is something you should give some serious thought to match your needs given that some camping locations mandate grey water storage.

Towability

There are a few high-end things missing from this van. Apart from keeping the cost down it also gives you a much lighter van — fully loaded you are looking at 2.5T. Combined with the low profile afforded by the pop-top design this is a highly desirable match for a so-called 3.5T tow-rated dual cab ute. In my opinion, this is the smart way to tow; it takes the stress off the tow vehicle and the driver and provides plenty of margin for error regarding legal towing weights. 

One thing to think about is how much water you want to carry. In round figures, this spec Jayco Journey Outback has a payload of around 500kg. In standard trim, it has 160L freshwater storage leaving you with around 340kg of available payload after filling the tanks. However, the test van had an additional 80L fresh water tank optioned on, bringing the combined water capacity to 240L. If you filled all the tanks, you would only have 260kg of payload to play with. Of course, you don’t need to option in this extra tank and even if you do you don’t need to fill it all the time. 

The bottom line

If a friend came to me and said they want to give this caravanning thing a crack, but they don’t want to break the bank, I would happily suggest they go and check out a Jayco Journey Pop Top Outback. 

HITS AND MISSES

Hits

  • You get a lot of van for $66k
  • A two-year manufacturer’s and five-year structural warranty gives peace of mind
  • Light weight and low profile are winners

Misses

  • I would be looking to upgrade from an absorption to a compressor fridge

JAYCO JOURNEY 17.55-8 POP TOP OUTBACK RATINGS

VALUE FOR MONEY
You will find it very hard to get so much for your money from any other local manufacturer

TOWABILITY 
I am a big fan of a 2.5T van

SUITABILITY FOR INTENDED TOURING 
If you want reasonably priced minimalist travel, this van could be for you

BUILD QUALITY
I think Jayco often cops an unfair rap. There are some signs where Jayco reduce cost, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

LIVEABILITY
Hook up, head off, live simply and have fun

SELF-SUFFICIENCY
It’s far from cutting edge but you can easily make it work

CUSTOMER CARE
Two-year manufacturing and five-year structural warranty along with an enormous dealership network is reassuring

INNOVATION
Not much innovation on show here, but that’s fine with me

X-FACTOR
Price, strong local backing and comes with all the essentials

JAYCO JOURNEY 17.55-8 POP TOP OUTBACK SPECS

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES

Body length 5.53m (18ft 1in)
Overall length 7.2m (23ft 7in)
Width  2.47m (8ft 1in)
Height  2.67m (8ft 9in)
Tare  1970kg
ATM  2463kg (we omitted to record the plated ATM of the vehicle, this is an average supplied by Jayco)
Payload  493kg (calculated based on average ATM)
Ball weight 130kg
Ball to tare ratio 6.6% (calculated)

 

EXTERNAL

Frame  Aluminium
Cladding  Fibreglass composite panel
Chassis  Hot dipped galvanised Endurance 2.0 Chassis
Suspension  JTECH 2.0 trailing arm independent coil
Coupling  Recessed ball hitch
Brakes  Outback electric
Wheels 15in black alloy rims and 235/75R15 AT tyres, including spare
Water  3 x 80L freshwater (2 x 80L standard, grey water tank available as option)
Battery  1 x 100Ah AGM
Solar  1 x 200W solar panel with regulator
Air-conditioner Dometic Harrier Lite
Sway control Lippert Sway Command


INTERNAL

Cooking  Thetford four-burner gas cooktop with built-in griller
Microwave  Sphere
Fridge  Dometic RUA5 RH 153L three-way absorption fridge with built-in freezer compartment
Bathroom  Separate shower and toilet
Hot water Fogatti black continuous hot water system


Jayco Journey 17.55-8 Pop Top Outback price from $64,155

OPTIONS FITTED

  • Jerry can holder
  • Extra 80L freshwater tank
  • External shower
  • Reverse camera
  • Water filter

Jayco Journey 17.55-8 Pop Top Outback price as shown $66,203

MORE INFORMATION

To enquire about this caravan or the other models in the Jayco range, head here

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