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Us journalists lead a charmed life. Getting to play with top products at our whim, and acting as chief judge and jury in the process. Yet with most of the product tests we perform, we do them as solo operators. We test them on their own, and reluctantly give them back a week or two later. This however was not a solo mission. I had borrowed Lotus Caravans’ new Off Grid for a trip into the chilly NSW Snowy Mountains. And this time, I was bringing my family – wife Karen, Bill (15), Gus (13) and Charlotte (11). It’s fair to say that this mob has been raised under canvas. Be it tent, swag or camper trailer, they have learned to live with frosty western nights and even the odd Tasmanian thunderstorm. So what would they think of a hard-topped 16-foot off-road caravan with a shower, a toilet, a TV, full insulation and reverse-cycle air-conditioning? Surely they would scorn the luxuries, and long for the simple pleasures of early nights, canvas and campfires!
Alas, they did not. After just a couple of nights, they ditched the tent and all piled into the cozy confines of the Off Grid. At one campsite, they even bothered to tune the TV and proceeded to watch Gogglebox. Our Bonnie-Doon-like ‘serenity’ was gone. Though admittedly, that show is damn funny…
So just like that, my ‘outdoorsy’ family had turned on me – and spent the remaining days telling me how they never wanted to travel off-road again in anything less than a Lotus. The $72K price tag didn’t worry them either. Typical. I think I’ll have to enroll the lot of them in some outdoor survival courses to knock the tough back into them.
The Lotus Caravans Off Grid is the latest release from a company that has enjoyed rapid-fire success with every model. Its roots come from the hugely popular off-road dual-axle models – the Freelander and the Trooper. But these opulent off-roaders were beyond the weight limits of many regular 4X4s. Enter the 1,800kg Off Grid, designed for you to live self-sufficiently away from the power grid; and over a single axle (rather than two). The weight savings are significant, yet the cost savings are few… largely because other than interior acreage, they’ve skimped on no luxuries. They’ve even managed to add some more. The inside feels like the Starlight Lounge, with low-draw LEDs and cabinet lighting giving you that ‘spaceship’ feeling. There’s even a microwave inside and a couple of burners, but we certainly took advantage of the slide-out external kitchen complete with Weber Q.
The timber body of the Off Grid is underpinned by a sturdy galvanised G&S chassis and Series 2 Control Rider independent suspension. It’s pretty serious too, with the springs being kept in check by twin shocks on each side. And I’ve got to say that I was mightily impressed by the way this rig towed. Its 140kg ball weight was a cinch for my leaf-sprung Amarok, and I was instantly thrilled with the way the van behaved on the road. I was expecting a big lumbering hulk that lurched around corners; yet it was far more nimble than that. It handles corrugations and potholes in its stride, and even scoffed at corners that were taken a little quicker than planned! Hey, it was the Snowy Mountains.
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The other thing that surprised me was how warm the van stayed. Whether it was just Karen and I in the oversized bed, or the two of us with the kids as well, the van stayed toasty all night. We only really plugged in the air-con to see how it went (not because we actually needed it).
The Italian leather seats and laminate cabinetry were all first-class, and the build quality was fantastic. One of the few things I would like to see improved is the management of the water and gas lines under the external kitchen. Once set up, they’re fine; but packing them up is a little like stuffing cooked spaghetti into a hole. It can be done, but it’s not fun! It’s a problem that most slide-out kitchens face, but it would be nice if a brand like Lotus conquered the issue.
Dust sealing was also particularly good on the test rig, despite having more hatches than a cruise ship.
In terms of self-reliance, a couple of 150-watt solar panels adorn the roof and they charge the two 120AH deep-cycle batteries. We never looked like draining the batteries, and we could see exactly what the power and charge stats were thanks to the Morningstar solar controller. A very cool bit of kit. And the resettable fuses were another nice touch.
I’m not sure if I’m sold on the bright orange panels, but that’s no big issue as you can choose from a myriad of paint jobs. Call me boring, but I’d love to see a black and white version to suit my Amarok.
With just the one bed, the Lotus Off Grid is squarely targeted at couples. Typically, families would steer clear of this van – preferring to go for more beds and then trading that rig in when the kids grow up. Yet like most families, our kids just seem to grow up so fast that I’m not sure how long a bunk system would be used. And with the ability to expand accommodation with a tent, I think the Off Grid could actually be utilised by a family. The storage space is certainly big enough, as is the kitchen. Or maybe I’m just convincing myself due to some heavy persuasion from my family. Either way, they won’t stop badgering me for a Lotus in the driveway.
The toilet and shower in a small package!
on-road and off-road
Packing up the hoses under the slide-out kitchen
Words by Pat Callinan