>> Easy to tow for a full-size ensuite van
>> Practical and versatile interior
>> Ducted gas heating on Tasmania’s chilly west coast!
NOT SO MUCH:
>> Compact kitchen and small fridge
>> 240V ‘safety’ sockets reject two-prong plugs
>> Climbing over bed partner to get to toilet at night
Like Australia’s pace attack against England’s batsmen in the recent Ashes series, we’ve given Bailey caravans a serious work-over since the top-selling British brand officially went on sale in Australia in late-2011.
Apart from a few teething issues, which have since been largely addressed, the UK-built touring vans have largely impressed, whether hauled across the continent on a 5000km bitumen road trip or subjected to a dusty dirt challenge in the Flinders Ranges.
Now boasting more than 50 changes from equivalent UK models to better align them with Aussie conditions and tastes, it’s fair to say the lightweight Brit vans have fared a lot better than the hapless Pommy cricketers on Aussie soil.
But one criteria we hadn’t assessed is their suitability for families. While grey nomads remain the most voracious buyers of caravans Down Under, young families are quietly catching up, with more and more local manufacturers introducing bunk bed/ multi-bed models to meet increasing demand.
To determine if the new-age Bailey vans can be as pleasing to kids as they are to grown-ups, we hitched a latest Bailey Pegasus GT65 Ancona to the equally family-friendly Holden Commodore V6 Sportwagon and headed off from Melbourne for a two-week family jaunt around Tasmania, crossing Bass Strait on the trusty Spirit of Tasmania ferry.
While all Bailey Australia’s three-model, 10 layout range offer at least four berths, just two could be classified as genuine family models. Of these, the six berth Pegasus GT65 Ancona is the only one with permanent bunk beds, making it the obvious choice for larger families or those who don’t want to fuss with the kids’ bedding every night.
Like all Bailey vans, the single-axle, 20ft 5in long Ancona is a lesson in weight reduction. With Bailey’s strong but lightweight Alu-Tech construction, it boasts a Tare weight of 1480kg, 300kg payload and maximum 150kg ball weight, meaning you don’t need a big 4WD to tow it.
It’s a fixed roof van too; so no fussing with slide-outs or pop-tops, and Bailey has made the most of its 5.68m internal length, squeezing in a big front lounge/double bed, compact dinette, fully-equipped kitchen, double bunks and ensuite at the rear, not to mention plenty of storage areas.
Then there’s the impressive standard equipment list, which includes many items not often seen on Aussie vans including gas ducted heating, Al-Ko stability control and a portable wheel lock.
Arriving mid-2013 the GT65 is the latest version of Bailey’s mid-spec Pegasus range, celebrating the 65th anniversary of the British brand. It boasts a number of upgrades including the scene-stealing panoramic front window first seen on the Unicorn range.
Well within the Commodore’s 2100kg towing capacity, even fully loaded, the GT65 Ancona barely skipped a beat over more than 2000km of twisting, turning Tassie bitumen during our anti-clockwise lap of the Apple Isle.
From treacherous West coast mountain passes to flowing country roads on the east coast, it tracked stably and confidently behind the big Holden wagon, with the 210kW/350Nm V6 petrol engine and six-speed auto only struggling up the longest, steepest inclines. Average fuel economy was 15-16L/100km.
However, the van’s light weight and single axle set-up meant it did move around a little at higher speeds, whether from bumps or crosswind, so we stuck to a comfortable cruising speed around 90km/h on open roads. Although never required, the safety blanket of Al-Ko anti-sway system was also reassuring.
The 1.5 tonne van was also easy to manoeuvre and back into cramped caravan park sites, or even man-handled into place using the front and rear-mounted grab handles. The extra ground clearance on the Aussie-spec van also prevented any nasty underbody ‘snags’ on kerbs or rougher ground.
While the two-stage lever required a firm hand, the Al-Ko hitch was easy to operate, working well with the Holden’s reversing camera to make hitching up a simple one-person job.
The only real chore was countless cranking of the handle to position the wind-down corners jacks, but at least they’re sturdy items.
Adding to the Bailey’s impressive safety package is an Al-Ko portable wheel lock, which provided peace of mind when parking the van one night on the street. While lining up the bright red unit precisely between two wheel spokes in order to bolt it proved tricky, once affixed it provided a neat solution to deterring thieves.
With no front boot, external storage options were limited to two front hatches on either side, which we used for hoses, electrical cords, and the jockey wheel. Wash-out lining including drain holes also make these good for soggy items like wet suits or boots, though unfortunately they weren’t big enough for our fold-down picnic table and chairs.
The two gas bottles (4.5kg and 9kg), and single 100aH battery were conveniently located in other side lockers, while an Aussie Traveller awning, external gas BBQ point, and drop-down table ideally positioned near the 240V point, completed the al fresco set-up.
One minor inconvenience on our van was not being able to fill the flush tank for the Thetford cassette toilet, due to no inlet being visible behind the external ‘filler’ flap. “An oversight in pre-delivery” according to Bailey Australia, it meant we had to make do with ‘manual’ flushing using cups of water from the ensuite basin.
Also missing on our van was the optional ($850) padded front body bra, which protects the shiny front panel from stone chips. Fortunately no loose gravel caused any major grief. Instead, we discovered ‘self cleaning’ properties of the slick fibreglass cladding, with mud splashed up from unmade roads washing off by the time we reached our next destination.
Also a bit different to most Aussie vans was the two-part Hartal door, with its separate flywire screen, built-in waste bin and internal window blind, which worked a treat.
As we’ve become accustomed with Bailey vans, the interior of the Ancona GT65 was instantly inviting and comfortable; from the thick ‘sprung’ seat cushions to the light-coloured decor and Walnut curved overhead cabinetry doors.
While the beige theme extended to new ‘Catria’ cloth upholstery, it did a good job of resisting stains and marks. Removable carpets are provided, but we preferred the ‘bare’ timber-look lino for its looks as well as easy-cleaning nature.
The previous Ancona had a three bunk arrangement, which meant less headroom and a distinct claustrophobic feel. The new two bunk arrangement, while minus a berth, proved much more accommodating. Each bunk boasts a 75kg maximum and spacious 6ft by 2ft dimensions, making them just as suitable for adults while providing sufficient headroom for daytime activities like playing cards.
With a full-length concertina curtain for privacy and blocking light, separate reading lights and windows, and decent foam mattresses, the cubby-style bunk arrangement was a big hit with our two, eight and ten-year old girls.
MADE TO MEASURE
Other berths were more makeshift; the ‘parents’ sleeping on front lounges converted into a king size bed. However, it only took a minute to convert to the slat bed base bed, and the comfy ‘mattress’ and king size dimensions (6ft8in x 5ft4in) resulted in plenty of stretching room for two. The only downside was one person having to hurdle the other to get to the toilet at night.
The front lounge seats six and provides the best family dining option using a separate foldable table stored under a lounge base. However, with limited ‘lounging’ time in the van we kept the bed made up for the duration of the trip, making do with the four person (just!) dinette at meal times or spilling outside when the weather permitted.
The front lounge also features a small coffee table that pulls out from the chest of drawers; ideal for a laptop.
The dinette provides the third bedding option, converting to a single bed (5ft7 x 2ft 1in) with the detachable table top used for the base. A clever mechanism also flips over a backboard to create another bed base on top.
While also supporting 75kg, this bunk bed is shorter (5ft 5in) and not as practical with an overhead cabinet cutting into headroom. But with separate ‘rollover’ guards and a privacy curtain, they’re a decent option for smaller family members.
There were no complaints regards the van’s double-glazed windows or LED lighting arrangements. The Ancona has a full complement of roof and reading lights, and all polyplastic ‘popper’ windows have pull-down (or up) blinds and screens for excellent blockout of light and bugs (the drapes are merely for show).
The highlight is undoubtedly the soaring front window/large overhead hatch arrangement, which lets in more light on an overcast day than an English sunroom.
While we didn’t get to enjoy star gazing at night in bed, we did appreciate adjusting the two-part blinds in the morning; just enough to let the light stream in without bystanders or nosy caravan neighbours being able to see in.
If it wasn’t for impatient kids, we might have slept late every morning, enjoying the aerial views of bush canopy, chirping birds, and rolling clouds before eventually rolling out for coffee and brunch!
Importantly, with three females on board, large mirrors were located in the ensuite and front entry area. And while it might be a bit high for some, the eye-level position of the microwave did come in handy as a default mirror for blowdrying hair!
Another strongpoint of the Ancona is internal storage, including numerous under-seat compartments and seven overhead cabinets which were used for lighter clothes and non-perishable food. Built-in racks and drawers within kitchen cupboards were also handy for securing cutlery and plates.
The piece de resistance was the large full length wardrobe, with hanging rails and shelves, which swallowed up a lot of gear. However, it’s position next to the kitchen meant there was only room for a small 80 litre fridge/freezer. While adequate, it meant we had to shop for groceries more than we’d have liked and it was always a struggle squeezing in the all-important beers and wine.
The kitchen, while containing everything you need (microwave, four-burner cooktop, oven, circular sink and tap, rangehood) is small compared to most Aussie caravan’s. However, we still managed to prepare and cook family meals, despite our 240V espresso machine taking up valuable benchspace.
There was no shortage of 240V/12V sockets throughout the interior. However, the 240V ‘safety’ sockets wouldn’t accept two-pronged plugs, so we had to purchase an extension powerboard before plugging in devices using these plugs.
Entertainment wise, the Bailey comes with a Jack HDTV digital antenna and two TV antenna points (but no TV), and a decent-sounding Pioneer CD/MP3 audio unit with two internal speakers.
Also mildly irritating on our (mid-2013 build) van was its single 65 litre water tank, which seemed to run dry regularly despite never using the shower. It had us regularly monitoring the level via the digital display, particularly at Cradle Mountain where tap water had to be boiled before drinking.
Bailey Australia is now supplying all vans (except the new Pursuit) with two slimline plastic tanks providing a more practical 130 litre capacity.
However, there were no complaints about the ducted gas heating system; a common feature on Europeans vans regularly subjected to sub-zero temperatures. It got a good workout on Tasmania’s chilly West Coast, particularly at Cradle Mountain where outside temperatures dropped as low as two degrees.
Coming in from rain-sodden bush walks and raising the van’s internal temperature up to a toasty 15-20 degrees within minutes via a switch of a dial was definitely a good way to maintain family harmony.
While we could have got a similar result using the 240V roof-mounted reverse-cycle air-conditioner on our powered site, the Truma system was much quieter not to mention more efficient. The Bailey’s ‘Grade III’ certified insulation also helped retain the heat so we didn’t have to run the system all night.
It’s always handy having an ensuite when caravanning with young children and while compact, the separate shower unit, swivel cassette toilet, sink, vanity and storage areas were much appreciated when too dark or to too wet to use park facilities.
The Ancona GT65 proved the perfect choice for our Tassie family holiday. Its light weight and excellent towing characteristics came to the fore over Tasmania’s hilly, ever winding roads. And when forced indoors by some very British-like weather, the welcoming bunks and warm, cosy atmosphere ensured happy kids (and parents!).
However, with no permanent double bed, it’s not as adult-friendly as some Bailey models, and the smaller kitchen and fridge and front lounge bed conversion, while workable, may put off some.
Our Tassie test also provided another tick for the Bailey’s build quality, backed up by a six-year bodyshell warranty. Aside from the ‘missing’ toilet tank water inlet, the only issues were the internal housing of a reading light working loose (a drop of silicone should prevent this) and wiring dropping down at the van’s front (Bailey Australia says it’s due to a long loom and has requested a factory fix).
Priced at $58,208 (tow-away, Vic), the Ancona GT65 is not the cheapest family van on the market, but for what you get it’s hard to beat.
BAILEY PEGASUS ANCONA GT65
Overall length: 7.34m (24ft 2in)
External body length: 6.22m (20ft 5in)
External body width: 2.23m (7ft 4in)
Travel height: 2.72m (8ft 11in)
Internal height: 1.96m (6ft 5in)
Ball weight: 80-150kg
Cladding: Fibreglass composite
Chassis: Al-Ko galvanized steel with independent suspension
Brakes: 12in Al-Ko electric
Stability Control: Al-Ko ATC
Wheels/tyres: 15in alloy, 195/70 light truck
Fresh water: 2 x 65 litre
Battery: 1 x 100Ah deep-cycle
Air-conditioner: Air Command Ibis (with Truma E2400 gas central heating)
Gas: 1 x 9kg, 1 x 4.5kg
Cooking: Four-burner Thetford Caprice with oven and griller, Camec rangehood
Fridge: Waeco 80L
Toilet: Thetford swivel cassette
Shower: One-piece moulded fibreglass
Hot water: Truma gas-electric
Price (drive-away, Vic): $58,208
Supplied by: Bailey Australia, Epping,Vic