VOYAGE OF DISCOVERERS
Reborn Discoverer launches into the popular campervan market…
by Malcolm Street
Discoverer Campers has been around since 1973, but during that time has had several owners. Following it’s total demise during the GFC due to inept management by a major car company, it’s been brought back to life by Brendan Samuels, a young fellow with more than a decade of RV sales and marketing experience – and a passion for campervans.
The business is now very much in full swing at Discoverer's Albion Park (Wollongong, NSW) factory. That certainly seemed to be the case when Mr Publisher and I arrived there recently to collect not one but two freshly completed campers. In many ways they looked almost identical; being white on the outside and with the same twin-bed layout. The main difference were the base vehicles: One was a VW T5 turbo-diesel auto and the other a Toyota HiAce turbo-diesel auto. For this write up, we'll be spending most of our time in the latter.
Various brands of light commercial vans have been used over time for camper conversions, but there's no doubt Toyota’s HiAce has been a stayer. It's been much favoured because of its reliability and ready availability of spare parts and servicing. Our review vehicle was turbo-diesel powered, with a 3.0-litre 100 kW/300 Nm engine and a four-speed automatic gearbox.
From the outside there are few clues the Discoverer is a campervan, apart from the pop-top roof and Fiamma F65 awning. Because this camper has a methylated spirits fired cooktop there's no need for a gas cylinder bin and the only other items along the offside are the water filler and power cable connection. Although essential in my opinion, it's a pity about the awning, because the fibreglass pop-top roof moulding merges very well into the overall van outline whereas the awning does not!
On the Road
One of the little things that betrays the HiAce's delivery van character is the three person front seat. It almost feels like a step back to the past. However, a very useful feature is the middle seat back that folds down to provide a very handy centre console. Another step back in time is the under-dash umbrella-style hand brake.
Sitting behind the steering wheel does give that slightly sitting upright delivery van feeling, but all the relevant controls and switches are readily to hand. Including, I would just like to point out, the radio with all kinds of goodies: A 3.5mm socket, USB connection and Bluetooth. In the safety department, both driver and left hand passenger have front air bags.
Travelling along, the 100 kW turbo diesel is a willing performer and the four-speed auto certainly smoother than some AMT gearboxes in larger motorhomes that I have come across. However, unlike the VW T5, the HiAce is more delivery van than car in the comfort and handling departments.
Setting up the Discoverer camper takes a matter of seconds. Just open the sliding door, enter and undo the roof straps, then lift it into position. After that the canvas windows can be opened, the awning pulled and it's almost time to relax.
Given the limited space inside a van like the HiAce there are only a few practical layout options. In this case Discover has opted for what's known as the twin bed layout. That is, in the rear of the van, two inwards-facing lounges run along both walls. That leaves room for a small kitchen cabinet area behind the driver's seat and a swing-out cabinet behind the passenger seat. There's no shortage of natural light by day, given the canvas gusset windows and tinted HiAce windows, while at night ceiling mounted LED fittings and LED reading lights are provided. A feature of note is not so much the 12 V switch/fuse panel, located on the kitchen cabinet, but the 12 V and 5 V USB charger sockets that adjoin it. Very useful for those of us that have multiple electronic devices that need charging – and apparently provided because Mr Publisher commented on what a good idea they are in another motorhome!
Given the two lounges in the rear, there is certainly plenty of room for sitting around, either with your feet up or down. But given the square nature of the seat backs, a couple of cushions would undoubtedly make things more comfortable. When it’s time to eat a single pole-mounted table is provided, which stores behind the driver's seat. Being a single pole mount it doesn't have any movement adjustment, only being able to swivel around, and it’s not overly sturdy/confidence inspiring when in place (typical of all such table arrangements – Ed).
Under both lounge seats are generous storage areas, although the offside area is part taken by the house battery and charger, along with the external shower hose, which is accessible from the rear. Both under-seat areas are accessed by lifting the hinged seat bases (which is a bit fiddly) and the nearside area can also be accessed from a hatch at the rear, when the rear door is open. An option is an engine heat exchanger hot water system for both the sink and external shower, which is good but it is going to take precious storage space. Hot or cold, however, it’s good to see an outdoor shower standard on all Discover models.
Time to Eat
Campervan kitchens by nature are small, but this one is quite flexible in use. Directly behind the passenger seat is a swivel mounted cabinet with a marine-grade Origo two-burner spirit cooker, plus a microwave oven mounted below. Using methylated spirits makes the campervan LPG free and while the metho-fired cooker is a little slower it does save on the space needed for a gas cylinder. Having the cooker on a swivel mount also means it can be used inside or out as the weather allows, minimising cooking odours inside. From my understanding a swing-out LPG cooking system will be standard in future, but I believe there is still a places for the humble – and simple – spirit stove.
On the opposite side, the rest of the kitchen comes with an under-bench 80-litre Engel fridge a sink with a smoked glass lid but without drainer. Minimal bench space is helped greatly by a hinged bench extension that adjoins the sink area. It does protrude over the offside lounge area but I reckon it’s a good compromise.
Between the fridge/sink area and the driver's seat, the cabinet there contains a multi-shelf cupboard, plus a drawer above. I did like the piano hinged bifold door for the cupboard, which made getting to it so much easier.
One thing that you cannot get away with in a campervan is not having to make the bed up every night – unless you compromise by leaving it made up and not having much seating, that is! Anyway, it's quite simple: The timber pieces used to fill the area between the seats are to be found under the nearside seat and once in position, the seat backs are laid down and the bed area is ready. When made up, the bed measures 1.8 x 1.54 m (5 ft 11 in x 5ft 1in). That might be a bit short for some but the bed length can be extended by squeezing up the kitchen cabinet. Always a compromise to be found!
What we think
Having both the VW and HiAce vans side-by-side, with identical layouts, did show up a few advantages the VW's way. For a start being a flat floor, it's quite easy getting to and from the driver's cab. An option with the VW is to have a swivelling passenger seat. That does conflict slightly with the kitchen cabinet behind but also supplies a decent after-hours seat. On the HiAce's side of things, it's nearly $10,000 cheaper and that's definitely going to be of interest to anyone on a budget!
In many ways campervans like the Discoverer Twin Bed are much like the device Dr Who travels around in. While the Discoverer certainly isn't as good as the Tardis, it’s still practical and has much more room inside than you might think. It seems the reborn Discoverer is well on the road to a successful comeback.
- Generally speaking a well fitted out interior
- Relatively good kitchen area
- Dual USB charge points
- LED lighting throughout
- Standard Shower
- Electrical charge/fuse panel
- Kitchen bench extension
- Under-bed areas fiddly to get at
- No walk-through cab with HiAce
- Metho cooktop slower than LPG
Click HERE to visit Discoverer's website
Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications, photos and contact details.