OUT STANDING IN ITS FIELD!
Horizon’s latest Banksia raises the bar while lowering the price..
by Richard Robertson.
In an age when more is more it’s refreshing to find a company progressive enough to consider taking a seemingly backwards step. Horizon Motorhomes in Ballina has released a new version of its popular Banksia two-berth motorhome, but perhaps a little explanation about the company’s offerings is needed at this point. Horizon blurs the boundaries between campervans and motorhomes by building all its ‘motorhomes’ as van-conversions, which would otherwise be classified as campervans. Horizon converts Fiat Ducato, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and VW Crafter vans into motorhomes, but tells me the quirky, non-conformist Fiat makes up about 75% of its business.
The thing is, I can kind of understand the logic; given Horizon does a very good job and the interiors of its ‘campervans’ rival most upmarket motorhomes in terms of design innovation, quality and appearance. So back to the story...
A Tale of Two CCs
Always looking for a sales edge, Horizon is now offering the Fiat Ducato Banksia with the ‘small’ 2.3-litre turbo-diesel as an alternative to the full-fat 3.0-litre engine that’s the norm across Ducato Land. Some might consider this a gamble, but given the ‘little’ Fiat engine pumps out 9 kW and 50 Nm more than VW’s 2.5-litre Crafter engine, Horizon is hardly gambling its future on the move. What it does do, though, is provide a very attractive $2950 price reduction on the standard Banksia. That would cover the optional reverse-cycle airconditioner or solar power, or even a diesel-fired heater – with change. Makes you think...
From memory, when the current-look Ducato first wowed us it came with both engine options, but only a manual transmission. Somewhere along the line the 2.3-litre donk disappeared, a six-speed automated manual transmission (AMT) known as Comfortmatic arrived and we’ve all lived happily ever since. Well, the 2.3 is available again now (at least to special order) and gives little away to its 120 kW/400 Nm bigger brother. Both engines are Euro-5 emissions compliant, employ variable-geometry turbochargers and common-rail injection systems and both are excellent examples of the latest generation of economical-yet-powerful Euro diesels – something the Japanese have never really mastered.
Engines aside, all Ducatos are front-wheel drive and share the same raft of safety, comfort and convenience features. These include dual front airbags, anti-lock brakes (ABS), ninth-generation electronic stability control (ESP), traction control (ASR) and other electronic load-sensing aids to keep you on the straight, level and narrow. Climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, cruise, electric windows and even a refrigerated 1.5-litre bottle holder are part of the package, too. And what a stylish package it is! Whereas a Sprinter or Crafter will likely elicit a yawn from the unknowing, Ducato’s futuristic front-end and appealing interior are still a breath of fresh air in light commercial vehicle design.
The Ducato is also wider than its German rivals by about an inch, making a transverse bed practical; has about a 500 kg higher gross vehicle mass (GVM) and comes with a 125-litre fuel tank as standard, compared to just 75 litres. It’s also rated for 2.5-tonnes towing, up half a ton on the Germans, and is designed for motorhome use from the ground up. This includes routing the wiring and even the handbrake cable out-of-the-way and supplying tyres specially suited to prolonged periods in one place without developing flat spots.
Less is More. More or Less...
Horizon admits to being uncertain about the appeal of a smaller engine in a fully laden motorhome, but remains upbeat about initial feedback. I second that feedback. Sure, there’s no substitute for power when you’re climbing the mountains or in an absolute hurry, but in general driving there’s not a lot between them.
You sit tall in the Ducato, looking out through the upper part of the windscreen, while the small, leather-wrapped steering wheel and designer-dash and console imbue a real sporting feel. As ever, the pedals are a little close together and the steering wheel seems a tad offset to the left, but overall the Ducato’s cab and driving experience is highly enjoyable. It’s also a lot of fun.
The ‘small’ engine mates very well to the six-speed Comfortmatic transmission and the two feel more integrated than the Volkswagen equivalent. There’s little, if any, dithering off-idle or when you suddenly put your foot down and in general driving all shifts are smooth and reasonably quick. It also has a very tall top gear, turning 2000 rpm at 100 km/h. Noise and vibration levels are suitably low while the steering has good feel and is nicely weighted, with no noticeable torque-steer during my brief drive despite 320 Nm powering the front wheels. Ride is also good, with well-sorted suspension damping and spring rates, aided in no small part by the Ducato’s box-with-a-wheel-in-each-corner design.
Living with the Banksia is easy but make no mistake, this is a compact machine. Built for two, the van’s floorplan features swivelling front seats with a single dinette seat behind the driver; a kerb-side kitchen with bathroom opposite and a rear, transverse double bed. It’s nothing revolutionary, but in its simplicity it works quite nicely.
Boxes are great for packing things in and the Ducato’s boxy body is a walk-up start as a motorhome (or campervan!) conversion. Horizon buys all its vans as cargo bodies, allowing the company to position windows where it wants. The company also has a long-standing and special relationship with Fiat, giving it access to special features like unique colours – such as the Profondo red of the test vehicle and a truly out-there orangey-bronze.
Across all its motorhomes Horizon uses the same finish, componentry and inclusions, which helps keep costs down and the options list short. It’s a clever strategy that appears to work well. A big advantage of a van-based campervan/motorhome is that for a vehicle that spends its life outdoors, there are precious few body seams susceptible to deterioration and water leakage. Only where roof hatches and windows are installed is this possible, unlike coach-built motorhome bodies that have ‘miles’ of joining panels.
The Banksia has two main roof hatches for light and ventilation, plus seven Dometic Seitz double-glazed single-hopper windows with integrated insect screens and blinds. They provide masses of light and fresh air, but the kitchen window is in the way of the sliding side door and you only forget it’s open once (sorry guys). I think a sliding window or even fixed glass panel would be better there, although it would detract from the Banksia’s appearance. A colour-coded wind-out Fiama awning is also part of the standard fit-out.
A disadvantage of a delivery van as a motorhome base-vehicle is the retention of the big, sliding side door – also known as a whizz-bang (for reasons patently obvious if you’ve ever been woken by one during the night at a campsite). They can also be heavy for smaller people to operate (especially on inclines), are difficult to screen from insects (although Horizon has excellent side and rear-door screens as options) and provide no security when open. Still, it’s a compromise you learn to live with and it certainly wouldn’t deter me from this style of vehicle.
Cooking with Gas
Compact but capable, the Banksia’s kitchen is an ideal place for those practiced in the black art of one-pot wonders. That’s not to say you can’t cook with more pots, of course, there’s just not all that much room.
Bench space is limited, but into the small space Horizon packs a glass-lidded Dometic three-burner gas cooktop with Sharp Carousel microwave below (a gas oven and grill is optional); a matching glass-lidded single-bowl sink and drainer with flick-mixer tap; a Waeco 12-volt 110-litre fridge and enough drawer and cupboard space to satisfy most people. There’s also a sizeable flip-up bench extension, a separate drinking water tap and you could always use the dining table for extra bench space, if required.
While there’s no dedicated range hood there is the opening window right behind the cooker, plus a smaller over-bench roof hatch with extractor fan. Also above the kitchen bench is the Banksia’s electronic nerve centre, with all electrical switches, battery indicators, tank gauges and hot water controls arranged neatly in a line at eye level. Interestingly, the swivel TV is right above the sink, so you can watch from bed or the dinette, but if you’re washing up it’s literally in your face!
Speaking of electrics, lighting is LED inside and out, which is fantastic for battery life and longevity but lacks the warm and inviting ambience of good old fashioned globes. Still, give me a charged battery over ambience any day (or night). And speaking of charged batteries, like all Horizon’s the Banksia has a single 200-amp AGM house battery, charged by an Australian-made Redarc system. The advantage of this is that most car alternators aren’t designed to fully charge house batteries and aren’t really designed for extra batteries at all. The Redarc system takes care of this, however, and is also designed to get the most from solar panels, too, even if they’re fitted later.
Eat in or Take Away
Meal times are strictly for two, unless a third diner is okay eating on their lap. The driver’s seat swivels 180 degrees aft to form a cafe dinette opposite the fixed, forward-facing single dinette seat, with an adjustable dining table in between. It’s a neat, functional and comfortable set-up that affords diners plenty of light, visibility and fresh air during the day, plus good relaxing space out of Chef’s hair at night. The dinette also feature two 240-volt power outlets plus a 12-volt socket, beneath the dining table, to keep your goodies charged.
The fixed dinette seat sits on a raised false-floor section that keeps all three front seats at the same level. Leaving no space unused, Horizon’s designers have cleverly incorporated three handy drawers in this small space, two of which are within easy reach when standing outside by the sliding side door and would be ideal for thongs, sunscreen, small tools and the like.
You won’t get three men in the Banksia’s bathroom tub because there isn’t one: As you’d expect the bathroom has a shower only. It’s also not built for three, but for one it’s fine and comes with a corner hand basin and tap, separate flex-hose shower and tap, and a Dometic toilet with SOG fan extraction system to remove toilet cassette smells. The Banksia also comes with a generous 150-litre fresh water tank and a 14-litre Truma gas hot water system, which is good for free camping, but a smallish 55-litre grey water tank.
The transverse double bed at the rear measures 1.89 x 1.3 metres and is left permanently made up. Great for single travellers it’s cosy for couples and if you’re 1.83 metres tall like me, by the time you factor in a pillow and room for your toes to wiggle it’s a rather tight fit. Of course the good thing about ageing – there has to be one, right? – is that we all shrink, so for most retirees the bed’s a fine size.
Opening windows at both bed-ends and in the barn doors at the rear, plus a roof hatch, makes the Banksia’s bedroom almost into a goldfish bowl. Thank goodness for blinds, but it does mean there’s no shortage of fresh air, while at night four individual LED reading lights provide discreet illumination.
Bedroom storage space is considerable, with three large overheard cupboards, a wardrobe between the bathroom and bed and a sizeable under-bed storage space that can be accessed though both the rear barn doors and an internal door from the kitchen. Speaking of rear barn doors, an optional insect screen means you can leave them open to take advantage of any passing breeze. They also access the afore-mentioned under-bed storage area, which houses the hot water system and has a handy small cupboard as well.
The Envelope Please...
The ‘new’ Horizon Motorhomes’ Banksia, with its smaller engine and considerable price reduction, makes a compelling case in this class of campervan/motorhome.
The ‘little’ Fiat engine matches the ATM gearbox nicely and the power reduction, while noticeable at the margins, is of little concern in day-to-day life. Unfortunately I didn’t cover enough ground to get any fuel figures but they should be class-leading, while Fiat’s Ducato is a great base vehicle as well as an enjoyable and rewarding drive.
Horizon Motorhomes’ can be justifiably proud of the Banksia: It’s a great little machine that’s well thought out, built and finished. It’s also well worth putting on your shopping list if you’re in the market for a compact, stylish and fun motorhome for one or two people that won’t break the bank – either at purchase time or at the bowser. Outstanding, you could say...
- Well designed
- Well built
- Well equipped
- Kitchen window design
- Sliding side door
- Bed tight for tall people
Click HERE to visit the Horizon Motorhomes' website.
Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications, photos and contact details.