Horizon’s ‘baby’ Melaleuca is a sweet machine that’s surprisingly capable...
By Richard Robertson.
The line between campervans and motorhomes is an indistinct one at best and Horizon Motorhomes’ smallest model – the Melaleuca – blurs the boundary even further.
You can think of it as a big campervan or a small motorhome, but either way it’s a versatile and capable machine that has made me seriously reassess just what you need in a practical touring vehicle. No wonder, then, the Melaleuca is Horizon’s top selling model.
Less is More
The Melaleuca is built on, or should I say in, a Fiat Ducato long wheelbase (LWB) van. At 5.998 m (19 ft 8 in) in length it’s small enough to legally fit in a standard 6 m single car space, which means it can also double as a second – or be your only – car. By comparison, a VW T5-based campervan is around 5.3 m (17 ft 4 in) long, but lacks a bathroom, storage and living space of the Melaleuca. The Fiat, however, is 150 mm (6 in) wider than the VW and that can make maneuvering and parking between vehicles a challenge. At 2.62 m (8 ft 7 in) even without the optional airconditioning it’s too tall for most underground car parks, but for parking in country towns, on the street and in open car parks it kicks the VW’s Germanic arse in terms of being a livable, mobile home with around town credentials.
“The Melaleuca is out best seller,” said Clayton Kearney, Horizon Motorhomes’ Managing Director. “Because of its versatile rear lounge/bed arrangement we sell a lot to single travellers – especially women – who can leave the bed made up and still keep the two-place dinette set up.”
To be honest I have always thought of the Melaleuca as being a bit too small for a couple and really only suitable for singles. How wrong I was proved to be.
Back to Basics
Being an entry-level motorhome – and I’m going to call it a motorhome from now on – the Melaleuca is at a particularly price sensitive point in the market. At $102,000 on the road in NSW, Horizon has to walk a fine line and to help keep the price down the Melaleuca comes with Fiat’s smaller 2.3-litre Multijet 150 turbo-diesel engine, compared to the 3.0-litre engine in its bigger Fiat siblings. This engine produces a creditable 109 kW and 350 Nm and drives the front wheel though a six-speed ‘Comfortmatic’ automated manual transmission (AMT). These power figures are about 21 kW and 50 Nm down on the bigger engine, but are partially compensated for by reduced tare (empty) weight and a reduced thirst at the bowser.
Like all Fiat Ducato’s, however, the Melaleuca comes with a full suite of safety equipment, including dual air bags, anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic stability control (ESP) traction control (TC) and hill holder (HH). Inside, the cab is as modern as commercial vehicles get and is styled as only the Italians can (compare it to the dour cab of a sensible *yawn* VW Crafter or Mercedes Sprinter). Airconditioning, power steering, electric windows and mirrors, cruise control, wheel-mounted audio controls, integrated-but-removable TomTom GPS, Blue&Me Bluetooth for phone with voice commands, radio/CD/MP3 sound system with USB media player/input, adjustable headlights and more are all standard equipment.
Being from the box-on-wheels design school the Ducato is very stable and is wider than its German counterparts as well. It also comes with a huge 125-litre fuel tank, factory-fitted swivelling cab seats and good cab storage – but sadly no cup holders. If only the Italians would discover the joy of driving with their coffee.
Horizon buys its vans ‘blind’ – without windows – so it can place them where it wants. It also means all windows are double-glazed Seitz acrylic units, with integrated blinds and fly screens, which along with full body insulation helps keep the Melaleuca (or any Horizon model) warmer inside on cold nights. Five side windows and four roof hatches (two with fans) provide good light and ventilation, while the optional side and rear door fly screens are must-buy accessories that greatly enhance the practicality of the vehicle when your travelling.
Driving a Not-So-Hard Bargain
I had the Melaleuca for 11 days following the Sydney Supershow and during that time used it as a car to run in to town and to the supermarket; overnight accommodation in Sydney on a friend’s driveway after a good dinner and for three days touring on the delivery run back to Horizon’s office in Ballina. In all these it excelled.
Supermarket shopping meant I had to park in the outdoor carpark and choose my spaces carefully to allow for maneuvering between vehicles, but length wise it was fine. Having my own accommodation (with hot water and a bathroom) that I could park on a friend’s driveway in suburban Sydney and ‘crash’ into after dinner also proved a great success. Then there was our three-day ‘Surf & Turf’ tour to Ballina, encompassing everything from stop-start city driving (we had to leave a car at Sydney airport to fly home to) to freeway cruising, coastal exploring and tackling back roads up and down the Great Dividing Range. In all these situations the Melaleuca performed beautifully.
The ‘little’ 2.3-litre engine is a willing worker but I had to learn how to drive it. Moving from rest it has a short first gear and the automated manual upshifts very quickly, so I soon learnt to put my foot down a bit to avoid leisurely departures in busy traffic situations. Once underway it was fine and the automated gearbox shifted smoothly, but like all such transmissions if I put my foot down too quickly I could catch it dithering.
Open road cruising in flat to gently undulating country proved no problem, but when the hills become more rolling or a long grade loomed I needed to work the gearbox a bit to keep our speed up. Bear in mind that when I’m touring in a test vehicle there is never enough time and I’m always in a hurry. So I cruise at the legal speed limit and am always hustling along, unlike most owners in real life touring situations.
The automated manual transmission has auto and manual modes and a real plus of the Fiat design is that you can knock it back a gear (or two) in auto-mode without cruise control disconnecting. Once over the top of a hill it just upshifts and away you go. Similarly, you can drop it down a gear (or two) at the top of a hill and it won’t upshift like a conventional automatic; instead remaining in the selected gear until you upshift or accelerate away.
Flicking the stubby spring-loaded gear lever to the left engages manual mode and you can shift gears like any normal gearbox (without a clutch, of course) and in steep situations this is best as it prevents unwanted up-or-down shifts in response to small movements of the accelerator pedal.
All-in-all I found the 2.3-litre engine fun to drive and more engaging than its bigger, lazier brother and have no qualms about it being fit for purpose in a small motorhome application. It also returned an average of 9.71 L/100 km (29.1 mpg) for the first tankful (despite showing a 12.5 L/100km average on the trip computer), which was outstanding. I didn’t fill it up in Ballina but we covered 1007 km on the second tank, with 145 km remaining according to the computer and it showed an average of 10.3 L/100 km. Considering that took in Sydney driving, climbing the Great Dividing Range plus everything in between (and the engine was brand new), it was a remarkable figure.
What’s in the Box?
The Melaleuca’s interior, though small, is thoughtfully laid out. It features the aforementioned swivelling cab seats with removable table; a compact kitchen on the kerbside that also occupies half of the sliding side-door opening; the fridge/cupboards/bathroom opposite the kitchen and a large u-shaped lounge/dinette/bed that provides a myriad of sleeping options at the very rear.
Despite being entry level the Horizon Melaleuca is no bargain basement motorhome. Standard equipment includes niceties like an electric entry step, comprehensive LED lighting with plenty of reading lights, microwave, 3-burner gas cooker, Waeco 110-litre 12 V fridge, Truma gas hot water system, a generous spread of 12 V and 240 V power outlets (inside and out), 19-inch flatscreen LED HD TV with inbuilt DVD player, 2 x 4 kg gas bottles, a thumping 200 AH house battery with a quality Redarc 3-stage charging system, mains water connector, 150-litre fresh water capacity, filtered drinking water tap, chemical-free SOG cassette toilet and a Fiama wind-out awning. Horizon also cleverly incorporate floor-level slide-out drawers beneath the fridge and the raised floor in the bedroom. These are additional to a large rear boot, under-lounge storage and overhead cupboards, which help take advantage of the Fiat’s generous 4005 kg gross vehicle mass (GVM) and a light 2913 kg tare (empty) weight.
About the only difference in look and feel from Horizon’s more expensive/larger models is the plastic steering wheel, which comes with the 2.3-litre engine package I presume, in place of the usual leather wrapped item.
Living the Life
In practical terms the Melaleuca layout works well. Ideal for single travellers, a couple needs to be tidy and disciplined, but once you develop your system it works well. For example, Mrs iMotorhome would sit me at the dinette or in a swiveled cab seat while she prepared meals. It also proved a good idea for one of us to remain seated while the other dried off after showering and/or dressed. Here’s how we found living in the Melaleuca:
- Front lounge – Despite the encroaching fridge/cupboard unit right behind it, the driver’s seat swivels around inwards easily, as does the passenger’s. A small pole-mounted table slots into a floor recess between them, but two people getting their legs around the pole is quite difficult. So it’s best for one person and okay for two, if one person holds the drinks/nibbles and the other positions the table once you’re both seated!
- Rear dining – The large U-shaped lounge/bed provides an inwards-facing dinette for two where it adjoins the kitchen and bathroom end panels, complete with a removable, multi-position table. Two extra diners could squeezes in and sit facing forward, but they would have no backrests.
- Kitchen – Making the most of available space, the bench top is dominated by an all-in-one cooker and sink unit, with glass lids over the three gas burners on the left and the sink/tap section to the right. There’s an under-bench microwave, a filtered water tap, overhead fan hatch plus decent drawers and a much-needed flip-up bench extension at the forward end.
- Electrical – Most controls are neatly arranged in simple rocker-switch panels on the wall above the aft end of the kitchen bench, along with the tank level and house battery gauges. Thanks to a swivel mounting the TV/DVD player can be viewed from either end of the vehicle. Four bright LED down lights illuminate the middle of the vehicle, with individual reading lights above both cab seats and four in the bed area. A soft LED strip light in the kitchen area, with a secondary switch by the door, would be a good addition, as would a near-door switch to operate the awning lights while standing outside.
- Bathroom – Compact but with everything you need (save maybe a head-height shaving cabinet), the bathroom has more than enough room to shower if you face the vehicle’s side wall or the bathroom door (this allows room for your arms to move freely). There are two floor pan drain points, a neat corner basin with cupboard below and a height adjustable chrome shower head on a flexible hose, a very bright LED ceiling light, a roof fan hatch and, of course, a toilet with removable cassette.
- Bedroom – Perhaps the Melaleuca’s most versatile feature is its enormous rear lounge/dinette/bed. Providing a plethora of permutations, in standard form you can sleep across or along the vehicle and we tried both, due to the slope of our free-camp sites. Single travellers can leave a bed made up across the back and keep the dinette set up, but we chose to drop the dinette table and the extra bed board into position to make, effectively, a kingsize bed. Factory options include two north-south single beds; an east-west double bed with a slightly narrower dinette and you can choose innerspring mattresses over the standard foam cushioning. There is ample natural light and ventilation, good overhead and under-bed storage (include a huge rear boot accessed through the rear doors), great reading lights as already noted and you could even leave the whole rear area made up as a massive bed and just use the small cab table for meals – just!
To be honest I’d always thought the Melaleuca too small and perhaps underpowered to be a serious motorhome. I also don’t like having to make up beds every night and I’m not a great fan of inward facing dinettes with removable tables that become part of the bed. The Melaleuca, however, changed my mind on all these counts.
Its small size provides day-to-day versatility larger motorhomes can’t match while its smaller engine is not really any compromise and its economy matches or beats many family cars. Sleeping-wise, we used sleeping bags for a quick nighttime setup, but would likely use a ‘doona sandwich’ (queen doonas top and bottom) longterm and just fold them in half to the rear during the day. And even being tall, the Fiat’s extra body width meant I could sleep across the vehicle.
Horizon Motorhomes build a quality vehicle and I have no qualms recommending the Melaleuca as an affordable, capable and desirable – yes, desirable – motorhome. In fact Mrs iMotorhome and I spent most of our homeward journey designing a bed/dinette arrangement that would provide us with a mobile office compact enough for city meetings as well as long distance touring. That’s how much we liked it. Now all we need is a Lotto win. That would be sweet...
- Compact and manoeuvrable
- Economical with great range
- Quality construction
- Well equipped
- Could be a bit cramped for ‘big’ people
- Combo dinette/bed might not suit everyone