It’s little wonder Horizon Motorhomes’ Melaleuca is so popular…
by Richard Robertson
While many aspire to the largest, flashiest motorhome they can afford, there’s much to be said for small and compact, especially for single travellers. Horizon Motorhomes’ Melaleuca is perhaps the smallest motorhome available in Australia today yet it’s consistently one of its best sellers. Why? Because size isn’t everything
Horizon is a niche manufacturer specialising in what it calls ‘built-in’ motorhomes. By that it means it builds in vans rather than making seperate bodies that go on a cab-chassis – known as a coachbuilt – which is the motorhome industry norm. The ‘built-in’ tag is an effort to establish a point of difference, although most people call such vehicles van conversions. Many people also confuse them with campervans, so here’s RV identification lesson 101: A motorhome has a bathroom, a campervan doesn't.
If you've been reading my road tests for a while you’ll know I’m a fan of van conversions. In a nutshell they retain the structural strength of the original box-like vehicle, while the metal body is more durable than fibreglass, especially sitting out in all weathers. It’s also less prone to water leaks as there are no body panel seams that need regular inspection and resealing. The trade-off is reduced interior width compared to a coachbuilt body and little if any external storage. But being narrower means they’re easier to park in a carpark space, manoeuvre in traffic and you have an an unimpeded view down the sides. You also don’t have to worry as much about hitting tree branches and the like due to lower overall height.
Three years ago Mrs iMotorhome and I borrowed a Melaleuca after the Sydney Show and spent a couple of nights making our way back to Horizon’s head office in Ballina, on the NSW Far North Coast. We came away surprised and impressed by just how liveable the company’s ‘littlest’ motorhome was and it made us reassess our requirements. This issue I revisited the updated model, but have decided to use some photos from the original review as the interior has changed little and it’s best to show how well a vehicle works when actually living in it.
Size and Other Matters
The Melaleuca is built ‘in’ a Fiat Ducato long wheelbase (LWB) van that measures 5.99 m in length. That number is important because 6 m is the length of a standard, marked car parking space. Park a longer vehicle in a standard space and you risk a fine, plus probably being at fault if someone runs into you.
Surprisingly, the LWB Ducato is only 365 mm (just over a foot) shorter than an extra-long wheelbase (XLWB) version, which is used in Horizon’s Casuarina and Banksia models. The Casuarina is the vehicle we enjoyed for three months as a long-term test vehicle just over a year ago, and that extra space is remarkably noticeable.
Another interesting observation is the engine. In the Melaleuca, Horizon has opted for the smaller 2.3-litre 150 MultiJet turbo-diesel that produces 109 kW and 350 Nm. By comparison the 3.0-litre 180 MultiJet is the norm in its XLWB models and it produces 130 kW and 300 Nm. To be honest that’s no real issue as the ‘little’ engine has almost as much power and torque as the most popular engine in the Mercedes Sprinter range, so it still moves along nicely. It drives the front wheels through the usual six-speed automated manual transmission (AMT) that most people leave in auto mode and drive like an automatic, but to get the best from it a quick flick across to manual mode certainly helps.
The latest Fiat Ducato – the X295 series – has a fresh face and some welcome additions. Most noticeable is the colour touchscreen ‘infotainment’ system and – at last – cup holders! It also gets a new instrument cluster with chrome surrounds. Not all these upgrades are without issue, however (see editorial), but they come from Fiat and are not a reflection on the Melaleuca.
The Ducato itself retains its driving ease and comfort. Most importantly, it retains its 57 mm width, 125 kg gross vehicle mass and 25-litre fuel tank capacity advantages over the Mercedes Sprinter. If those figures don’t sound like much consider this: 57 mm can be enough to allow sleeping across the vehicle rather than lengthways; 125 kg is a LOT of extra food/water and 25-litres of fuel is more than 200 km additional range. What they add up to is a considerable advantage, and at a lower price.
Horizon is unique in buying its Ducatos without windows in the rear barn doors. That allows it to fit proper opening windows at the back rather than opting for the fixed-glass factory windows other manufacturers use. In any van conversion ventilation is paramount and this gives Horizon vehicles a real advantage (I’ve never understood why others haven’t followed suit). In fact the Melaleuca has five windows and all are double-glazed acrylic with integrated insect and privacy screens. It also has four roof hatches, including a thermostatically controlled fan hatch up the front that’s great for venting hot air or bringing cooling air in. Also on the roof is the TV aerial (of course!), while a 3.7 m Fiamma F65 wind-out awning comes as standard too.
Still outside, a gas box for the dual 4 kg LPG cylinders, a fresh water tank-filler, 240 V power point and a 12 V socket are fitted on the kerb side. That leaves the driver’s side for the Truma gas hot water system outlet, mains power and water inlets, fridge vents and toilet cassette hatch. Other standard features not obvious but well worth mentioning include 150-litres of fresh water (though only 55-litres grey, dictated by underbody space), a generous 200 amp-hour AGM deep cycle house battery, LED lighting all ‘round, a robust Redarc electrical charging system and an electric entry step. Drive away price for a standard Melaleuca is a very reasonable $109,500. The test model also had metallic paint, an external gas bayonet point and a Scirocco 12 V internal swivel fan, taking the drive away price to $112,100.
The Melaleuca follows the expected front dinette, mid kitchen/bathroom and rear bedroom layout. At 5.99 m long there’s never going to be a surfeit of internal space, but those extra millimetres of width seem to help alleviate any tunnel feeling.
The cab seats swivel, but the driver’s is restricted due to the wardrobe and fridge immediately behind it. The best you get is a sort of three quarter turn, but it’s more than enough to use the front dining position or get yourself out of the way of the chef when required. The front table is a small, pole-mounted unit that tucks away in the wardrobe when not required. It’s also the secondary dining position because a larger Lagun-mounted table is situated further aft, but more on that later.
Kitchen and Bathroom Matters
Sliding the side door open (if only Fiat offered an electric option like Mercedes does in the Sprinter), the 110-lite Waeco 12/240-volt compressor fridge is directly ahead. It occupies the bottom half of a floor-to-ceiling unit whose top half is vertically split, providing a small hanging wardrobe on the right and three quite deep shelves on the left. To the right of the entry door is the kitchen bench unit, the top of which is almost entirely covered by an all-in-one three-burner cooker and a sink with fold-up flick-mixer tap. There’s a glass lid over each, which provides invaluable extra work space, plus a small but equally invaluable flip-up bench extension beside the sink, which extends partially across the doorway. Horizon also fits a filtered water tap, which is another great inclusion across its model range.
Despite the limited benchtop the designers have managed to include a microwave below the cooktop and a pair of deep drawers beneath that, plus a stack of four drawers beneath the sink. This makes storage surprisingly good, although there are no overhead cupboards. That space is left open to provide more headroom, small roof hatch in lieu of a rangehood, a swivel mounting point for the 48 cm TV/DVD and space above for the electrical switches and tank gauges.
The bathroom has all the essentials but can best be described as compact. It reflects Horizon’s founder and CEO Clayton Kearney’s concept that its size is commensurate with the amount of time you’ll spend in it, and in this size vehicle I agree. However, in this age of increasing girth I can see some prospective buyers struggling with it…
Dining and Sleeping Matters
Given the Melaleuca’s diminutive dimensions, Horizon’s designers made the cleverest choice possible when it came to the rear half of the vehicle. Instead of the usual pair of single beds that could be converted to a king, they opted to provide three sleeping options.
Essentially, what they’ve built is a U-shaped base that provides single beds down either side plus a cushion across the rear that’s deep enough to work as an east-west double bed in its own right. The front of the ‘U’ provides space for the afore-mentioned Lagun-mounted dining table and the single-bed ends become a pair of inward-facing dining seats. Removing the table and inserting it in the ‘U’ converts the whole thing into a gigantic king bed! On top of that there’s quite cavernous storage below, accessed via the rear doors and also a small hatch by the dining table leg.
But wait, there’s more. Above the U-shaped bed is a set of U-shaped cupboards that are surprisingly deep. All-in-all it’s a good thing the Melaleuca comes with a hefty 1092 kg maximum payload capacity! Whichever way you sleep – north-south or east-west – there are windows on each side plus those in the back doors and another hatch overhead, assuring plenty of fresh air. At night, reading lights in every bed corner are very handy, while the TV is easily viewable from bed (as it is from the front dinette).
What I Think
Second time around the Melaleuca continues to impresses. It’s a compact and thoughtfully designed motorhome with a high standard of fit, finish and standard equipment. Ideal for a single traveller it’s also highly liveable for two, providing a good balance of size, manoeuvrability, economy and, most importantly, affordability.
Two people might find the room to get changed or dry off after a shower a bit of a juggle – you have to stand in the kitchen – but it’s something you would soon get used to. Having two seating/dining areas, however, is a real bonus and adds significantly to usability.
Three years on I’d like to see a decor freshen-up. There are new trends in materials, finishes, switch gear and the like and it would be good to see them incorporated. As it stands, however, it’s little wonder the Melaleuca is so popular. It has much to offer and very few drawbacks. Little Wonder indeed…
- Compact size
- Parking ease
- Standard equipment
- Sleeping options
- Dual dining/seating positions
- Smaller engine
- Small bathroom
- Limited changing area
- Reversing camera optional
- Ageing decor
Click HERE to visit the Horizon Motorhomes' website.
Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications, photos and contact details.
Horizon Melaleuca Roadtest 2016 (1922 KB)