Casuarina broadens Horizon’s big van range…
by Richard Robertson
I’m often asked what the best motorhome or campervan is, especially by first time buyers who struggle with the variety of vehicles on offer. Of course there is no such thing as the perfect vehicle, because no matter your budget or wish list some things have to be compromised. The key to finding the best motorhome or campervan for you is to understand how you will travel and what’s truly important to you.
How you travel means deciding what sort of traveller you’ll be (or are). Are you a short break/quick dash or a long distance/long stay traveller? What’s truly important, on the other hand, encompasses things like bed size and type (singles/double/queen/king), bathroom and/or kitchen size and whether you like to spend most of your stopped time inside or outside the vehicle. How do you find these things out? Experience, mostly, although available travel time will be dictated by your personal circumstance, while the others can largely be thought out in advance if you sit and think what’s important in your home life.
When it comes to living on the road the accepted rule of thumb is ‘there’s no substitute for size.’ But size can be a double edged sword and I believe many people would be well served by thinking smaller and reaping the benefits of a compact motorhome that can even double as a second car – and doesn’t cost much more than one to run.
Horizon Motor Homes, based in Ballina on the NSW Far North Coast, is a van conversion motorhome specialist with a range of vehicles based on the Fiat Ducato or Mercedes Benz Sprinter. Horizon builds a quality product and has established a nice niche for itself. This issue we’re taking a quick look at the Ducato-based Casuarina, an evolutionary development of Horizon’s popular entry-level Melaleuca.
What’s In A Name?
The Casuarina continues Horizon’s tradition of naming its motorhomes after Australian flowering trees and shrubs. What an evolutionary development means in practical terms is that the Casuarina is built on a extra-long wheel-base (ELWB) Fiat Ducato van as opposed to the Melaleuca’s long wheel-base (LWB) variant, gaining 365 mm (1ft 2 in) in length in the process. That might not sound like much, but in a vehicle just 6.363 m (20 ft 11 in) long the extra space is gold. What it allows is a larger bathroom and kitchen and increased storage. As I said, gold!
Priced at $109,500 drive-away the Casuarina comes standard with Fiat’s 3.0-litre 132 kW/400 NM turbo-diesel and 6-speed Comfort-Matic automated manual transmission. It’s a great combination that provides sprightly performance without sacrificing economy. It’s also a significant step up from the 2.3-litre 109 kW/350 Nm engine on the admittedly $5500 cheaper Melaleuca. Both models have a 4005 kg gross vehicle mass (GVM) and despite being slightly heavier the Casuarina’s tare weight of 2933 kg still leaves a comfortable payload of approximately 1072 kg, depending on fitted accessories.
Like all Ducato’s the Casuarina isn’t found wanting in the equipment stakes. Air conditioning, remote central locking, electric windows and mirrors, a removable TomTom satnav, Blue&Me voice-activated Bluetooth integration and a 120-litre long range fuel tank are all standard equipment. That’s in addition to safety items like twin air bags, anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic traction control (ETC) and electronic stability program (ESP). Equipment aside, the Ducato is a fun and comfortable vehicle to drive that looks and feels a long way removed from your run-of-the-mill light commercial vehicle.
Externally the Casuarina follows Horizon’s signature windows-all-round design that includes opening windows in the rear barn doors. Most van conversion companies order their vans with fixed glass rear windows, but Horizon orders its vans windowless and installs proper windows at the rear – a rear bonus on a hot summer’s night. The windows used are Dometic’s double-glazed acrylic single-hopper items with integrated insect screens and privacy blind. On the roof is a pair of hatches (the front one has a fan) for added ventilation, but as is usual with van conversions, exterior storage is minimal. You’ll probably get your water hose in with the 2 x 4 kg gas bottles, but that’s about it.
The Casuarina also comes with a 4-metre Fiamma F65 wind-out awning, LED awning light, all the usual service connections and even external 12 V and 240 V outlets. Other things you won't readily see but that make a real difference are a Redarc 3-stage charger from the alternator and a matching unit for mains-power battery charging of the 200 AH AGM house battery. There are 150 L fresh water and 55 L grey water tanks, a drinking water filtration system and Horizon also includes a simple, easy-to-use privacy blind system for the windscreen and cab windows.
What’s The Plan?
The Casuarina makes good use of the Ducato’s space-efficient, boxy body and factory-fitted swivelling cab seats. It has a front seating/dining area; a kerb-side mid kitchen; a driver’s-side forward bathroom and mid wardrobe/secondary kitchen unit, and a rear lounge/dinette/bed.
Having two seating and dining areas is great because it provides welcome flexibility in a relatively small vehicle. The driver’s seat swivel range is reduced due to the bathroom wall, but even so it swings far enough around to let you use the small, removable pole-mounted table (which stores away in the top wardrobe). The passenger seat swivels completely and is a great place to read, work or chat from, especially for the non-cooking occupant when a meal is being prepared.
The large sliding side door and electric step provides easy entry, at the cost of some interior space, but this is usual in a van conversion. There’s a slight step up to the cab area, which helps delineate it from the living area, and a similar step up into the bedroom area aft of the kitchen, complete with a clever built-in drawer under the floor.
Cookin’ & Eatin’
The kitchen bench has a three-burner gas cooker at the front end, by the sliding door, which is great as there isn’t a rangehood. Like the single bowl sink (with drainer) to its left, the cooker has a glass lid to provide valuable extra workspace. There’s also a flip-up bench extension at the front end and seven good sized drawers. The 48 cm (19 in) TV/DVD combo sits on a hinged bracket above the sink and can be viewed while cooking (rather close!), from the bedroom or the cab. Above the TV is another Horizon design trademark: A row of electrical switches and gauges conveniently grouped at eye height.
On the other side of the aisle, opposite the sink, is the second half of the kitchen. It houses a high-mounted 136-litre Waeco 12 V compressor fridge/freezer, above which at perfect height sits a microwave. There’s a cupboard above the microwave and below the fridge, while between the fridge and bathroom are two stacked wardrobes; the lower of which would probably be better as a slide-out pantry.
The most spacious dining place is just aft of the kitchen, which uses the beds as seats (with pillows or cushions as backrests) and a sizeable swivelling table. It’s handy to the cooker and fridge too. The pole-mounted table for the front cab area, while a decent size for its type, really is better for coffee and cake, but it’s also terrific if one of you goes to bed and the other wants to read or watch TV and needs a place for after-dinner coffee and Schmackos!
You won’t get two men in a tub in the bathroom, which sits between the driver’s seat and wardrobe unit, but it has sufficient room and equipment for a good shower. Horizon’s MD Clayton Kearny once told me his philosophy on bathrooms is they should have enough room to do what you need to do, but occupy as little living area as possible, because you spend so little time in them. Given the size constraints of his van conversion motorhome range it’s a philosophy I fully understand.
In the bathroom is a height-adjustable wall shower, a corner sink with medicine cabinet below (which isn’t overly water tight), a wall mirror and a swivel-head Dometic SOG cassette toilet. What more do you need? Hot water? There’s a 14-litre Truma gas unit for that. Oh yes, the bathroom door is a full length external mirror, adding a real feeling of spaciousness. Unusually, you can delete the bathroom when ordering a Casuarina and replace it with an dinette and seat if you really want to maximise your living area options.
The test Casuarina featured twin single beds, but like most models in Horizon’s range the bedding arrangement is quite flexible at the time of ordering. If singles aren’t your thing you can choose an east-west double bed that provides a permanent inwards facing dinette between the bed and kitchen, or a U-shaped lounge that makes into singles or a giant king bed. Foam mattresses are standard but custom innersprings are optional and worth the extra. Ditto the custom screens that allow you to leave the side and rear doors open without insect invasion.
The single beds of the test vehicle included an extremely useful unit between their heads, which looked like a padded ottoman but was in fact two sideways-hinged storage compartments, one for each bed. Overhead storage is good, comprising three generous cupboards and there are LED reading lights in all corners of the bedroom. There’s also a double powerpoint, 12 V outlet and double USB chargers above a magazine pouch on the wall aft of the fridge (and LED lighting throughout, plus reading lights for the cab seats).
What I Think
The Casuarina is a compact motorhome in which thoughtful design and quality inclusions showcase Horizon’s manufacturing experience and expertise. It’s also built tough and is not a vehicle that needs to be mollycoddled.
If you’re in the market for a two-berth motorhome for short breaks or extended touring; one that could easily go further than your annual leave allows yet isn’t difficult to park or hard on the hip pocket, best you put the Casuarina on your short list. Viva la evolution!
- Well sorted design
- Build quality
- Two seating areas
- Quality inclusions
- Bed layout options
- Excellent load capacity
- No real external storage
- Not much else!