BETTER BUDGET BEATER?
Is Jayco’s entry-level motorhome the bargain it appears?
by Malcolm Street
Jayco (Australia) is best known for its multiple ranges of caravans – those things without an engine up front. More recently it’s added fifth wheelers and of course motorhomes. There were various models available for this review, but I opted for the smallest and cheapest, Jayco’s Conquest 20 ft (6.4 m). Although it's a coachbuilt motorhome it's actually an alternative to some of the large van conversions available.
For the baby Conquest, Jayco has used the tried and trusted Fiat Ducato cab-chassis: In this case the equally-baby 130 Multijet model with a 96 kW/320 Nm 2.3-litre turbo-diesel and six-speed automated manual transmission (AMT).
Behind the driver's cab all the walls and roof are a vacuum bonded fibreglass structure. There are fibreglass mouldings too -– the top and side cab surrounds, along with the top and bottom mouldings at the rear. Underfoot the floor surprisingly has a timber frame sandwiched together with polystyrene. According to Jayco it provides both sound proofing and insulation qualities. Dometic double glazed acrylic windows are used all round and the standard door has a top half, non-opening window. Undoubtedly the winner option on my review vehicle was the Crimsafe security flyscreen, which allows the main door to be left open without intruding insects – or worse.
Probably the advantage a coachbuilt motorhome has over a van conversion is that a bit more external bin space can be built in. Naturally there were dedicated bins for the gas cylinder and Thetford toilet cassette, but there were also two small mid-mounted bins on both sides. Not large enough for a great deal of gear, but certainly good enough for power cords, hoses and camp chairs. Basic though it was, I did like the slide-out tray for the gas cylinders, which makes access so much easier.
I've not long returned from a brief holiday in England and France and something I noticed on a considerable number of motorhomes were Fiamma-style bike racks. The Brits and Euro folk prefer biking to towing a car and it was with interest I noticed our review motorhome had an optional Fiamma bike rack fitted – mostly because I also have a bike!
On The Road
A bit of background on Fiat Ducatos here before we go further. Until recently, most Ducatos used in van and cab-chassis conversions came with the largest and most powerful Fiat turbo-diesel available. For the most part it was the 3.0-litre 160 Multijet engine (115.5 kW/400 Nm) until the arrival of the 180 Multijet (132 kW/400 Nm). Recently a few 2.3-litre 150 Multijet (109 kW/350 Nm) engines have been used, mostly in van conversions, but apart from imported motorhomes that have come with the ‘tiny’ 2.3 litre 130 Multijet (96 kW/320 Nm) engine attached to six speed manual gearbox, this is one of the first opportunities I have had to test out a 130 Mulijet in tandem with a six speed AMT.
Now to be fair it was a very new engine/gearbox combination and might have needed a couple of thousand kilometres to loosen up, but I found the combination a bit wanting. I like driving Ducatos, despite all the reservations people have – some real, some imagined– about front-wheel drive, but on my test drive the mostly unladen Conquest was wanting on two counts. From Emu Plains, west of Sydney, there are a couple of ways to get to Blaxland in the Blue Mountains. One is straight up the Great Western Highway and the other is up the Old Bathurst Road. The latter has some steep winding curves -– an excellent testing ground -– and the gearbox couldn't make up its mind whether to be in first or second gear. In the end I manually shifted down to first to get a constant speed. In a different setting along the freeway, the Conquest refused to get to the posted speed limit of 110 km/h even when coaxed.
As noted it was a very new Ducato, but I wonder if Jayco, in keeping the price of the Conquest down by literally giving less bang for your buck, is doing itself any favours.
For my money, the optional 3.0 litre 132kW engine at $5,400 is good deal when compared to the relative purchase price and would make for a very easy driving, fuel efficient motorhome. Do make sure you have a test drive to see what you are happy with. Apart from the engine, the Conquest was quite a good handling motorhome, with excellent rear vision from the Ducato’s mirrors and without too much road noise inside the cab.
An advantage of a coachbuilt motorhome over a van conversion is quite simple: there’s more interior space because of the width. Jayco has used the Ducato cab, with its factory-fitted swivelling seats, to full advantage: there being a table behind the driver's seat and a two person, seat belt fitted lounge behind that. I was a little entertained recently by an RV colleague on a motorhome test drive who was puzzled by the fact that his motorhome had four legal passenger seats but only beds for two. I pointed out that many smaller motorhomes have that so they can be used as people movers.
Certainly this Conquest only has sleeping for two – in the nearside corner bed – and its just wide enough to allow for a bathroom in the opposite corner. All that leaves the mid area for a nearside kitchen bench with fridge and microwave opposite, plus a reasonably sized wardrobe area. It’s a fairly bright and breezy interior thanks to Jayco's interpretation of the Euro Look and it incorporates Jayco's touch pad lighting system.
As noted, both cab seats swivel and although the rear lounge seat is better for dining, the cab seats are winners in the sit-back-and-relax department. The table is fixed to the wall on a rail, which means it can be moved forwards and backwards and also lifted out of the way if not required, but Jayco recommends it be removed if carrying passengers in the rear seats. Around the front lounge/cab area is a combination of compartments, overhead lockers and under-locker shelving for storage. What there isn't is a power point near the table.
Time to Eat
Given the available space the kitchen is a split arrangement. The main bench, containing both a sideways-fitted two-burner cooktop sans grill and stainless steel sink, is along the nearside wall and a shorter second bench area is opposite, with a 3-way, 121-litre fridge below and microwave above. Although it cuts down on the fridge capacity, having the extra shelf area is a nice touch. Generally speaking the under-bench kitchen storage is well sorted, with plenty of good and variously sized drawers.
Measuring 1.88 m x 1.34 m (6 ft 2 in x 4 ft 5 in), the bed fits neatly into the rear corner. Of course it's not a true island bed, but both sleepers should be able to get in and out without too much trouble. The windows on both sides should provide a good crossflow of fresh air.
Lifting the posture slat bed base reveals generous under bed storage, the only occupants being the house batteries and gas cylinder bin. Above the bed are both lockers and open shelving; the latter being somewhat useful, given there's no bedside shelf area.
Additional storage is provided by the cabinet that fits beside the bathroom cubicle and offers a selection of a good sized hanging area and drawers.
No real surprises in the bathroom; compact it might be, but with room for a cassette toilet, variably-height flexible-hose shower, shaving cabinet and small corner wash basin with mirror it’s well equipped. There's enough room to turn around in without too much elbow scraping and the vent fan does a reasonable job on keeping the air flow going.
What I Think
It's worth pointing out our review Conquest had a number of options fitted: Alloy wheels, leather upholstery, upgraded air conditioner, Crimsafe door, 120 W solar panel, bike rack and upsized fridge. That added $8920 to the base price of $102,000 and 28 kg to the standard tare weight of 3280 kg. Although this motorhome is definitely aimed at the budget market, some of the options like the security door should be kept in mind at purchase time.
In many ways this Jayco Conquest in its base form is good for purchasers on a tight budget. It certainly offers all the motorhoming essentials, including a reasonably spacious living area, and is a viable alternative to a similarly priced van conversion motorhome. Just be sure the standard engine is right for you.
- Good living area for vehicle size
- Good storage, especially in kitchen
- Passenger carrying capacity
- Touch pad lighting
- Shelves under overhead lockers
- Front lounge/dining area
- Low powered engine
- No grill in kitchen
- The odd quality issue
- No power point near table
Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications, photos and contact details.