Jayco’s range-topping Optimum delivers a lot of bang for your bucks...
by Malcolm Street
Jayco in Australia is a manufacturer of just about everything in the RV world, except for fifth-wheelers. Mostly known for caravans and related offshoots, the company established itself in the mostly budget end of the motorhome market quite a few years ago, but in more recent times has moved upmarket with the Optimum range. Our review motorhome, which came from Jayco Sydney, is based on a Fiat Ducato and is one of the second longest in the range at 8.375 m (27 ft), only being topped by the 8.7 m (28 ft) Iveco Daily rig.
The Ducato-powered Optimum has a GVM of 5000 kg and to achieve that, Jayco bolted an Al-Ko chassis to the Ducato cab. Apart from anything else, it does give the Optimum the slightly unusual feature of tandem rear axles. It’s not the usual lazy axle arrangement of course; the Ducato being front-wheel drive.
The other standout features are the dual slide-outs on the offside. Jayco has opted for a slightly less complex engineering arrangement in terms of body structure by having two slide-outs instead of a single large one. All the expected comfort and safety items are fitted to the driver’s cab, including air bags on both sides. One thing about having a light commercial background is that there are plenty of storage pockets around the cab for everything from water bottles to clipboards.
For the body construction, which isn’t detailed too well on its website, Jayco use a vacuum bonded ply/aluminium frame/fibreglass structure, along with moulded fibreglass components for the luton peak and cab surround. Underneath, a timber framed/polystyrene/ply sandwich-panel structure is used for the floor. There’s nothing wrong with the contours of the luton but they do give the motorhome a slightly boofy look, which to me isn’t a bad thing at all. Stylish and flush glazed Dometic windows are used all round and the Dometic door comes with a Crimsafe security screen. The power operated Carefree Eclipse awning is operated by a switch just inside the door and it mostly covers the external living items: picnic table, entertainment unit and slide-out BBQ.
The Optimum has a slightly raised floor inside that gives quite a bit of space for external bins – three along the offside and the same number along the nearside. Two are taken by gas cylinders and a slide-out BBQ, but that still leaves plenty of space, although being low they are a bit awkward to get at, especially those under the opened slide-outs. Fitted to the review vehicle were two options: a tow bar and upgraded air conditioner; the standard aircon being a Coleman unit.
ON THE ROAD:
A good place to try out a motorhome’s capabilities is the Blue Mountains west of Sydney – very handy to Jayco Sydney, but also good for a variety of road conditions. One of the slightly deceptive things about the Optimum is that its length of 8.38 m might give the impression of it being a difficult motorhome to drive, whereas once on the road, apart from remembering not to cut corners and maintaining good overtaking distances, driving really isn’t a chore at all. Manoeuvring in caravan parks, carparks and the like is of a course a different matter, but the large external rear view mirrors and two rear view cameras (the camera screen being where the internal rear view mirror used to be) makes those tasks relatively easy.
Being the 180 Multijet model, the Ducato comes with the more powerful 3.0-litre, 132 kw/400 Nm turbo-diesel that is a good match for this motorhome. Oddly enough so is the six-speed automated manual transmission (AMT), which seems to shift more smoothly through the gears in heavier motorhomes. Sometimes AMT gearboxes have the annoying habit of being very hesitant in the lower gears, but the Optimum didn’t exhibit that characteristic. One thing to keep in mind with the Al-Ko chassis is that it sits fairly low and whilst coping with most normal road conditions there is sometimes a problem with sharp undulations in driveways and the like. It might be just me, but I find it irritating that many motorhome cabs, including this one, don’t come with a 3.5 mm socket for plugging in an iPod/iPhone/mp3 player (I think it is you – Ed). They are a great space and weight saving device for storing entire music collections, but cannot be used easily without some modification when driving. Although in this case I resorted to using the house radio unit in the rear!
There is no doubt that having a double slide-out in any motorhome adds to the interior space, which is certainly the case with the Optimum. For a quick roadside stop it’s possible to use the nearside kitchen and offside dinette facilities without opening the slide-outs. However, the east-west bed in the rear blocks the walkway and so to use the bathroom means lifting the bed, which is hinged right at the back. In the driver’s cab, the standard motorhome friendly cab with the cut-out and swivelling seats has been used, so getting to-and-from the cab is quite easy. Both cab seats and the dinette seats are leather upholstered, too.
In keeping with most of the fleet, Jayco has opted for the Euro look with its curved doors and fittings, including the shower cubicle. Curtains are fitted to all windows, except the bathroom and kitchen. Being a large motorhome there are certainly plenty of storage lockers, lipped shelves and cupboards, with the cupboard and locker handles relatively easy for older fingers. Large windows all-round give an even wash of natural light, as do the multiple number of LED fittings at night. Generally speaking the light switches are in obvious places, although one or two are a bit oddly located. Ditto the power sockets, both 240V and 12V, although there wasn’t a 12V socket near the dinette table. The one in the cupboard in the TV corner of the bedroom was definitely in an awkward location.
Being a luxury motorhome the Optimum comes with just about everything, including a satellite TV system. Twelve-volt electrics are powered by a single 100 AH deep cycle battery (seems penny-pinching - Ed) and charged by both a mains charger and a single roof mounted 120W solar panel. For everything there are two control panels, one in a locker above the dinette with water tank gauges, 12 V and 240 V master switches and hot water controls. The other is at the end of the overhead lockers by the entry door, which has slide-out and awning switches, along with various light rockers and the solar panel regulator. If I was being picky about something here, the slide-out and awning switches are definitely on the high side.
Although not meshed together the L-shaped dinette and the swivelled cab seats both offer places to sit and relax. With the floor level being where it is, the front seats don’t have the usual problem of being too high for short legs, but the dinette is set off the floor, being in the slide-out. For TV viewing the upper cupboard beside the entry door is fully wired for a flat screen TV, but unlike the bedroom, there is no mounting bracket fitted. The latter can be seen from either the bed or the front cab seats and also the dinette seat, but probably only comfortably for one person. For eating, the oval table is reasonably sized but only mounted on a fixed single pole. Given this is a luxury motorhome, something like a Zwaardvis any-which-way mounting would be good.
TIME TO EAT:
No surprises at the kitchen bench, except that there isn’t a great deal of working area. It does come with three drawers, a cupboard, wire basket pantry and two overhead lockers, but part of the cupboard space is taken by the hot water heater. Naturally, there is also space for a four burner (three gas, one electric) cooktop and stainless steel sink. Other kitchen essentials, like the Dometic two-door 186 L fridge (with microwave oven above) are located in the front slide-out, between the dinette and driver’s cab.
With its head in the offside slide-out, the fully extended bed measures 2.03 m x 1.48 m (6 ft 8 in x 4 ft 10 in). Certainly a very comfortable length for sure, but the slight problem is that with the extension bolster in position, the slide-out cannot be fully closed up. Without the bolster, the bed loses about 200mm/8in, so whether you use it or not depends on what you are happy to put up with!
In terms of storage, the person sleeping on the rear side gets both a bedside cupboard and recessed shelf but the other party gets nowt, except for two overhead lockers. Making up for that slightly is a small cupboard that is mounted on the rear of the dinette seat and also a selection of narrow around-window cupboards at the foot of the bed.
Keeping clean isn’t really a problem in the full width rear bathroom. I like the nearside circular shower; it’s a bit space saving and looks very modern. Also circular is the centrally mounted wash basin, with cupboard below. That still leaves space for a much narrower floor cupboard, overhead locker, offside Thetford cassette toilet and rear offside corner washing machine. I know looks aren’t everything and space is certainly a consideration, but I did wonder why the washing machine couldn’t have been fitted into a cabinet.
WHAT WE THINK:
Anyone familiar with the Jayco motorhome range will certainly recognised that the dual slide-outs add a considerable amount of interior space, while just about everything opens and shuts at the touch of a button.
Being one of Jayco’s top-line models you’d naturally expect the Optimum to come with just about everything and it’s certainly well equipped, but some things – like the single house battery – mystify.
In real estate terms the Jayco Optimum certainly delivers. At this price point, however, it’s up against considerable competition from the likes of Trakka and Paradise Motor Homes, for example, both of whom have reputations for quality and design innovation. As they say, you pays your money and you makes your choice.
PROS AND CONS
- Classy looking motorhome
- Given length, not difficult to drive
- Two slide-outs; spacious living area
- Good storage areas inside and out
- Two rear-view cameras
- Light, bright interior
- Easy-to-grab door handles
- Single house battery
- External storage bins quite low
- Fixed table for dinette
- Smallish kitchen
- Basic cab radio
- Some attention to finish required