ON THE LINE Frontline’s VW T5 Adventurer camper is born of experience. When those humble visionaries, Don and Erica Whitworth, started the Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia, the campervan component of the club’s membership was much Greater than it is today. Not coincidentally there were considerably more specialist manufacturers around. Since that time, the percentage of campervan manufacturers has decreased markedly in favour of motorhomes. Still, for those who love lightweight travel and/or work and therefore need around town transport as well and are on a budget, then there are still manufacturers that do a good job. One is Sydney-based Frontline Campers that builds a number of camper conversions, based on a Volkswagen T5 or a Toyota Hiace. There are several layouts available; our review van was the Adventurer model with a folding seat/bed in the rear. BASE VEHICLE A flexible design, the Adventurer conversion is available for a Toyota Hiace or a VW T5 van. While the Hiace is certainly cheaper there are several reasons, principally the flat-floor design, that make the VW a better conversion prospect. There’s one additional feature in the case of the T5, it’s available as an all-wheel drive – VW calls it the 4Motion. This was the Adventurer that Frontline’s Peter Farrugia made available to us.
• Road characteristics of the VW T5 • Large screened windows in the canvas roof • Kitchen layout • Rear storage which can be used in various ways • Slide-out Origo cooktop
COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER
• VW radio/CD player • Insect screens for the doors • LED ceiling lights instead of fluorescents There are a number of turbo-diesel engine variants available in the VW T5 range and Frontline usually opts for the 103Kw/340Nm version with a six-speed manual gearbox. However, the more powerful 132kW/400Nm motor is an option, as is the seven-speed DSG automatic for either engine. 4Motion buyers, however, only get the 132kW engine and, in this case, the seven-speed DSG gearbox
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
One of the little things that distinguish a campervan from a motorhome is the latter is usually coachbuilt and constructed on the back of a cab-chassis. In the case of a van conversion, while most of the body is retained, it has a number of holes cut in it. The largest is for the rising roof but there are also fridge vents and water fillers. Because this camper has a methylated spirits fired cooktop, there’s no need for a gas cylinder bin. Of course there are a few bolt-on items like the Fiamma awning. The pop-top roof is very well integrated into the van profile and has been colour matched to the body along with the awning.
ON THE ROAD
With base vehicles, there’s no doubt that on the road the VW T5 is the winner when compared to the Hiace. Whereas the former is pitched towards the passenger car market, the Hiace is definitely more delivery van. For long distances the VW bucket seats are more comfortable and the ride is better. Having said that, it’s not all bad for the Hiace – it is $8000 cheaper and is backed with legendary Toyota reliability; we also suspect that servicing costs are cheaper and basic items like the radio/CD player are just so much better. Driving the VW is simply fun. Press the right foot and the 132kW turbo diesel delivers in spades and the seven speed auto gearbox is smooth and sure. The vehicle handles the contours and curves of undulating roads without a problem. Although we didn’t really test the AWD for this review, we recently tackled a 4WD training course in a T5. Its certainly not a hardcore 4WD vehicle, but its capabilities are assured and once a few off-road driving tricks are learned – something we’d recommend – its interesting where the T5 4Motion will go and what it will do.
Motorhomers might look down on their smaller neighbours but setting up the Adventurer for day use doesn’t take long at all. Open the sliding door, release the four pop-top roof straps and push up the roof – something made quite easy by the gas struts. An advantage of the rising full roof is that air circulation is most effective in warmer weather. Unless the weather is really cold, the optional Fiamma awning does a good job of protecting the side of van from sun and rain. Many people only think of it in terms of just the sun but a partially open awning is great for these vans and very effective in keeping the rain away from the opened sliding door. One of the options we’d definitely select would be velcroed insect screens for sliding and rear doors. In hot weather, having both doors open is an asset. It’s also possible to get a tent for the rear doors and screens/walls for the awning but that takes up valuable storage space.
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
As we mentioned the VW has a flat floor. This makes access to and from the driver’s cab quite easy and allows the swivelling passenger seat to be incorporated into the design. The layout is simple with a kitchen/storage area cabinet along the offside and a day/night lounge taking up the mid section. The lounge can be used for passengers (with two optional seatbelts fitted) or just for sitting on when camped by day or folded down into a bed by night. The rear area has a platform and large cushion for that purpose. A single, pole-mounted table, normally stored behind the driver’s seat can be used in conjunction with the rear seat.
Fitting out the offside kitchen in a van conversion is something of a challenge but the Adventurer shows Frontline’s experience. Along the benchtop there’s a stainless-steel washing-up bowl fed by a flick mixer tap. That still leaves room for a
bit of bench space under which is a slideout two-burner Origo spirit cooktop – a simple but effective set-up. An alternative to this arrangement, which removes a drawer and makes the fridge more difficult to reach when being used, is to have a swing-out cabinet behind the passenger seat. This cabinet contains the Origo cooktop above and a cupboard below. The upside to this arrangement is that more storage space is available, but the downside is that the cabinet has to be swung out of the way of the passenger’s swivel seat. An 80-litre Engel fridge is fitted under the cooktop. Alongside the fridge is a small wire basket pantry with a shelf above. That leaves room in the adjacent space for the optional microwave oven with drawer above and cupboard space below. The 12V fuse and switch panel is also located here but that’s about to be superseded by a new panel with 5V USB chargers. All of the above might sound like a cramped design but old hands will recognise that it’s quite a workable arrangement.
SLEEPING HOURS Setting up the bed is a simple operation – release the catches on either side of the rear seat and then lay it flat. The bed measures 1.88m x 1.29m (6ft 2in x 4ft 3in) which narrows to 1.17m (3ft 10in). Bed width can be expanded by not having the offside rear cabinet but that does mean a substantial reduction in storage area. Making up the bed can be easily done by two people, one at the rear door and one inside. LED reading lights are fitted on both sides at the rear. On the subject of lights, the main roof lights are mini fluorescents which look a bit old hat but Peter Farrugia reckons they give a better light in the confined space. Still, LED lights are an option.
FROM THE REAR
Filling the rest of the offside rear there is a sliding-door cabinet, the front half having shelves, the rear having a small hanging space. Right in the rear corner is a small shelf area that on this van held the optional external shower hose. Under the bed cushion base at the rear is a good storage area accessible from the rear and a hatch on the inside – it’s ideal for large plastic boxes on rollers. Part of this area is taken by the house battery and the charger but the rest can be used for assorted bits and pieces required for travel.
Mention the word campervan and it produces a variety of images, depending on the listener’s perspective. Some see it as really too small but to others it is as a very affordable budget motorhome and a great little weekend escape machine. They also see it as a rig that is easy to park and a convenience around the city, not to mention being able to transport four people quite easily. It’s not hard to see the attraction that still exists especially when looking over something like this Frontline conversion. The 4Motion VW is more expensive than the 2WD and the base price of this conversion starts at around $64,800 with plenty of options available. In the case of this VW-powered Adventurer, there’s another aspect to it all too, as Frontline proprietor Peter Farrugia points out with a smile. There are those who owned a VW Kombi in the 70s and want to re-live their youth … or something like that.
Manufacturer Frontline Campers
Model Bed Seat camper
Base Vehicle VW T5 4Motion
Tare weight 2100kg
Engine 2.0-litre turbo-diesel
Gearbox Seven-speed DSG
Brakes ABS disc
External length 5.29m (17ft 4in)
External width 1.9m (6ft 3in)
External height 2.48m (8ft 1in)
Internal height (roof raised) 2.04m
Rear bed size 1.88m x 1.29m
Fridge Engel ST90F, 80L,