In a blazing landscape of passenger van conversions, Frontline’s T5 camper is a climate-controlled oasis
It’s flat on the Hay Plain and we’d be able to see for miles if it wasn’t for the heat blurring the distance into a watery haze, an ever-distant mirage that cloaks perspective and hides the horizon. It’s like an oasis in the climate-controlled comfort of Frontline’s VW conversion, as we cruise up the Cobb Highway looking for a good place to camp.
The Volkswagen T5 Transporter is arguably the best passenger van on the market, and easily the most suitable for campervan conversions. This one is fitted with VW’s 2.0L, 132kW turbo diesel, a seven-speed DSG auto-transmission and drives all-four wheels. On road, it is a quiet and comfortable car. The suspension is well balanced, so there’s a good spread between handling and ride. Volkswagen’s optional 4Motion all-wheeldrive system is a great addition to this camper. Rather than featuring a locking centre diff, the vehicle’s computer chooses how to distribute the power, and although we didn’t get to fully test it on this trip, we’ve used the same system crossing the Simpson Desert in Volkswagen Amaroks (check out page 91) and found the system surprisingly good. The T5 does have an electronic front diff-lock, though, which is great for off-road traction. The 300mm wading depth was the van performed excellently. Frontline has fitted some very good-looking alloy wheels and all-terrain tyres to this camper, which make it even more suitable for some rougher driving. Cabin and driver ergonomics are good for a van. Despite the upright front end and short nose, it feels like you are driving a car, rather than a converted commercial vehicle. The steering wheel is full of buttons and the cruise control is easy to use. It’s got a great stereo and that climate-controlled air conditioning.
As a credit to Frontline, the second row of seats, which it fits as part of the Adventure Pack conversion, are comfortable and good-looking. The seat belts have even been pull-tested to ensure occupant safety is maintained. We did notice a little bit of wind noise through one of the Kingsley Van Conversion windows while driving, but we’re very impressed that there was very little of the cabinet rattling and squeaking we’ve come to expect in all campervans and motorhomes. The camper itself is easy to set up. Notably, the full-popping roof isn’t fitted with external latches; rather, internal cam-buckles lock down straps and hold the roof shut. This is great in bad weather, as you can set up the whole camper without leaving its cozy comfort. The roof is nice and light, with a durable canvas skirt that self-gathers when it’s time to pull it down. Three fly-screened windows are sewn into the fabric. Fitted with Frontline’s optional Adventure Pack, the VW’s front passenger seat swivels around into the living area in daytime mode, while the second row of seats stay put and becomes a lounge (as soon as you take your seatbelts off). A small table fits into the floor, although with it in and the stove out, it’s very hard to move around inside. That stove is a great little feature, though. Not just because it’s a stove, but because it slides out from under the bench. Many campers use a lifting lid to maximise bench space, although here it’s only maximised when you don’t need the stove.
Many will like the two-burner metho-stove for its ease of use and clean burning. Plenty will be able to reminisce about old, similar camping stoves that have cooked some great meals. Others might need to read the instruction manual the first time they use it. The kitchen is otherwise well equipped. The 80-litre, upright, compressor-driven fridge is the perfect fit and 55-litres of water is plenty for such a small camper. A small microwave is cleverly tucked away. A slide-out pantry is a great feature and we never needed to use the smoke detector or fire extinguisher. When day becomes night, thecamper is easy to convert. It’s a two-handed operation to unlatch the lounge and transform it into a bed, although it’s a very light process – there’s no heavy lifting. The same is true in the opposite direction. The cushions are soft to sit on but firm to lie on, and they lie very flat, so it makes a good bed. A second bed can be fitted up the top, made from three unfolding slats and a mattress. We found that if it wasn’t packed away in the right spot, it prevented the roof from closing properly (it fouled on the smoke detector). There is adequate lighting throughout the van. Alongside the T5’s inbuilt cabin lights, there are two LED reading lights and another two fluoro roof lights. We’d love to see these replaced with LEDs as a standard feature. There’s an auxiliary battery to keep everything running, and our tester was fitted with the optional 60W slimline solar panel on the roof.
We spent a week in this camper, predominantly using it as a camera-car and scout vehicle. What it proved is that the T5 is an excellent base for camper conversions because it is so easy to drive, manoeuvre and live with. When we needed someone to head down a tight track to find the campsite, we sent the Frontline. When we needed someone to head into town, they took the camper. It did everything, was always the first set up and first packed up, and always with ease. Frontline makes a very professional product. Its Brookvale, New South Wales, factory is fitted with all manner of computer-aided cutting machines and high-tech wizardry to make sure everything is manufactured to the highest standard. It isn’t the most luxurious camper conversion around – others have higher-specced fitment, nicer fabrics, more windows and so on – but it is excellent value. If you like the freedom of a small campervan, or can’t afford two cars, this is a very versatile package.
Volkswagen Transporter base; great floorplan; off-road ready
A very versatile, very well-priced campervan conversion.
‘It did everything, was always the first set up and packed up, and always with ease’
‘The full-popping roof is great in bad weather, as you can set it up without leaving cozy comfort’