Challenge Deluxe Camper Review
Peaches 'n' cream
Pat Callinan heads to the hills around Coffs Harbour to road test the latest gear from Challenge
Like peaches 'n' cream, some things are meant to go together, and we found a perfect match when we hooked up the Challenge camper-trailer to the mid-sized Kia Sorento. The trailer sat dead flat, had no side overhangs so visibility was great on both sides, and I even think the package looked pretty slick. As I punched the throttle on the 2.5-litre turbo-diesel and scooted up the road for a kilometre or so, I had an inkling this was to be a good thing.
When it comes to off-road camper-trailers, the market is bulging with competitors, so picking through to find the one for you can be tough. Looking at one at a caravan or 4WD show is one thing - hooking it up behind your 4WD is another. 4WDs and camper trailers react differently to each other, not to mention that you can't assess things like ride and handling in a show situation. Some are too high and sway like a drunk on a skateboard, while others are so wide that you can't see past them.
To find out just where the Challenge camper-trailer stood, we drove south from Queensland's Sunshine Coast, before hitting the beaches and tracks around Coffs Harbour.
The first impression was one of solidity. The camper simply felt solid all the way down the Pacific Highway - you barely noticed it was on the back. Rear vision was excellent, and aside from a slightly bouncy ride at 110km/h, it was a pleasure to tow. In fact, popping into the servo, you had to remind yourself that you did, in fact, have a camper-trailer in tow.
The Challenge is loaded with accessories and features
The Challenge is loaded with accessories and features, yet relies on the simple soft-floor side-fold design that is used by a number of companies. It's not new, but it's hard-wearing and cost-effective, something that can't be under-estimated in the current climate.
The Aussie-designed Challenge manages to keep its price down by being manufactured locally in Adelaide. According to Challenge boss Gareth Handshin: "We manage to keep our overheads low and try to keep the quality in the product by using durable fitments and quality tyres." And I'd have to agree with him on that last point. Many so-called premium camper-trailers tend to grab the cheapest tyres on the shelf, but Gareth has stuck with quality Goodyear rubber.
In the Deluxe spec that we tested, the Challenge will comfortably sleep a family of five. There's a huge queen-sized inner-spring mattress over the trailer, while the rest of the family can bunk down on the floor. A simple but sturdy step locks into the side of the trailer to give access to the queen bed, while zippered flaps allow access into the trailer's side doors. There's even a thoughtful flap on the side of the bed for you to stow your keys and wallet.
The tent itself has ample ventilation, with big mozzie-screen windows on all sides. And off the side, there's a big optional awning for those longer stays. The basic tent and accommodation area can be set up in around five to 10 minutes, while the awning will add another 15 or so. All in all, though, it's faster than most.
The kitchen is housed on the tailgate of the camper, so it folds out when you need it; this way, it's ready to go for a roadside rest-break or a full gourmet feast. The stove is a two-burner Lido design - perfect for camping. Personally, I find that four-burners are rarely of use because once you pop a decent-sized frypan on, that covers the other burners anyway. The washbasin sink is a simple plastic design, so you can carry it away as needs be (rather than flood your toes!). And there's a simple little hand pump to access the 86L water tank underneath. There is also plenty of room for groceries and utensils in the cupboard under the sink and it's all held in place in transit by a neat metal sheet.
The construction of the Challenge Deluxe is all business
The construction of the Challenge Deluxe is all business. The chassis is fully galvanized, and the axle is 45mm square tube steel. The seven-pack leaf springs are eye-to-eye, meaning they should last the distance. The tailgate is secured with a Challenge compression camlock, which is tough and sturdy - I wish a few other campers had these! We didn't shy away from some meaty 4WD tracks out the back off Coffs Harbour and the Challenge stood up to it all beautifully. It has ample ground clearance, very minor overhangs and is built the way an off-road camper-trailer should be built.
When the tent is folded and in its PVC case, we found it kept out the dust beautifully. This may change on an Outback sojourn, but the early signs on our coastal trek were great. For easy access to the cargo area, the tent area is mounted with gas struts, making it easy to flip up and access your gear. For extra storage, a good sturdy aluminium chequerplate box sits on the drawbar and is handy for tools and camping gear. It also houses the battery system. There are plenty of electrical plugs throughout the camper-trailer, but they were all slightly smaller than our cigarette-lighter sized attachments on our lights, etc. I'm unsure why Challenge has opted to go with this smaller outlet as it doesn't suit most common fittings.
There are a lot of very innovative camper-trailers out there on the market, and I don't think Gareth and Sandy from Challenge would argue that their Deluxe model isn't one of them. What it is though is an honest 'what you see is what you get' camper. The advantage of this camper-trailer, in my opinion, is its price, weight and value. The Challenge Deluxe camper is roughly one-third the price of some camper-trailers, and roughly half the weight as well. I reckon it's more than half as good as many expensive models and it tows a lot better than some too.
Australian Caravan + RV Magazine, Issue 11, June/July 2009.
|Chassis||Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 515|
The canvas walls can take a bit of time to get the hang of for quick erection, especially when windy
|Country of manufacture||Australia|
|Price as tested||From $17,950|