A'Van Knaus Südwind 450 FU Caravan Review
We have to admit, we were quite surprised when Avan revealed it would be bringing in an imported caravan. The company, Australia's second largest manufacturer of caravans and motorhomes, is very proudly Australian. In fact, when we wrote that European caravans might be the only chance of serious competition for caravan giant Jayco (read: 'Time Flies', AC+RV issue 35), the company's heads politely pointed out Avan stands a fair chance itself, as an Australian manufacturer.
So why has Avan done a deal with German manufacturer Knaus (pronounced with the 'k' - kanous)? Maybe it's because ze Germans know how to make a bloody good caravan.
The funny thing is, the Germans aren't actually building the caravans we'll be seeing in Australia. Avan intends on fitting them with an Australian chassis, the walls and floors will be cut out in Avan's Pakenham factory, and all of the furniture, mouldings and plastic extrusions - some of the only 'Knaus' bits - will be locally assembled from complicated German flat packs. There'll be little stickers on the bottom saying, "This product was made in Australia from local and imported products. Gluten and allergen free." Maybe.
There are some obvious downsides to this arrangement - Avan's own chassis are about 100kg heavier than the AL-KO equivalent, it costs more to manufacture in Australia (partly because Avan will be adding a 600m2 factory to its already extensive real estate) and strudel will never taste as good inside one - but there's a lot of benefit, too. Avan's Scott Van Baardwyck estimates the new production line will add 50-60 jobs to his workforce, and the new marque adds features and floorplans that we don't currently see on traditional Avan or Golf products.
He also says, "This is how we started Avan 21 years ago. Those first few A-liners were built from parts and panels that we shipped over from America. Ten years later and we were building more of them than the US was." Not that he expects to build more here than are put together in Germany, but he certainly wants to take advantage of Knaus' ability to develop and innovate.
The Südwind, one example of the new Knaus by Avan range (and the grand prize in our current competition), is an example of that new partnership. What we tested isn't completely Australianised (it still features an AL-KO chassis), but if Avan is only making improvements, then we can be sure they will be good products.
The floorplan of the Südwind 450 FU (which is maybe lost in translation over here) is very popular in European vans. Designated as one of the brands two person plans, there's actually space for four in the cleverly arranged mobile home.
The bed, found at the front, is double in size with a corner cut-out to widen the walkway to the ensuite. The mattress, which is two pieces for him and her, is available in five different densities, so can be personalised for the sleeper. If he snores, she can send him outside and he can take his half with him. Actually, make him leave it. Posturpedic slats offer the mattress support, and one side can be lifted up to get internal access under the bed. There's a second hatch from the outside, too.
At the other end, the wrap-around lounge is big, comfortable and looks great. The dining table isn't bolted to the floor – it has a large, felt covered base - so it's easy to move around when you're getting in and out. We didn't realise straight away that it can be tethered to the lounge for transit, but it, surprisingly, doesn't move much. It lowers down and fills in the lounge to create the second bed area. It is, however, a bit of a puzzle working out how all the cushions should be arranged.
The kitchen is small and basic, but with an exceptionally classy finish. While the three-burner stove without grill is a little less than most equivalent vans offer, the stainless steel sink, stylish mixer, large drawers with soft-close latches and a water pump that hums quietly rather than rattling noisily, certainly go a long way in bridging the gap. Expect the compressor fridge/freezer to become a three-way unit in future model releases as Avan continues to develop this product.
Then there's the ensuite with a large shower cubicle, separate washstand and copious cupboards that keep camping civilised. We also really love the small shelves below each overhead cupboard and the twin-level counter right at the door. In just about everything, the little Südwind 450 FU is a comfortable and well-considered caravan.
Even outside, the caravan continues its form. Its sleek, flat-panelled and obviously Euro shape is distinctive from a long way off, while closer up you can see the good looking mouldings, LED lighting and Prostor wind-out awning. It would be great to see alloy wheels fitted, but the steel wheels certainly don't affect performance.
Behind the Prado, the van is just as impressive. Its low road-height keeps it stable, even through the winding, steep roads of the Great Alpine Way. It's light, so pulling up was not a problem. And even after it descended The Meg, the longest hill below Hotham (some 29km), where the brakes heated up enough to melt the rubber caps off the wheel nuts, it still performed well.
We have only been impressed with the Südwind. It shares all the hallmarks of a modern, comfortable and excellently fitted caravan. The Germans certainly know how to engineer and manufacture, and that's evident in this caravan. Combine that with the strength and reliability inherint in Australian caravan manufacture and it's hard to look past a caravan like this. Knaus certainly has a strong future in Australian leisure.
This article originally appeared in Australian Caravan+RV, April/May 2014
|Model||Knaus Südwind 450 FU|
|Country of manufacture||Germany/Australia|
A: 9 Webster Way Pakenham
P: 03 5495 4500
|Price as tested||$47,990|
|Tare weight||1235 kg|
|Gross weight||1585 kg|
|Towball download||60 kg|