I admit it. It had been some time – perhaps three years – since I’d towed a Crusader caravan. I’m not sure what was behind the separation but, hitching up the Aramis one bitterly cold winter day, it felt… darn good.
The Aramis sits in Crusader Caravans’ Musketeer range. Its compatriots include, of course, the 17ft 6in Porthos and the 19ft 6in Athos. Named for the French king’s finest guards in the famous novel by Alexandre Dumas, these vans are – together with the rest of the Musketeer line-up – built with the sub-2500kg towing market in mind.
Actually, there’s a bit more to it than that. The standard Aggregate Trailer Mass of the Aramis is 2900kg – Crusader happily lowers it to 2500kg to suit owners of Prados and similarly rated tow vehicles.
So, depending on your tow vehicle, you can have about 425kg of payload – which for this van seems reasonable – or a whopping 825kg. The final payload figure depends on the final Tare weight of your Aramis, of course – ours was 2075kg.
I have a soft spot for caravans built in the traditional way, with a timber frame clad with aluminium. The Aramis employs these time-honoured manufacturing techniques but with a couple of modern, and very welcome, twists: the roof is a hail-resistant 30mm one-piece fibreglass composite construction extending from the front checkerplate to the checkerplate at the rear.
The floor is a 42mm composite one-piece unit, too. It is comprised of a top layer of vinyl (the interior floor) on a one-piece plywood board, 30mm of high-density foam insulation, and a skin of fibreglass underneath which, according to Crusader, will act as a hard-waring shield against road debris.
The floor is, to me, noteworthy because the Aramis is, at the end of the day, a blacktop touring van and similarly priced and specced rigs would often have only a 12mm ply floor (probably painted black underneath). The composite floor on the Aramis should provide better overall rigidity and thermal efficiency, too.
The walls, meanwhile, are secured to the top of the floor, rather than the side, with the wall studs set at 250mm centres.
The suspension is, appropriately, a tandem-axle eye-to-eye setup – independent coil suspension would, I believe, be an unnecessary expense in a van such as this. On 15in wheels with 10in electric brakes, the Aramis was a pleasure to tow. On the highway, at 95km/h and without the use of load-levellers or other towing aids, it kept to heel at all times, despite the strong crosswind of our Melbourne winter day. On a side note: I appreciated that the wiring to the electric brakes runs straight to the wheel hub – comparable vans would likely involve a terminal block hanging freely in the wind, just waiting to be damaged by an errant stone. I would, however, like to see some protection for the grey water pipes.
Among the external features, there’s a 120W solar panel, a 100Ah deep-cycle battery and 25A charger, a fold-down picnic table, an external 12V point, a couple of 9kg gas cylinders on the drawbar, a roll-out awning, and a front tunnel boot in lieu of a front boot – this is the only external storage option. The offside town water inlet sits a little low and is a bit too exposed for my liking. Even though it’s mounted just forward of the wheels (and probably out of the line of fire), I’d prefer to see it tucked higher up against a chassis rail.
Overall, though, the Musketeer Aramis sports a decent amount of external equipment – and in this I include the one-piece floor and roof. No, there’s nothing fancy, but when you’re talking about new caravans with a circa $60K price tag, you shouldn’t expect satellite dishes as standard fitment.
INSIDE THE ARAMIS
The Aramis’ layout is comprised of a north-south bed in the nose of the van surrounded by a bedhead of overhead lockers and a wardrobe either side, an amidships dinette on the nearside, an opposing kitchen, and a full-width rear bathroom. You’re right: it’s a familiar layout. But that’s because in a van with a body length of less than 20ft, it works well.
The dinette comes with a tri-fold table, multi-directional readings lights and overhead lockers. (A side note: the RV industry refers to foldable dinette tables as ‘tri-fold’ tables because they have three sections; however, because these sections are joined by two hinges, ‘bi-fold’ would be a more accurate description.) A drawer under each dinette seat gives easy access to these storage spaces; however, it’s all a bit limited by the opposing kitchen – the drawers can only be pulled out so far, so you’ll need to remove the cushions and ply hatches beneath to access the rest of the available space.
The kitchen has four drawers, an under-sink cupboard, storage under the griller (an oven isn’t included), and a pull-out pantry. Naturally, there’s a microwave built into the kitchen’s overhead cabinetry, some lockers above the sink and cooktop, and a built-in stereo/DVD player. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of the colour of the benchtops; however, I realise that’s a personal choice. I did like, though, that the lid of the recessed cooktop was finished to match the rest of the benchtop. More commonly, a van’s cooktop’s lid is black glass, so the finish in the Aramis is a welcome touch.
Further back, between the kitchen and bathroom, is a 190L AES fridge-freezer. AES stands for Automatic Energy Selection, which means the fridge will choose the ‘best’ energy source without waiting to be asked, whether that’s 12V battery power, 240V mains, or gas. A storage locker is fitted above the fridge, its door lifting on gas struts and a piano hinge, just like all of the locker doors throughout the van.
And that leaves the bathroom, with its top-loading washing machine beneath the vanity bench, offside cassette toilet and nearside shower cubicle. A few overhead lockers, a cupboard beneath the sink and a storage nook next to the toilet comprise the bathroom’s storage options. And then there’s the mirror and 240V power outlet (positioned high and well away from the sink, as it should be). It all adds up to a functional caravan bathroom.
The Musketeer Aramis has some capability when it comes to free camping for a few nights. With two 95L fresh water tanks, a 120W solar panel and a 100Ah deep-cycle battery, I think you could expect to spend five to seven days away from it all before you need to refill the water tanks and give the battery a good 240V charge, depending on how conservative you are with power and water consumption. You could extend your range by loading some jerry cans filled with water and adding a portable solar panel to your kit.
All in all, though, the Aramis presents as a well-priced and reasonably well specced-out caravan for couples in the market for a two-person, blacktop-bound touring caravan. It tows well, has plenty of payload capacity, and is comfortable inside and out.
FIT AND FINISH –
HITS & MISSES
Overall length: 8.28m
External cabin length: 6.29m
External cabin width: 2.43m
Travel height: 2.9m
Internal height: 2.03m
Unladen ball weight: 128kg
Frame: Meranti timber
Cladding: Aluminium with fibreglass one-piece composite roof and floor (fully insulated)
Coupling: 50mm ball
Chassis: 6in Duratech
Suspension: Beam-axle eye-to-eye leafspring
Wheels: 15in alloy
Brakes: 10in electric
Fresh water: 2x95L
Battery: 1x100Ah deep-cycle
Solar: 1x120W roof-mounted
Gas cylinders: 2x9kg
Sway control: No
Cooking: Swift 500 Series four-burner cooktop and griller
Refrigeration: 190L AES fridge-freezer
Microwave: Yes (with grill function)
Shower: Yes – separate cubicle (one-piece fibreglass)
Washing machine: Top-loader
Lighting: 12V LED
Hot water: 28L Swift gas-electric
$58,690 (tow-away, Victoria)