A caravan is a home away from home. But what if that home on wheels also has a garage?
That’s the idea behind toy haulers, caravans with two distinct zones: a front living area and a rear ‘garage’ with space for dirt bikes, a quad bike… and, in our case, even a Harley Davidson. Aussie Adventure Caravans Group, which owns Dreamseeker Caravans, has embarked on a mission to overhaul the Dreamseeker range. The new F-14 Tom Cat is the second van in that effort – the first was the 14ft F1, featured last issue – and represents the company’s first attempt at building a toy hauler.
Launched at this year’s Melbourne Leisurefest, the van is available in three variants: the standard F-14, the mid-range F-14 XT, and the range-topping F-14 Tom Cat, which we are reviewing here.
“We are really proud of this van,” Aussie Adventure Caravans marketing manager Chloe Mamo said. “It has genuine points of difference compared to other toy haulers on the market and we think it will have a big impact.”
Time will tell, of course, but we wasted no time hitching it up and hitting the road. In fact, our review van was the very first F-14 Tom Cat built.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
It is, by no means, a diminutive caravan. The F-14 Tom Cat weighs 3250kg Tare and its ATM is a whopping 4500kg. That’s 1250kg of payload capacity. Factoring in, say, 300-400kg for your dirt bike(s) or other ‘toys’, 190L of fresh water, 95L of grey water (assuming you’ve refilled your fresh tanks before setting off from camp), and 18kg worth of gas, there is still more than 500kg of available payload. In other words, there’s plenty to work with.
However, the maths only work if you’ve got the right tow vehicle. The F250 we used was just the ticket.
The F-14 Tom Cat’s main bed runs east-west in the front of the van, with enough space at the foot of the bed and the cabinetry to allow you to really stretch out. This same cabinetry at the foot of the bed contains a flatscreen TV and I liked how the top lockers, on the nearside, were angled to match the raked profile of the front of the van – very neat. The leather bedhead, with diamond-patterned stitching, adds a touch of class.
Speaking of class, the RGB LED strip lighting above the overhead lockers throughout the van can change colour at the push of a button on a remote control to match your internal decor or mood. Fancy some purple in your life? Perhaps some green? No worries.
Between the bed and the offside combo bathroom (which has a black glass door, rather than Perspex) is a small but functional vanity unit. Often, a van with a combo bathroom will either have a) no vanity at all, or b) it will be small and moulded into the fibreglass bathroom stall. This stand-alone vanity is a small example of the design differences on show in the new-look Dreamseekers.
The nearside kitchen, meanwhile, has a Swift 500 Series four-burner cooktop, griller and oven. And, even with the inclusion of an oven, the storage space here doesn’t feel compromised. The benchtops are made from a material known as Hi-Macs, a special acrylic that’s said to be particularly hard-wearing, with joins that become all but invisible when fitted properly. It’s allowed the manufacturer to recess the round stainless-steel sink into the bench – an effect reminiscent of display homes.
A Dometic quad-lock door seals the living area off from the ‘garage’, so you should be able to shut out unwanted petrol fumes, dirt, etc. Another benefit: you could leave the tailgate down while you enjoy the great outdoors without flies or mosquitos getting into the living space.
Is it a garage, a second bedroom, or a theatre room? The answer, I think, is all three. The F-14 Tom Cat has, on the offside, a lounge that doubles as a second bed with lockers above. On the nearside is an entertainment cabinet filling the entire wall. It comprises a 49in flatscreen TV recessed within, 6in Sony speakers and amplifier, a Play Station 4, and a Sony 6.2in touchscreen DVD/media player with Bluetooth. Did I mention that the Tom Cat also gets a SatKing Pro satellite dish and RV wi-fi, too?
And, with the lounge/bed folded against the wall, there’s enough room for the quad bike or motorcycle – a number of tie-down points are provided in order to keep your equipment secure. With the assistance of gas struts, the entire tailgate drops down to become a ramp. Rubber seals run the perimeter of the entrance to keep out dust, dirt and water when the tailgate is closed.
Given the multipurpose nature of the rear space of this van, I think it will appeal to a wider market than even Aussie Adventure Caravans expects. To my mind, you don’t have to be into dirt-biking to get the most out of it. In fact, I can imagine backing the van up to a river somewhere, opening the tailgate, and relaxing with a beer with the cricket on the telly.
OUTSIDE TOM CAT
By now, you might have noticed that this caravan does not have a fixed dinette table. Instead, a portable camping table is provided, the thinking being that such a table gives you the flexibility to dine wherever you like, whether that’s in the rear section or under the roll-out awning. Besides, a fixed table would probably cramp the layout.
The F-14 Tom Cat isn’t sparse on external features. There’s a slide-out kitchen with a sink and barbecue at the front, out from under the awning, and just behind is a locker with a Dometic 12V drawer fridge for drinks or perhaps even steak for the barbie. Further back, a flatscreen telly has been recessed into the wall. Note, I’m not talking about a so-called entertainment box, where you can fit the TV from inside the van. No, this is a dedicated compartment for a 32in TV.
Up front, you’ll find a mesh stone guard, a checkerplate storage box containing two 9kg gas cylinders and a slide-out tray for a 2kVA generator. A 12V point here would be a welcome addition as that would mean you could use this space for a portable fridge instead.
In terms of 12V power, the van is fitted with a Redarc battery management system, a Redarc solar controller for the dual 150W panels, and a Redarc 3000W inverter. Coupled with the two onboard 120Ah AGM batteries, you shouldn’t have much difficulty running all of your appliances, within reason, when away from mains power.
On the offside is an external shower, while at the rear are two LED light bars (there’s one at the front, too) and a reversing camera.
The matte black composite aluminium cladding with chrome-look graphics and gloss black decals look great, I reckon. In the looks department, the F-14 Tom Cat is a 10.
The van is fitted with offroad suspension and a D045 coupling, but due to its size and loaded weight, I see this van as more of a rough-roader than an extreme offroader.
Having said that, it’s extremely well specced and it appears as though the manufacturer has put a lot of thought into how the van will be used. Price-wise, it’s on par with market expectations but, of course, you could opt for the base model, which is priced at $80,000 (plus on-road costs) or even the mid-level XT, which is still $20,000 cheaper than the Tom Cat.
As Aussie Adventure Caravans continues its overhaul of the Dreamseeker range, the company seems to be setting a new standard for itself. First the F1. Now the F-14. We’re looking forward to seeing what comes next.
FIT AND FINISH –
HITS & MISSES
Overall length: 8.6m
External cabin length: 6.44m
External cabin width: 2.45m
Travel height: 3.02m
Internal height: 2m
Cladding: Composite aluminium
Coupling: D045 offroad
Chassis: 6in DuraGal
Suspension: 4.5-tonne Tuff Ride
Wheels: 16in alloy
Fresh water: 2x95L
Grey water: 95L
Battery: 2x120Ah AGM with Redarc battery management system and 3000W inverter
Solar: 2x150W with Redarc controller
Air-conditioner: Dometic Harrier inverter
Gas cylinders: 2x9kg
Sway control: No
Cooking: Swift 500 Series four-burner cooktop with griller
Refrigeration: Dometic 185L three-way fridge-freezer
Washing machine: No
Lighting: 12V including RGB LED strip lighting
Hot water: 22.6L Suburban gas-electric
$120,000 (plus on-road costs)