The­ory

Jayco’s 2014 Ex­panda Outback is a rough-road ready and fam­ily-friendly tour­ing van.

Motorhome & Caravan Trader - - 2014 Jayco Expanda Outback 21.64-1 - Words Laura Gray Pics Nathan Ja­cobs

In the heav­ily-pop­u­lated world of two-berth, front bed­room/rear bath­room car­a­vans in which we live, Jayco’s iconic Ex­panda car­a­van is a re­fresh­ing change.

With sleep­ing quar­ters for six, in­clud­ing front and rear dou­ble fold-out tent beds, bunks, a club lounge and large bath­room, the Ex­panda re­ally is very dif­fer­ent from the norm. And that’s ex­actly how it found its niche in the mar­ket – as an easy-to-tow fam­ily tourer for those look­ing to make the leap up from a cam­per trailer to a car­a­van. While the Ex­panda is a true car­a­van, it bor­rows some of its best fea­tures from cam­per trailer lore, blend­ing the best of both worlds in a way that ben­e­fits fam­i­lies. And, for those not quite ready to up­scale to a full­size van, the 2014 Ex­panda also came avail­able as a pop-top with a Tare weight as low as 1370kg.

Flex­i­bil­ity is an im­por­tant fac­tor in all fam­ily de­ci­sions and Jayco at­tended to this by mak­ing the Ex­panda avail­able in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent lay­outs in both its pop-top and car­a­van it­er­a­tions.

We got our hands on this 2014 Ex­panda Outback 21.64-1 – the largest in the fleet – fresh from Jayco HQ in Dan­de­nong South, Vic. So fresh, in fact, that she was hot off the fac­tory floor and about to be loaded onto a truck to the deal­er­ship when we ar­rived to col­lect her!

Weigh­ing in at 2575kg Tare with an ATM just over 3100kg, the 21.64-1 is no light­weight and not suited to small tow ve­hi­cles. But it has all the other ben­e­fits of the clas­sic Ex­panda – just in a larger pack­age.

GO OUTBACK

This par­tic­u­lar Ex­panda was fit­ted with Jayco’s op­tional Outback Pack, which con­verts any Jayco van from a leisurely black­top tourer to some­thing a bit rougher, a bit tougher and ca­pable of tak­ing you to many more cor­ners of the coun­try.

That’s not to say, how­ever, that it will be­come

a fully of­froad van. Jayco is care­ful to avoid that oft-used term and, in­stead, says its Outback vans are ca­pable of rougher travel than a reg­u­lar Jayco and should give own­ers more peace of mind off the bi­tu­men. But if you want to trek up to Cape York or sim­i­lar, it’s rec­om­mended that you use your van as a base sta­tion, un­hitch­ing and leav­ing it be­hind. Which is sound ad­vice, re­ally.

So with that in mind, we se­lected the rough, muddy tracks of Kinglake Na­tional Park, north of Mel­bourne, Vic, to put this Ex­panda Outback through its paces. The city had suf­fered through yet an­other wet week prior to our test so we were con­fi­dent the sticky, slip­pery mud and steep ter­rain would suf­fi­ciently test the Ex­panda Outback’s rough-road cre­den­tials.

First we tack­led the sharp to­pog­ra­phy in the south of the park. With tow­er­ing in­clines, breath­tak­ing de­clines and de­vi­ous switch­backs, these roads were an ex­cel­lent test of the Ex­panda’s han­dling. Tugged ably along by a Toy­ota Landcruiser ute, the van posed no prob­lems at all. If any­thing, it felt a lit­tle heavy on the ball but that kept it firmly planted, no mat­ter what the road threw at us.

When the petrol warn­ing light in one of our con­voy ve­hi­cles started flash­ing and ruined our fun, we headed back to town to fill up be­fore we tack­led the slip ’n’ slide on the other side of the park. A visit the day be­fore our test con­firmed there was plenty of mud, lots of pud­dles and some se­ri­ously big hills to play on. But a day of un­sea­son­able sun­shine since had sub­stan­tially dried the place out. It wasn’t a prob­lem though, as our lo­cal guide, Macca, knew the wettest and the best places to hit and, be­fore we knew it, we were al­loy-deep in mud, with the Ex­panda Outback splash­ing through ditches like it was born to do it.

The up­graded 15in al­loy wheels and GT Ra­dial Ad­ven­turo all-ter­rain tyres in­cluded in the Outback Pack cer­tainly came into play here, as did the van’s in­creased ground clear­ance. The Outback-spec Al-ko mud­flaps def­i­nitely earned their keep, and the pro­tec­tive side check­er­plate got pretty dirty but did its job, and the van’s JTECH in­de­pen­dent coil spring sus­pen­sion kept the ride nice and smooth.

Other Outback Pack ad­di­tions in­clude a 120W so­lar panel, 125x50mm RHS A-frame, 150x50mm

chas­sis, Al-ko of­froad elec­tric brake mag­nets, a pull-out step, ex­ter­nal 12V plug, ex­ter­nal gas bay­o­net and Al-ko quick-drop jacks.

The Outback Pack added $5000 to the base price of this 2014 Ex­panda – a rea­son­able price to pay for all those ex­tras and the com­fort of know­ing it can prob­a­bly han­dle what most Jayco buy­ers would want to throw at it.

CLAS­SIC AP­PEAL

All packed up and on the road, the 2014 Ex­panda is clas­sic Jayco – it’s im­pos­si­ble to mis­take the clean lines of the alu­minium Tough Frame sand­wich panel con­struc­tion and fi­bre­glass ex­te­rior walls.

It looks like many other car­a­vans un­til its front and rear fold-out pan­els and bunk bed win­dows give the game away that this is a true fam­ily van, while the high ground clear­ance, all-ter­rain tyres, and side check­er­plate pro­tec­tion point to its roughroad in­ten­tions.

Other ex­ter­nal fea­tures in­clude a Care­free awning, full-width front tun­nel boot (which houses

the sin­gle 100Ah bat­tery), two 9kg gas cylin­ders, A-frame-mounted spare wheel, Al-ko Elec­tronic Sta­bil­ity Control (ESC) as stan­dard, A-frame tap, and two well-pro­tected 82L wa­ter tanks.

EX­PAN­SION POINT

In­side, the Ex­panda, true to its name, opens up and out in no less than three di­rec­tions, mas­sively in­creas­ing liv­ing space and re­veal­ing an im­pres­sive and unique de­sign. Front fold-out tent bed, off­side club lounge in slide-out, near­side kitchen, near­side dou­ble bunks, off­side bath­room with sep­a­rate shower and toi­let and rear fold-out tent bed – it’s all there.

The front and rear beds are vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal and, thus, op­er­ate in the same way. Each bed took us about five min­utes to set up and, I have to ad­mit, the process was not par­tic­u­larly in­tu­itive. But we were at­tempt­ing it for the first time with no in­struc­tion.

To put it sim­ply, the top-hinged front or rear (ex­ter­nal) panel must be raised and propped open at about 90 de­grees on its hy­draulic struts, then, from the in­side, it’s just a mat­ter of push­ing out the bed base and mat­tress (which un­folds the tent) and in­sert­ing (af­ter you find it!) the roof pole above the bed to keep the tent roof taut (a crook on the end of the pole hooks into the van roof). Then you just re­verse the process to bring it back in.

The beds have zip-down win­dows on three sides and plenty of air space above, so there’s noth­ing claus­tro­pho­bic about them at all. And the mat­tresses are high-qual­ity in­ner­spring, so it’ll def­i­nitely be the most com­fort­able way you’ve ever camped!

Just be­hind the front bed is the off­side club lounge, which sits in a slide-out. With the slide-out closed up, there is barely enough room to squeeze be­tween the lounge and the kitchen bench, de­spite the bench be­ing cut-away, mak­ing road­side bath­room or tea breaks a lit­tle more com­pli­cated. But, hap­pily, the slide-out switch is right by the en­try door and it opens in a smooth, rel­a­tively quick fash­ion. It’s not su­per quiet, but these things never are. It slides out about 510mm, cre­at­ing a large amount of ex­tra in­ter­nal space.

The dinette it­self is large and sump­tu­ous, eas­ily ca­pable of seat­ing four adults or two adults and four chil­dren. With its two-tone up­hol­stery and sin­gle pole-mounted ta­ble, this will def­i­nitely be­come the heart of the van. Read­ing lights and three cab­i­nets over­head, a long win­dow be­hind, pow­er­points and stor­age un­der­neath, ac­ces­si­ble by draw­ers, com­plete the dinette’s fea­tures.

Mov­ing over to the kitchen, it’s im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous this kitchen has some­thing far too many vans do not – free bench­top space for food prepa­ra­tion and serv­ing. Sure, a cover over the sink or cook­top will do the job at a pinch, but there’s noth­ing like the lux­ury of be­ing able to spread out and cut, wash and cook all at the same time. This

por­tion of the bench, to the im­me­di­ate right of the en­trance, is cut away slightly to aid pas­sage past the kitchen to the rear of the van. Next to that is the round stain­less steel sink with drainer (and dou­ble-sided ‘Chop ’n’ Serve’ board) and then the Smev 4BG combo (three gas, one elec­tric) four­burner cook­top with grill un­der­neath. There’s no oven so you’ll have to learn to live with­out one, if you haven’t al­ready.

The mi­crowave is lo­cated over­head, right next to the en­trance and it juts out a bit fur­ther than the other over­head cup­boards, lead­ing me to hit my head on it at least three times over the course of this re­view.

I should have re­mem­bered where it was, you might say, and over time, yes, I prob­a­bly would have, but it’s still worth point­ing out that it cre­ates a prob­lem for peo­ple over 5ft 8in (170cm). Also over­head are two lock­ers and a range­hood, with sev­eral cup­boards and many draw­ers un­der the bench.

Op­po­site the kitchen and next to the far side of the slide-out is a Dometic RM2553 186L three-way fridge – the per­fect size for a fam­ily that plans to do a bit of free camp­ing. The wa­ter heater switch, so­lar mon­i­tor, fuses and a few other switches are lo­cated above the fridge in a re­cessed panel, putting them at about 1.9m (6ft 3in) from the floor

CROWD PLEASER

Mov­ing back is where the van re­ally comes into its own and stands out from the crowd, I think. The off­side bath­room and near­side bunk beds are a per­fect match for this space and they can be cor­doned off from the front liv­ing area by a Vene­tian slid­ing door.

I think we some­times get so caught up in whether or a not a van has the in-vogue full-width rear bath­room that we for­get there are other, just as func­tional, bath­room de­signs, which take up less space! This bath­room runs along the off­side of the van, with a cas­sette toi­let dead cen­tre, a very large shower cu­bi­cle to the right (rear) and a small van­ity with large mir­ror above and cup­boards be­low to the left (front). A large win­dow above the toi­let and hatch in the shower let in heaps of nat­u­ral light to keep it fresh and bright.

Back on the near­side, op­po­site the bath­room, is the kids’ sleep­ing area with dou­ble bunks (triple bunks op­tional). They come with a lad­der and a guard for the top bunk to keep ev­ery­one safe and, by day, the bot­tom bunk can be folded up to cre­ate a small café-style dinette with a sin­gle pole­mounted ta­ble – per­fect for kids to sit and play games or read their books. The over­head space is lim­ited by the pres­ence of the top bunk, mak­ing it un­suit­able for adults. Each bunk has its own win­dow, two read­ing lights, two pow­er­points and a 12V socket.

THE BOT­TOM LINE

It was hard to pick my favourite part of this van – I’m a sucker for a club lounge; they’re so much more lux­u­ri­ous than stiff café-style dinettes, but I also re­ally liked the bath­room lay­out, with the rear bunks op­po­site.

And who doesn’t love sleep­ing in a tent, with fresh air and views all around you – es­pe­cially when it’s raised off the ground and there’s a com­fort­able couch, kitchen and bath­room just me­tres away!

For large fam­i­lies who want to camp to­gether, or even grand­par­ents with a hand­ful of grand­kids, this 2014 Jayco Ex­panda van cer­tainly has plenty of ap­peal.

Clock­wise from top: The off­side slide-out ex­tends 510mm; this 2014 re­view Ex­panda was fit­ted with Jayco’s Outback Pack; the van rides on 15in al­loys with all-ter­rain tyres.

Clock­wise from top: Clean lines and fi­bre­glass ex­te­rior; the beds fold out at each end and took about five min­utes to set up; twin gas cylin­ders ride on the A-frame.

Quick specs: 2014 Jayco Ex­panda Outback 21.64-1 Be­low: Near­side kitchen with cook­top and grill.

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