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