Until recently, touring caravans predominantly have stuck to the bitumen – for good reasons.
The time-honoured leaf-spring suspension systems that have been the underpinnings of the Australian industry since its earliest days simply do not offer enough wheel travel and as a result are too stiffly sprung to be comfortable on anything other than reasonably smooth surfaces.
The firmer the suspension, the more shocks are passed on to everything inside the van, from its furniture, hinges and drawer slides, to the various loose items they hold.
But that’s now history and new technology is set to broaden travelling Australians’ horizons in 2016 and the years to come.
NEW SUSPENSION OFFERS SMOOTHER RIDE
It’s called ‘trailing arm independent suspension’ and thanks to AL-KO and its new Enduro Cross Country suspension, a lot more caravans will travel a lot smoother and further afield.
Beefy coil springs and shock absorbers are nothing new under purpose-built off-road caravans and campers. They allow them to ride corrugations better and with more suspension travel, help them to cope with the lumps and bumps that offroad travellers encounter on unsealed surfaces.
However, they can be an unnecessary heavy, high-riding and relatively expensive option if you simply want your caravan to have an easier time on the inevitable sections of broken bitumen or the corrugations of major outback highways that you will encounter on your travels.
Jayco threw the cat amongst the pigeons when it introduced its own JTECH trailing arm, coil spring suspension as standard on Silverline and Outback-optioned caravans, pop-tops and camper trailers, around two years ago.
Now, AL-KO has developed its own signature system – Enduro Cross Country – that offers the benefits of trailing arm independent suspension to caravans, pop-tops and even camper trailers.
POINT OF DIFFERENCE
What makes Cross Country suspension different is that it is based on AL-KO’s recently-released, heavy-duty Enduro Outback suspension designed principally for offroad travel. So it has benefitted from the lesson learned in intensive endurance testing carried out at the Australian Automotive Research Centre in Victoria.
Utilising similar trailing arm dimensions has enabled AL-KO to use its ‘Outback’ manufacturing robotics, thereby increasing production volume and reducing manufacturing cost.
At the same time, AL-KO also analysed the chassis components and pulled weight out of as many of these as possible to not only reduce costs, but make the system a little lighter.
Importantly, AL-KO retained the desirable aspects of the Outback suspension, such as toe-in and camber adjustment, ‘lube-it-once’, maintenance-free suspension bushes and long suspension travel, but reduced the ride height with a new drop-axle design, as they found that non offroad caravans just didn’t need the extra height that the Outback version provides.
As a result, it is available to suit single axle caravans up to 2300kgATM and tandem vans up to 3600kg ATM, covering the majority of touring models made today by major manufacturers.
All of a sudden, the leaf-spring systems that have served the industry so well for so long appear dated by comparison, although they will no-doubt be seen on many caravans for years to come during the transition phase to the new technology.
INDUSTRY EMBRACES NEW CARAVAN SUSPENSION
The most interesting thing has been the speed with which the caravan industry has embraced trailing arm independent suspension, with the majority of major manufacturers showing great interest in fitting it either as standard or optional equipment across their range of touring vans.
Another incentive for many buyers to choose Enduro Cross Country is resale. While independent trailing arm suspension is now a sales plus for manufacturers, it is predicted to become a ‘must have’ for future second-hand caravan buyers in the near future.