My years of writing about caravans, campers and boats had its reward recently when I was recognised by one of life’s most pleasing accolades. My seven-year-old grandson, Banjo, had been tasked with designing a caravan for a school project and he asked for my help! That’s a big deal, as I hope you might appreciate.
We spent several hours drawing up plans and making a scale model from Lego and I’m pleased to say he did quite well.
The experience came to mind when I stepped inside the Golf Savannah Maxxi 501 on test because it straightaway spoke of a van with a lot of thought put into it. This Golf was one of the pre-production models of a new adventure van from this progressive and successful Pakenham business. And it’s the first fold out caravan in their range.
Golf has been in business for over 35 years from their base in Queensland and has only recently come under new ownership and moved its operation to Pakenham, just outside Melbourne. They have plenty of experience in adventure campers and the fold out concept has been part of the camper line for decades, so they know plenty about the engineering and ergonomics of getting such a system to work properly.
But when you step out of your traditional way of building caravans to introduce a new concept you want to make sure that what’s presented to the public resonates with them in a very positive way. From my impression and from feedback at the Melbourne and Sydney shows the new Maxxi has been a hit, with orders flowing in and production under way.
Golf’s Savannah range includes a number of pop-top and conventional caravans suited for touring and camping in out of the way locations. The Maxxi adds versatility and space with the introduction of the fold out ends to maximise the living area and allow the addition of an ensuite into the compact 5m body.
The Maxxi’s impressive looks start outside. Behind our Isuzu the low profile van looked a treat as it rolled into the photo location where the dark grey colours of the tow vehicle flowed into the black lower sections of the Maxxi. Stylised off road tyre tracks climb high up the white sides giving an unmistakable message of toughness, reinforced by black and chrome alloy wheels shod with 235/75 x15” Goodyear Wrangler tyres.
The Maxxi is built on a 250mm x 50mm hot dipped galvanised chassis and drawbar and connected to the tow vehicle through an offroad friendly Highland hitch. A pair of 4.5kg gas bottles is drawbar mounted while two 95L water tanks are slung underneath the chassis.
Production versions of the Maxxi 501 will come with Golf’s own 2 tonne independent trailing arms and single shock absorbers each side. This will lift the van around 150mm for a more aggressive off road appearance and performance.
Walls are composite panels of aluminium cladding, 20mm of foam and an internal sheet of 3mm ply vacuum bonded and cut to shape on a CNC router at the Golf factory. It looks great and is very thermally efficient while the flat profile improves its weather seal. Damage resistant, black anodised aluminium J-moulds cover the edges over a liberal layer of silicon to keep any water out.
As a pop top with fold out double beds at each end, the Maxxi transforms to a much bigger size when opened up for camping while retaining an efficient aerodynamic profile when on the road.
Adding to the impressive features outside are a quality Thule Omnistor Awning that winds out from the pop-top roof, making the canvas very neat and taut, and a stainless steel slide-out kitchen ahead of the entry door. It too looks impressive as it canter levers out from the side with no supporting legs despite its more than 2m length. It’s rated to carry 220kg, so presumably the cook could sit up there waiting for the kettle to boil.
The kitchen includes a sink and 12v pressure water, a Smev cooktop with two gas burners and storage drawer and a preparation bench that covers a 30L Waeco drawer fridge that extends even further into clear air.
Outside entertainment hasn’t been forgotten with LED lighting, external speakers and sockets for 12V/240V and a television.
I also noted more storage in a rear tunnel boot at the back, additional space on the driver’s side of the kitchen hatch at the front, an external shower and a bracket at the back for the spare.
Entry is via a fold down step which I thought might be a bit low for offroad use but this has been addressed with the addition of the higher riding suspension. A two-piece barn door gives different options for opening depending on the weather or child security issues while a sliding screen door keeps insects at bay.
It took only a minute or so to get inside and lift the poptop, open the fibreglass covers on the ends and deploy the canvas tents around the two beds. The solid covers in place over the beds and the quality Australian made canvas protect the sleeping positions from the weather while windows in the canvas can be unzipped for a full flow of air. Velcro holds mesh insect screens in place making them easily removed for replacement or cleaning.
I liked the look of the light coloured Morado timber furniture that dominated the interior. It was offset by sections of white laminate and pleasing grey Cashmere granite table and benchtops with Raina slate material on the lounge cushions. Round faced cupboard doors look funky and modern and edge banding completes a very neat finish.
A wide window at the driver side dinette and a smaller one opposite, along with zippered openings in the pop top vinyl let in loads of light and air while eight LED downlights would brighten up the place at night.
By placing the beds outside the main body of the camper the whole internal space can be devoted to a living area, remembering that the outside kitchen will see most of the cooking done down there, leaving the inside for relaxing. That’s not to say the inside kitchen is an overkill – there will be plenty of opportunities to use it when the weather is crook or for a quick cuppa before facing the day.
Storage space is restricted to the height of the solid walls, which can be a good thing as it means the centre of gravity is going to be lower especially for those who might be tempted in a convectional van to overfill the cupboards with heavy items. In its camping mode there is lots of space on top of the shelves for storage as long as you move it before lowering the roof.
The kitchen runs along the passenger side where a sink with draining board runs back to a Swift 500 Mini Grill with 3+1 burners and a12V rangehood. Like all these Swift stoves the glass lid can be closed down to use as preparation space.
Storage below the bench includes a big pot drawer, a spice-rack style pantry and there’s another cupboard forward of the entry door. Power should be sufficient with two twin 240V plugs and a 12V outlet over the draining board.
The designers have left a sensible amount of room between the stove and the Thetford 185L fridge/freezer opposite. A 20L Panasonic microwave sits up top and it’s not too high to be dangerous for most people when lifting hot containers.
I found the café dinette quite roomy and the table is a decent enough size to allow four adults to share a meal, or play cards. Infills allow it to be converted to a king single for an occasional guest or a couple of extra kids.
Fitting an ensuite into a compact van with openings both ends would have been a design problem I doubt even Banjo and I could have overcome, but the execution of the Maxxi’s bathroom is masterly given the constrictions.
It’s located either side of the walkway through to the rear bed, so it’s not completely ideal but solves the problem of having to seek outside facilities in the middle night for a young family.
A sliding door and vinyl zipper close it off for privacy and there’s a second slider to isolate the bed. The space is quite roomy with a large opening window, a wall mirror, a small sink over the toilet and a cupboard overhead. On the other side of the walkway the full size moulded shower recess has a clear acrylic door and a showerhead on a stainless steel hose. With the plentiful 180L water supply and a 20L Attwood hot water system the problem will be keeping the family out.
If kept in check the water and solar power should support days of free camping which is what this little Maxxi is all about – getting away in the bush to enjoy the lifestyle. The single 120w solar panel charges a 95ah deep cycle battery through a 20Amp Projector charger that should be sufficient for the lights, music and TV. If you need to use the Air Command though you’d better bring a generator or ensconce in a caravan park.
The Isuzu had no trouble towing the van. Assisted by Dexter sway control the Maxxi followed along smoothly without and pitching or sway. With a price tag of $53,000 (ex Melbourne) the new Golf will attract a lot of attention especially as its 1662 kg suits a lot of smaller off road vehicles.
- Manufacturer: Golf
- Model: Savannah Maxxi 501
- Overall length: 7.4m
- Width: 2.35m
- Travel height: 2.66.
- Tare weight: 1665kg
- Gross weight: 1965kg
- Ball weight: 170kg
- Price as reviewed: $53,000 (ex Melbourne)