To the casual observer, Crusader caravans don’t really stand out from others in the mainstream crowd.
Yet on every road trip I’ve done recently in the eastern half of Australia, I’ve been amazed by the number of Crusaders of all models that we’ve seen. What’s the secret behind their popularity?
It’s not price, because while good value, the $68,990 recommended price of the 20ft Musketeer Aramis see here is not exceptional, even when discounted to $66.990 at shows, or maybe even less with some arm-twisting at the dealership.
That’s with Crusader’s own thick composite walls and floor – a little less if you specify ‘old school’ ribbed aluminium wall cladding.It’s not really about their equipment either, as the Aramis, while well-equipped with every wanted feature, is not exceptional in this area. To be competitive in this segment today, your standard items need to include a 150mm diameter galvanised chassis, twin fresh water tanks, at least a 100Ah deep cycle battery, around 150 Watts of solar on the roof, a big fridge, a separate shower and toilet bathroom with a washing machine, and an entertainment system with a multi-speaker radio and a good-sized TV.
That brings us to the way Crusaders are built and here I found some clues.
While many of the caravans in the $60,000 bracket still feature ‘stick and tin’ construction, Crusaders for the past 18 months or so have moved on.
While you can still save a few dollars by ordering your Crusader with corrugated aluminium cladding, most are now built with an industry-leading 30mm thick composite, hail and leak-resistant one-piece roof, a rigid, one-piece 42mm thick insulated floor with a unique fibreglass lower under-surface to further insulate the van and protect against stone and road debris damage, and thick aluminium composite smooth walls laid over insulated stud walls, with batons only 250mm apart.
This form of construction not only offers insulation and strength benefits, but also helps keep the empty weight (Tare) of the Aramis down to 2126kg, which means you can legally tow it with a later model Ford Territory, a Mitsubishi Pajero, or every Toyota Prado up to the latest model and still have capacity to spare for clothing and full water tanks.
For non-technical types, that means they build a strong, well-insulated modern caravan that’s designed to travel and last.
However, Crusader also offers customers variable ATMs (laden weight) and our Aramis review van with its conventional eye-to-eye tandem axle leaf spring suspension, was built with an ATM of 2900kg, which meant it could legally carry a payload of more than 700kg, albeit behind a 3000kg or higher-rated tow vehicle if you load it to its capacity.
There are some other interesting things about Crusaders. For example, their interiors have a massive 2032cm (7ft 6in) ceiling height, so your lofty friends won’t bump their heads. And you can also have the bed fitted with a longer 6ft 4in innerspring mattress if you wish, to avoid lanky legs hanging over the end.
Inside, all the cupboards have one-piece glazed and laser-cut doors – not MDF – while they come with full-width piano hinges for extra rigidity and are fitted with sturdy torsion-type hinges.
Then go through the included items and in most cases, you’ll find better-than-usual products for a caravan in this price bracket – certainly not the cheapest.
For example, the Dometic RMDX25 fridge-freezer is a large 190 litre premium model. A three-way 12v/240v/gas model is standard, but you can specify a compressor model at no extra cost.
Some caravans in this price bracket have a 2.5kg capacity washing machine, but the one fitted to the Aramis is a 3.5kg capacity NCE.; the TV is a 24-inch NCE unit (not the usual 22in screen that most manufacturers seem to offer) and the wiring is all 8mm diameter and includes a circuit breaker.
All small details, but overall, they add up to an impressive package.
Outside, the Crusader Musketeer Aramis is attractive, if not outstanding in any particular way.
There’s no front or rear window, something I’m comfortable with, as they’re both potential areas for dust or water ingress, but there are handy towel rails at both ends – something that was introduced on Evernew caravans many years ago. They’re ideal for airing beach and bathroom towels and it’s surprising that many other makers don’t fit them.
There’s no front boot either, with the room it would have taken up added to the interior space, while in its place there’s a large full tunnel boot, which is just as well, as there’s no other exterior storage.
Underneath, the Aramis’s twin 95-litre fresh water tanks are both mounted ahead of the front axle, ensuring that there’s still a reasonable ball weight, although at just 112kg it’s very light for a caravan of its length.
Yet despite both water tanks being empty for our test and the van‘s single 205/70-15 spare wheel hanging out the back on the twin adjustable-arm back bumper, the Aramis towed very well behind the Land Drover Discovery 3 and felt light, agile and stable at posted highway speeds, with only minimal reaction to passing B-Doubles. This suggests that Crusader and its chassis supplier have done their homework properly with the under 2500kg towing market primarily in mind.
The forward location of the water tanks exposes the stone-resistant fibreglass lining of the thick composite floor to stones, but so tough is this lining that they should just bounce off.
The plastic rear waste pipe won’t be so lucky and some simple foam or carpet lagging would be ideal to ward off missiles. Similarly, a simple stone-shield would help protect the A-frame’s exterior water tap, which otherwise is located in the flight path of stones thrown up by the tow car.
Inside, there’s also no surprise in the layout of the 20ft Aramis, which follows what most Australian caravanners want. The rear entry door leads you either into the bathroom to the right, or left into the kitchen and its opposing café dinette lounge, with the island north-south bed at the front.
There’s a good sense of space here, aided by the van’s large windows and two people should be able to get on together fine on a trip.
If storage space is limited outside, the flipside is true inside the Aramis. I counted no fewer than 23 separate cupboards and drawers in the bedroom and living area, plus a large divided storage area under the queen bed.
Then, there were a further four large storage cupboards in the rear bathroom – plenty to store all the towels and linen you might need on the lengthy touring trip that this caravan is built for.
One final mention here needs to go to Hinterland Caravans, Crusader’s Gold Coast dealer based at Burleigh Heads.
After they sell a caravan and deliver the standard two-hour customer briefing, Hinterland books the new owners into a local tourist park for two nights and encourages them to try out every feature of their new van. If there are any problems, they send their dedicated handover product specialist to the park to explain, or solve the issue.
Judging by this 20ft couple’s van, there are a number of good reasons why you see so many Crusaders plying Australia’s main travel routes: they’re built tough for touring and offer value for money in terms of their construction and included features.
2018 Crusader Musketeer Aramis 20ft
Travel length: 8230mm
External body length: 6320mm
External body width: 2340mm
Travel height: 2850mm
Ball weight (Tare): 112kg
Body: Aluminium clad composite walls, 30mm one-piece fibreglass composite roof and 42mm composite floor.
Chassis: 150mm x 50mm Duragal 3mm box section chassis and A-frame
Suspension: Eye-to-eye tandem leaf spring
Brakes: 10-in electric drums
Wheels: 15in alloy with 205/70-15 tyres
Fresh water: 2 x 95 litre
Battery: 1 x 100Ah deep cycle
Solar: 1 x 150W roof-mounted panel
Gas: 2 x 9kg
Cooking: 4 burner (3 gas + I electric) Swift 500-Series cooktop, plus grill and dLuxx microwave oven
Fridge: 190l Dometic 3-way
Bathroom: Separate shower, toilet and vanity
Washing machine: NCE 3.5kg top-loading
Lighting: LED throughout Price: $66,990
Supplied by: Hinterland Caravans, Burleigh Heads, Qld
More info: Crusader Caravans