There's a good reason why a lot of campervan manufacturers are choosing the Volkswagen T5 turbo-diesel as their base vehicle. It goes like stink. While 128kW might not sound excessive, it's the 400Nm of pulling power that's worthy of mention. You see, even up the steepest of hills (and believe me, we tried some) the Discoverer camper just kept on accelerating. You wouldn't think that just a 2.5-litre engine would do such a great job at lugging around just over 2.3 tonnes of campervan, but by jingo, it does.
The vehicle selected for testing here is the Discoverer Pop-top T5, with the Bed/Seat layout. It hits the market at $79,990 in this specification, plus a few more shekels for on-road costs.
With the T5 Campervan, Discoverer's target market is people who are on the move. One day they'll be sampling the delights of Port Macquarie, while the next they'll be up in Coffs Harbour - and it's here where the Discoverer shines. To set up the unit for camping takes, ooh, about three minutes. You simply raise the pop-top (which takes about five seconds), roll out the brilliant Fiamma awning (about two minutes), and flip down the bed. Yep, this kind of unit really makes the 'hot lap of Oz' seem like a breeze.
As I mentioned, the first impression of the Volkswagen T5 on the road is one of power. She runs like a charm, and the power is fed seamlessly through a six-speed automatic gearbox. Put simply, anyone can drive this. It requires no special licence, and being an automatic - it's a cinch. In fact one of the only problems I saw in the vehicle was the meaty blind spot caused by the B-pillar and retracted curtain. Yet as my drive progressed, I did get used to it and simply took some more care to accommodate the problem.
It's quite rare that power can also come with efficiency, but it does with the T5. The official figures state fuel consumption at 8.9L/100km, which is far better than any 4WD/ van configuration you'll buy. Not to mention there's only one lot of rego to pay!
Discoverer takes a Volkswagen long-wheelbase T5 van, and slices a whopping big hole in the roof, before reinforcing the whole roof with box-section. In fact, the roof is so well reinforced, that (like the old Kombi's) it can even support an extra children's bed up there. This unit is considered a four-berth campervan courtesy of the rear bench seat, one with a lap sash belt, the other with a lap seatbelt only. Up front, the passenger seat can be easily swivelled to meet the living area. And if you're wondering about credibility, Sydney-based Discoverer is an established player in the campervan market, having been around since 1973.
There's really not much 'commercial' about this commercial vehicle anymore in my books. You've got dual airbags, remote central locking, cruise control and a CD player to keep you entertained. The steering column is height adjustable, and so too are the seats. In fact the seats are extremely comfortable and have that 'armchair' sensation thanks to the flat-topped doors acting like huge armrests. Also up front are the obligatory cup holders, which pop neatly out of the dash.
The handling of such a long (5.29m) and tall (2.07m) vehicle is quite astounding. You can really throw it around hairpin turns, and the tyres just keep on gripping. In years gone by, if you did this to a van it would lose traction and rubber would squeal and moan, but now with independent suspension, it takes a lot more to unsettle the rig. Other safety attributes which are standard are ABS, Anti-Spin Regulator (like traction control) and ventilated disc brakes.
One thing I did notice in this vehicle was the noise associated with the pop-top configuration. Over potholes, the roof adopted a bit of a drumming noise and the odd rattle, no-doubt exacerbated by the sound bouncing off the hard floor. Of course, this is common to many pop-tops, and whether it bothers you will be decided on your test drive.
The turning circle in the T5 is brilliant, and puts many a modern 4WD to shame. In fact this, coupled with the low roof height will make it a winner in shopping centres Australia-wide.
When you step into the Discoverer T5, your foot lands on a floor covered with Forbo faux blondewood parquetry. This runs from behind the front seats right to the back of the vehicle, and gives the camper a light and airy feel. In fact, there's no carpet to worry about in this rig - even the rubber-floored driver and passenger foot well betrays its secret that it's actually a commercial vehicle. Still, that's a bonus in my books, as you've got no chance of trashing the floors whether you're touring a muddy Tasmania or a sandy red centre.
The kitchen area is modern and classy, complete with a Cramer three-burner stove and a stainless steel sink with flick-mixer tap and glass top. Sitting beneath the stove is a two-way Engel fridge, boasting an 80-litre capacity. The two-way fridge (as opposed to three-way with a gas option) reflects the 'on-the-go' nature of this vehicle. A second battery sits in the cargo bay up the back, and gets charged every time the vehicle hits the road. There's also a C-TEK dual battery management system, ensuring the starter battery gets priority charge from the alternator. Oh, and for those new to this travelling caper, Engel is certainly one of the best (if not the best) brand in portable fridges on the market. Incidentally, the second battery is a 100a/h Delkor calcium sealed unit, which is well-known for its long life and robust construction. Also feeding off the battery are a couple of LED lights in the tail-gate, a fluorescent light in the pop-top lid, and a couple of directional reading lights over the bed.
At the rear of the Discoverer is a shower, fed by the stainless steel water tank - perfect to wash the salt off after that beach swim! The water isn't heated though, so you wouldn't want to rely on it for everyday duties.
As far as storage goes, there is plenty on offer. There is a big space in the cargo bay, as well as numerous drawers and cupboards, all finished in double laminate ply. The finish on the interior of this previously-commercial van is first class too - it's insulated and finished in a soft grey fabric.
Ventilation is always a big consideration in any Australian rig. The majority of the heat in this unit can escape through the big zip-able flaps in the pop-top. On the day of our road test, it was a typical Sydney summer stinker, and as soon as those flaps opened, the heat escaped beautifully. The rear of the cabin around the bed only has a small single sliding window though (complete with flyscreen), so don't expect a lot of cross-ventilation while you're sleeping. Discoverer does, however, have the option of fitting an annex tent to the rear door of the Volkswagen. Rear airconditioning is not an option for this model. As far as privacy is concerned, an internal curtain nicely obscures all areas of the T5.
If you've got itchy feet and you just want to hit the road in a rig built for two, then the Discoverer T5 is certainly worth a long, hard look. It rates quite well when it comes to value and is definitely not the most expensive on the market. If you want to cover lots of kilometres economically, the T5 might be the rig for you.