I've tried to evaluate the reasons the Australian Sunliner coming to our shores from across the ditch resonates with me so completely. I'm Australian born and may have a native sympathy toward their vehicles. But it's more likely the similarities between the two countries is seeing the birth and evolution of a 'Down Under style', which suits both Aussies and Kiwis.
That I am a huge fan of the Sunliner product made in Australia – by a New Zealander – is probably not all that surprising. The Sunliner's structural integrity is heralded as "lightweight European technology", while the vehicle tested is the New Zealand version of the Aussie design. But far from producing a 'bitsa', these artfully contrived elements bring together the best of the best from here and afar in a sleek, modern and robust – yet lightweight – vehicle.
Sunliner claims its ThermoTough wall construction creates the toughest walls on the market, encompassing strength, durability and weight-reducing properties because the one-piece wall construction has no joins or gaps. Additionally the cross-ply/Duplo Foam panel not only has a high impact rating, but also has hidden properties which make it exceptionally practical. These include the ability to localise repairs and make fitments at any point. I like that all of the construction materials have the same expansion rate and that the R-rating is equivalent to that found in alpine areas.
It may be tongue in cheek, but the DuraRoof slogan: "Strong Enough to Party On" made me laugh. There's clearly a bit of Aussie lout left in the manufacturer. None-the-less, it's comforting to know the precision engineered roof has a fully bonded core with reinforced timber combined with the aforementioned Duplo Foam. Underneath, the whole is a steel sub-chassis topped with one-piece floor: this thing is one tough cookie.
Underneath that hard exterior though, is the soft heart that appeals to my sensibilities. The interior design and layout of the Sunliner is 'contemporary bach'; it has tremendous appeal.
I love the pared-back simplicity, the practical layout and the way the Sunliner family uses pops of colour. And I love the way the fifth wheeler allows for the luxury of space, with privacy and great indoor flow enhanced in this model by wood-look flooring.
The galley is very large, with a cafe-style dinette opposite and a U-shaped lounge to the rear, plenty of room to entertain. This is what we ANZACs look for in our recreational vehicles.
I viewed the 5N461 with slide-out, which gives a whole new dimension to the interior, enhancing the flow and creating an uncompromised area for the chef du jour to whip up a frenzy.
You'll love the large appliances, which in the New Zealand model comprise a 190L fridge, three-burner stove with grill and a microwave. All well and good, but for me it's the enormous (by RV standards) preparation bench which would leave the European models for dead.
There is more than adequate storage throughout, as well as LED lighting so artfully contrived it can be overlooked. When I took a proper look I realised that it was the well-designed overhead panels which kept skylights, lights and vents all in one tasteful place. And the windows are also large by most standards, so there is a real generosity to the light-filled interior.
Again this is enhanced by neutral walls, dark floors and the stairwell hidden behind the L-shaped sink return. From the lounge area, the eye is drawn into the distance to the bedroom – elevated above the hitch. The amenities are behind the bedroom door (shower to the left, toilet to the right) and I really love this set up, which creates a sense of sanctuary for the owners.
A fifth wheeler is designed to extend over the tray of the tow vehicle, usually sitting on a horizontal plate in the base of the ute. The fifth wheel usually sits over the rear axles, providing on-road stability. These days that hitch can be electronically uncoupled, so it's a manoeuvre well within the reach of most.
For many it's the sense of space a fifth wheeler provides that remains most important. This is one reason it's the vehicle favoured by many who choose to spend a long time on the road. Another is that this type of vehicle has the convenience of a caravan. It's a lock-up-and-leave type of vehicle; perfect for those who want to find their ideal spot, settle in and still be able to have a good look around the area without the need to up sticks.
Sunliner's Northshore series has been designed to be light but robust enough to cope with Australian and New Zealand conditions and to fit a range of vehicles which are locally available. These include Ford, Nissan, Toyota and Holden utes. The Dura-torque chassis sports a tandem axle, AL-KO IRS suspension, electric brakes and stabilising locks with alloy wheels.
In keeping with the capacity for off-roading is the ability to store 120-litres of fresh water (and the same amount of grey). The power system positively encourages getting off the grid; a 140w Solar panel with regulator; a 100Ah house battery; two 4kg gas bottles and a 1000v inverter are all at your service.
But when you're done for the day, or if the weather turns into a snarler, there's always the entertainment system which comprises and 18" LCD TV, AM/FM radio with Bluetooth and speakers inside and out. You'll also be able to find your way safely home with an awning light and illuminated grab handle in the stairwell. When the weather brightens again, there's a roll-out awning, handy exterior power points and an external shower to enjoy.
There's a lot to love about the Sunliner range of motorhomes and fifth wheelers. They're designed with us antipodeans in mind. I guess this is the reason that, for me at least, they kind of feel like home.