KEA VW T5

By: Bill Savidan


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Since our first introduction, the new KEA VW T5 campervan gave us some pleasant surprises. It’s a stylish vehicle, a rewarding drive, spacious considering its overall size, and quite capable of doing the task it is designed to do.

KEA VW T5
KEA VW T5

After an overnight stay, we were heading back to Auckland to return the campervan to its proud owners and were stuck behind a sedately moving horse float on a winding road. We were running late. I thought of passing but reminded myself that, although it felt like it, I wasn’t driving a car.

And then a better opportunity presented. I put the nose over the centre-line and the VW scampered past. It was a pleasant surprise – a very sprightly exercise, not the lumbering manoeuvre I’m used to.

The VW T5 is based on the LWB high-top version. It has a small kitchen located along the driver’s side of the central lounge. There is easy access between the front seats to the driving cab. The lounge settee, which runs across the vehicle towards the rear of the lounge area, also serves as a double bed.

There’s no shower/toilet compartment, which for some, will limit the appeal. We were of that view to start with but our opinion altered. We wouldn’t tour in the ‘van for more than a month but we could easily make it work in summer for three weeks, and as a great weekend tourer all year round.

Outside
It looks gorgeous; the flying bridge shape of the high top giving the impression it’s straining at the leash to be off. The darkened windows add a sense of mystery. It wouldn’t take a lot to personalise the livery. It’s convenient having the 1.25kg gas bottle locker and power connection point beside the driver’s door. Forgetful types (like me) could jam a red flag in the locker door as a reminder to turn off power and gas before driving off. Below the gas locker is the valve and outlet pipe for the waste tank. Above the power point a small chrome hook attaches the power cable ‘bungee cord’, which stops you pulling the plug connection apart. This is a requirement of the electrical regulations, not a KEA innovation. I’m not sure if it is a practical solution.

The full height rear doors have wipers and heated windows, a boon for bad weather driving. The spare wheel is located under the vehicle, beneath the rear doors. The wastewater emptying hose, fresh water hose and power cable are stored in the rear locker. The lockable water-filler cap and the fresh water tank vent are located on the passenger side of the ‘van to the rear of the sliding door. The diesel filler pipe is located behind the passenger door and the filler cover flap is secured by the edge of the door.

Inside
The sliding door on the kerbside opened without heaving and the step up to the interior didn’t require legs the length of Sir Ed Hillary’s. The nice shapes and a clean design make for an efficient, contemporary interior. I liked the blond wood cabinetry and aluminium metallic surfaces and trim. The KEA moulded headliner and the trims are all colour matched and neatly detailed. The bold red imitation suede squabs add vibrancy and the grey boilerplate-patterned lino on the floor is a pragmatic.

Ventilation is provided by two sliding windows each side at the rear of the van and a Fiamma 400x400 roof vent. All have insect screens. The window curtains that are packed in a bag stored on the shelf above the cab have to be domed into place. They are ‘location’ labelled and easily fitted. The swivel table is mounted on a cranked leg fixed beside the rear door pillar. It also swivels through the side door for use outside the vehicle. We travelled with the table up as there’s no place to store it.

There are plenty of lights; two swivelling reading lights at the rear, two on the ceiling and a longer fluoro above the kitchen bench. The ‘van is not fitted with a gas detector or smoke alarm but is so easy to evacuate we felt safe enough.

Equipment
A small switchboard is mounted to the right of the over-cab shelf. A tank monitor for fresh and waste tank levels is above the sink. The equipment board in the floor level locker of the kitchen contains the house battery on/off switch, a six-amp smart charger, 230-volt circuit breakers, two power points, a solar panel controller and the voltage sensitive relay module. On the shelf above the cab, housed in a lockable cabinet, is a 10" DVD player. The solar panel is mounted on the roof.

Galley
Gourmet chefs might not consider the kitchen adequate, but for simple fare it is small but satisfactory. The bench has draining flutes moulded into the surface for which KEA used the latest technology to colour-code it, fit it to suit the layout, and provide a durable work surface. A lever action faucet controls the water flow. Lack of hot running water was not a disadvantage as a boiled kettleful was sufficient for the dishes. Set in the bench is a two-burner hob with a glass drop-down lid. The Vitrofrigo 12-volt compressor fridge runs off the 12-volt 70-amp/hour deep cycle house battery which is charged when the vehicle is underway. A smart charger charges both vehicle and house batteries when the ‘van is hooked up to 230-volt power and a solar panel also augments battery charging.

The lidded rubbish bin is quite adequate. There is a small locker under the kitchen bench for storing bits and pieces. Beneath that is a much larger locker for pots and pans. And beneath that is a floor level locker for an electric fan heater and the electrical equipment board. The spacious cutlery drawer is above the fridge. Two wine glasses sit in a mounted rack over-cab shelf. The two-person crockery set is located in an innovative storage arrangement located above the hob, each item held in a fabric mesh pouch, with an elasticised top edge – safe, accessible, visible and out of the way.

Lounge/Sleeping
Another practical innovation is the overhead storage bags for clothes and personal items. Instead of lockers, these fabric zip-fronted bags are mounted at eye level each side of the van. The less structured look adds to the feeling of space in the van, and saves in weight and cost. A third innovation is a zippered garment bag attached to the back of the passenger seat as a wardrobe. KEA should copyright these great ideas.

The length and height of the settee cushion were well proportioned, comfortably supporting thighs and back when feet are on the floor. This is important, because the front seats do not swivel to provide alternative lounge seating. There are two upholstered circular cushions for use as footstools or extra seats.

For sleeping, a side control lever releases the settee, allowing it to be pulled forwards and flattened out, making a spacious, full-length double bed. We stored our bedding, pillows, as well as towels on the platform behind the back of the settee. Once the settee had been lowered it only took a moment to make the bed. It was a very hot night but the bed was quite large enough. The mattress, however, was too firm for my liking.

General
The KEA VW T5 is a suitably powered, well-mannered campervan to drive, with a satisfactory level of creature comforts in the cab, including air conditioning, radio with CD player, two front airbags and central locking with radio remote control. The seating position is more car-like than a van. It has an adequate turning circle and, with rear warning sensors, is easy to park. The manual gear selection was positive. On the test vehicle the clutch grabbed in first gear, and I stalled it more than once, but that may just be the vehicle I drove.

The steering is light and positive both on the open road or city. The 1.9-litre motor revs easily, has good torque down to 1200revs, pulls well and offers flexible gear selection except in fifth gear. Like most European vehicles, fifth gear suits motorway travel, so below 2000rpm fourth gear is a better option on our hilly winding roads. Windows all around and good mirrors provide excellent visibility.

It comes with a three-year/100,000km mechanical warranty and a 12-year anti-corrosion warranty. The muted grey interior colour scheme blends nicely with the KEA interior colours.

The 80-litre fuel tank should provide a range in excess of 700km and, with a GVM of 3000kg, distance tax will be modest.


Specifications

  • Length: 5290mm
  • Width: 1904mm plus mirrors 2242mm
  • Height overall: 2476mm
  • Headroom height: 1870mm on centreline, 1830mm under ceiling light
  • Wheelbase: 3400mm
  • Turning circle: 11.9m
  • Step-up height: Step one, 400mm; step two, 100mm
  • Interior length behind cab: 2800mm
  • Table dimensions: 800x470mm
  • Bed dimensions: 2100mm long, 1600mm wide at shoulders, 1300mm at knees
  • Max. authorised weight : 3000kg
  • Engine: 1900cc, four-cylinder, 1896cc, 75kW, 250Nm @ 2000rpm
  • Retail price, std vehicle as tested from $74,000 inc GST and on-road costs.

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