Southern Star 700

By: Bill Savidan


Southern Star 700 Southern Star 700
Southern Star 700 Southern Star 700
Southern Star 700 Southern Star 700
Southern Star 700 Southern Star 700
Southern Star 700 Southern Star 700

Bill Savidan takes the Southern Star 700 5 Star for a test to find out why the brand burns so brightly.

Southern Star 700
Southern Star 700

The Southern Star 700 5 Star is not a small caravan. In fact it's one of the larger caravans in regular production in New Zealand. Whether measured by size or price, it's not an entry-level caravan either. Rather it's the choice of knowledgeable caravan buyers; those who have experienced the highs and lows of caravan ownership and know what to seek out and what to avoid.

Buyers today have many choices. With caravans on offer made in Europe, Australia, England, the US and New Zealand, and with price tags that reflect the state of the country's currency rather than the quality of the product, it's surprising the numbers that seek out and buy Southern Star models.

Perhaps it's because the folk who design and build Southern Stars' – being caravanners themselves – know what to include and what to avoid in the caravans they build.

Longevity starts with good foundations; in the case of the Southern Star 700 5 Star's chassis and running gear, it boasts the goods. The '700' features a hot-dipped galvanised steel chassis with twin axles over self-equalising leaf springs. It's also equipped with electrically-activated drum brakes. Mounted on the drawbar is a conventional tow hitch with a mechanical handbrake. All in all, a robust 'foundation' more than sufficient for its maximum all-up weight (GVM) of 3800kgs.

Experienced caravanners know the part of a caravan most susceptible to damage. Stones thrown back from the tow vehicle onto the front of the caravan are an ongoing problem. Southern Star avoids this issue by fitting a padded vinyl cover below the front window of the caravan. A panel in the cover un-zips to provide access to the locker built into the front of the caravan that stores the 9kg LPG bottle. An Alko 'steady' at each corner of the caravan keeps the caravan from bouncing around while parked, but I'm not so sure the corner handles provided would make a difference to how much anyone could push this weighty beast around.

Also note that the tow ball on the rear bumper is for mounting a bike rack, not for towing something else. As with the Southern Star 610 reviewed in MCD #92 (May 2012), the storage space under the queen bed or the front lounge seats cannot be accessed from outside. External hatches are a 'must have' for me, but Paul Cook of Rest 'n Recreational Vehicles (RnRV), who supplied the Southern Star 700 5 Star for review, assures me they can be fitted.

With fresh water and grey water tanks fitted (both 173-litres), the caravan is well on the way to meeting the self-containment standard. The caravan's water system can also operate on mains pressure if it is available.

Southern Star is very conscious of the damage water can do to the structure of a caravan should leaks occur. For example, the one-piece roof cladding is not flat but raised slightly down the centre line (apexed) to encourage water to drain off and not form puddles. All timber used in the wall frames and elsewhere is treated radiata pine. The wall panels are 43mm thick, with the ACM external cladding and the ply interior cladding sandwiching the polystyrene insulation core. This forms a lightweight, rigid wall panel that is almost impervious to water.

Remi double-glazed windows and Heki roof vents (as used in the '700') have inner- and outer-frames. Fitting them with the correct sealants and sealing techniques enables Southern Star to eliminate water leaks in these critical areas. Manufacturing techniques like these are designed to eliminate water leaks, and the materials used in construction minimise the damage should water to find its way into the structure.

Distribution of the load-weight in a caravan plays a major part in how safely a caravan handles when towed. Although the caravan user has the final say in where the load is positioned, the manufacturer has a part to play as well. Experience gained over the years has shown the designers that a caravan with the weight balanced fore and aft without excessive weight in the nose and/or tail is safer and easier to tow.

The layout of the '700' has the U-shaped lounge up front, the bedroom at the rear and the kitchen opposite the bathroom amidships. This layout is excellent for weight distribution as it places all the heavy appliances – the fridge/freezer, stove, microwave and toilet as well as food and beverages – in the centre of the caravan over the twin axles. This is another example of the experienced caravanner influencing the design of the Southern Star.

Let's not forget the interior. After all, that's the reason for all the effort; to get a comfortable, aesthetically pleasing environment to live in while away from home. The '700' has been built as wide as is practical. The 2.37-metre exterior width translates into an interior width of 2.2-metres. This allows for a 'hallway width' aisle between the kitchen bench and the bathroom wall, and a generous space either side of the island bed, instead of a foot-trapping stumble-way.

Other 'caravanner' touches shine through too. For easier access, the fridge/freezer is raised off the floor to the height of a drawer. Paul liked the pull-out wire-shelved pantry so much he had Southern Star add a second one. The kitchen bench has a slide-out extension and the wall behind the bench is clad in the same glossy black marble laminate surface as the bench top. Paul also had additional drawers fitted under the lounge seats. Experience has shown these practical touches make a difference.

The cabinetry has a clean, contemporary style that is understated and likely to stay looking up to date for years to come. The overhead locker doors are moderately curved and the lockers are both generous in size and a useful shape.

The cabinets have a durable melamine surface with a timber grain finish; not too light, not too dark. It blends well with the modern black and white cushion fabrics in the review caravan, but would blend equally well with an autumn palette, or even a bold palette of primary colours.

The 'true Kiwi' U-shaped lounge is still one of the best lounge options around. This one has settees long enough to lounge about on during the day watching TV, or browsing through the newspaper. At night they can convert into a king-size bed. An elegantly-shaped dining table transforms the lounge into a dining area for four in comfort, or six at a pinch.

Incidentally, the 24" TV is one of the latest models with built-in satellite freeview, a Sky TV card slot that works if you have the correct Sky card (there are many versions, apparently) and a DVD player. The 24" TV in the bedroom is plainer, without all the trimmings. If TV doesn't tempt you, the radio also offers iPod and MP3 connections so you can play music of your choice.

Whether you are a gourmet cook or a Marmite sandwich devotee, the kitchen offers plenty of scope. The fridge/freezer is a family-sized 175-litres, while the cooker has a four-burner hob, a separate grill and a full oven. There is also a 230-volt microwave.

The stainless steel sink with drainer tray is set into the kitchen bench and offers plenty of meal 'prep and serve' space (don't forget the bench extension). Storage? You'll spend lots of your housekeeping budget if you plan to fill it.

I liked the 'personal pampering' end of the caravan. Having separate shower and toilet spaces appeals, and a walk-'round island bed is the ultimate luxury. A curtain provides privacy so the bathroom becomes an en-suite while it is drawn.

In summary I'd say the Southern Star 700 5 Star will continue to woo experienced caravanners looking for solid performance for years of trouble-free caravanning ahead. But I suspect newcomers to caravanning will also be attracted as well. After all, why should only the old-timers get all the benefits of Southern Star experience, and have all the fun?

The Southern Star 700 5 Star as reviewed retails for $79,990 including on road costs.The RnRV team, lead by Paul Cook, supplied the review caravan. For further information ph 09 4267679 or visit RnRV.co.nz.

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