Australian-built caravans tend to have a distinctive look. They are also somewhat heavier than New Zealand- and European-built caravans. So, when Crusader’s Chameleon range of vans, which don’t look like the typical Aussie product, arrived on the scene, they certainly created interest.
At least that’s what the folk at Hamilton-based Auto Leisure and Marine (ALM) tell me. ALM, the official importer of Crusader Caravans in New Zealand, stocks a range of Crusader caravans, mostly of the conventional caravan design.
However, the Chameleon is essentially pitched at those who want the basic caravan comforts, including no flapping canvas walls, but prefer a relatively lightweight towing rig that can be taken to any number of locations. What makes the Chameleon design smart is that the same body is used for the various models.
The Chameleon’s shape isn’t the only thing that’s a little different; it also has a rear-door-entry. The shape, particularly the front profile which looks reasonably aerodynamic, is designed to be able to carry recreational items – for instance, a kayak – on specially fitted racks on the sloping roof. That same roof can also be used for solar panels. Although a rear-door-entry might seem unconventional, it makes sense in a van of this size.
For this review, ALM supplied an Action SV model, which has an external length of 3880mm and a tare mass of 1272kg. Given the GVM of 2200kg, that means a payload of 928kg, a surprisingly generous (more like overkill) amount given the van’s size. As noted previously, there are several layouts available in the Chameleon range, but the Action SV is a family van, with bunk beds and an external kitchen.
Inside, the Chameleon has a simple layout, consisting of two single beds upfront, a kitchen bench filling the nearside wall space, and a bathroom located in the offside rear corner. That leaves the space in between the bathroom and cupboard for a 109-litre Dometic fridge below and a multi-shelf cupboard above.
Both the single beds measure 1900mm x 740mm. For those who prefer a double bed, one can be made by sliding the mattress base out from the centre cabinet. Sirocco fans are fitted at pillow level on both beds, and there are windows on either side. There isn’t a dining area as such, but there’s no reason why in inclement weather that a folding table could not be used between the two single beds.
In a van this size, you might expect the bathroom cubicle to be compact, and it is, containing a Thetford bench-type cassette toilet and a flexible-hose shower. It’s a ‘wet’ bathroom, and there’s just enough room to turn around when showering.
Something old, something new
The Chameleon Action SV is a mixture of the old and the new. Underneath the van, the RHS box-section chassis is hot-dipped galvanised with 100mm x 50mm rails and drawbar and 50mm x 50mm cross members and outriggers.
It has a reasonably clean-looking underfloor area with nothing hanging down that shouldn’t. Both the two 62-litre water tanks, located fore and aft of the suspension mounts, have galvanised sheet protection, as does the 62-litre grey-water tank mounted at the rear.
Leaf spring suspension is fitted to the single axle 15-inch alloy wheels. Most models in the Chameleon range are on-road tourers, but there are a couple of models equipped with an off-road independent suspension set-up.
Above the chassis, to keep the weight factor down, composite fibreglass is used for the simple-looking body structure. Double-glazed acrylic awning windows are fitted to both sides, and the habitation door is a Camec, complete with security screen.
Unusually for a small caravan, the Chameleon comes with a slide-out external kitchen. It fits into the tunnel storage at the front of the van and has a covered barbecue and round stainless-steel sink. Flexible hoses connect both the hot/cold water and LPG supplies.
External storage comes in a few choices - the tunnel storage (which also houses the slide-out kitchen), a small nearside bin, and an alloy chequer-plate bin with jerry-can holders on the drawbar rails. The drawbar bin is suitable for hoses, power leads and other essentials. Also mounted on the drawbar are a single 9kg gas cylinder and a spare wheel.
The 120AH battery, along with the charger and breakaway unit, is stored in the right-hand side of the tunnel storage area. On the charger unit, the 12-volt fuses did look a bit fiddly to see and get at if needed. Around the van, there are plenty of external lights - one above the rear door, one under the awning and one above the external kitchen area.
Although the Chameleon is relatively small, the kitchen bench area is surprisingly spacious. Fitted into the benchtop are a two-burner hob and a round stainless-steel sink. Both are compact, but the result is a generous amount of benchtop space. Equally spacious is the storage area, with three overhead lockers and what looks like four cupboards.
Except that it’s only two, the other two doors conceal a rack of nine decent sized drawers - effective use of space indeed. On the road, the Chameleon is an easy tow. With its tare mass of 1272kg -– and let’s say we add in a maximum of 400kg of payload - that won’t require a large tow vehicle at all. In addition, the relatively short length of the van makes it easy to park and manoeuvre.
The Chameleon is a breath of fresh air in the caravanning world. It has most of the essential features of a caravan but is sized more like a camper trailer with solid walls in place of canvas. Its size offers a great deal of flexibility, especially as it’s available as a family van and as an off-road model.
The vehicle might not be able to change colour like the lizard after which it is named (without a paint job that is). Still, it’s undoubtedly adaptable, making it an attractive proposition for several caravan buyers.
- Lightweight camper with all the essentials.
- External kitchen.
- Efficient kitchen layout.
- Ability to carry something like a kayak.
- Double bed a bit fiddly to make up.
- Limited storage but, hey, this is lightweight camping.
- An awning would be useful.
Crusader Chameleon Action SV specifications
fresh: 2 x 62L
1 x 120AH battery, 160kW solar panel
Price as reviewed: $54,995
To find out more, visit almgroup.co.nz