Review: La Vista Taipan
With two single beds, the La Vista Taipan Offroad van is great for non-coupled caravanners who enjoy a little extra space in a small van.
THERE'S NOTHING QUITE like a lazy day fishing by the river. And on a sunny day in Renmark, SA, taking a rough-road caravan to the banks of the Murray is tough to beat.
This riverside location is home to Renmark Caravan Centre, which together with Port Lincoln Caravan Centre, helped create the Taipan caravan with Melbourne manufacturer La Vista. With such attractive caravanning surrounds close to hand, it proved an ideal spot to test this smart 5.5m (18ft) van.
"The concept for the Taipan is an offroad van that's good value for money with a lot of the extras we've learnt our customers like," Renmark Caravan Centre's Rachael Dyer said. "La Vista is a family business and were great to work with in producing an exclusive van."
We hitched the Taipan to the back of our LandCruiser tow vehicle and easily ventured along a few gentle offroad sections to reach the riverbank to test the van's many talents.
SHORT AND SWEET
This van is a compact thing, but looks very capable thanks to its beefed up chassis. Construction is typical, with a 6in galvanised chassis and A-frame, tandem 2.5t suspension, and 12in electric brakes behind 15in alloy wheels.
Black checkerplate on the front and side of the body give the Taipan a rugged look, while a pair of jerry can holders, twin 9kg gas bottles and two 95L water tanks are ideal for the travelling life.
The whole package is well designed for outdoor living, with a number of standard features well-suited for anything from a weekend away to an extended adventure.
I could picture myself happily bedding down on the Murray's banks for a few days' fishing, with the standard fold-out Nomadic picnic table, slide-out Swift barbecue, and slide-out Waeco fridge. Storing, preparing and cooking the catch could be done without ever going inside the van.
The Taipan's front boot is quite small, but is backed up by an extra checkerplate storage box on the A-frame. Storage is key with vans of such compact size, but a clever interior layout means there's more than you'd expect from an 18-footer.
With a pair of twin beds instead of a double or queen, the Taipan gives an excellent feeling of space for a small van with a shower/toilet.
"A double bed alternative is possible with the Taipan, but it would have to be with a slightly larger van," Rachael Dyer explained.
Some buyers will find the single beds more versatile, as they can be used by caravanners who'd prefer not to be a bed-sharing couple, such as a father and son, or just a couple of friends on a trip.
"The Taipan is excellent for fishing mates who want to get away somewhere. We know a lot of our customers like boats and fishing, so this van means they can get to the good fishing spots away from the bitumen," Rachael said. "And the single beds give the van versatile sleeping arrangements."
Also considering the far flung places this Taipan may be asked to travel to - especially regions with no mobile phone coverage - a standard wall-mounted UHF radio is a clever idea not found in many vans.
The innerspring single beds are elevated slightly higher than usual, meaning good underbed storage while allowing space for the external slide-out features. No double bed also means room for a tall wardrobe between the singles, which adds to the respectable amount of cargo space.
There is all of the expected interior gear, including Dometic 150L fridge, microwave, Swift oven with gas and electric cooktop, and a flatscreen TV.
Also as standard, buyers receive a Dometic air-conditioner, a Wineguard antenna, Kenwood DVD/CD/MP3 player, and perhaps most important for self-sufficiency in the wilds, a 120W solar panel.
There really is very little else to wish for here, but the builders say any specifications can be tailored to suit individual customer needs.
SQUEEZING IT IN
While the bedroom and lounge are both impressively large and comfortable, the kitchen and bathroom are more typical for a van of this size. This is not a criticism, however, because space must inevitably be sacrificed somewhere. The fact that the ensuite is a little cosy is an expected trade-off.
The tiny washbasin somewhat impedes your showering, but there's enough space to use the Thetford cassette toilet comfortably.
The kitchen has been fitted at the very front of the van, and while a full-size oven is appreciated, the ensuite cuts into food preparation space. There's a good work surface closer to the bedroom, with pantry and drawer space underneath. The dinette table could also be used for dinner preparation.
Speaking of the dinette, I was impressed with its large size. I've sat at much smaller and more cramped dinettes in larger vans.
Even though the fabrics are not the most modern in appearance (a customer could specify an alternative), it's lovely and comfortable. In fact, it would be an ideal place to enjoy a cold one at day's end and share stories of how the fishing went.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I won't hide the fact that I was impressed with how clever and well-equipped this little Taipan is, and I can't hide that it comes at a price. At a little less than $60,000 (tow-away, SA) it isn't the cheapest small van on the market, but it really is all a travelling pair could ask for.
With a Tare of 2200kg and an ATM of 2600kg, it's towable with many 4WDs available in Australia; a luxury those with larger, heavier vans don't always enjoy. Our LandCruiser made the towing seem effortless, and thanks to the Taipan's offroad capabilities and diminutive dimensions, you'd feel comfortable taking it down some tight trails where you'd be reluctant to tow larger offerings.
Most of us have had trouble turning a van around on a narrow road at some point, so having an 18ft van behind you gives more confidence to seek out those harder-to-reach spots.
Rough-road abilities aside, the real highlight is the interior space, primarily the raised twin single beds and flexible sleeping arrangements. The teams at Renmark and Port Lincoln working with La Vista have really tapped into a different market; family members or mates off on a quick holiday or weekend who would rather sleep separately.
In fact, parked beside the Murray with a well-stocked fridge, a tinnie strapped to the roof, and a few fishing rods, it's hard to imagine a better van and location to enjoy a few lazy days with a well-liked travelling companion.