TESTED: CORONET FARREN CF 18.1
Coronet has returned to its roots with its compact, fold-out Farren range. Michael Browning tests the CF 18.1.
After Ian Farren started Coronet in 1959, he built himself a caravan each year to take his family away on holiday and, when he returned, it would go into the workshop with a list of improvements to be made.
That might be an ‘old school’ approach, but there’s nothing like living with a caravan to appreciate its assets and have time to reflect on what could be done better.
Coronet’s current range of Farren caravans, which have been on the market for about two years, has benefited from its founder’s grassroots R&D and are appropriately named in his honour because of their family-friendly format and price.
Ranging in size from about 12ft-20ft ‘ready-to-travel’ internal body sizes, the Farren’s mission is to pack as much space and and as many features as possible into a compact, easy-to-tow caravan.
The main feature of the Farrens are their sleeping ‘pods’ which extend from either one, or both, ends of the van – depending on the model – to provide extra, uncluttered floorspace in the living area.
There are also fixed and pop-top roof options and the CF 18.1 tandem-axle model we tested was the largest pop-top in the range. It was configured as a family van, with a drop-down front double east-west bed, and a double-bunk bed setup on the nearside of the rear of the van.
It certainly packed a lot more into its 5.44m (17ft 10) body length than first impressions suggested when we hitched up, already packed down in travelling mode, at Coronet’s retail factory HQ in Bayswater, Melbourne.
Despite its folded-out dimensions creating a medium-sized to large van, the beauty of the Farren is its Tare weight of just 1740kg means it can be towed easily by a family-sized Australian car – perhaps on economical dual fuel –which is what Coronet’s owner, industry stalwart Andrew Phillips, says is usually the Farren owner’s vehicle of choice.
While most will employ a load-levelling device, the CF 18.1’s tandem-axle configuration and manageable 185kg ball weight makes this an option, rather than a necessity, depending on the vehicle’s towbar capacity, of course.
On site at the picturesque Warburton Caravan Park, Vic, with its grassy lawns fronting a full kilometre of the Yarra River with beautiful mountains as a backdrop, the Farren opened like a Swiss Army knife into a much larger, family van.
Four exterior over-centre clips release the van’s pop-top, which then lifts easily on its four gas struts to provide a comfortable 2.18m (7ft 2in) of standing room. Unzipping the four fly-screened windows in the pop-top immediately lightens the interior which, on the test van, was a classy-looking but subdued dark timber with black Laminex surfaces on the many benchtops.
But the Farren’s real party trick is dropping its front bed ‘pod’. Two small latches release the pod’s top-hinged hard lid cover, which rises quickly on its twin long gas struts. You then simply lower the bed base to horizontal, before going inside to push up the tent supports and fold the ‘hinged’ double mattress into place.
It’s a simple process that takes only a couple of minutes, but it immediately adds another 20-25 per cent of internal space to the van. And when you unzip the three full-height fly-screened windows surrounding the bed, it floods the interior with light.
I know how good this kind of setup is from experience with my own van, which also has fold-out bed-ends. The feeling of being part of the scenery was one thing my wife and I really missed when we sold the third of our series of camper trailers. But the drop-down bed brings that great sense of ‘being there’ back, while the hard lid means no wet, flapping canvas. And with the Farren, it means you get a lot more bunk for your buck.
When you are travelling, you should be able to keep your fitted sheet on the folded mattress. With my own van, we simply plonk our doona and pillows on the dinette seats when we are packing up and travelling.
You can get the Farren with drop-down beds at both ends, or if you specify the ‘Family’ plan of the CF 18.1, only the front drops down and twin, vertically-stacked bunks are fitted on the nearside of the van at the rear.
It’s a good place for the kids to sleep – as far away from the adults as possible. It is also out of sight behind the kitchen module that houses the generous 160L Dometic three-way fridge and opposite the Farren’s compact but sufficient toilet/shower ensuite. Each bunk has its own opening window, while the large zip-down, and similarly fly-screened opening, in the pop-top should ensure good airflow throughout the van on hot nights.
If only one bunk – or neither – is being used, or you need more internal seating space on a rainy or chilly night, the upper bunk folds down against the wall to convert the space into a day lounge. In between this area and the ensuite is a large wardrobe/cupboard area with hanging space above and two drawers and shelf storage space below.
Befitting its family van status, the Farren is equipped with a large and useful kitchen stretching along one wall, with a slide-out pantry below.
Meanwhile, the dinette, with its unusual three-seater/two-seater format, is conveniently adjacent for meal times. There is also more bench space on either side of the Farren’s central door, including a very convenient area next to the waist-level fridge-freezer for plating up meals.
But while the fridge scores top marks for size and ergonomic placement, the Daewoo microwave is set above eye height, making it awkward for shorter people to use without a foot stool.
In fairness to the van’s namesake, microwaves weren’t around in Ian Farren’s early Coronet days and accommodating everything at working height is a diminishing possibility when you try to fit all of life’s little luxuries into a small space! In the Farren,
this includes the standard ducted Saphir air-conditioning, 22in LCD flatscreen TV with its optional Winegard wind-up antenna and the van’s standard CD/radio with its two flush-mounted interior speakers.
There is also generous storage space in the Farren, with cupboards above the bedhead and beneath the dinette seats, while the area behind the dinette couch at the bed end can be used to stow larger items, like an outside table and chairs, provided you are prepared to sacrifice this space and the added ease it gives you for getting into and out of bed.
The Farren reflects Andrew Phillips’ many years in the caravan business. Fit and finish is excellent and the layout is sensible, spacious and workable. However, most quality time on holiday will be spent outside and the Farren is well equipped for this.
The large Dometic awning that extends the full length of the pop-top provides excellent outdoor shade and can optionally be enclosed to form an annexe for longer stays in your favourite holiday place, while a drop-down wall-mounted picnic table is fitted just to the rear of the door.
The front tunnel boot allows longer and dirtier items to be carried conveniently, as because of the drop-down front bed there is obviously no regular boot.
Other exterior items that deserve mention include the centrally-mounted jockey wheel, which makes it easy to fit and remove load-levelling devices, the A-frame-mounted tap, sturdy Al-Ko corner jacks, the stylish 15in alloy wheels and the spare wheel mounted on the rear bumper at just the right height for easy access.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Farren is a well-priced, well-built pop-top for a family holiday that offers real bang for buck. Its ability to be towed with ease by most Australian family cars makes it a practical upgrade for many budget-conscious holidaymakers.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Coronet has a long and rich history of building caravans in Australia and central to that story is its founder Ian Farren (below left). Current Coronet owner Andrew Phillips (below right) paid homage to his predecessor by naming the Farren after him.
When the Coronet Farren first hit the market in 2011, CW brought the two Farrens together at Ian’s home in Ballarat, Vic. Sitting in Ian’s garage was a yet-to-be-restored vintage Coronet from 1961 and when he took a tour through his namesake van, Ian was struck not by the new-fangled van and its modern equipment, but by how little has changed in 50 years.
"The new vans are very nice, but there doesn’t seem to be 40-50 years of difference between them and what we built all those years ago," he said. "There isn’t much else they can do to change them."
Ian founded Coronet in 1959 after working for another caravan manufacturer. For the next 20 years, through the heyday of Australia’s love affair with caravanning, the company enjoyed a dream run. Alongside manufacturers such as Millard, Franklin and Viscount, Coronet was one of the era’s biggest players.
But the local economy, as well as Cyclone Tracy – which saw vans fast-tracked and sent north to house displaced residents return unused and flood the southern market – forced Coronet and many others out of business in 1979.
- Space-saving concept
- Family-friendly layout
- Value for money
- Ease of towing
I WOULD HAVE LIKED...
- A bigger fridge
- A larger standard water tank
- Some front stone protection
Originally published in Caravan World magazine #513, April 2013.