Best Aussie Vans 2016: New Age MR18ER SE Review
Smart details and a good mix of luxuries help make this Manta Ray Special Edition attractive to first-time vanners.
In the words of Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley: "If you don’t start somewhere, you’re gonna go nowhere."
And the initiation to caravanning is no different. In that respect, New Age Caravans has got the entry-level market down to a T. According to New Age, it’s all about getting a foot in the door, and the company is unwavering in its doctrine.
And vans like the MR18ER, a finalist in the $50-65K category at Best Aussie Vans (BAV) 2016, make it easy to get started in your caravanning life. It is an ideal rig for the caravan park set, and for those who like to venture a little further afield. The price tag of $61,990 may seem a little high to be considered ‘entry level’ but, the simple fact is, the $50K-$65K range is caravanning’s ‘sweet spot’ with many entering the market at this point these days.
A ‘Special Edition’ model, the MR18ER at BAV was ramped up with additional goodies that New Age customers have been requesting. These include a Thetford N3185 fridge, external speakers, gas bayonet, fridge insert, silver cladding, black checkerplate, toolbox on A-frame (with gas cylinders inside), and 6in A-frame.
MANTA RAY MANTRA
Inside, this contemporary 6.1m (20ft) Manta Ray is defined by comfort and the modern styling we’ve come to expect from New Age, complete with a full kitchen, separate shower and toilet, and a spacious layout with rear entry door.
The front bedroom has a caravan-queen-size bed, with the bedhead recessed into the front wall and a full-width shelf with railing above. I admired the European double-glazed panoramic windows on both sides and skylight directly above the bed, all of which allow plenty of light and ventilation. There’s also a curtain for some semblance of privacy from the rest of the van.
Storage is prominent in the bedroom, as it is throughout the van – courtesy of deep robes with hanging space, dressers and under-bed stowage. And the wall-mounted 24in NCE Smart TV has handy interactive and integrated web features.
And the sophistication surges into the living zone complete with an inviting cafe dinette. I could see myself chilling out here with a book or even using it as a place to recharge while intermittently stopped on the long and winding road. Alternatively, just kicking back and listening to the Clarion audio system once I’m parked up.
A large magazine pouch matched to the upholstery demonstrates the attention to detail on the MR18ER that New Age has built its name upon. And the van’s electrical suite is housed in one of the overhead lockers above the dinette.
Slotted in between the bedroom and dinette is one of the aforementioned Special Edition ‘extras’ – the large 185L fridge, with a door insert that matches the interior decor. The bigger fridge allows you to conveniently pack a little extra for your journey and guarantees you won’t go hungry while on the road.
Opposite the dinette is the fully equipped kitchen with recessed Thetford Minigrill and cooktop, Samsung microwave, rangehood, deep bowl sink and drainer. It’s neat and compact but a tad deficient on bench space needed to easily prepare meals. However, the flashy splashback that blended perfectly with the benchtop really catches the eye. The 18mm-thick benchtop is a HMR substrate (same as a house) covered with diamond gloss Laminex in ‘Jet Terrazzo’ colour. The many cupboards and drawers – albeit a bit rigid when opening – mean you can keep the kitchen uncluttered at all times. The stylish 16mm-thick white matt cupboard doors are also a HMR substrate, which protects against swelling from water penetration, which is a particular risk around caravan sinks.
Still, I would have liked to have seen an alfresco alternative to the indoor kitchen. In my opinion, a slide-out kitchen should be mandatory on all caravans. I travel to experience the great outdoors, and I prefer to eat in the open air – weather permitting, of course! But a small cooking appliance atop the van’s drop-down picnic table, plus its gas bayonet, would allow you some sort of external culinary improvisation.
HOME SWEET HOME
The rear ensuite, with a separate shower and toilet, looks up-to-the-minute. I liked the curved vanity bench, with shelving underneath, and contemporary rectangular washbasin. And there was plenty of practicality to the positioning of the wall-mounted 2.5kg front-loading washing machine, not to mention its convenience. It adds to the van’s bona fide home-away-from-home status.
The floor is an unlikely attention grabber, with a dark brown timber-effect lino covering the 12mm-thick marine ply floor.
Externally, this Special Edition van looks resplendent swathed in silver aluminium. The high checkerplate front and a toolbox (with 2x9kg gas cylinders contained within) on the A-frame offers the front of the van some protection. But I reckon a stone shield is still the ultimate safeguard.
And it’s powered solely by a 100Ah AGM battery; obviously, without solar, you’re restricted in choices of off-grid destinations.
This Manta Ray rides on a Preston DuraGal chassis, a heavy duty on-road suspension that is a leaf-style setup with load bearing shackles, and 235/75 R15 tyres.
Easily towed by mid-sized 4WDs, New Age has minimised the weight (Tare 2150kg) of this robust van by fitting it out with only the essentials – but still maintaining the New Age signature aesthetic, ergonomics and quality build.
THE BOTTOM LINE
New Age Caravans, once again, has homed in on a specific demographic with the MR18ER – entry-level couples. And, at $61,990, it represents good value for money considering it comprises some of the features of top-of-the-range styles. I think it justifiably rates as a pretty luxurious van without the price tag. The MR18ER isn’t chock-full with creature comforts, but it’s got most of the requisite mod-cons to satisfy most caravanning neophytes.
This Manta Ray model is a great start for those caravanners dipping their toes into the water for the first time. In the words of iconic American novelist Mark Twain: "The secret to getting ahead is getting started."