Ever since the turn of the century, 19 years ago, the Australian camper trailer industry has been in a state of flux. Consumer tastes have moved rapidly through preferred paradigms and fit-outs. Side-fold soft-floors, rear-fold hard-floors and pull-out bed pop-tops are all now out of favour. Even forward-folds, which dominated not that long ago, are slipping in favour of double-folds.
But hybrids — that is, RVs that blend the comfort and convenience of a caravan with the outdoor lifestyle of a camper trailer — are still on the up. If, as a manufacturer, you haven’t got one in your range of products, you’re missing a big chunk of the current market. The latest to join the hybrid ranks is Sydney’s Blue Tongue Campers.
Blue Tongue is a brand that’s been around for more than a decade. It began by manufacturing its own side-fold soft-floors, but moved to importing rear-folds and then forward-folds when the market trends were moving in that direction and the space wasn’t available at the time to make them all themselves. The imports soon squeezed out the locally made campers and the business became a wholly import-based business about five years ago.
And while the basic rolling campers come in in containers, it’s always been on the basis of a lot of local additions and fit-out to sustain the quality and standards that Blue Tongue felt were necessary. This has meant a regular move from factory to factory overseas, but always in the pursuit of a better product.
A year ago, Blue Tongue’s CEO Karl Geddes recognised his brand was lacking a hybrid. He’s spent the intervening time pursuing something that was going to be a break-away from the usual import hybrid. The result is now here, and it’s called the XH15.
THE BASIC CONFIGURATION
This is a big camper — 6.3 metres long overall and weighing up to 2700kg when loaded, with a pop-top design and lotsa features. But its biggest selling point is going to be its price point. But we’ll get to that later.
The XH15 rides on a sturdy hot dipped galvanised 100 x 50mm chassis and 150 x 50mm drawbar, with a dual shock trailing arm suspension, though the low angle of the shocks must limit their effectiveness. The brakes are 12in electric drums, the rims 16in steel and the rubber 265/75R16 light truck mud terrains. The hitch is an AL-KO 3500kg rated offroad ball and the jockey wheel a clone version of a dual-wheel Ark.
There are two rear mounted spares, at just above waist height, making them reasonably comfortable to remove and attach.
Below the body both in front of and behind the axle are rock sliders which would help protect the lower extremities of the body. At the rear are two stabilisers and tow points.
Water tanks are stainless steel, with 150L for fresh and 130L for grey water. Both are protected by checkerplate guards.
The body is made of aluminium sandwich panels on an aluminium frame. There are four windows with mesh blinds and block-out screens in the actual body panels. The body is finished in an attractive black and ash grey, with black and red highlights.
All fairly conventional up to this point. The body’s similarities to campers of other brands are self-evident from the beginning, most notably in the large passenger-side kitchen. Unlatching and lifting the side panel reveals a gaping kitchen bench, with a three-burner Dometic stove and large stainless steel sink with mixer tap. Above are three cupboards and at the rear end a vertical cupboard for all your taller kitchen items. There isn’t a lot of bench space but that is aided by a small fold-down table between the kitchen and the entry door. Beneath are two roomy slide-out drawers which are accessible at any time without opening the kitchen.
There is an LED light bar under the lift-up panel and two downlights, above the sink and cooktop. Adjacent are two 240V outlets, a pair of USB ports and a 12V cigarette plug. It’s the sort of space that grabs your attention straight away. It’s at a good height and dead easy to access, without the need to connect hoses or regulator.
The entry door includes a security/insect screen option and can be easily folded back and hooked fully open without interfering with access to the fridge at the front. The mandatory lower gas vent is covered by a press stud cover which is not dust proof, though this might be fixed by the addition of a positive pressure fan.
The fridge locker is a capacious space (975mm L x 555mm W x 650mm H) that ought to be able to take the largest chest-type fridge/freezers, and though our review camper was fitted with a 95L WAECO this is not a standard inclusion. The only downside here is that this is not sheltered by the roll-out awning and until an extension is developed by Blue Tongue, purchasers will be forced into coming up with a solution themselves.
LUGGING THE LIZARD
The two main lift-up side panels did not have compression latch retainers so the rubber seals were not compressed. Our review camper showed signs of leaking a reasonable amount of dust around these panels. There was some talk of having compression latches installed in subsequent campers, but we suggested adding a positive pressure filtered fan which might well solve the problems.
All other locker doors were secured by compression latches and appeared to work well.
Above the fridge is a roomy cross-camper tunnel-boot where you can carry poles and other lengthy items.
The front of the camper comes standard with rings for two 8.5/9kg gas bottles and two jerry cans (though neither are included as standard) behind an aluminium stoneguard with swing-away ends for easy access to the gas bottles. Stone damage above is avoided by a padded vinyl bra across the body and below by mud flaps.
On the driver’s side was a roomy locker behind the fridge, with a slide to assist with accessing a generator, along with a voltmeter, the RCD, main power switch, circuit fuses and circuit switches. Some of these might be better located in a more convenient location, where they are less likely to be accidentally turned on (or off) by shifting items nearby and where they could be activated without having to go outside in what might be inclement weather.
Behind this locker is an external shower (with tent), for those times when you come back from the beach and don’t want to be dragging sand into the camper, and a fold-up and out side wall to extend the internal bed out the side. The whole process of lifting the main panel (which becomes the roof), swinging out the two side walls, folding down the floor and lifting the end wall and latching it all takes just a few seconds and gains you substantial internal real estate; such design has been well developed in other import campers and at least one local manufacturer.
Access to the interior is made via a fold-out side step that’s well protected by the rock sliders. The roof has a rapid and strong electronic lift (with an over-ride in case of motor failure) that would require you to remember to have the side latches undone to avoid damaging either the roof or the lift. The vinyl sides below the roof have nine large screened windows.
That carpeted side extension gains you the room for a queen sized bed with a two-piece innerspring mattress. This does come with the penalty of having to remake the bed at each set-up, but could be sped up with fitted sheets already on the two mattress halves, and then it would simply require the addition of pillows and a bedspread/doona cover. Since you can at least walk down either side of the lower half of the bed this fiddling with the bedding isn’t too onerous.
The bed in our review unit had just one reading light, located midway along one side, though we’re assured that will be fixed. There are also two ceiling LED downlights.
The most notable features of the interior are the ensuite and the copious storage. The whole wall behind the kitchen and across the rear of the hybrid is taken up by two wardrobes, seven drawers and four smaller cupboards. Add that to the storage space under the eatery seat and under the bed and you have huge carrying capacity to go with the 600kg of weight you can carry.
The 1100 x 650mm ensuite has a Thetford cassette toilet, exhaust fan, light and a hand-held shower; this ensuite ought to make this hybrid a favourite with those who enjoy their comforts!
Adjacent to the ensuite, directly opposite the entry, is a dinette suitable for three people in comfort or four at a squeeze, which can be converted to an 1800 x 650mm bed, and above which was a fold-down single bunk bed of the same size. The camper can be ordered without that bed and there is planning being put into a three-bunk version. The table is a swing-around unit attached to the side of the bed.
Beneath the seats is a Truma Ultrarapid 240V and gas hot water system and a Razor reverse cycle air conditioner. Now, there’s comfort for those days when you have the generator fired up or access to mains power.
Below the table are also two 240V outlets, dual USB and single 12V sockets and the necessary controls for the air con.
Immediately inside the door, on the right, is a small sink and tap, along with a bluetooth stereo, 24in TV/DVD player, gauges for both fresh and grey water, voltmeter, and more USB and 12V plugs.
The XH15 comes with three 100Ah AGM batteries, with a Victron 18A mains charger, a 200 watt monocrystalline solar panel on the roof and a 2000W pure sine wave inverter. The charge from the alternator is not assisted by a DC-DC charger and the 8mm cable to the Anderson plug wouldn’t be helping. Ticking the box for a DC-DC charger would be a good idea. Additional solar panels are optional.
Over the kitchen is a large roll-out awning that comes with three walls, draught skirts and floor.
All up the hybrid weighs 2100kg Tare, so it comes with break-away brakes, and has an ATM of 2700kg. The ball weight is 150kg empty.
This is a very appealing hybrid camper. Those who have issues with overseas-built campers will have to take that on board, but you get a lot of camper for your money here. And the money? At $50,000 as we saw it, even without the fridge, gas bottle and jerry cans, it’s a heck of a buy.
And Blue Tongue are going to offer a Limited Edition package, which for an additional $10,000 gets you a RedVision electrical management system, 30amp REDARC battery manager, 150Ah Drypower lithium battery, Dometic diesel space heater, Slumberest plush mattress, WAECO CFXDZW95 fridge/freezer, AL-KO Click-Lock coupling and ROH alloy wheels. For $60,000 you couldn’t ask for more.
As we saw the XH15 there is a need for a fair bit of fine tuning: dust sealing, bed lights, a relocated Anderson plug for the fridge, fridge covering, and so on. However, we were looking at the first unit off the production line, so this sort of thing is not unusual. Blue Tongue was well aware of most of these items and already had solutions in mind and assured us they will be fixed in a hurry.
If you want to go bush in a hybrid camper we think you could do a lot worse than taking a look at the Blue Tongue Overland XH15, and if you do your expectations of others will be lifted a long way.
Ball weight 150kg (empty)
Suspension Trailing arm dual shock independent
Brakes 12in electric drum
Coupling 3500kg AL-KO offroad ball
Chassis 100 x 50mm hot dip galvanised
Drawbar 150 x 50mm hot dip galvanised
Body Aluminium sandwich
Wheels 16in. steel
Tyres 265/75R16 mud terrains
Box size 4780 (L) x 2040 (W) x 2140mm (H)
Height when open 2750mm
Gas cylinders 2 x 9kg rings
Water 150L fresh, 130L grey
Cooktop Three-burner Dometic
Kitchen Side lift-up
Battery 3 x 100Ah AGM
Options fitted WAECO 95L fridge/freezer
- A lot of bang for your buck
- Air conditioning
- Easy to use
- Heaps of storage
- Some dust leak issues
- Lots of keys and few keyed alike
- Need to remake the bed each set-up
- Fridge unsheltered
CAMPER STAR RATINGS
Fit for intended purpose — 8.5
Innovation — 8
Self-sufficiency — 9
Quality of finish — 7
Build quality — 6
Offroadability — 8.5
Comforts — 8.5
Ease of use — 8.5
Value for money — 9
X-Factor — 8.5
Blue Tongue Campers
Address 1 Sheridan Close, Milperra, NSW 2214
Phone (02) 8544 0976