There’s no equivalent to the demented goat tracks of the Victorian High Country within a stone’s throw of the Malls Balls, but that doesn’t mean there’s no offroad fun to be had around Adelaide. Purpose-built tracks exist at JAKEM Farm and Eagle View, and short-lived bursts of ruts and washed-out climbs dot the forestry roads at Mount Crawford. Us South Aussies can still hang our four-wheel drive’s diffs up, if we so desire; it’s just less likely down here as we’re better at picking lines.
I’m an absolute sucker for the pine-scented air and crackle of dried needles underfoot at Mount Crawford. Breathing here is like performing a prohibited yoga move conducive to ultimate wellbeing. I’m sure we could all do with a dose of air like this right now, but sadly, many of us are trapped indoors as we self-isolate, practice social distancing and potentially enter lockdown. It’s essential to know that this outside world, sentried by rainbow lorikeets, crimson rosellas and pink cockatoos, is sitting in place, ready for us come back in more favourable times.
I caught up with Bailey Winen of Maverick Campers at Mount Crawford in the earlier days of the pandemic. From 1.5 metres away, Bailey told me that, while Maverick have been fortunate, the industry faces huge challenges due to supply issues and economic downturn. He said that the brand, for their part, swiftly implemented stringent measures, at home and overseas, to ensure safety for themselves and their customers. When all of this is over, he says, we can expect an upturn like we’ve never seen before. “All of the pubs will be booked out,” Bailey says. “There’ll be restaurant lines miles out the door.”
Anyway, we were at Crawford to check out the Hornet. Behind Bailey’s souped-up Ford Ranger sat the very first model ever built, which has since been tweaked and changed in small ways. The name says it all — at just over 900kg and measuring 1.79m (W), 1.75m (H) and 3.81m (L), it’s a small unit, but it packs a punch. It scooted fearlessly through all Mount Crawford had to offer.
KING OF THE TRACKS
Anything with a Tare of 920kg, and a corresponding ball weight of 92kg, has a huge head start as an offroad-capable RV.
The Hornet connects with a flexible McHitch coupling at the front of the 150 x 50 x 4mm drawbar, back to the chassis of the same dimensions. This chassis is galvanised inside and out and overpainted for additional protection. Maverick welds fissure plates over stress points for added strength.
This chassis is overkill, like bringing a flamethrower to a family BBQ. Yes, that extra metal adds some weight, but with a Tare that low, it clearly hasn’t adversely raised the numbers — I’d take that extra brawn for the confidence (and huge payload) it allows.
For a small camper, the drawbar is of a good length that both retains this style’s agile manoeuvrability while also preventing the camper from overreacting when reversing. Besides, when the trip is up, owners can most likely push the camper into their garage to save themselves highly strung reversing manoeuvres, the sort that reveal cracks in a marriage.
Goodride light truck mud terrain tyres measuring 265/75R16 ride in a similar or identical track to most 4WDs and are the same size as those on many 4WDs too. A spare sits over the drawbar. Nuts are undone with your standard 19mm tyre iron and there’s a bottle jack point on both suspension arms for safe jacking. These tyres are well constructed so punctures are less likely, though they may minorly bump up your fuel economy in highway conditions.
The tyres are supported on independent suspension with dual shocks both sides. Chains retain trailing arms from over-extension, healthy looking bump stops prevent over-compression, and there’s fissure plates around the fully greasable bushes. The 12” electric brakes run to the tyres through split conduit routed through rectangular metal tubing on the suspension arms, out of the way of pinching.
There’s a steel stoneguard across the camper’s front, mudflaps before and behind the wheels (the same quality used in Aussie road trains, Bailey says), and even an extended flap underneath, across the width, to protect stray sticks and rocks from hassling the suspension.
The 100L water tank at the rear is well protected with checkerplate, which overshoots one edge to defend the waterline found there. Ground clearances are nice and high all around and twin recovery shackles reside at the rear.
THE WORLD ON ITS SHOULDERS
The Hornet is a small camper, so it’s inherently disadvantaged when it comes to storage space, but Maverick have done a great job creating as much as possible for its size. You certainly won’t be limited by weight; the ATM of 2000kg permits 1080kg of load above the Tare (though some of this may be consumed by optional extras).
The storage that jumps out is the cage up top. You wouldn’t want to store Grandpa’s vintage china set in here, rather toys and items that can get wet and be thrown around a bit without harm. It extends the length and width of the camper’s body and is at a guess 30–40cm tall. On the review model we saw, it was accessible from doors on three sides, but Maverick will be adding a door at the front (where there’s currently solid checkerplate) allowing you to thread through a kayak.
This cage connects to the camper body via four bolts. That means you can remove it (which would mean removing the rooftop tent as well) and so transport goods on top, rather than having to arrange a traditional box trailer for your errands, Bailey says.
There are slots for two jerry cans and room for a 9kg gas bottle (optionally plumbed) over the drawbar. In front of the jerries there’s a cavern of space for wet gear storage. In the centre, there’s a storage box with a lid that opens on gas struts.
There are three doors down both sides. On the passenger side, the one over the wheel arch has a small carpeted drawer up the top and a cavern below; the false floor of this lifts to reveal the 12V pump and room for a few small, occasionally used items. The door at the rear has a drawer up top and contains a fire extinguisher plus a multimedia player (serviced by an unobtrusive external antenna).
The door at the front on this side reveals the kitchen slide. When extended, there’s a sink that drains out via a pipe, against the camper body. Its tap is fed by the 12V pump after you plug into the quick connect fitting nearby. A hot water system is optional and can be hung on a hook on the stoneguard when in use, then packed away during transit. Production models feature a water outlet on the drawbar to allow for showering near this HWS.
Next to the sink is a Dometic/Smev cooktop, with a black glass lid and two burners. It’s lightweight and suits the rugged offroady type who may prefer this to a cooktop with a heavy iron grate. This runs via a bayonet gas fitting at the rear of the slide-out. There’s a drawer off the end of the slide and, within the camper, storage in the recess above. Here we find 12V cig plugs and a light. A table may be necessary for added prep space.
Around the drivers’ side now, starting from the drawbar, the first door contains just space, with an upper and lower level, the upper of which is a tunnel boot to the other side. The next door back has a drawer up top and open storage above the wheel arch, while also containing the charger and inverter. The rear one is consumed by the batteries and a power panel with a water tank gauge, voltmeter and kill switch.
One 100Ah battery is standard, a second is optional. For me, their positioning up high in this back-corner compartment places the weight (probably 40–50kg if you have two) in an awkward position, neither low nor central. I am confident this structurally sound camper can handle the load there, it’s more a question of weight distribution.
However, everything has a trade-off. Positioning the batteries here makes them easily accessible and leaves rooms for two cartons of beer at the back of the long fridge slide — you can’t say that about many campers. Up to 60L fridges will fit; the Thunder model fridge in ours had a lid that opened both ways, making it accessible while cooking and while midnight snacking.
Near the batteries you’ll find the optional Pass Power 1000W inverter and Pass Power 20A 240V charger. Production models have the inverter in a more easily accessed position so you can plug straight in to run your appliances. The charger is 240V, so only works if you plug into a powerpoint; your other choice is to charge via the front Anderson plug via either regulated solar or alternator.
Rooftop tent campers are as easy to set up as hard body or pop top campers. Set up, if you bother to unhitch, first involves putting down the jockey wheel and four stabiliser legs. If you’re staying overnight, all that is then required is to set up the rooftop tent, and the awning if needed.
Maverick have their own awnings and RTTs, though they’re happy to supply tents from other brands, too. The soft rooftop tent on the review model was similar to many on the market, such as Darche and 23 Zero models.
To set up, undo two straps buckled in to hold the tent down, unzip the cover and fold it over the tent, then either leave it hanging, or remove it completely from the slide tracking. You then complete the folding motion, either using the ladder as a lever or by stepping onto the Hornet’s rear platform and lifting the folding side by hand.
The tent folds from a central hinge and the canvas is held in place by the three internal U-shaped poles requiring no adjustment. The entry awning has its own U-shaped pole that self-tensions the canvas here; its corners are best pegged down. The final step is to insert the flexible metal bars to the window awnings by bending them back and hooking them onto eyelets.
As is normal with rooftop tents, the ladder supports some of the weight when in position. Pack up is facilitated by internal bungee cords pulling in the canvas.
The canvas is grey, which offers an alternative to widely used brown tones. A permanently attached fly ensures the interior remains bone-dry. There’s a 75mm foam mattress in the rooftop tent, which, like all rooftop tent mattresses, could benefit from an eggshell topper for added comfort — unless you’re a bad ass. There’s plenty of mesh windows for good ventilation and you can have your devices in the tent charging, courtesy of conveniently placed cig and USB plugs on the rear of the camper.
The rooftop tent is connected to two crossbars. These crossbars are themselves connected to the cage. Both attachments utilise bolts in the crossbar channels. Bailey says the camper’s roof can take about 150kg (dynamic weight), which is more than most cars.
Another option for the tent is the Maverick-branded hard-top tent seen on the tow vehicle. This camper has a fibreglass lid, which you unlock on one side before giving it a nudge into place on gas struts. You then lift a hinged floor extension up and over to extend the bed space. You tension out the window and entry awnings with flexible metal rods, as with the soft tent. Apparently this RTT hadn’t been set up since October, but the canvas was in good condition, showing no mould or dust.
Both tents have optional annexes you can attach to extend internal living or sleeping space. If you add these on, you can bring the kids, as you can if you add an RTT to the car, too. For couples, though, there’s the ability to spare your car the extra weight up top. That way, your 4WD is more capable and economical when not towing and is better balanced — you also potentially save yourself about $1000 by not having to get a roof rack system installed.
The soft tent costs about $1300, the hardshell about $2500. The value of the latter is striking given its similarity to costlier iKamper and James Baroud designs.
Meanwhile the two metre, 270-degree batwing-style awning comes out to offer shade over the kitchen, fridge slide and right around to the rooftop tent (sparing you dashes through the rain). It’s made up of four arms, supported by extendable twist-lock poles, with corners secured with guy ropes. It’s easy to set up but is not self-supporting and the legs are loose, not attached (as such they travel Velcroed in place within the awning bag). Awning walls can be optioned on.
As standard, the Maverick Hornet is priced at $19,999 but there was a promotion at time of writing for $16,990. At that lower price this unit is great value. That’s what Maverick call the ‘from’ price, and best suits those who want to deck out their camper from the bare bones. There’s also an option pack for those keen to arrange everything in one place then hit the road.
Structural warranty is five years, rooftop tent warranty three, and Maverick say they have a network of over 100 repairers represented in every state and territory in case you run into trouble on the road.
This camper is quite adaptable, so its audience is fluid. In basic mode, it suits a single traveller or a couple on a budget keen to access attractions found at the end of testing tracks. But with the addition of the rooftop tent annexe or a Maverick rooftop tent onto your towing vehicle, it can be made to suit a family.
When fresh air finally calls your name again, the Maverick Hornet will be ready and raring to support your adventures.
Payload 1080kg (calculated)
Ball weight 92kg
Suspension Independent trailing arm suspension with dual shock absorbers both sides
Brakes 12” electric
Chassis/Drawbar 150mm x 50mm x 4mm, galvanised inside and out
Wheel/tyre 16” rims with Goodride Mud Terrain 265/75R16
Style Rooftop tent camper
Travel 1790mm (W) x 1750mm (H) x 3810mm (L, hitch to rear)
Mattress 75mm high density foam
Water 100L tank with checkerplate protection and lockable filler, with water delivered via 12V pump, plus two 20L jerry can holders
Gas 1 x 9kg gas bottle holder (as seen), optionally plumbed
Kitchen Dometic/Smev two-burner and sink on slide-out
Battery 2 x 100Ah batteries (as seen), with Pass Power 20A 240V charger and Pass Power 1000W inverter
Certified gas plumbing, second 100Ah battery, soft rooftop tent, 270 degree awning, alloy wheels, stereo system with speakers, 160W solar panel, ARK XO jockey wheel, 100L water tank, 20A charger, 1000W inverter, McHitch coupling, portable gas HWS, shower unit, portable ensuite, portable toilet
PRICE AS TESTED
$16,990 at time of writing (normally $19,999)
- Quick and straightforward set-up
- Relatively light and offroad capable
- Payload and storage capacity given size
- Dedicated room for two beer cartons
- Limited kitchen working space
- Positioning of the batteries in back corner
- Awning poles are separate, not attached
CAMPER STAR RATINGS
Fit for intended purpose — 7.5
Innovation — 5.5
Self-sufficiency — 6
Quality of finish — 7
Build quality — 7.5
Offroad ability — 8
Comforts — 5.5
Ease of use — 7
Value for money — 7.5
X-Factor — 7.5
Address (SA) 491 Grand Junction Rd, Wingfield, SA, 5013
Address (Vic) 1920 Hume Highway, Campbellfield VIC 3061
Phone 1300 628 494