Louie Cretella is not only an engineer - he's a perfectionist. So after designing, engineering and manufacturing components for the Australian RV market for many years, he had a clear vision of what he wanted when he decided to build his own hard-shell camper in 2006. It all started with the Vista RV Crossover - the 4.9m-long flagship now known as the Crossover Classic - but a little more than a year ago, the company released the 4.5m TVK (Crossover Kompack) and, more recently, the 5.2m Crossover XL tested here.
Quality remains the number-one priority, so all Vista RV campers are almost entirely built in-house at Louie's large sheetmetal engineering, fabrication and camper workshop in Bayswater, in Melbourne's eastern suburbs.
The three models sit on the same sturdy 125x75mm galvanised chassis with a 100x50mm A-frame and they utilise the same sophisticated five-link MS Series independent suspension featuring lopsided lateral links. This supple system allows the Crossover XL to achieve a generous 330mm of wheel travel that walks across rugged terrain, arguably with greater ease than many of the tow vehicles it follows.
The Vista RV Crossover XL is extremely easy to set up, even by hybrid camper standards. Simply flip two rear over-centre catches, step inside and push up the large fibreglass pop-top roof and the job is done.
To preserve structural integrity for extreme offroad use, the pop-top lifts only over the rear half of the interior, providing greater headroom above the benchtop, sink, and the 80L 12V/240V fridge/freezer.
The extra 300mm length on the XL extends right of the side-entry door allowing for more cupboard space amidships. The extended roofline creates a spacious interior without compromising offroad performance, thanks to the raised tail.
Inside you'll find a north-south queen size bed that converts in seconds to a cosy four-seater dinette by dropping the table and rearranging the cushions. Louie says that many of Vista RV's customers leave the bed intact and eat outside.
Three large zip-down flyscreened windows in the pop-top and the forward-facing window add to the ambiance and provide excellent airflow. The test model was also fitted with the optional rooftop hatch and timer-controlled 12V swivelling fan to force out hot air for a comfortable slumber in tropical climates.
Louie believes that camping is all about getting back to nature and so he has designed the Crossover XL's external slide-out kitchen as the social hub.
The kitchen on the XL is deeper than the one fitted to the Crossover Classic to maintain optimal balance on the ball, with two extra storage areas for pots and pans and crockery close to the two-burner cooktop, which is shielded from wind. Two pull-out cutlery and kitchen appliance drawers and a pull-out stainless steel sink with tap complete the very comprehensive kitchen.
The large Delta awning above the kitchen is made from lightweight rip-stop fabric and, in its simplest arrangement, attaches to the Crossover XL's side walls. Three poles and guy ropes provide extra support for when you're camping in high winds. A second awning fitted to the offside provides 270° of shelter for longer stays. More than half of Vista RV's customers order the second annexe.
A wide locker forward of the kitchen provides weatherproof storage and the tapered nose of the XL harbours more space in two compartments once the vinyl stone bra is removed. Two of the XL's four jerry cans and the twin 4.5kg gas bottles are stored within the tapered nose and are protected by stone shields secured with saw-toothed catches.
To access the spare tyre you need to pivot the nose on one of the four anchoring bolts attached to the A-frame, once the three others are removed. It's an uneasy fix that seems out of step with the Vista RV's design philosophy, but if you move around to the rear, your faith in the company's ingenuity is restored. The optional 100W top-hinged solar panel folds flat when underway but rises on a telescopic strut to catch the sun at camp; it also supports the ensuite tent attached to the body by a rope channel.
The Crossover XL we reviewed came with an auxiliary water heater that sucks from a bucket, rather than from the standard 87L food-grade tank. Vista RV also offers a compact hot-water service and a rear-mounted shower as options.
A drop-down tray at the rear serves double duty as a wood rack when travelling and as an ensuite shelf when you're camped.
One of the most satisfying things about the Vista RV Crossover XL is its industrial-standard quality. The clever use of materials keeps the tare at a tidy 1220kg. The fibreglass and ply walls are vacuum-pressed, the drop-down side lockers are made of aluminium, and the roof panels and pop-top lid are fibreglass. Aircraft-standard rivets and solid catches and hinges suggest the Vista RV will take a lot of punishment.
The Crossover XL costs $59,980 ex-factory - $3500 more than the Crossover Classic. Popular options include an 80W or 100W rear solar panel fitted with voltage controller, portable hot water system, a second auxiliary battery, the rooftop skylight, 12V fan and a magnetic flyscreen for the door opening.
Since its introduction in 2006, the Vista RV Crossover has impressed camping enthusiasts with its extreme offroad capability, instant set up and high-quality construction.
With the new 300mm-longer Crossover XL variant, Vista RV provides internal comfort on the same sturdy chassis without any significant loss of offroad performance.
Vista RV uses the five-link MS Series independent suspension featuring asymmetric lateral links to improve the Crossover XL's performance offroad.
Louie has known about the idea of using asymmetrical lateral links for the MS series suspension as it is used in the Australian military - as tough a proving ground as you'll find - and dates all the way back to the early 1940s.
Vista RV's take on the concept shows the suspension anchored to the chassis at five hinge points, with the rubber mounting bushes from the Nissan Patrol parts bin and twin-tube Koni shock absorbers soaking up impacts.
The set-up ensures the hub remains vertical to avoid bump steer, the tendency to involuntarily steer during extreme inclines.
VISTA RV CROSSOVER XL: "WE OWN ONE"
Approaching retirement, Pat and Karen Cavanagh of Gloucester, NSW, were looking for an easy-to-erect and comfortable replacement for their softfloor camper when they spotted the Vista RV Crossover on display in Wauchope about 12 months ago.
"Pat took a little convincing at first," said Karen, "but we ordered one and we haven't looked back since."
"What I like," said Pat, "is that it's light and will follow our tow car everywhere. We're not hard-core 4WDers, but I wanted the confidence I could take it over some rocks and difficult terrain to get to good camping spots without damage - and get back out again!"
They ordered a few extras for their Vista RV - a full annexe to complement the standard sail awning for additional weather protection in cold climate camping and a roof hatch, which was added after their vehicle was in production.
"We are tremendously impressed with the quality of construction," said Pat.
"It is really built to last and we were looking for something that would take us many places over the years ahead.
"Louie at Vista RV was also really great to deal with and nothing was too much trouble, which gave us a lot of confidence in making the investment for long-term ownership."
The Cavanaghs use a portable hot water system in the Crossover's rear ensuite tent for showers when camping and their camping life revolves around the Vista's slide-out kitchen.
"The bench height is just right," said Karen.
"You have to stoop down to use some other swing-out camper kitchens."
They have also found their Crossover to be equally comfortable in hot and cold weather.
"There's great airflow inside, particularly with the roof hatch open," said Karen, "but we were camping in minus 5° at Barrington Tops back in October and were as warm as toast."
They were interested to hear about the 300mm longer XL and were impressed that it weighs only 70kg more; they probably would have purchased one instead of their 'Classic' model had it been available at the time.
"However, we are delighted with what we have," said Karen.
- High-quality in-house engineering and construction
- Instant setup
- Additional living space with extended XL model
- Unchanged extreme offroad capability
I WOULD HAVE LIKED
- Easier access to the spare wheel
- Integrated hot water heating
- A fixed flyscreen door would be good
Originally published in Camper Trailer Australia magazine #62, February / March 2013.