Is this Melbourne-built all-electric, gas-free off-road caravan the spearhead for a new generation of RVs?
What’s the 2020 Retreat ERV Hyper all about?
While the caravan industry generally evolves at a steady pace, the 2020 Retreat ERV Hyper promises the rarest of things: a step-change in technology. It also has the potential to consign the use of gas in caravans to the history books.
Produced by Melbourne-based Retreat Caravans, the new ERV Hyper range is an all-electric line-up of off-road caravans. With roof-top solar panels, a large lithium-ion battery and a smart inverter, the ERV (as in, Electric RV) Hyper range promises extended off-grid living and reduced dust ingress.
Caravancampingsales recently overnighted in the new 2020 ERV Hyper 200R, to get a better idea of its capability and to examine the clever technology at the heart of this innovative caravan.
The patented technology utilised in the 2020 ERV Hyper is supplied by OzX Corp. Based in Campbellfield, Melbourne, the firm's slogan is "recreating recreation", which it's doing through developing cutting-edge digital architecture, power management and battery storage technologies.
It's even developing a hybrid hub drive system for caravans, which has the potential to reduce tow vehicle fuel consumption and improve towing performance on uphill climbs.
This 2020 ERV Hyper 200R has a 20ft body that accommodates 16 slimline roof-top solar panels. They're raised a little off the actual roof for thermal efficiency and slightly curved to maximise solar power generation as the sun's angle changes throughout the day. Retreat says this model's setup offers 1712 watts of power, while the largest ERV Hyper layout boasts a 2033-watt arrangement.
That power is then stored in a 14.3kW/h, 48-volt lithium-ion battery housed between the chassis rails. The equivalent of a 2380Ah AGM battery or a 1330Ah lithium-ion battery at 12 volts, it's a big-capacity unit and it needs to be, given it's the sole source of power.
The battery weighs approximately 115kg and is roughly the same size as a 90-litre water tank. In fact it sits next to one of the 110lt fresh water tanks underneath the van, where it's protected by a 50mm crush-resistant shell. The battery housing has an IP67 rating, which means it's totally dust proof and waterproof to one metre for around 30 minutes.
ERV Hyper says the battery can handle nearly 4400 full cycles (i.e. from fully charged to fully flat) and still retain 80 per cent of its original capacity. It estimates that with typical usage, the one battery should have a life of up to 20 years.
The power is fed to a smart inverter with a continuous 5000-watt capacity that allows multiple 240-volt appliances to be powered simultaneously.
How much does the Retreat ERV Hyper cost?
The 2020 ERV Hyper 200R reviewed here is priced at $113,000 drive-away, as tested. It's the second smallest of the five ERV Hyper layouts available, which start with the ERV Hyper 186R and culminate with the ERV Hyper 226R.
The entire range comes in an off-road format, with high clearance, a variety of off-road suspension set-ups, all-terrain tyres, and a Cruisemaster DO35 coupling.
With a smooth-sided composite panel construction and insulated flooring, our test van rides on a modified off-road chassis (150mm x 50mm) from ARV along with four-wheel ARV Alpha Extreme Duty independent coil suspension.
Granted, $113,000 is not a small change, but our test van is fitted with just about every major feature you'd care to mention, in addition to the largely hidden OzX Corp technology.
The list spans a 'two burner' induction cooktop with rangehood, combination microwave/convection oven/grille, a big 224 litre compressor fridge/freezer, washing machine, stereo, television, reverse cycle air-conditioning, LED lighting and a full ensuite.
The amenity continues outside, where you'll find a slide-out Weber electric BBQ in the tunnel boot, a slide-out fridge in the checkerplate 'toolbox' on the drawbar, a full-length awning, and an electric step, among other features.
Why should you buy a Retreat ERV Hyper?
As an off-road van with impressive solar power capacity, the 2020 ERV Hyper is well suited to those looking to live 'off-grid' for an extended period, or even those who simply prefer to avoid the crowds at a caravan park. After all, with the ERV Hyper there's less reason to pay the extra for a powered site.
In fact Retreat Caravans says it thoroughly tested a prototype ERV Hyper in 2019. On a six-month, 20,000km journey that looped through WA and the Red Centre, the company says it never plugged into external power once.
That's a big claim, but it gives an idea of the platform's potential. Obviously, power generation is aided by a blazing sun, so typical Outback conditions will be more beneficial than, say, the conditions you might encounter in Tasmania. In any case, you can still plug in to external power if required.
And if you baulk at the idea of dirt road travel because of the dust that invariably penetrates the van, the ERV Hyper could well address that issue. No gas means no gas venting – a major culprit when it comes to dust ingress.
An ERV Hyper should also be on your shopping list if you want a fully featured van that, for a couple, can provide most of the comforts of home for an extended period.
The layout adopts a forward bedroom with north-south island bed, a well-appointed mid kitchen/dinette, and a rear ensuite, the latter with full-size Thetford toilet, separate shower, and a vanity (with concealed top-loading washing machine).
Backing the long list of inclusions is a healthy level of internal and external storage, with a payload limit pushing near 700kg.
Mind you, the ERV Hyper is no lightweight. With a tare weight of 2816kg our tow tug, a RAM 1500 Express – with its 4.5-tonne towing limit – took the load in its stride, although we did experience the odd instance of mild trailer sway at 100km/h (it was fine at any lower speed). The van was completely unladen, right down to empty water tanks, and we'd be very surprised if the issue didn't vanish with a little weight.
In any case, factor in something like a big American pickup or a full-size 4WD for towing duties, rather than say a standard Aussie dual-cab 4x4 ute (or SUV-based equivalent) when doing your sums.
Who will the Retreat ERV Hyper appeal to?
The 2020 Retreat ERV Hyper is tailor-made for adventurous couples looking to travel further, and for longer. This is clearly no entry-level caravan, and so it will suit discerning, experienced caravanners who know what they want (and who have a healthy budget!).
Having said that, prospective purchasers of the ERV Hyper will also fall into the 'early adopter' category – those who are eager to jump on new technology to reap its benefits here and now, rather than wait to see how that technology (and the company behind it) stands the test of time.
It's those people who will appreciate touches like the 5-inch 'C-zone' touchscreen master control, that allows you to swipe through the banks of buttons and power switches for bespoke settings, or to select from a variety of modes (cabin, night, day) to power up what you need most while isolating those you don't.
It's just one smart aspect of the van's digital architecture, which also drastically simplifies its wiring and is said to afford easier, faster troubleshooting should any issues arise.
Clever tech aside, the ERV Hyper platform itself appears to be a solid proposition. We're talking quality components from quality suppliers, with a construction that – based purely on this relatively brief trip – appears to have been carried out with a careful eye. Of course, the real proof of that particular pudding will come once you've hauled an ERV Hyper the length and breadth of the country…
So, what do we think of the Retreat ERV Hyper?
The ERV Hyper 200R has caught our attention as much for what it could represent as what it actually is. Because while it's a well-featured off-road van in its own right, it could also be the start of a new wave of caravans in this country – gas-free vans with cutting-edge power technology that mean our off-grid travels are limited only by the amount of water and food we can carry.
The technology isn't exclusive to Retreat Caravans, either, so we could well see it popping up in the near future across multiple brands.
While we only had a 24-hour period in which to assess this ERV Hyper, we were impressed with its power potential. Over the course of our stay, and despite several hours of running the underbed air-con heater (and a frosty night that saw temperatures drop to below zero), the battery level dropped from 100 per cent to 70 per cent by sunrise, before a weak Victorian winter sun starting topping it up again the following morning. It reached 75 per cent before we hooked up for the run back to Melbourne.
More impressive was the ERV Hyper's ability to power multiple appliances simultaneously. At one point we were running all the lighting, the fridge/freezer, the microwave, and the air-con, while also charging a laptop and a phone, without a worry.
We like the modern look of the ERV Hyper too, both inside and out. It's a comfy and sophisticated van with a generous 2020mm ceiling height and 880mm-high benchtops that will happily accommodate taller types. While there isn't masses of food preparation space in this 20-foot layout, the kitchen ticks just about every other box and places everything within arm's reach.
The reverse-cycle air-conditioner is under the bed, which reduces travel height and improves the van's aerodynamics
Our test van's innerspring mattress was on the compact side at 1540mm wide by 1860mm long, but the slide-out extension can accommodate a longer mattress and we really like the bedside cubby holes, with their own lighting and power point.
And for when visitors come knocking, the plush dinette with fold-out table will accommodate four at a pinch, or allow two to spread out. There's a double power point (with USB ports) nearby, and a healthy number of power points dotted about the van in general.
There's reasonable room in the ensuite too, with its full-size loo and separate (and spacious) shower cubicle.
Gripes? Only that the floor got pretty darn cold after dark (although it was a freezing Victorian winter night) and that we found a couple clearance issues – the freezer door can smack into the bulkhead between the kitchen and ensuite, and a couple of the lower drawers in the vanity extend out to hitting the toilet. No big issues once you're aware of them.
How much does the 2020 Retreat ERV Hyper cost?
Price (as reviewed): $113,000 drive away (Victoria)
Travel length: 8280mm
Body length: 6200mm
Overall width: 2390mm
Travel height: 3000mm
Interior height: 2020mm
Tare weight (plated): 2816kg
ATM (plated): 3500kg
Ball weight (at Tare, plated): 195kg
Coupling: Cruisemaster DO35
Body: Fibreglass composite panel walls, floor and roof
Chassis: ARV off-road, 150mm x 50mm drawbar, galvanized steel, laser cut
Suspension: ARV Alpha Extreme Duty independent off-road coil suspension
Brakes: 12-inch electric drums
Wheels: 16-inch MPC alloy with Mickey Thompson Baja AT2 265/75 all-terrain tyres
Fresh water: 2 x 110 litres
Grey water: 1 x 110 litres
Hot water: Swift, 240-volt, 24 litres
Battery: 14.3kW/h lithium ion with 5000-watt smart inverter, OzX Corp
Solar: 16 roof-top panels
Air-conditioner: Truma Saphir comfort RC
Cooking: Thetford Topline 902, 2 x induction
Fridge: Dometic 224L compressor fridge/freezer
Oven/microwave/grill: Euromaid combination
Shower: Separate cubicle
Lighting: 12v LED
Other features: NCE top-loader washing machine, Weber Pulse 1000 electric slide-out BBQ, slide-out MyCoolman fridge, Fusion stereo, full-length Dometic awning, reversing camera with LED light bar at rear
Supplied by: Escape RVs, Campbellfield, Victoria
More info: ERV Hyper
Source: Caravan Camping Sales