I heard myself saying ‘we probably shouldn’t be doing this’ but I was so impressed with what I saw that I couldn’t bear to raise the VHF radio in my hand to command a stop. There we were, videographer Cam (whose excellent work on the Bush Challenger you can view online) and I standing at the top of one of the more challenging valleys at Eldee watching as one of Team AL-KO expertly guided the brand new Golf through a dry river bed below us all so Matt could get the perfect shot. Matt got the shot and we all gained a new found confidence in the aptly named Plugger.
TOUGH YOU SAY?
It is not an off-roader, that must be made clear so why was it as AL-KO’s Toughest Tow Test? Because Avan, the maker of the Golf brand along with AL-KO, has something to prove. You see, marketers adopt two types of practices in our favourite industry, some claim the world and there are those that err on the side of caution. Avan is the latter because it doesn’t take risks (more on that later) but the team needed to know what they do is up for tasks beyond the norm, hence my clenched teeth seeing the little pop-top going places a bonafide off-road camper trailer would question.
So what makes it worth pushing so hard? AL-KO’s Enduro Outback independent trailing arm suspension. Yes, the 180mm compression ready, locally welded (not pressed), box section, heavy duty bush and shock-equipped Outback.
The same Outback that you see under the big beasts at this years’ Toughest Tow Test. Is it overkill? For ability, you betcha but don’t be fooled into thinking it is too much for the 1300kg Tare van. It really suits it. That’s down to the use of a single axle and to the overall height and width of the body and chassis, which to me at least, felt about perfect for a semi-offroad pop-top.
Towed by a moderately capable ute in the Mitsubishi Triton, it sat flat under tow, articulated exceptionally well and moved with the terrain, never really bouncing or appearing unbalanced.
POP THAT TOP
Stopping for a minute to take it all in, we threw the roof up to get some shade and by threw, I mean we got it up in the time it takes to pick up a rock and throw it. Four clips and a short moment pressing the optional front bin mounted button and the roof is up. It goes up quick and with decent canvas and zipped windows all round and good curtains, total privacy is close at hand too.
Once up, the raised floor becomes a consideration for some but a twin step ladder and grab handle should make life easy plus being so high gives a commanding view of the surrounds. Inside, my 2m frame touched the ceiling but not abruptly so the floor to ceiling height is around 190cm, good for a pop-top.
An east-west double is the main sleeping spot with overflow capacity found under the neat dinette. The secondary spot is a cosy – perfect for small children. The kitchen is well appointed, a swift four-burner stove top, like you will find in many six-berth vans, sits beside a good sized sink with mixer above. A Thetford 80L, three-way fridge resides under the bench beside a good amount of storage. You could host a decent party with the setup and with all the windows up, feed the hordes from any angle, handy.
Outside conveniences consist of an optional 3.5m awning that was a cinch to extend and some LED lights but I suspect getting a stereo outside would be an easy dealer-fit option.
BACK UNDER IT
With the heat of the day passing, I took a minute to crawl under the Bush Challenger as after all, if it is to go bush, it needs to be protected where it matters. The first thing I noticed was the massive, proportionally speaking, water tank. For such a small chassis, the 80L tank looks enormous. Some will suggest it needs a bash plate, I do not. Getting stones and other debris stuck between the bash plate and tank can lead to leaks caused by constant rubbing while driving. I prefer PVC tanks like the Bush Challenger uses as they are tough, real tough. Looking at more detail it was nice to see cables and plumbing tucked away and channelled through cross members in the chassis as it was all terrain tyres and 10″ electric drum brakes.
The chassis itself is lightweight, only a 4″ but it doesn’t need more (recall the 1300kg Tare). Up front is a decent sized bin and stoneguard protecting a 9kg gas bottle and with the roof down two more options are evident, a Rola roof rack and an 80W solar panel feeding down to the battery.
The roof rack will come in handy with adventurers needing somewhere to put their bikes or kayaks, which when you add up the water storage and ease of towing makes this a good platform for extended trips into our vast outback.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Golf Bush Challenger is more capable than Avan’s marketers suggest. Should you want a capable pop-top on a budget, I haven’t met better. It has almost enough to take you off grid for extended periods and it does it with little effort, sometimes less is more.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Tim van Duyl
Coming from marine publishing Tim now oversees Caravan World and Trade-a-Boat for the Adventures Group as their Senior Editor. With experience garnered from travelling the breadth and width of his home country New Zealand in all manner of ways, his mission is to see all Australia has to offer. Having already sampled Cape York, Murray-Sunset National Park, Wilsons Promontory and the bulk of Victoria’s West, he has plans to add to the small parts of WA and NT already seen. When not on the road you can find Tim passing time at lakes around Australia or in the high country camping with his close friends and family with the Murrindindi a popular spot.