Almost a week hustling along in the new Avida Busselton gave us time to get to know this important new model…
By Richard Robertson
Avida’s expanding motorhome range now comprises eight models, encompassing everything from the compact van-conversion Escape to the flagship, truck-based Longreach. For some time the mid-range Birdsville and larger Esperance models have been Avida’s mainstays, but technological ‘bracket creep’ has brought about a range reshuffle and created a new slot, filled by the Busselton.
Priced at $193,213 on the road in NSW for the C7544SL model tested here, we spent 5 days in the new Busselton, including 3 nights in different locations and in some atrocious weather. While we came away impressed, we were also somewhat initially perplexed as to the Busselton’s target market: On one hand it’s a sizeable and impressive motorhome – it elicited quite a number of positive comments – but on the other its physical dimensions limit its potential. It took a few days to work out who the Busselton will appeal to and where it sits in Avida’s scheme of things, but it’s an important addition in the company’s expanding range, which aims to have a model for every buyer.
The Busselton has come about because the hugely popular Esperance range is moving up the weight category. Built on the equally popular Iveco Daily, the Esperance has been the biggest Avida motorhome you can drive on a car licence. Well regarded for its genuine 3500kg towing capacity, dual-tyre stability, rear-wheel-drive configuration and ‘big truck’ over-engineering, the Daily is undisputed king of the medium-to-heavy RV market. However, the new Daily E6 is about to hit Avida’s production line and it’s some 80kg heavier, making keeping the Esperance below the 4500kg gross vehicle mass (GVM) limit for a car licence difficult. So, the new Esperance will move into the light rigid (LR) licence category, with an across-the-range 5200kg GVM to accomodate all its new bells and whistles. That’s where the Busselton fits in…
Busseltons will be the go-to Avidas for those still wanting the Daily’s huge towing capacity, rear-wheel drive and big-truck DNA, but on a car licence. Shorter than the Esperance, there are three models and all are C-Class motorhomes (meaning beds over the cabs). The hero model is the 7.5m (24’7”) C7544SL in this review, which has a near-full-length slide-out on the driver’s side that incorporates a four-seat cafe-style dinette and east-west bed. It also has a full-width bathroom across the back.
The other Busselton models – the C7814 and C7824 – are 7.8m (25’7”) long but lack the slide-out. However, these alternate layouts are good, with the former having an island bed while the latter has singles, and each has a split bathroom. Both also incorporate swivelling cab seats into their four-place dinettes (the test Busselton seats six). All Busseltons are 2.32m (7’7”) wide (exc mirrors), 3.13m (10’3”) tall, have 80L of fresh and grey water, a 14L Truma LPG/electric hot water system, 17L toilet cassette, 2x4kg gas cylinders and 1x100 amp-hour deep-cycle house battery.
While those water, gas and battery power figures are disappointing for vehicles of this size and price (as is the lack of solar as standard, although it’s pre-wired), they’re understandable given the overall weight constraints. Indeed, balancing weight will require careful attention to options and loading, because with a 3950 kg tare weight for the C7544 in this review, there’s not a lot of wiggle room to keep it under its 4495 kg GVM. Factor in 80kg for water and 83kg for fuel and you’re left with a theoretical maximum of 382 kg. That has to cover wine, occupants, chairs, tables, tools, clothes, food – and more wine. It’s doable, and of course you can load up your toad, boat or trailer with more wine, so there’s no need to panic (there will also be a 5200 kg GVM upgrade option if you have/want an LR licence but don’t want a new Esperance). With all that clarified, let me tell you about the test Busselton. Well, in a moment.
If you’re not wedded to the hairy-chested Iveco Daily but like the Busselton C7544’s layout, consider Avida’s Birdsville, which is on the front-wheel drive Fiat Ducato. Just 110mm (4.4”) shorter and with an almost indistinguishable floorplan; it has 40% more payload, carries 40-litres more fresh and grey water and still tows 2000kg – on a car licence. It’s also some $28,000 cheaper (in NSW), which buys a lot of wine. But I’ve digressed…
In case you’re wondering, when the new Iveco Daily E6 hits the production line it too will underpin the Busselton, but Avida has earmarked a range of weight reduction measures to counter the new Italian chassis’s bloat.
Apart from being Euro6 emissions complaint, the new Daily E6 also includes important safety upgrades. From adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist to Apple CarPlay and optional LED headlights, it will include many other features to put it up there with the latest from Mercedes-Benz and other rivals.
While the new engine is essentially the same 3.0-litre turbo-diesel, the current 125kW power output increases to 132kW in the E6, although torque remains the same at 430Nm. What carries over from the current model, however, is the excellent ZF eight-speed ‘Hi-Matic’ automatic transmission with Power and Eco modes, and that’s a good thing. Smooth and capable, it moves the Busselton along nicely (although in Eco mode it quickly shuffles through the first four gears and feels a bit ‘doughy’). We averaged 14.6L/100 km (19.35 mpg) over a lot of freeway and highway driving, and with just a bit of around-town driving thrown in. Running just below GVM with full fuel (100-litres) and water (80-litres) because of bedding, cutlery, crockery and chairs for four, plus an outdoor table, hoses, leads, wheel chocks, etc, it was a good result for a new engine with just 5000km on the clock.
Although the Busselton-spec lacks cab suspension seats or even seat armrests (go figure), it’s still a comfortable place to pass the kilometres. Visibility is excellent, helped by big mirrors and a reversing camera (albeit, a rather average one), while ground clearance is also good. Additionally, there’s little rear overhang, while the turning circle is compact for the vehicle’s size. Ride comfort is good too, although the front-end crashes a bit over broken surfaces at speed. On blacktop freeways, however, all is serenity, with engine noise and vibration well suppressed. One final impression: The Iveco-based Busselton feels pretty much indestructible from behind the wheel and inspires genuine driver and passenger confidence.
Like all Avida coachbuilt motorhomes the Busselton features steel floor/aluminium frame/foam insulation/fibreglass body-panel construction. It’s proven, durable and tough, if not as cutting-edge as the frameless, solid-panel construction that’s becoming more common. The body is all the more imposing because of the Iveco’s considerable chassis height, necessitating a pair of electric entry steps in addition to a step once inside.
Avida also uses steel-framed single-pane glass windows rather than the aluminium-framed, double-glazed acrylic units favoured by others. Both have their plus and minus points, with Avida pointing out its units provide better security and can be left open in most rain conditions. We discovered, however, that their smaller opening section (the bottom third or so) restricted airflow somewhat, making a 12V Sirocco fan or two a worthwhile consideration. The windows also lack in-frame privacy screens, although they have simple pull-down blinds that can be left slightly raised for ventilation. There’s also a large, sideways-opening electric roof hatch and a roof-top airconditioner to add to the ventilation picture.
Outside, the body and cab integrate nicely, aided by mouldings that form side-steps that make cab entry and exit easy. These proved highly practical, although you have to be careful not to drip diesel on the passenger’s step when refuelling as it’s difficult to wipe it off the non-stick surface (First-World problem, I know!). Considering the GVM limit there’s decent external storage, with two lockers on the kerb side (the front one has the house battery) and three on the driver’s side; the middle-one home to the pair of LPG cylinders. There’s still plenty of room for hoses, power leads, a tool box, etc, while the slide-out has three lockers at waist height that access storage under the bed and both lounge seats. The water filler and mains-water connector are on the back wall, as is the toilet cassette hatch, while the mains power connector is on the slide-out.
As mentioned, the C7544SL gets a near-full-length slide-out on the driver’s side that's home to a four-seat, cafe-style dinette and east-west bed (with a wardrobe separating them), plus a full-width rear bathroom. The test Busselton was equipped with seat belts for four, but production models won’t have the dinette ‘belts unless requested.
The cab seats swivel – something I didn't discover until returning the vehicle – but don't integrate with the dinette. However, when stuck indoors due to rain as we were, swivelled seats would provide invaluable additional seating and also come in handy when entertaining. Worth noting is the new Daily E6 has an electric handbrake, doing away with the big lever by the driver’s seat that has always made swivelling that seat difficult. It’s a real bonus and will be especially appreciated by those trading-up from older Dailys.
The three-way fridge and microwave sit in a tall unit between the swivelled passenger seat and entry door. That unit also has a drop-down table on the side, which spans the doorway and becomes a useful kitchen bench extension. The kitchen itself extends aft from the entry door through to the bedroom, morphing along the way into a kind of narrower dressing table complete with a ton of storage below and ending at another wardrobe by the bathroom door.
My wife was thoroughly impressed by the internal storage, although not so fussed on having to fully extend the slide-out during the day to access the bathroom, despite a lift-up bed. Apparently, partial slide-out extension isn’t permitted and the bed-end tucks under the benchtop when fully retracted, hence the dilemma. An obvious solution would be an extendable bed-end and mattress bolster, to allow the bed to lift when the slide-out’s tucked away, but perhaps it’s not possible. You can also just roll across the bed as we did if needs be, so it’s not really that big an issue. Up front, the over-cab bed appeared a decent size and is reached via the usual aluminium ladder. It also easily hinges-up, making walk-through cab access easier. Speaking of the cab, I’m not sure about the black carpet – rubber mat/s would be a more practical inclusion.
The Busselton has a good mix of LED strip and fixed lighting, with the latter having a nighttime blue mode. A touchscreen above the entry door controls most functions, from 12V power on/off to water pump, vehicle and hose battery condition, tank levels, etc. Almost everything is at your fingertips, except for the hot water switch, which is wayyyy down the back, in the bathroom. Given you’re likely to wash-up more than shower, I’d think that switch would be above the door with all the others. Speaking of batteries, the poor old 100 AH house battery dropped to 11.8V indicated on the morning after our second free camping night (and after only about 2 hrs driving in-between). That’s technically flat although it obviously wasn’t and we’re not big power users, but it shows how much the Busselton needs extra power if you don’t want to spend the majority of your time in caravan parks or running a generator.
Avida offers a wide choice of interior and exterior colours and finishes, but we quite liked the white, marble-effect laminate dominating most of the interior of the test vehicle. Mrs also remarked it would be very easy to wipe down to keep clean; ditto the faux-wood flooring.
We took the Busselton on a road trip to catch up with our friends who were camped on the shores of Burrinjuck Dam in South-East NSW. They'd been sailing their little catamaran around the dam’s placid waters for a few days and saved us a spot at the Reflections Holiday Park. We planned a couple of nights, but the rains were coming and so we just stayed for one. That worked out well as the March flies (aka Horse flies) were biting, but the Busselton, with slide-out extended, provided a perfect dinner venue with elevated lake views. It also showed the Busselton can double as a mobile dance floor, with us rocking-and-rolling to tunes from the in-built sound system. If only I’d taken a photo…
The Busselton’s dinette comfortably seats four, although I question the need for a Zwaardvis every-which-way table mount in such a situation. The large central leg, with its various knobs, did get in the way a bit and a simpler solution would be just as effective and save a few kilograms. We all found the dinette seats comfortable thanks to the contoured backrests that gave good lumbar support – a feature missing in many motorhomes. The forward-facing seat has an extra-tall backrest that provides head protection for seat-belted occupants when travelling, which is another welcome touch.
Our second night away was in the tiny town of Dalton, in an equally tiny free camping spot, as our planned stopping place in Gunning was full and storms were building. After a very quick walk into town the heavens opened and remained that way all afternoon and evening. We read, did computer things and passed the time at the dinette – sometimes sitting sideways with a pillow against the wall – all the while listening to the rain on the roof. It was relaxing and enjoyable, but I wish I’d realised the cab seats swivelled. Doh…
Both evenings, Mrs rustled up culinary masterpieces on the new Thetford Topline 981 three-ring Hybrid Hob. It has a pair of gas burners and a single induction-cooking ring, and I think will become the new RV standard. Ideal when connected to mains power or with good batteries and an inverter, Mrs iM stuck to the gas burners but loved their open, elevated design that didn’t limit pot/pan placement. She also loved the deep sink and noted you get full kitchen (and dinette) access when the slide-out’s retracted, so you can easily rustle-up and enjoy a meal on the go.
Our final night in the Busselton was at a friend’s property in Fitzroy Falls. They were still unpacking after a hectic move and we were much more comfortable in the big Avida than their fledgling guest room, despite torrential rain, lighting and thunder. Once again the bed proved comfortable (although an innerspring mattress would be better), while the bathroom, with proper room and privacy, proved entirely practical and user friendly. It also saved lugging bags to and from the house in such ‘inclement’ conditions…
What I Think
In a nutshell, the new Avida Busselton C7544SL is a small apartment on wheels; one best suited to those looking for maximum living space and towing capacity on a car licence, but who rarely want to free camp more than one night at a time.
The Iveco Daily is comfortable, capable and big-truck tough. It help makes the Busselton a substantial rig well suited to long-distance and long-term travel, and I’ve little doubt you’ll see plenty of them hustling and bustling around Australia in years to come…
- Looks good
- Iveco Daily with 8-speed auto
- 3500kg towing
- Easy driving
- Dance floor when slideout extended
- Plenty of internal storage
- Practical kitchen
- Spacious bathroom
- Very comfy dinette
- Handy external storage access in slid-out under dinette
- Best for towing a car/boat/trailer/float
- 4500kg GVM weight limitation
- Single 100AH house battery
- 80L water means it’s really a caravan park motorhome
- Mediocre reversing camera
- No oven/grill
- Zwaardvis table gets in the way
- No way to hold open LPG locker door
- Little ventilation due to small windows
- Needs 12V fan/s