On The Road Magazine reviews the Ultimate Nautilus

30 Mar 2015

John Ford of On The Road magazine has been chomping at the bit for a few years now to get his hands on the Ultimate Nautilus. Did it disappoint? Of course not...

When Wendy and Michael Hackett named their revolutionary new camper trailer ‘the Ultimate’ they demonstrated a now proven belief in their product as the pinnacle of off road ability, but they didn’t leave much room for naming an upgraded range down the track.

For 1700 happy owners the original X-series Ultimate has lived up to its name but even that loyal tribe of owners would have to admit the new company flagship is a giant step into extravagance not previously packed into an expedition trailer.

Over three million dollars of investment and thousands of design hours and countless kilometres of testing have delivered another progression in off-road camper trailer design that loses nothing of the rugged capability of its hard-as-nails stable mate.

Ultimate Campers haven’t forsaken the marine heritage that gave birth to the original camper 20 years ago. Michael’s background in building boats inspired the modular fibreglass design that has been often compared to an upside down yacht.

Right from the conception of the Nautilus there was input from existing Ultimate Campers owners about what they would like to see in an up-scaled camper. And of course Michael and Wendy had their own ideas based on extensive touring and Michael’s intuitive understanding of what works.

Apart from retaining the rugged off road nature of the original Ultimate, everything about the Nautilus is new and refreshingly inventive. And it has the same impact in quirky and revolutionary looks as the X-Series did when it hit the road 20 years ago.

Our test camper is one of twenty Limited Edition models produced for the first group of buyers who stumped up substantial deposits to assist with the model’s development. Owners Ian and Lesley Barden from Brighton, Victoria are dedicated Ultimate owners having travelled with three X-Series, including a 1998 model (No 56), all around  Australia  including the Anne Beadell Hwy and several sorties into the Simpson Desert.

Styling is even more like a space rocket, with a smooth, aerodynamic shape finished in impeccable white fibreglass over matt grey lower sections along the sides. In travel mode the roofline matches the height of most 4WD vehicles with the air-conditioning unit at a height of 2.38m – still low enough to avoid most overhanging branches along rough tracks.

Engineered to be extremely strong, the monocoque body does way with a normal metal chassis by integrating the suspension pickup points into the fiberglass body, saving weight without jeopardising reliability. Suspension is a proven independent trailing arm system with specially-designed Lovells long travel coil springs and adjustable Koni shock absorbers.

A similar system has been used on the X-Series over the years and has been found to off the best combination of stability, soft ride and ground clearance available. Combined with the articulation of the standard DO35 coupling it also allows superior off road ability. (Our test van was fitted with an optional Hitch-Ezy system that also offers wide movement.)

Sitting over the drawbar is a large, enclosed storage area with easy access from wide gullwing hatches each side. A recessed moulding against the front bulkhead houses the electronic systems

including mains switches and fuses. Two 120W solar panels power twin 100ah deep-cycle batteries through a Redarc DC-DC charger and Victron monitor while a 700w Sinergex inverter can recharge batteries and run a computer. A Ctek 240v charger is also standard.

Along the driver’s side are dedicated storage lockers for gas bottles, dual jerry can storage and that most essential accessory for the genteel traveller - a wine locker that Ian had constructed from tube and foam! Further back there’s an outdoor hot water shower while at the rear is a swing away spare tyre holder and reversing camera.

Recognising the desire of most bush campers to cook outside, the Nautilus is equipped with a slide out BBQ aft of the entry and kitchen sink/ preparation table further back. A 3m x 2.5m Fiamma F35 Pro Awning off weather protection and recesses into the roof in such a way that it isn’t vulnerable to damage when travelling.

The Limited Edition sits on 275x65x18 Cooper Discoverer tyres and with 440mm of ground clearance it’s a bit of a climb into the camper after lifting the pop-top some 600mm on electro-mechanical linear actuators, by remote key fob. The stairs are a masterpiece of simple design, folding out from the body and supported above ground by wire stays. Their four treads are covered in faux teak in keeping with the nautical theme. Unlike many pop-top campers that have complicated and flimsy entry doors the folding fibreglass version on this camper is sturdy and easy to use while remaining stylishly integrated with the rest of the camper. Once on board there is a wonderful feeling of airy space with light pouring in through the long windows and the openings of the canvas infill of the pop-top.

Inside colours are predominantly white fibreglass cupboards and walls with black benchtops and caramel lounges, while the teak from the steps is continued into the galley at the front. A small step leads down to the carpet covered floor of the living space.

Across the front of the open plan living area is a bench that forms a preparation space for the kitchen extending to midway along the driver’s side. But there’s a surprise in store because the nearside third of the bench opens out to create an ensuite cubical complete with shower, basin and a vacuum toilet. It’s a well-considered and compact inclusion and will suit those who demand such a facility but so unobtrusive in its folded state that you wouldn’t know it was there for those who would use it only occasionally. Incorporated under the galley bench are a 150L Vitrifi compressor fridge -freezer and a handy pantry storage compartment hidden below a timber cutting board. Completing the indoor galley is a com- pact bench with stainless steel sink, Smev oven and a cooktop with three gas burners. Both the sink and cooktop have covers that fold down to provide extra bench space and a total of nine deep drawers either side of the stove take care of cutlery and often used cooking items. The rear section of the cabin is devoted to relaxing with a sumptuous leather lounge on the kerb side and a daybed style lounge opposite. A removable table allows dining and there’s a 22” LED television alongside the galley with a swivelling arm that lets it be seen from anywhere inside.

If there were a criticism of the X Series it’s that the bed needs to be made each time the van is set up. The design team have addressed this in the Nautilus by creating a sleeping pod that extends from the body by pushing it out to the back by hand. It is counterweighted to make the process easy and is engineered so it cantilevers almost magically without additional support.

Access is easy to the comfortable north-south queen mattress and there is good ventilation and lighting and despite appearances the pod is rock steady in testament to good design and engineering.

When the team from Ultimate set out to deliver the best luxury off road camper trailer available the task was immense. Without investigating every camper world- wide it would be hard to confirm that they have achieved that aim, but what they have delivered must go close. The Nautilus is an elegant milestone in camper trailer design and once again Ultimate Campers has turned the camper trailer world on its head. There is so much about  the Nautilus that is clever and precise design that I wondered if looks might overwhelm any questions about its off roadability. It might be the award-winning Leatherman of camper design but can it cut it in the real world? According to the factory they have undertaken lifetimes of rigorous off road and simulated testing to guarantee the suspension and body are up to the task. While pretty inside, its timber look floor  will endure rough treatment and can be easily cleaned out. Some may eschew the canvas sides but it’s a practical and durable answer to creating a vehicle that’s still low enough for bush travel and doesn’t end up becoming a caravan. While the food preparation space inside may be limited, the camper is designed mainly for outside living and the available space is good given the relatively compact size of the camper.

All up weight with a 600kg payload is 2150kg so it’s medium sized 4WD friendly and no worry to Ian’s 200 Series Landcruiser. It’s also suitable to the popular Prado as well as the new range of utes like Isuzu and Ranger.

Of course if you want the best it will come at a cost and so with a starting price at around $116,000 for a standard version and over $120,000 for the GT it won’t be on everyone’s shopping list. Even so production is saturated and the waiting list for a new camper is still several months. Good things come to those who wait.

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