A Jayco caravan rolls off the Dandenong, Victoria, production line every eleven minutes according to Jayco’s Gerry Ryan. Over 1100 people are employed at the 20-hectare manufacturing facility producing a dizzying array of campers, caravans, motorhomes and park cabins. This is a company that builds some of the most diverse holiday accommodations in all of Australia.
But it’s one of the company’s simplest we’re interested in. Can the simplest of the Jayco camper trailers, the on-road (officially called Touring) Jayco Penguin, offer the level of comfort and convenience needed by today’s travellers?
Although branded as a camper trailer, the Penguin (and the entire range of Jayco camper trailers) is a step towards a caravan when compared to the fold out canvas type of camper trailer, sophisticated as some of those certainly are. Once set up, all facilities are contained within the walls – a comforting arrangement when the weather turns nasty.
The Penguin travels smoothly at highway speeds behind the Subaru Forester. With a tare weight of 960kg and a load allowance of 300kg, even a fully loaded Penguin would be a comfortable, barely noticeable tow behind the Forester or a similar vehicle.
Once on site and levelled and stabilised, the roof is relatively easy to raise with the rear mounted winch. While a teenage son would be a handy accessory for this task, if you left him at home it could easily be handled by Mum or Dad.
Unlike the other campers in the Jayco range, there are no pop out beds; the double at the rear (with innerspring mattress and a privacy curtain) is ready to flop onto, while the single at the front doubles neatly as the dinette, using the foam seat cushions. The transverse arranged dinette would be comfortable seating for two, but the teenage son might make it a bit squeezy. Better to put him outside with the cat at meal times.
There is clothes storage in lockers over the foot of the bed, and a large space under the bed, which is hinged and gas strut assisted. Access to the space is also available from outside the camper via a locked hatch.
The top half of the entry door swings down and attaches easily. Provision is made for a securing strap to support the upper door against the roof while travelling and using it would appear to be a good idea as the two securing clips alone seem a bit on the light side.
The kitchen layout is uncluttered, with the fridge and stove side by side and the sink on the near side adjacent to the entry door. Water, cold only, is supplied to the large bowl sink with either a manual pump drawing water from the 82-litre under floor tank (lockable cap), or from the mains pressure connection. Bench space is limited but the dining table is close enough to utilise during meal preparation. Plenty of cupboards are available for food storage and two drawers for utensils. The Smev cooktop and grill has three gas burners and one 240 volt electric hotplate. The fridge is a 90-litre Dometic RM2350. Generous internal lighting is provided by three ceiling mounted 12 volt LED lamps. One exterior lamp is fitted.
240 volt power is available through double power points adjacent to each of the beds and under the sink. Surprisingly, no USB points are fitted. The interior finish is good. Robust push button catches secure the cupboard doors. Internal safety features include a cooktop flame failure device, smoke alarm, fire extinguisher and a lockable water filter.
The chassis and drawbar are fully welded and hot dip galvanised. The drawbar is a robust 100x50mm rectangular section and the floor beams are strong, but lightweight, pressed C-sections. The towing coupling is an AL-KO 50mm ball quick release with integrated handbrake. A basic jockey wheel is provided. The suspension is a beam axle with leaf slipper springs. Brakes are electric and 185R14 tyres are fitted to the 14-inch alloy wheels with matching spare, mounted on a solid bracket on the rear.
External storage is offered in the large forward boot section, where the jack and the 9kg gas bottle reside. The bottle is secured by ratchet straps which appear to be secure enough but allow the bottle to wobble slightly. The external finish of the panels is glossy and smooth, with tasteful paintwork completing an attractive package. A single access step folds out with a flick of the wrist.
But a few things may require a re-think: The grey water drain hose terminates under the camper. To connect a longer hose to drain to a sump would necessitate crawling under the camper and would be quite awkward. Also, the water tank is very low and further to the rear than desirable. It may make contact with the ground over a moderate dip or gutter.
Also very low are the rear corner stabilisers which may present the same problem. All four corner stabilisers are fixed to the chassis by self-drilling screws which appear less than ideal.
The Penguin we tested was the touring model, not the off-road “Outback” version, and was designed with caravan park visits (and the availability of 240 volt power) in mind, not freedom camping. However, the absence of a battery, even though provision to retro fit one is provided, seems stingy in this day and age. Those minor (and easy to fix) issues aside, the little Penguin is an attractive package.
A variety of options are available, including the Fiama awning and exterior fold down table that were fitted to the test unit. A deep cycle battery, air conditioner, external slide out BBQ and jerry can holders are some useful additions that you may consider, and there is quite a list of others.
It is light and easy to tow. It doesn’t require a large vehicle to get it moving – a SUV similar in capacity to the Subaru Forester we used as a test vehicle is adequate. The low towing profile maximises towing economy and handles better in windy conditions. The Penguin is easy to park, easy to set up, easy to store and provides ample space and facilities for two people (or two and a half when necessary).
When purchasing a Jayco product, it is comforting to know that they offer a twelve month warranty, three years roadside assistance and a network of over 100 approved service centres around Australia.
Priced from $23,524 RRP, registered and ready to go in NSW, this little Penguin would be more than adequate to waddle down the coast for a holiday, or, with a little bit of “personalisation” could be an economical and enjoyable means to range further, even do “The Lap”, provided you don’t have off road aspirations. Even if you do, it’s an easy upgrade to the Outback version.
This article originally appeared in issue 32 of ROAM magazine. Subscribe or find out more here.