Azalai expedition camper review
The concept of a go-anywhere vehicle is all well and good till you want to stop for a coffee, a sleep or even, how shall we put this politely, a comfort break.
There are plenty of 4x4s and SUVs that will take you deep in country, but their facilities run to little more than what they can carry in the boot or on the roof. It all takes time and effort to strike camp with this type of vehicle, which is where overland conversions come into play.
Most overland vehicle conversions tend to stick with the original bodywork of the vehicle. They usually offer a roof tent for accommodation and a kitchen hung off the back door. It’s effective for Ray Mears types, but for the more discerning adventurer there is another, more civilised solution in the shape of the Azalai.
Built in Devon in the UK, the Azalai conversion is so much more than a few bits of camping equipment stuck to a 4×4. Based on either a Land Rover Defender or Toyota Land Cruiser or Hilux, the Azalai is a purpose-made ‘pod’ that attaches permanently to the vehicle to turn it into an all-terrain motorhome.
The body is made from a similar high density composite material as used in refrigerated trucks, with outer and inner layers sandwiching 15mm of insulation. This keeps the Azalai cool in summer and warm in winter, and during our test of the vehicle on a very hot day the interior was pleasantly shady.
Lightweight construction means the off-road ability of the base vehicle is retained and there’s no problem with the centre of gravity as all of the weight is kept low in the chassis.
The interior of the Azalai, which can be ordered in short and long bodies depending on the base vehicle used, comes with a dining area and pop-up table, kitchen with cooker and fridge, shower unit and fold-down bed. It’s a two-berth motorhome, though you could fit a family of four in at a pinch. The fabric used for the pop-up roof is UV-resistant, again keeping the cabin cool and the occupants safe from the sun’s rays in hotter parts of the world.
There’s also plenty of storage inside and outside of the Azalai, so no need to pack light for your trip of a lifetime, or as one wag has remarked about the Azalai ‘a lifetime of trips.’
Tipping the scales at 600kg, the Azalai conversion weighs little more than the bodywork it replaces on the base vehicle. You will have to factor in the weight of the water in the tank, plus waste water, but performance remains much the same as the base vehicle’s.
The Azalai we tried was based on a Land Rover Defender 130 chassis, which allows the standard passenger seats to be retained. Inside, the living quarters allowed three adults to sit in comfort and stand without the need to stoop. Yes, it’s compact, but the design also means it avoids feeling cramped or claustrophobic.
As for the Land Rover part of the Azalai, it performed exactly as we’d expect of a Defender on a tough off-road course. Select low ratio and it will happily mountain goat its way up steep inclines or trundle through mud and water. The camper’s body is no wider than a standard trailer, so the Azalai was easily threaded through narrow gaps and it’s easy to hose clean afterwards.
One of the most impressive points about the Azalai conversion is there are absolutely no creaks as the vehicle heads across tough terrain. If anything, it’s far better put together and more resistant to rattles than a standard Defender, though that’s not saying a great deal.
Every Azalai is built to the customer’s specifications, so if you want a more extreme off-road machine, you can ask for raised suspension and other goodies. For more details of this, check out www.azalai.co.uk.
Prices start at £59,995 plus VAT and from there the price is down to how much kit you add to the base vehicle. It’s a considerable outlay for a vehicle with such a dedicated purpose, but if you want to head into the wilds and stay there, the Azalai is one of the few off-the-shelf vehicles capable of this.
Words: Alisdair Suttie
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