Updated: Aug 5, 2020
Unchanged for years, does Avida’s flagship Longreach still deliver the goods?
This review is from the August 2020 issue of iMotorhome Magazine
Imagine having bought a new car six or seven years ago and deciding it's now time to upgrade. In that period, safety equipment has dramatically improved, ditto engines, gearboxes and fuel economy. Meanwhile, occupants now experience unprecedented levels of safety, comfort and convenience. So imagine going back to the dealer to find they're still selling your old model, brand-new, and really all that’s changed is the price? That's basically the situation the owner of an older Longreach would have walking into an Avida dealer. And yet, new Longreaches continue to be sold and the model is still viewed by many as aspirational. What's its secret? Is it really so good it doesn't need improving, or is its continuing popularity one of the ultimate marketing jobs (and dare I say, something of a long reach)? Or could it be something in between? Read on…
More is More
If you want to go on the road full-time and value living as well as personal space, there's no substitute for real estate. Whilst less is often more, sometimes it's not and you just want lots of it, plus the ability to carry plenty of stuff – and maybe even tow. This is where the Longreach excels: At 9.5 m (31’) long and with an 8.7 tonne gross vehicle mass (GVM), it’s a big piece of mobile real estate. It also looks somewhat like an A-class motorhome but actually is a C-class, courtesy of having a separate cab-chassis and over-cab bed.
This is an exclusive and rarefied end of the RV market because of the price (just over A$300,000), size and the need for a medium rigid (MR) driver’s licence. Motorhomes in this category sell in small numbers, but the Longreach doesn't have things all to itself. Its closest competitor is Sunliner’s Monte Carlo, while sitting above both is the Tiffin Allegro Breeze – a luxury A-class motorhome that’s in a price, style and refinement class all of its own.
The Monte Carlo and Longreach are interesting to compare because their manufacturers have gone down different design routes on what, underneath, are identical chassis. While the Monte Carlo is billed as a luxury motorhome, the Longreach – still very comfortable and well appointed – is less ‘glamorous’, but feels more practical; it’s the one you're most likely to be comfortable getting dirty. Because both share the same Isuzu truck cab-chassis it means no matter how you dress them up there's no escaping their utilitarian underpinnings; something only too apparent in the driving/cab experiences and which, to a large degree, defines their characters.
Avida is a conservative manufacturer given more to evolution than revolution. There’s nothing wrong with that and its products are proven, popular and backed by a national dealer and service network.
The Longreach’s biggest attraction – it’s size – is also it’s biggest limitation. That’s because its Isuzu NQR 450 Long cab-chassis is built for heavy-duty truck applications and was never intended for motorhome use. Isuzu is the top selling truck brand in Australia and has built a legendary reputation for Japanese reliability. It also has an impressive national dealer and service network. However, Isuzu isn’t a great innovator and it’s products seem to take years to evolve. Fortunately, this model is offered with a Premium Pack that adds some comfort and convenience items and it is what the Longreach includes.
The Premium Pack adds an instrument panel multi-information display (service interval/ fuel consumption/etc), cruise control, climate control airconditioning, chrome grille, fog lights, driver’s foot rest and – most importantly – a six-speed automated manual transmission (AMT). It also comes with a driver’s suspension seat, however that's not available in the Longreach due to it being what Isuzu calls an ‘engine access hatch model’ (required for servicing as the cab can't be tilted).
Although long-serving, the NQR 450 has received some modernising touches over the years and these include a Euro-5 emissions-compliant engine (no AdBlue required, although it has a diesel particulate filter), dual front air bags with seatbelt pretensioners, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, traction control, heated electric mirrors and cornering lamps, plus remote central locking. It also features a 6.2 inch LCD touchscreen infotainment system that includes DAB+ digital radio and Bluetooth with voice recognition, while the unit doubles as the display for the reversing camera.
The engine remains Isuzu’s big (by motorhome standards) 5.2-litre, 4-cylinder turbo-diesel that puts out a relatively leisurely 139 kW @ 2600 rpm and 510 Nm @ 1600-2600 rpm. These are hardly groundbreaking figures but they do bode well for longevity. In fact the engine has a B10 rating, meaning there is a 90% chance it will make 500,000 km without issues. Also the same for a very long time is the six-speed AMT, which can be driven either as an automatic or in manual mode. One feature common to Japanese trucks and which, unfortunately, European manufacturers don’t embrace is the exhaust brake. It works well for holding speed down-hill and for washing it off when slowing for a corner or approaching a slower vehicle. It also helps extend brake life. Speaking of brakes, they are front discs/rear drums, while Avida adds helper airbags to the front suspension to ‘civilise’ the ride somewhat. Given this is a big and heavy vehicle, expect average fuel consumption to be in the 15-25 L/100 km (19-11 mpg) depending on cruising speed, load and terrain. That means the 140-litre fuel tank should be good for 500-900 km.
Back to the Future
In researching this story I dusted off the iMotorhome Magazine archive and revisited the Longreach test in Issue 33 from September 2013. What struck me was that almost seven years on to the day, virtually nothing has changed and that's what got me started on the theme of this story. Because so little has changed it’s well worth reading Malcolm’s Street’s review and you can download the issue here. Talk about back to the future. What I want to talk about for the remainder of this article is how the Longreach has fared over the years and see if it still stacks up as a desirable and worthwhile motorhome.
Lest you think I'm being uncharitable, I have to declare a personal interest in the Longreach: The world has turned upside down due to Covid-19 and Mrs iMotorhome appears to be on track for early retirement. That, in turn, has fast-forwarded a range of options previously on the back-burner. One is selling-up and going on the road for a couple of years in a vehicle big enough to double as a house, until we reinvest in bricks and mortar. There are few motorhomes capable of filling that role for us (and being vaguely affordable) and I remembered back to 2013 when I drove the Longreach because Malcolm ‘only’ had an LR licence. By the end of the day it struck me that I ‘got’ what it was all about and could see the attraction. That thought has lingered ever since, hence this revisit.
The Longreach is a development of the earlier Alpine, back in the days when both were called Winnebagos. It's little wonder that over the years things have moved-on across the industry and this is evident in some aspects of the Longreach’s standard features.
The equipment list that used to seem generous now appears a little wanting, especially considering the size and intent of the vehicle; things like just 160-watts of solar panels and 3 x 100 amp-hour house batteries. Yes there is a 3.6 kVa remote start Onan generator to top things up, but like all such units it is campsite and peace-and-quiet unfriendly and also requires a separate fuel supply as it runs on petrol.
Then there is the water capacity: 250-litres of fresh and 125-litres of grey. Considering there’s something like 1.7-tonnes of payload available, couldn’t the fresh water capacity at least be doubled (or more) without much effort or expense? That would greatly enhance the Longreach's remote camping ability, which is certainly one of its great attractions. And then there’s the use of a cassette toilet, albeit with a spare cassette. Surely something like a150-litre black water tank would now be acceptable and preferable, given the prevalence of RV dump points across the country? Having said all that, you can certainly live with the Longreach at its current specification level, but it could easily be so much better.
As mentioned, the great compromise in the Longreach is the chassis. Ironically, it is also one of its greatest attributes. I have no doubt the average owner will wear out the body long before its Isuzu underpinnings. However, it's still an short-haul truck chassis and that means no walk-through cab; sitting over the front axle and riding up and down over every bump, plus sitting over the engine while it works away. None of these are deal breakers and might even appeal to former truck drivers – or those who wanted to be one. It certainly gives the Longreach a distinctive character and presence, but Isuzu needs to bring its chassis up-to-date with things like adaptive cruise control, a proper automatic transmission and some steering-wheel-mounted controls. Hino has done/is doing this and more, so fingers crossed Isuzu plays catch-up sooner than later.
All talk so far has been on things mechanical and equipment levels, but of course that's only half the story. Inside is where the Longreach shines and so here's a quick review of its features. Worth noting is that Avida provides a range of decor choices, but the overall look and feel is modern and clean without being over the top. I should also note the Longreach has two slide-outs and both are on the driver’s side; one for the lounge and dinette, and the other for the bedroom. Earlier models had the bedroom slide-out on the kerb side, but that interfered with outdoor living space and the current arrangement is best.
The floor plan is straightforward even though there is no walk-through cab access. Rather, there is a clamber-through-a-big-hatch access and of course, the seats can't be swivelled and don't form any part of the living area. That’s the biggest downside to living with a Longreach, but it’s something you’d get used to. An upside is if you curtain-off the hatch, the cab air-conditioning should do an excellent job of keeping you cool when travelling on even the hottest day. Also, the over-cab bed, which lifts on gas struts for improved cab access, only needs a short ladder to reach.
The motorhome entry door is just after of the cab and because of the vehicle’s size it’s a climb to get inside. There are two electric entry steps plus internal steps to reach floor level, but it's worth the effort because being high up you get extra good viewing from the windows.
Upon entry there is an angled corner storage unit to the left, between the door and cab, which houses a pop-up TV. It’s best viewed from the L-shaped lounge, opposite the entry door, which is extendable and which, along with the sizeable cafe-style dinette, sits in the large slide-out. The kitchen is immediately to the right of the entry door and it has a relatively small amount of bench space to go with the cooker/oven and sink. Moving aft, there’s a pantry unit next with a slide for your Nespresso machine (yeah!) and then a two-door fridge-freezer. Across the aisle is the forward-facing dinette seat and this marks the division between the Longreach’s open-plan living area and its private bathroom and bedroom.