Global Expedition Vehicles Safari Extreme Road Test
Globetrotter: Exploring the Earth, Roads Are Optional
Your typical RV is taken for weekend regional trips as well as longer vacations, traveling between RV parks and campgrounds. Dry camping is possible to some extent, but the energy and water demands of the typical RV have their limitations. That's fine for most RV owners, who consider themselves "travelers." But what about those who would like to get off the beaten path to see and experience areas not attainable by the typical RV? These people are true "explorers" and they need a vehicle capable of transporting them to these areas and providing suitable living accommodations at the same time. This opens up a whole new class of RV, called Expedition Vehicles.
Expedition Vehicles are a major departure from your basic RV. They are designed to be able to traverse terrain that is inaccessible for most RVs and need to be durable enough to hold up under the stress of driving over punishing terrain not suitable for most vehicles. Expedition vehicles generally don't utilize campgrounds either, so they need to be self-sufficient to a greater degree than other RVs. These requirements dictate a whole new way of thinking when designing and building expedition vehicles.
The leader in this field is Global Expedition Vehicles. GXV produces a wide range of vehicles that can be customized for your specific travel style.
GXV rigs are extremely environmentally friendly. Compared to the typical RV, GXVs use less fuel based on equal hours of usage. Every GXV body is highly insulated and features energy efficient windows. Solar panels provide power to lithium-ion battery banks, which can also be recharged via wind-powered generators. The water heater, cooktop, and furnace are all powered by diesel fuel, which is a more efficient source of fuel than propane and readily available worldwide. Bio-diesel can also be used. Wastewater is minimized by the use of composting toilets or cassette toilets. GXV also uses cork flooring, bamboo interiors, and other renewable materials whenever possible.
Vehicle selection depends on where you want to do your exploring. If your overland travel is basically limited to North America, a domestic chassis would be the best choice. Smaller units built on a Ford F-250/550 or Dodge 4500/5500 chassis will let you get into tight areas with ease. If you want more room, the Patagonia can be built on a heavy-duty Freightliner or Navistar chassis. These can be 4x4 or 6x6 and configured with single-, extended-, or crew-cab configurations. The Pangea takes it a step further and offers a lifting roof that can be raised to expose a huge loft sleeping area while still allowing use of the main living area. If you plan on traveling abroad or doing an around-the-world expedition, a chassis such as DAF, MAN, or Mercedes would be a good choice due to better service access when traveling abroad. Chassis like the Mercedes Unimog offer the ability to burn high-sulphur diesel fuel, as well, which can be a boon when traveling in less developed nations. Basically, GXV will build your unit on whichever chassis is best suited for your travel plans.
The vehicle we spent the most time with was the Safari Extreme, which is built on a Mercedes Unimog chassis. This chassis is nothing short of amazing. Three locking differentials allow you to lock either axle from left to right, as well as a center differential to lock both axles together. The electronic shift transmission lets you select the desired gear and range. When you stab the clutch, the transmission automatically shifts to that gear. The forward control cab has a deep windshield that lets you see the area immediately in front of the vehicle. When driving a Unimog chassis, I was surprised to find how it handled. It stuck to the road on curves like a sports car, yet when it came time to go off road, it escalated to simply amazing. As a passenger, all I saw was sky climbing a steep bank. Cresting the bank was effortless and going down the other side I was so close to vertical that all I saw was the ground ahead of me and had to place my hands on the windshield to keep from leaving nose prints on the glass. The vehicle was truly unstoppable.
The Unimog chassis is designed for universal travel. Simply release a few locking levers and the entire instrument panel, steering wheel, and foot pedals can be slid from side to side to accommodate lefthand drive or righthand drive. The chassis has numerous power take-off options. A front mechanical PTO can be used as a drive source while a number of hydraulic connections allows use of hydraulic accessories. Winches and auxiliary lighting are all standard on GXV vehicles. Spare tires can be mounted on the front bumper or on the rear of the vehicle with a lowering mechanism. A cargo carrier is mounted to the roof of the cab for carrying bulky cargo, water cans, food storage, etc.
Now that we've established that GXV vehicles can get to out-of-the-way places, the next issue is durability. The stress of overland travel creates unique requirements on this type of vehicle. GXV begins by mounting their coach to the frame with a proprietary Kinetic Mounting System that prevents the coach from flexing by allowing the frame and suspension to articulate and twist but isolates those dynamic forces from the expedition body. This system also helps to isolate the coach from road vibration and noise when driving. Every GXV design is rigorously tested for articulation and stress with a cross test.
The sidewalls are constructed with a structural composite sandwich panel. This eliminates thermal conduction paths by eliminating any aluminum tubing required in normal stick-framed construction. The fiberglass-reinforced polyester outer plies are vacuum-bonded to the inner foam and finished with a gelcoat. Typical wall thickness is 60 mm and provides superior strength to handle the flexing, wind, and extreme temperatures of overland travel. The 110mm floor structure is similar but also includes an integrated welded-frame structure.
GXV exclusively uses Armor Vision windows. These windows use dual-pane glass that is burglar, scratch, and fade proof with high thermal qualities. They are flush to the exterior and have dual stainless-steel locking points for extra security. These awning-style windows slide down mid-point to the horizontal position for ease in cleaning from the inside of the vehicle. Integrated privacy blinds and mosquito screening provide 100 percent sealing with no gaps for insects to get through. Optional stainless-steel protection plates provide security and protection if you plan to ship your expedition vehicle to another country. All entry door and compartment hatch cover latch mechanisms are integrated into the body panels with a three-point stainless-steel latching mechanism. This provides a high level of security as well as strength and durability.
GXV utilizes efficient marine grade wiring and electrical components to maximize available power and minimize electrical consumption. Typical flooded batteries can only be used to around 50 percent of their rated capacity without damage to the battery and also need to be located in a vented exterior compartment due to the hydrogen outgassing during charging. AGM batteries remove the outgassing element and offer a bit more useable amp-hours before battery damage occurs but still aren't perfect. GXV utilizes lithium-ion batteries, which are the ultimate, although quite expensive. With lithium-ion batteries there is no outgassing and the full rated amount of the battery capacity can be used.
Solar panels and optional wind-powered generators provide recharging power through an Outback MPPT charge controller to help keep these batteries charged up. In addition to an Outback 2,800-watt true sine wave inverter, many units are equipped with a diesel-powered generator to provide AC power whenever needed. Expedition vehicles rarely plug into shore power, but dual external power inlets are provided to accommodate either 50- or 60-Hz utility power when available. GXV units are dual voltage capable.
Plumbing needs are met by a 125-gallon fresh-water tank and 25- gallon gray-water tank. A cassette toilet is provided for convenient waste disposal when traveling overland. All plumbing is installed inside the vehicle to prevent any possibility of freezing when camping in cold weather. A water filtration system is provided, and filling the fresh-water tank from a stream is possible via a water pump and the microbiological drinking filter installed at the kitchen sink. HVAC systems consist of a 15,000-Btu air conditioner with heat pump and a Webasto hydronic heating system that also serves as an engine block preheater. Domestic hot water needs are met by an Isotherm hot-water heater, which is heated by the Webasto boiler.
Interior and Amenities
The interior of our particular Safari Extreme was finished with quarter sawn teak cabinetry with four coats of hand-rubbed varnish. The flooring was oiled teak. The dinette window was installed in a natural opening wall. This panel can be opened to give you a much larger opening so that you can take in a larger view or bring more of the outside ambience into your RV. This is a real plus when viewing wildlife or just taking in an awesome sunset and is a photographer's dream come true.
The galley is furnished with marine grade components. A stainless-steel sink is recessed into the granite counter top while a microwave/convection oven is located in the cabinetry over the two-drawer stainless-steel refrigerator/freezer unit. The drawers latch into place for travel and, unlike traditional hinged doors, prevent any food containers from falling out when the fridge is opened after travel. Interior cabinets are also made with locking latches. A simple push of the button locks the cabinet or drawer and prevents it from opening during travel.
If you're the kind of traveler who wants to truly explore, overland travel is a great way to see the world. Overland travel is gaining in popularity and the annual Overland Expo is a great place to introduce yourself to this kind of travel and meet with other overlanders. Global Expedition Vehicles is an excellent choice to custom-build an expedition vehicle tailored to your needs. GXV's owners are seasoned overland travelers and fully understand what works and what doesn't and can use that experience to help design the perfect vehicle for any prospective buyer. The UXV on a Ford F-550 or Dodge 5500 series domestic pickup truck chassis of your choice is perfect for domestic travel or for getting into small rural towns when traveling abroad. The Safari Extreme and Global Traveler series on Mercedes chassis are perfect for international travel, while the Patagonia and Pangea are designed where a larger vehicle is desired and can be offered on any choice of domestic or imported heavy-duty chassis, including eight-wheel drive if you want to go whole hog. Extraordinary travel requires extraordinary vehicles, and Global Expedition Vehicles can certainly meet those needs.