THE first dunes of the morning are always the easiest, tyres pressures are low in the cool desert air and the sand the firmest of the day. By lunch it’s a different story and the steep dunes keep on coming, temps reach the mid 30⁰Cs, the sand soft, tyre pressures down to 13/14psi and all the gear gets pushed to the limits, especially trailers, and this one was being put to the ultimate test.
It was day three on the WAA Line in the Simpson Desert and less than a week before we’d taken delivery of the first production Sierra ZR to roll off the production line.
Towing trailers across the desert is frowned upon by many and we don’t recommend tackling the steeper eastern sides of the dunes if you intend to do a crossing, but it’s not illegal. Trent’s crossed the Simpson more times than he can remember and knows from experience it’s not vehicles or trailers chopping up the track, it’s people. With the right setup, the correct tyre pressures and the right approach, he wanted to make a point that in fact it can be done without buggering it up for everyone else.
In all, Trent and Steph have now done more than 12,500km with the camper, rolling into Melbourne none the worse for wear after its outback adventure that not only saw it head across the Simpson, but also to Uluru, Kakadu, the north coast of Arnhem Land and then the Gulf Country before heading to the east coast and a long bitumen run south.
Established in 2000, the AOR brand has garnished a good reputation for high-quality and reliable campers. The Sierra ZR is the latest offering in the AOR camper range that now numbers 10 separate models from this relatively small rig to the company’s 19-foot Aurora off-road van.
The Sierra ZR is based on the well-spec’d Sierra camper which made its first appearance in 2019, but the more basic ZR has been designed and built for those amongst us who already have a long list of camping gear such as a rooftop tent, gas stove, a portable fridge, awnings and more. It also allows the budget conscious buyer to get into a quality Aussie-made product adding stuff as his or her wallet and inclination allows. It does come reasonably well-equipped however; read on to find out more.
CHASSIS & SUSPENSION
THE chassis is made from 100mm x 50mm SupaGal and powder coated high-tensile steel, and rides on AOR’s proven independent trailing arm and variable-rate coil-spring suspension, which is backed up with twin Outback Armour Offroad gas shockers on each wheel. Adjustable air-suspension is an option, but I’m not too sure why you want that.
The 17x8in steel rims are standard fare, fitted with Cooper Evolution 285/70R17 MT tyres and all this is backed up by 12-inch electric brakes along with 2500kg rated axles and bearings. The stud pattern of the hubs can be matched to suit any popular tow vehicle.
The A-frame is finished with an excellent DO35 coupling and a rather light-duty Ark jockey wheel. While it has done the job we’d like to see something a little bit sturdier; maybe the Ark Extreme Offroad jockey wheel.
One thing we liked was the electrical wiring which all runs through the chassis rails for excellent protection, while a couple of Anderson plugs allows for the connection of solar panels and the like.
BODY & STORAGE
THE camper body that includes the walls, floor and roof are made from a lightweight but strong alloy/fibreglass sandwich material that also helps insulate the interior. The nose-cone storage box sitting on the A-frame is made from aluminium, while the whole unit is covered in a tough, durable Raptor coating where you have the option of three colours; ‘platoon’ (olive green), ‘fighter jet’ (grey) or ‘desert storm’ (sandy brown). Ours wore the ‘desert storm’ colour.
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The body is 1950mm wide which is much the same width as a four-wheel drive vehicle, while the camper has a slanted and faceted design giving better aerodynamics than a straight-sided box.
Along with the suspension a cut-away rear end helps give the trailer a departure angle in excess of 40 degrees, which is pretty darn good (a Tvan for example sports a 30 degree departure angle and goes anywhere) which is more than apparent in steep-sided creek crossings and the like.
There’s a heap of storage to go with the impressive 900kg or so of payload capacity that the ZR is rated at. In addition to the cavernous nose cone, there is six large dustproof storage areas, a large tunnel-type storage ideal for carrying poles and the like, an optional fridge storage area with self-supporting slide and a couple of compartments at the front of the nose cone meant for gas bottles.
The tyre storage area at the rear of the trailer we converted to a more usable and valuable dustproof storage area by putting the two tyres we carry as spares on the top of the trailer thanks to some additional reinforcing and tie-down points fitted by AOR during the build. This shifting of the tyre’s weight forward threw a bit more weight on the towball, but that didn’t affect the towing ability or stability of the trailer at all. This area under the ultra-heavy-duty roof rack is an excellent place to store camping gear like additional tents or long items such as surfboards and the like, while also coming in handy for wood storage or throwing in the Maxtrax between recoveries.
The roof rack itself is big enough to fit a couple of rooftop tents if you so desire, but we took our roomy James Baroud rooftop tent from our Hilux and fitted it to the camper trailer. We also fitted our Rhino-Rack batwing awning to the edge of the rack and this covers the kitchen area and rear of the camper with plenty of shade and protection. At the rear of the rack we opted for the AOR supplied Bushranger Trax shower tent which has proven to be easy and quick to set up.
All the compartment doors come with good seals and high-quality compression locks to keep the dust and water out; something that AOR goes to extraordinary lengths to achieve.
THE external kitchen area offers a fridge slide, a drop-down preparation area with a stainless-steel bench as well as a pull-out slide for a stove fitted with drop-down sink and running water as standard. There’s also internal storage for all your kitchen requirements and the food and condiments you use each and every day. How you set the area up and where you position your stove is really up to you, while we opted to have our favourite Coleman stove sitting on the bench that also has the sink on it.
Quick connect low-pressure gas connections are fitted to the camper near the kitchen as well as down the back near the shower area. Our high-pressure Coleman stove demands a separate gas feed which is no great drama, although we’re considering a low-pressure Thetford unit, supplied as an option by AOR, in addition to our normal setup to cater for the large groups we often have with us.
The optional Bushranger hot-water system can supply water to the front kitchen or the rear shower area via a handy quick-connect connection, making for a no-hassle water supply. Talking of water supply, we added an extra 140-litre tank to the standard 60-litre setup giving us adequate water where we can fill one with not so great aqua, while leaving one as a drinking supply. Backing that up is a twin water filter – a paper one for getting rid of dirt and sediment and a carbon filter to improve the water taste and smell.
WHILE standard fare is a single 150amp/h lithium battery we opted for two all backed up by a FinScan PowerCORE battery management and automation system. This unit incorporates a 12V 30amp charger, a MPPT solar regulator, 240V AC charging, and a 3.5-inch touchscreen display with mobile device connectivity.
The unit has the capacity to switch lights on and off, check water tank levels, while monitoring battery usage and remaining battery capacity. And it’s Aussie designed and made.
There’s plenty of LED lights throughout, while all the externals are dual-colour, anti-bug lights. We also opted to fit a Projecta 2000W Intelli-Wave inverter. In all, it’s a very impressive and handy electronic setup that has been well-laid-out and wired.
ON- AND OFF-ROAD
THIS unit has proved to be a well-made and reliable camper trailer which offers a heap of storage and the flexibility to suit a role of different camping and touring styles, or those with a variety of camping gear already at their fingertips. Likewise, you can opt to get a ZR fitted with the lot straight from the factory.
On the road and in the rough stuff the trailer tows like a dream and we rarely knew it was there – even behind the not-so-powerful Hilux. Its light weight means you don’t need a V8 Cruiser or similar to tow this rig.
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In all we can’t recommend the Sierra ZR highly enough. For us and Moon Tours, the trailer will be more than adequate for the many outback trips we have planned for 2021 and beyond. After our tough test we don’t expect any issues with it and its great build-quality ensures it has many years of tough service in front of it.
AOR SIERRA ZR SPECS
BODY: Alloy/fibreglass sandwich walls and roof; aluminium nose-cone
CHASSIS: SupaGal and powder coated high-tensile 100mm x 50mm steel
TARE WEIGHT: 850kg standard; 900kg as tested
PAYLOAD: 950kg standard; 900kg as tested
TRAVEL LENGTH: 4300mm
EXTERNAL BODY WIDTH: 1950mm
TRAVEL HEIGHT: 1890mm (plus rooftop tent)
SUSPENSION: AOR independent trailing arms and coil springs with twin gas shockers per wheel
TOW COUPLING: DO35 rated to 3500kg
DEPARTURE ANGLE: 40.7°
BRAKES & AXLES: 12-inch electric brakes; 2500kg axles and bearings
WHEELS & TYRES: 17x8in Black steel rims with LTZ 285/70-17; 33-inch tyres as standard; Cooper tyres as tested
BATTERY: 150amp/h lithium battery (two batteries as tested)
BATTERY MANAGEMENT: FinScan PowerCORE
INVERTER 240V POWER: Two power points as standard; Optional Projecta 2000W full sine wave inverter as tested
LIGHTING: LED lights throughout; inc. external dual-colour, anti-bug lights
SOLAR: Anderson plug supplied for optional portable panels
GAS: Single 4.5kg standard; two as tested. Fully protected, with front and rear bayonets (1 for shower area; 1 for kitchen area)
WATER: 60 litres standard (200lt as tested)
HOT WATER: Optional gas water heater
SHOWER: Optional external rear hot/cold shower
WARRANTY: 12 months parts and labour; 5 years on chassis
PRICE: From $29,900
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