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Jayco Penguin 2018 review

The days of very short caravans are over – almost no one would consider buying even a 14-foot caravan in today's age – but despite that, Jayco's simplest camper-trailer almost mimics the layout of a regular-sized vintage caravan.

At just 14-foot long, the Penguin encloses its bed, dinette and kitchen without any extensions, and does it quite smartly, too.

It's not gargantuan by anyone's measure but that's a large part of the Penguin's appeal. It's not gargantuan by anyone's measure but that's a large part of the Penguin's appeal.

How big is this camper-trailer? How much does it weigh?

Length 5365mm
Width 2240mm
Height 1600mm
Weight (Tare/ATM/Tow ball) 960kg / 1260kg / 120kg

The Penguin is light – less than a tonne when it's empty and around 1250kg if you've got a full load onboard it, and sets up at around 5365mm long and 2240mm wide, so it's nowhere near gargantuan by anyone's standards.

It's a nice size for a couple, perhaps grandparents with the occasional visiting grandchild, or a young couple with one child, just starting out on their bush and beach adventures.

How practical is the space inside?

The interior layout is basic but highly functional. (image credit: Brendan Batty) The interior layout is basic but highly functional. (image credit: Brendan Batty)

Inside, the layout is simple, but comfortable for two people. The rear of the camper is dominated by the east-west oriented bed.

The dinette, to the front of the camper, is cosy and only good for two people. It does actually fold down into a second bed for a third body (or a second body who's not allowed in the first bed), but although there's sleeping for three, seating that many would be difficult. Maybe a small grandchild, occasionally. It's comfortable, though and both seats lift up to reveal a little extra storage. There's even a hidey-hole behind the driver's side back-rest.

Typical of all campers of this sort, the bench heights are low and will frustrate taller people who need to stoop to use them.

This camper has a canvas skirt, but really there's more see-through plastic window than actual canvas, so it's quite panoramic inside. It's not hard to gain a bit of privacy, though; there's a dark tint to them so it's hard to see through during the day, and all the windows have curtains, so you can shut everything out, easily enough.

Lighting is simple, with just two LED lights in the roof, although unless you pay extra for a battery, they'll only work at powered sites.

What are the beds like?

The interior layout is basic but highly functional. (image credit: Brendan Batty) The interior layout is basic but highly functional. (image credit: Brendan Batty)

Jayco specifies inner-spring mattresses in all its products, so as far as camping goes, it's quite comfortable. The bed's east-west orientation does mean that when two are abed, one is somewhat trapped by the other.

The bed base lifts on gas struts and underneath is a large storage area that's the largest in the camper.

Apart from a box set aside for the battery (which is,disappointingly, an optional accessory), there's room in there for large objects such as golf bags.

Above the foot of the bed, two overhead cupboards are stuck to the roof and are the obvious spot for clothes storage.

What's the kitchen like?

There's quite a lot of kitchen and bench space, but no tall storage areas in such a compact camper-trailer. (image credit: Brendan Batty) There's quite a lot of kitchen and bench space, but no tall storage areas in such a compact camper-trailer. (image credit: Brendan Batty)

For a camper so small, the kitchen and bench space is quite expansive, but that's also because there can't be any tall storage in a camper that halves its height every time you move it.

On the door side, there's a counter with stainless-steel sink. Mains water can be hooked up, or you can hand-pump it from the rear-mounted 82-litre water tank.

Underneath is a pair of cupboards and a few drawers.

Opposite, the four-burner stove and grill is set into the middle of the bench with a 90-litre, three-way fridge to the left.

How easy is it to tow?

Because the Penguin is so light – as mentioned above – and because the towing height is just 1660mm, lower than the roof of most cars and certainly below that of SUVs, it's easy to tow, even if you don't have the largest 4WD to haul it around.

The Subaru Forester I tested this camper with, for instance, did the job quite well and would be ideal if you towed the camper down the coast a few times a year.

Underneath, the camper's got a simple beam axle with leaf slipper springs and shock absorbers. They do a commendable job and, as this is a purely on-road camper, there's no need for it to be anything else.

How easy is it to set up?

The Penguin is a quick and easy set-up with its lifting roof and canvas walls. (image credit: Brendan Batty) The Penguin is a quick and easy set-up with its lifting roof and canvas walls. (image credit: Brendan Batty)

The attraction of a camper trailer like the Penguin is simple – it's light, easy to set up, isn't daunting to tow and is reasonably comfortable for those who don't need a lot.

Unlike the other campers in the Jayco range, there's no pull-out beds on this model, only the lifting roof and canvas walls. It means there are about five fewer steps to get set up at camp. All that's needed is to unclip the latches and wind up the roof.

The top half of the door needs to be fixed in place, but that only takes a second or two.

Outside, the camper's got a large front boot. It stores the single 9.0kg gas bottle and all the tools you'll need regularly – like the roof and stabiliser leg winders. If the camper's fitted with the optional Fiamma wind-out awning, its winder will be here, too. It's not technically a waterproof storage area, but it'll mostly stay dry, so it's good for things that can get wet, like ramps, hoses and camp chairs, at a pinch.

What options are available for it?

The more rugged Outback version of the Penguin (from $27,490) gets a little bit of extra height underneath and swaps the leaf springs for Jayco's independent coil-spring suspension, 'J-Tech'.

Storage spaces are lacking in such a small camper-trailer and low bench heights may frustrate taller campers. Storage spaces are lacking in such a small camper-trailer and low bench heights may frustrate taller campers.

The Jayco Penguin is a clever package of bed, dinette and kitchen – no frills here but it's a good package.

Any potential issues with it?

As mentioned, it doesn't come with a battery, a 12-volt pump for the water, isn't available with a microwave and isn't the off-road version. There are plenty of camper-trailers that do offer these things for this money.

Bench heights are low so taller people may become frustrated having to stoop to use them.

At nearly $25,000 the Penguin can't really be called cheap, but what does make it worth a look is the completely contained living space – the sitting, sleeping and cooking are all done inside, and that's a boon when the weather turns.

It's ideal if you want the comfort of a caravan without the bulk of one, and the ease of towing a more traditional camper-trailer offers, without the struggle of set-up.

Does the Penguin float your boat? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

 

Jayco Penguin Touring specifications 
Warranty24 months, 3-years Roadside Assist
SleepsThree
Water Capacity (Fresh/Grey)82L / n/a

$23,290

Based on new car retail price

Adventure score

3.5/5

adventureguide rank

  • Light

    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.

  • Medium

    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.

  • Heavy

    Larger obstacles, steeper climbs and deeper water crossings; plus tracks marked as '4WD only'

Price Guide

$23,290

Based on new car retail price

This price is subject to change closer to release data