Trailblazers Stuart 5.5 hybrid

Sam Richards — 1 August 2019
Offroader, made to order

According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘Trailblazer’ refers to... just kidding. Trailblazers RV couldn’t give a stuff about conventions. The team has thrown them out the window with their Trailblazers Stuart, which demonstrates originality par excellence.

This brand isn’t about selling one-size-fits-all RVs; its focus is on developing a scaled-down number of high quality, individualised trailers. The team has put in the hard yards to make their hybrids customisable, by modularising components, such that they fit and slot into many possible combinations.

Despite this yogi-like flexibility, the Stuart we tested in the Victorian High Country was one set-in-stone, decidedly staunch hybrid with clear intentions: to get the user across tough terrain, sustain them while away from resources, and keep them cosy as a part of the bargain.



OPEN INSPECTION

This 4.5m (14ft 8in) model utilises its space well, with all the moving around done in a simple rectangular section; there’s no narrow squeezes.

The interior kitchen includes two induction hotplates, sink, and easy access to the EvaKool 140L fridge/freezer and 25L Sharp convection microwave. Alternatively, there are two cupboard doors beneath the sink, both of which include extra space for food items in hanging racks.

Meals can be cooked and then eaten at the dining table, which is attached to a runner on the wall for easy sliding back and forth between the soft, plush seats on either side that are secured with the stabiliser leg. 

The shower unit is tucked away beside the dining area for exceptional use of space. The lid can be lifted, showerhead affixed, and ceiling-mounted curtain extended for a hot, sudsy wash down. There’s also a Thetford C400 cassette john hidden within the space with its own lock. 

But be mindful of water usage, as the hot water service is endless!

The Stuart is set up with a slumber-inducing queen-sized east-west bed, with Sirocco fans at the top and bottom of the bed; and easy access for rolling up the vinyl on the pop-top to let the air flow through the midgescreen.

Thanks to LED lighting (with light switches on the lights themselves to avoid confusion) powerpoints galore, and liftable compartments on the top of the robe near the bed, this is a very comfortable space to live in and set up shop for quite some time. 

Having a pop-top roof vastly reduces the travelling height of the Stuart, thus it compresses its door, but access and exit can be made via a recessed step and then via a mounted external step.

A KITCHEN UNLIKE ANY YOU’VE SEEN

The pod kitchen outside is something a little different to behold. At the front of the hybrid, near the drawbar, there is a ‘pod’, rather than a flat shape. After unlatching and with a push — or a pull using the handle on the entry side — it slides across on two runners, unfolding a pivoting arm that locks the kitchen into place.

Once the kitchen is perpendicular to the entry door, a cover can be lifted with the assistance of gas struts which doubles as an outdoor shelter. The underside of this cover has storage space for medium-sized items, underneath a criss-crossed elastic strap. However, the cover didn’t have a handle, which did make it a little difficult to get your fingers under the edge to lift it.

There is a Dometic slide-out (which comes out horizontally) with two shelves for storage space, a three-burner stovetop, moveable wooden chopping board, sink with a hot/cold tap, cup holder and bottle opener. In the recess to the back, there are extra powerpoints. The space above could be used for storage while cooking, while at camp, or (if packed wisely), during transit.

Ingeniously, the kitchen works as a massive windblock, with the cook being fully protected on two sides. But the real stand-out is its creative use of space. 

Designer Phillip Richardson came up with the concept when he realised that slide-outs that come from under the bed were often set too low and therefore take up much-needed under-bed storage.

Do you really need two kitchens in a van? Having two does add to the price, but the reality is, whether you find yourself on a nice calm day, or in wet, miserable conditions, with two you’ll never be uncomfortable.

OFFROAD ACE

So far we could be in the backyard, gloating to envious mates. But the pedicured lawn lacks the offroad obstacles that will beset the Stuart when you start taking it down its namesake highway and beyond.

I didn’t get to tow the Stuart on our trip to the Victorian High Country, but I was able to observe its performance closely over several days of offroad driving in convoy — up steep ridges, around tight bends and through flowing water.

An AL-KO 3500kg ball coupling connects the tow vehicle to the 150 x 50mm Duragal chassis. With a Tare of 1560kg, the hybrid is pretty lightweight for its category, keeping petrol consumption reasonable and making towing easier. This respectable weight is reflected in its performance uphill. On our trip, we encountered a steep muddy slope going into a river crossing. The way down was slow ’n steady thanks to hybrid’s 12in drum brakes, but the way up required more attention. After a failed first go, the LandCruiser ute towing the Stuart gave itself more of a run-up and then the trailer cruised up, without any need for recovery.

Helping to grain traction were Thunderer Trac Grip M/T 285/75R16 tyres on Primal Alloy wheels. Had one punctured, two spares were waiting. When rocks flicked up, the kitchen pod acted as a stoneguard and multiple layers of raptor coating protected the underside. On this underside you’ll find the rare but by no means endangered Cruisemaster XT airbag suspension, which makes for smooth tracking and adjustability to terrain (in transit and while camping). 

The canister for this suspension, and the grey water, are tucked underneath but protected with steel mesh, ensuring their safe travels. Behind the axle there’s another sizeable steel mesh enclosure for stowing firewood. The separation of firewood from the main storage keeps spiders and splinters out of your gear, but means the wood might cop some splashback, though mudflaps help.

Rather than having a flat back behind the axle, the camper’s tail-end slants dramatically up, giving it a radical rear departure angle. Even the most imaginative among us would struggle to dream up terrain that would inflict damage to this section. Behind the wheels, the Stuart is basically invulnerable. 

The ramp-over angle is also good, though less outstanding. This is perhaps inevitable with hybrids, given their length. On severely hummocky tracks we had to move along slowly and with care — which is to be expected and not a problem for most folks.

Huge props to the rails around the hybrid’s bottom edges, there to protect the body in case of ground contact. We didn’t need them this trip, but by all appearances they would preserve everything important in the case of a serious mishap. A bit like Eddie Betts sitting out the last quarter with his lightly twinged knee on ice when the Crows lead by 50 — that body is worth protecting. It is an all-composite, no-frame, interlocking creation and one of the cleverest, though less obvious, innovations on the hybrid.

The rails also round out the look. Add them to the black, white and grey colouration, minimalist logos, straight lines and cutting angles and you arrive at a mean-looking but unshowy unit that lets its performance do the talking.

READY FOR A LONG STAY

A quick and easy setup after crossing some Evel Knievel terrain ought to keep moods running high. To set up you put down the ARK Extreme Offroad jockey wheel; level the camper using the airbag suspension; drop down four stabiliser legs; and hold a button by the door to raise the pop-top roof (a pressure sensor halts the process should you come into contact with any overhanging branches). That’s it; barely any time has elapsed and no frustrating manoeuvres have been required.

There’s also a Thule Omnistor awning, extending off the top of the pop-top roof. Although the awning is manual, it’s straightforward and was chosen on the basis it performs better than electric in the wind. You fetch the awning pole from the rear storage compartment, connect it, and twirl it to extend the awning out, then pop the legs into fixtures on the camper’s side. It’s perhaps best to do so while the pop-top is down, in which position the awning is easier to reach.

In terms of off-grid longevity, the Stuart is up there. Firstly, power. The Stuart has a 400Ah lithium battery. Lithium makes for quicker charging, solid output throughout the battery’s cycle, and greater durability over time; and the 400Ah figure — wow-ee! To be able to go out into the bush with 400Ah means you don’t have to be conservative with usage; other life essentials will run out first. Rejuvenating that battery when stationary are four roof-mounted 150W solar panels. 

This solar and the battery operate all 240V appliances. There’s also, ahem, a battery of other goodies — both a Projecta 12V 45A DC three-stage charger and a Victron MultiPlus (12V, 3000VA, 120A) charger and inverter.

As for water, there’s 160L of fresh and 100L of grey. And gas: there’s two 4.5L bottles. This gas, stored in a hidden-away compartment, mightn’t last as long as the power, but then there’s always the induction hotplates inside (plus you can customise two 9kg bottles over the drawbar).

The other half of off-grid living is being equipped. The 1560kg Tare gives you a 1240kg payload up to the ATM of 2800kg; that’s the long way of saying ‘bring the lot’. This payload is to be dispersed under seats, under the bed, in the kitchen pod, drawers, portable compartments and robe — not to mention the storage compartment on the back of the trailer, which is accessible from both sides. The smallish rectangular openings and slanted floor might make it a bit awkward, but if used wisely — for camp chairs or the like — this compartment would prove very helpful.

Did I mention the included RV Wi-Fi and wireless Sphere stereo system?

THE BOTTOM LINE

Who does this hybrid suit? Couples, who are willing to spend more for quality, who want to get away from it all without being limited in where they travel; but also tech-savvy lone wolves as well as, with some customisation, small families.

The Trailblazers Stuart does exactly what a hybrid should do. It's a hybrid that takes the comfort more traditionally reserved for caravans and blends it with the off-grid, offroad capabilities of a camper trailer. 

The Trailblazers Stuart is able to follow you all the way to the nooks and crannies scattered over Australia’s varied terra firma, and then keep you there, for just about as long as you desire. 


WEIGHTS AND MEASURES

Overall length 6.5m (21ft 3in)

External body length 4.5m 

(14ft 8in)

External body width 2.05m 

(6ft 7in)

Travel height 2m to 2.1m 

(6ft 6in to 6ft 9in)

Internal height 2m (6ft 6in)

Tare 1560kg

ATM 2800kg

Payload 1240kg

Ball weight 170kg


EXTERNAL 

Frame Fibreglass

Cladding Composite panel

Chassis 150 x 50mm Duragal

Suspension Cruisemaster XT Airbag

Coupling AL-KO Offroad Ball

Brakes 12in drum

Wheels Thunderer Trac Grip M/T 285/75R16 on 7.5 x 16 Primal Alloy rims

Water 160L fresh, 100L grey

Battery 400Ah Lithium

Solar 600W across four roof-mounted panels

Air-conditioner Reverse cycle air con be optioned on

Gas 2 x 4.5kg

Sway control No

Kitchen Slide-out Dometic kitchen centre with three-burner, sink and bench space     

                    

INTERNAL

Cooking 2 x induction hotplates 

Fridge 140L 12V EvaKool

Microwave Sharp 25L Convection

Bathroom Hideaway shower and Thetford C400 cassette toilet

Washing machine None

Hot water Endless instantaneous hot water system


OPTIONS FITTED

No base model per se, customisable; additional options include reverse cycle air-conditioning, ducted heating, diesel hot water service


PRICE AS SHOWN

$95,000


MORE INFORMATION

To enquire about this caravan, contact Trailblazers RV, 222 Governor Rd, Braeside, VIC 3195

Ph: (03) 9588 0077

Tags

hybrid review trailblazers

Photographer

Phil Cerbu