The fifth-wheeler industry is relatively new both here and in New Zealand, but it often surprises potential buyers that some local builders (as opposed to well-known US manufacturers) have been around for some time.
A case in point is New Zealand manufacturer Hodge RV. It is a family company based in Christchurch and has a considerable number of years’ experience building fifth wheelers, especially for the smaller tow-vehicle market.
Such is the case with its new Coastal Panache fifth wheeler, referred to as the Roadglide Panache in NZ. Like the rest of the Hodge fleet, with an ATM of 3480kg, it’s designed for the ute and traytop market, with a length, width and weight well suited to Australian roads.
Its Tare of 2580kg gives a generous load capacity of 980kg– especially good given the capacity of the water tanks at 280L. It also comes with a 210L grey water tank and so the unit is completely self-contained.
On the road, the Panache is a very smooth tower indeed and our turbodiesel Nissan Navara with a Gross Combination Mass (GCM) of around 5860kg (depending on the model) and a carrying capacity of around 880kg coped very well indeed.
For those who have only towed caravans before, a fifth wheeler is actually a more stable arrangement given the hitch weight is over the rear axle, not a metre or so behind it. Given the largish size of a rig such as the Panache, it creates a false impression about the relative ease of towing. Reversing, while requiring a slightly different technique, is really no more difficult.
A Super Glide hitch was fitted to the Navara tray. It automatically moves the fifth wheeler away from the cab when making turns and then returns the hitch and trailer to a normal towing position (i.e., above the rear axle) when the turn is completed– a great idea especially for dual cab vehicles, where the rear tray space is more limited. On the road, the hitch movement is only really noticeable by a slight clunk when returning to the towing position. At the business end of the Panache, the pin box is galvanised and the kingpin can be unbolted for easy replacement.
One of the weight-saving features of the Panache is its aluminium chassis. According to Hodge RV’s Peter Hodge, the chassis is designed for both strength and light weight.
One of the results of the chassis design is a remarkably clean-looking under-area with almost no cabling or plumbing visible. The Dexter Torflex independent suspension for the tandem axles adds to the clean look and is a tried and trusted design.
Above the chassis, the body is constructed with an aluminium frame for the walls that is both riveted and welded, as well as arched aluminium roof trusses. The walls and floors are vacuum-bonded with 38mm fire-retardant insulation. For the external skin, the walls have a high-gloss fibreglass finish, with the front nose cone being a moulded streamlined shape. EPDM synthetic rubber (ethylene propylene diene monomer– in case you are interested) is used for the roof.
The windows are glass and made in the typical NZ style with the lower third opening on all of them, except for the emergency exit fitted to the offside of the bedroom. Under the overhang, the storage area is accessible from both the front and nearside with only the deep-cycle house battery taking up any space. The corresponding offside locker is for the 9kg gas cylinders. An external shower is fitted by the nearside bin door and a spare wheel (missing on our rig) would normally be fitted to a bracket at the rear.
A feature of the Panache design is, of course, the offside slide-out which comes out about 1m and adds greatly to the interior space. A two-person lounge and a freestanding table with four chairs fit into the slide-out. This still gives room for two leather chairs and accompanying footstools along the rear wall. It all leaves plenty of room to relax.
It should be pointed out that the interior can be used with the slide-out closed. There is still room to move around and with an external length of 8.3m (27ft) there is plenty of space for a nearside kitchen, front bedroom in the overhang and a bathroom in between. The décor is fairly light and easy on the eye and there is plenty of halogen/incandescent lighting for night time use.
Quite a few RVs (even larger ones) suffer from small kitchens, but not so the Panache. It comes with a Stoves four-burner cooktop, grill and oven, plus a stainless steel sink. The latter protrudes slightly, but it is nicely finished in a rounded cabinet.
Cupboard and overhead locker space abound and there are plenty of drawers, mostly of the wire basket variety.
Benchtop area is very generous. If there was a problem with this layout, it would be that the top tier of lockers is hard to reach for shorter persons.
Under the sink are a 240V powerpoint, 12V socket, hot-water heater switch and air-conditioner controls.
A large, two-door Dometic 175L fridge/freezer is fitted into the offside corner adjoining the bathroom with a microwave above, again set a bit high if you’re on the short side. Above that but accessible from the step is a cupboard containing essentials like 12V fuses, the solar panel regulator and 240V circuit breakers.
BATHROOM AND BEDROOM
Full-width rear bathrooms are common on many RVs today but this split arrangement between the bedroom and living areas works quite well.
A shower cubicle is built into the offside, and opposite that is a toilet with corner washbasin and shaving cabinet above. The toilet can be closed off by a concertina curtain. Both the toilet and shower areas have fan hatches for ventilation.
A large wardrobe alongside the toilet has hanging space and wire basket drawers.
In a mid-size fifth wheeler such as this, ceiling height is sometimes an issue but it’s not in the Panache with its 1.75m (5ft 9in) of head room. Our review Panache came with a queen-size bed but single beds are available as well.
Large windows on either side give plenty of natural light and a ceiling hatch provides extra ventilation. Around the bedhead are wardrobes, a shelf and bedside cabinets, and reading lights, powerpoints and sound system speakers are supplied to each side of the bed.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There’s no doubt that the Panache is a well-appointed fifth wheeler. Also, its weight and size make it readily and legally towable by a wide range of Australian utes.
It all adds up to a fifth wheeler that is just great for long-term towing – in style and with, pardon the pun, a bit of panache.
Hodge RV, 2015 Gold Coast Highway, Burleigh Heads, Qld 4220, (07) 5508 2157
Words and Pics Malcolm Street. As featured in Caravan World magazine issue 482, October 2010. On sale now.