In Australia, fifth wheelers seem to be the poor relation in the Recreational Vehicle industry, with only a small number of manufacturers/dealers either producing them or importing them. It’s a bit of a shame I think, in which perceptions or lack thereof count for a great deal.
One local manufacturer that has constantly had them on the books is Victorian-based Trailblazers RV and it produces a range varying in length between 5.5m (18ft) and 9.1m (30ft). One of the newer models is the 230E, an offroad model.
LENGTHS AND WEIGHTS
On the subject of logistics, the 230E has an external body length of 7.2m (23ft 7in), which might be considered a good length in a caravan but is even better in a fifth wheeler because the overall towing length is the best part of 2m (6ft 7in) shorter, but you still get the same interior length. An item of interest is the external width at 2.3m (7ft 7in), which is narrower than quite a few caravans. There’s some advantage there if you’re traversing narrow, winding tracks. The awning looks slightly unusual as it’s mounted on the roof rather than the side. It’s less protrusive and keeps the width down.
An ATM of 3450kg and a Tare of 2400kg give an impressive payload of 1050kg. Whilst the pin weight of 590kg might cause a few heart palpitations for a conventional towing setup, Phil Richardson at Trailblazers RV says it’s fine for a fifth wheeler, where the ideal pin weight above the wheel axle is 25 per cent of the Tare and ends up above the rear axle in the load area. As with all prospective towing combinations, doing a few GVM and GCM calculations is essential. Note that because the tow hitch is in the vehicle, not off a towbar then the normal specified maximum towing mass does not apply.
A look at the 230E would suggest that it’s built for offroad travel. There are a number of clues, like the de rigueur blacked out external panels and window areas, along with the bulky offroad tyres and wheels. A look under the fifth wheeler reveals underbody armour to protect the three 180L water tanks and a very strong looking chassis, and that look is made easier by the sharply raised rear end that gives a very good departure angle. Given the manoeuvrability of a fifth wheeler anyway, that’s an excellent asset. Another is the AL-KO Enduro independent suspension with trailing arms, coil springs and dual shock absorbers.
Up front, the Hayman Reese Sidewinder pin and R16 hitch is designed to keep the pin weight right above the rear axle yet still give a 90 degree turning angle, without hitting the driver’s cab. It’s also designed to be hitched up from any angle.
As noted earlier, the 230E has a payload of 1050kg, which is useful given the number of external storage bins, and the water tank capacity of 360L (fresh) and 180L (grey). There are some dedicated bins for items like the gas cylinders, house batteries. Along the back there is space for the all important barbecue, along with the external shower. I like the 1.25 cubic metre storage bin under the overhang for touring essentials. Although it requires crouching over, it’s possible to stay dry in wet weather.
INTERIOR & BATHROOM
Thanks to the bedroom being in the overhang area, the 230E layout bears more than a passing resemblance to that seen in New Zealand motorhomes for many years.
That is, a club lounge in the rear, kitchen bench area adjoining that and a bathroom cubicle adjoining the driver’s cab.
The bed is raised in the overhang area (as opposed to a Luton peak). With the fifth wheeler design, the difficulties of getting in and out of the bed are avoided as the bedroom floor is lower, and it’s a north-south bed. A twin bed option with a semi-walk way between the beds is also available. Keeping things contemporary, Trailblazers has opted for a mostly white and light grey colour scheme, which is aided considerably by a large window area all round.
Starting up front, two steps get you into bed. The queen sized mattress sits on the overhang floor, so there’s no walk around space as such. What there is though are bedside cabinets at the front, wardrobes on the sides and windows in between. Those, plus a well sized roof hatch, ensure a good airflow. Both the bedside cabinets come complete with reading lights, power points (240V and 12V) and some cupboard space. It’s not possible to stand up in the bedroom area but it’s a very effective use of space and considerably better than a motorhome Luton bed.
I could be wrong but it seems to me that people who love to cook when they travel will be pleased with this kitchen setup. It’s a split arrangement with a full bench, containing both a stainless steel sink sans drainer and a four-burner cooker/grill and oven. Benchtop space scores quite well and there’s even a hinged extension by the habitation door.
Facing the main bench are both a Waeco 190L fridge/freezer unit and second small kitchen bench, which comes fitted with the microwave, two drawers and a wire basket slide-out pantry. I would note that Trailblazers has opted to fit the microwave under the benchtop rather than the more OH&S-problematic space in the overhead lockers. A bit more bending over perhaps, but much easier for those of us who are shorter.
I’m a big fan of seeing this style of club lounge located in the rear with windows all round. Even in poor weather, it’s still possible to sit back in the warm and dry and watch the world going by! An every-which-way Zwaarvis mount between the seats provides a stable but easily manoeuvrable table. Overhead lockers on both sides provide storage and a flatscreen TV is mounted above the offside kitchen bench space, thus being easily viewable from both sides. There is a second TV point in the bedroom.
Two 100Ah lithium batteries, two 120W solar panels and a Redarc battery management system ensure the 230E can be used off the grid for extended periods. For those essential 240V items, a 3000W inverter is also fitted. However, there are considerable advantages in using mostly 12V items like the Sirocco fans.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The 230E is clearly built by people who use their products. Little space is wasted, yet you never feel cramped in this Trailblazers unit. Certainly this particular layout shows the benefits of a fifth wheeler style when compared to a similar layout in a motorhome. Apart from a low ceiling height in the bedroom, it’s possible to have your cake and eat it too with this arrangement, thus making it better than a caravan with a similar layout as well. The 230E isn’t the only fifth wheeler in the Trailblazers stable, but this one certainly works for me.
HITS AND MISSES
- User-friendly layout
- External and internal storage
- Ground clearance
- Fresh and grey water tank capacity
- Electrical setup
- Rear club lounge
- Low bedroom ceiling height
- Rarity of fifth wheelers does make them expensive
- Surface rust on chassis
Weights and measures
- Overall length 7.7m (25ft 3in)
- External body length 7.2m (23ft 7in)
- External body width 2.3m (7ft 7in)
- Travel height 2.95m (9ft 8in)
- Internal height 1.98m (6ft 6in)
- Tare 2400kg
- ATM 3450kg
- Payload 1050kg
- Pin weight 590kg
Price as shown
$125,000 (on road, Vic)
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #569. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!