- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

Adapting to economic budgets, Trailmanor is sure to make happy campers out of a whole new crowd of vacation-goers who are abandoning expensive flights and looking for affordable ways to hit the road this summer.

The Trailmanor Elkmont is a recent addition to the lightweight towable trailers designed for smaller-rig hauling. The hook with this unit is that it comes from a company that to date has built all fold-down trailers.

Coupled to the Ford Flex, a new 2009 crossover vehicle with functional appeal in a number of arenas, the Trailmanor made an interesting new camping-time option for my drive.

Trailmanor has been manufacturing low-profile, fold-down, hardside trailers for decades (www.trailmanor.com) and remains the only RV manufacturer to employ the same clamshell design. The top-end halves of the trailer hinge up and away from the bottom half, creating a full-height unit with a lot of interior space in camping mode. Yet, the same trailer is low-profile in travel mode and lightweight construction features mean the rigs are no problem to haul, either.

In developing the 24-foot and 3-inch-long Elkmont, the company simply started with the fixed-configuration lower body half of a standard Trailmanor, added a solid-wall upper half and adapted some of the company’s interior elements to fit the new solid-size floor plan.

It may be compact, but the Elkmont offers a full-size sleeping space, a bath with small but functional features including tub/shower and sink placement, and a kitchen with lots of counter space and full-size appliances. Those are all the basics we need for fun, comfortable camping.

All major structural elements feature laminated construction for strength and light weight. Some unusual pieces, such as the kitchen counter - a laminate veneer with a foam-filled structure - are laminated. The result is far lighter than a solid wood counter or one made from Corian or some other composite material.

The net result is a trailer that weighs about 3,220 pounds wet, with its modest 20-gallon freshwater tank full but no cargo aboard, which leaves about 518 pounds of payload capacity before reaching the trailer’s 3,738-pound gross vehicle weight rating. This trailer isn’t for towing behind your favorite 4-cylinder subcompact car, but there are a lot of midsize rigs out there than can handle its weight.

We towed the Elkmont with the Ford Flex, an interestingly oddball crossover rig that’s not quite a sport utility vehicle and not a minivan, nor is it a station wagon, economy car or pickup. Yet it has features that appeal to users from all of those vehicle-ownership arenas.

Our 2009 Flex was of the all-wheel-drive variant powered by a 3.5-liter engine and rated to tow 4,500 pounds, a perfect match for the Elkmont. Minivan-size seating capacity, the cargo space of an SUV with the rear seat folded, and reasonable fuel economy are three features that give the Flex a broad appeal for hauling a camper.

Seating for up to eight makes it possible to bring the whole crew along in the Flex, and the usual list of safety and entertainment features, plus creature comforts like local climate controls, make sure everyone can enjoy the ride.

The Elkmont has a 540-pound hitch weight (wet but empty) so an equalizing hitch was a must, given the Flex’s relatively soft people-pleasing coil- and four-link rear suspension. Once adjusted for the load we enjoyed trouble-free towing with the Elkmont and Flex.

The Flex is just trucklike enough that its suspension and chassis design provides firm control of the load, and makes tooling down the interstate or twisting the back roads to the Oregon coast a pleasure.

At the same time, the Flex offers comfortable seating in a quiet driving environment and the dash is functional but well-suited to a driver who doesn’t want a truck-operating experience for everyday use.

Although the boxy, squared-off exterior might suggest otherwise, the Elkmont was no more susceptible to crosswinds and passing traffic than any other RV.

We averaged about 10.5 mpg overall when towing the Elkmont, and the Flex rolled up about 19.1 mpg average running solo. On the freeway at posted legal speeds, we tallied in excess of 24 mpg solo under ideal mostly level circumstances and our best towing figures averaged about 14.3 on the same highway, but real-world mileage results probably would be more conservative.

Trailmanor enjoys strong owner loyalty for its fold-down trailers and it looks like the Elkmont should continue that tradition. Matched to the right tow rig, like the Ford Flex, it’s a fine trailer for those with smaller towing needs.

• Copyright, Motor Matters, 2009

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