Trailblazers RV Stuart 5.5 Review
TRAILBLAZERS STUART 5.5 REVIEW
Equipped for long stays off-grid, built to get you there, and comfortable enough for you to linger, the Stuart sets the bar high for hybrids.
21 JUNE 2019 Originally published: https://camper.hemax.com/Reviews/11108/Trailblazers_Stuart_55_Review
‘Trailblazers’. According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘Trailblazer’ refers to… Just kidding. Trailblazers RV couldn’t give a stuff about conventions. They’ve 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. Their team has put in the hard yards to make their hybrids customisable, by modularising components, such they fit and slot into many possible combinations.
Despite this yogi-like flexibility, the Stuart we saw in front of us 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 away from resources, and keep them cosy into the bargain.
Within the 15 footer, the first thing that strikes you is the devilishly clever use of space. There seems to be ample room, none of it wasted. All the moving around is done in a simple rectangular section; there’s no narrow squeezes.
To your immediate left is the interior kitchen with two induction hotplates and the sink. You turn around while cooking to access the EvaKool 140L fridge/freezer and 25L Sharp convection microwave. Alternatively, you reach down to two cupboard doors beneath the sink, which both bring forth their own hanging racks of food.
Meal cooked, you grab your cutlery from one of six drawers below the sink and head to the table. The table is attached to a runner on the wall, so it can be slid back and forth between the seats on either side, before you secure it with the stabiliser leg. These seats are soft and lush, with cushioning for your backside and back. The table can drop down to form a single bed and there is also a second bunk option.
Imagine it’s bucketing outside. You’ve eaten, you’re ready for bed – all that’s left now is a shower and to get changed into your jim-jams. Thus begins the search for the hide-away shower. When out of action, its ‘lid’ acts as a bench; the resultant space makes the interior feel that bit more roomy.
To use it, you simply lift the lid, affix the showerhead, and extend the ceiling-mounted curtain. In this little hide-away you’ll also find the Thetford C400 cassette john. There’s even a lock. And the hot water service is endless. Being mindful of water capacity, you can shower for as long as you wish.
Showered and clean, you head over to the robe near the bed, take your pyjamas off of their coathanger, step into the queen sized east-west bed, and voila, time for slumber. You can cool down with the Sirocco fans at the top and bottom of the bed; or roll up the vinyl on the pop top to let the air flow through the midgescreen.
That’s a brief tour of the interior. Add to this ample LED lighting, with light switches on the lights themselves to avoid confusion; power points galore; lift the lid to a compartment on the top of the robe near the bed and there is your vanity… The list goes on. How can such an amount of detail be fitted in? Who knows. It’s like a game of Tetris played by the World Champ.
Tour over, you might have to duck a little to get out of the hybrid. Having a pop top roof reduces the travelling height of the Stuart, thus it compresses its door. You step down via a recessed step and then via a mounted external step.
A KITCHEN UNLIKE ANY YOU’VE SEEN
The pod kitchen outside is where things start to get properly double-take different. 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.
The kitchen is now perpendicular to the entry door. You lift a cover with the assistance of gas struts, which then becomes the shelter above your head. The underside of this cover has storage space for medium sized items, underneath a criss-crossed elastic strap. As we saw it, the cover didn’t have a handle, making getting your fingers under the edge to lift a little difficult.
Now in front of you is a Dometic slide-out (which comes out horizontally) and two shelves of fairly deep space. The slide-out includes a three-burner, moveable wooden chopping board, sink with a hot/cold tap, cup holder and bottle opener. In the recess in front of you, there’s even four power points. 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; the cook will always be fully protected on two sides. But the real stand-out is its creative use of space. The concept came to designer Phillip Richardson when he was designing an offroad teardrop camper and realised the disadvantage of a rear opening kitchen, and that slide-outs which come from under the bed in camper trailers are often set too low or too high and consume too much underbed storage.
Do you really need two kitchens? Having two adds to the price. But the reality is, you will find yourself in uncomfortable situations if you have just one – either pent up indoors or enduring hell outside. Not so with this setup.
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 150x50mm 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 12” drum brakes, but the way up required more attention. After a failed first go, the Land Cruiser ute towing the Stuart gave itself more of a run up and then the trailer cruised up, without any need for recovery.
Helping to gain 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.
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 Patrick Dangerfield sitting out the last quarter with his lightly twinged knee on ice when the Cats lead by 50, that body is worth protecting; it is an all composite, no frame, interlocking creation, 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… 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 3-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 wifi and wireless Sphere stereo system?
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 and, with some customisation, small families.
The Trailblazers Stuart does exactly what a hybrid should do. It takes the comfort traditionally reserved for caravans and blends it with the off-grid, offroad capabilities of a camper trailer. The Stuart is able to follow you 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.
Ball weight 170kg
Suspension Cruisemaster XT Airbag (as tested)
Brakes 12” drum
Coupling AL-KO Offroad Ball Coupling
Chassis 150 x 50mm Duragal
Cladding Composite panel
Wheels 7.5 x 16 Primal Alloy rims
Tyres Thunderer Trac Grip M/T 285/75R16
Body size 4500 (L) x 2050 (W) x 2000/2100mm (H)
Awning size 4.5 x 2.5m
Gas cylinders 2 x 4kg
Water 160L fresh; 100L grey water; endless hot water service
Cooktop Dometic three-burner (external); two induction hotplates (internal)
Kitchen Slide-out Dometic kitchen centre with three-burner, sink and bench space; and internal kitchen, including Sharp 25L Convection Microwave
Battery 1 x 400Ah Lithium, 3000W inverter
Solar 4 x 150W panels
Options fitted No base model per se, given it’s fundamentally customisable; additional options include reverse cycle air-conditioning, ducted heating, diesel hot water service
PRICE AS TESTED
- Aussie designed and built
- Extensive innovation
- Rear departure angle
- Off-grid power capacity
- Unique pod kitchen
- Use of internal space
- Hide-away bathroom
- Ability to customise
- Small size of door
- Firewood could get wet
- Slightly awkward storage at rear
Fit for intended purpose — 9
Innovation — 10
Self-sufficiency — 9
Quality of finish — 8
Build quality — 9
Offroad-ability — 7
Comforts — 8
Ease of use — 7
Value for money — 7
X-Factor — 10
Address 10 Carson Ave, Keysborough 3173
Phone (03) 9798 2250
Web trailblazersrv.com or ttrv.com.au