The Great Escape
A molded fiberglass body seals this unique, fully equipped fifth-wheel from the elements while projecting an aura of durability and adventure
“Bigger is better,” seems to be the mantra these days, as the RV industry responds to consumer demands for trailers and fifth-wheels with high-livability factors. Lightweight materials and modern building practices have allowed manufacturers to churn out a plethora of larger trailers that not long ago would have enthusiasts scratching their heads as to the wisdom of such lengths. Not everyone wants big, but few want to sacrifice livability, comfort and quality. Those who gravitate to smaller trailers are usually more adventurous and relish destination freedom or simply are not enamored with material things and opulence. Escape Trailer Industries in Chilliwack, British Columbia, thinks it can satisfy both types of buyers with one highly maneuverable fifth-wheel.
Escape entered the RV scene in 2003 with a diminutive 17-foot fiberglass travel trailer. It was nothing fancy, but it did get the occupants off the ground with a moderate level of creature comfort. In only 12 years, the company has made a science of building 100 percent molded fiberglass bodies and today offers highly upgraded trailers without abandoning its roots. The bread-and-butter trailers for the company are its 19- and 21-foot travel trailers, although the 13- and 17-footers are still popular models in the lineup. But we were intrigued by the Escape 5.0TA fifth-wheel, which made its debut in its current form last year.
In the eyes of conventional fifth-wheel owners, the 5.0TA has itty-bitty status. Don’t let the compact stature fool you; this is a full-featured fifth-wheel, sans the expansive floor space or slideouts. It’s just what the doctor ordered for those who prefer to engage in outdoor activities without being hampered by maneuverability issues, enjoy rock-solid towing manners and still want a place to sleep, take a shower and lounge without contracting terminal claustrophobia.
The key to making the interior work for a couple or even a family of four is proficient space utilization — and the fact that the inherent “cabover” formed by the fifth-wheel body provides a natural out-of-the-foot-traffic location for the 60- x 80-inch queen bed with an 8-inch coil-spring mattress. There are many large fifth-wheels and travel trailers that don’t even have full-size queen beds. Of course, in the Escape, the mattress fits snugly in its elevated quarters, but there’s still a little room on each side, and the surrounding overhead cabinets and nightstand cubbyholes add perfect symmetry to the bedroom. LED reading lights, side windows and a 13- x 20-inch roof hatch round out the up-front accouterments.
Descending the three steps from the bedroom, the occupants will pass a bigger-than-expected wardrobe on the street side and an opposing catchall shelf with a cabinet above and a drawer in the lower portion of the structure. At the bottom of the stairs is the entryway landing area, which leads to a wet bath. As far as this bath goes, “function” is the operative word, and users should be satisfied with the space for showering or sitting on the throne, even though it’s tight. Don’t expect shelves or a cabinet, and the sink is basic but workable. Users can easily add waterproof baskets that are hung by large suction cups for storing toiletries. Fit and finish inside this bath are exceptional, and there are no gaps in the walls to allow water seepage. The shower wand could be improved (the hose is too rigid), and the optional foot-flush toilet ($60) is a must-have.
Adjacent to the bathroom is a structure that terminates at the rear dinette. The 6.7-cubic-foot refrigerator takes up the majority of this space, but there’s additional room for fairly large cabinets, the furnace and optional microwave oven ($85). Frankly, the builders have shoehorned a lot of cabinet space in such a compact fifth-wheel. Supporting that accolade is the surprising network of cabinets and drawers in the galley area. Here, there’s a single sink with a long-neck faucet, a two-burner cooktop and a roomy countertop made of optional custom Formica. Large cabinets above the counter can hold plenty of foodstuffs.
The last interior component inside this fifth-wheel is the dinette, which easily seats four people. Since the table is large and the interior is narrower than most fifth-wheels, the table rides on a slide mechanism that allows it to glide effortlessly side to side, providing access to the seats. It’s a pretty smart arrangement, taking advantage of a big table to prevent dinner-plate banging.
Large windows surrounding the dinette offer a commanding view of the outside, and lots of stuff can be stashed in the spacious overhead cabinets. When the dinette is converted to a bed, there’s enough room to sleep two people on the 4-inch high-density cushions.
The fifth-wheel is well insulated using foam panels before installing the cabinetry and vinyl headliner and wall covering, which further improves the R-factor. Thermal windows with extra insulation can be optionally added for those looking for year-round versatility.
While convenience in a small package is certainly a big selling point, the overall theme of this fifth-wheel is durability. The entire body is fabricated using a two-piece fiberglass shell. The upper and lower halves are molded using a hand-laid process, and they are bonded together before the shell is released from the mold and bolted to the frame. Strategically located anchor blocks are placed in the mold for attaching the interior walls and cabinetry. When the interior components are attached to the fiberglass, the entire structure becomes even more rigid. The result is a solid one-piece body that is strong and waterproof — and with proper care, will last a very long time.
There’s nothing square about the exterior lines. Rounded corners offer crowd-pleasing aesthetics while adding a large element of aerodynamics. The body is mounted on a rubber torsion independent suspension that is said to be maintenance-free. Fifteen-inch tires improve ground clearance, something that those venturing off the pavement will appreciate. A full-size spare is also included, and a 2-inch hitch receiver can be ordered for those who carry bicycles or other outdoor gear.
Large tinted Hehr windows, LED marker and taillights, and the curved aircraft-style door (with retractable screen) contribute to the overall look, which has a real ready-for-adventure appeal with the addition of the patio awning, stylish wheels and rooftop air conditioner. Owners who stay out for a while will also appreciate the larger-than-expected storage capacity in the side and front exterior compartments.
Beyond the inherent dynamics of the fiberglass body, the Escape 5.0TA has a wet weight of only 4,390 pounds, which makes it easily towable by compact trucks. During our evaluation, we towed the fifth-wheel with a Ford F-150 with the new aluminum body and EcoBoost V-6 engine. Obviously, a truck rated to tow more than 11,000 pounds (depending on equipment) made easy work of pulling the lightweight Escape, but it was nice to have the get-up-and-go to maneuver in all traffic conditions — and climb mountain roads with smiles on our faces. The fifth-wheel can be towed with shortbed trucks, but a parking-lot test should be performed to make sure the combo can be turned 90 degrees; it could not with the F-150, but it was very close.
Since Escape trailers are factory direct, customers have the opportunity to become more involved in the ordering process. The company does not build units for inventory; each trailer is built to order. That being the case, delivery will not be immediate, but customers can spec out a trailer to meet their exact needs. The option list is extensive, even though the number of stock factory amenities will easily meet one’s basic self-containment needs.
Picking up a new unit at the factory will require a trip to Chilliwack, but that just gives you a good reason to visit a beautiful place with great campgrounds in the area. For those who can’t get away, the company may be able to arrange delivery by piggybacking sold units going to other people en route, which could save buyers some money.
The concept of a fully equipped 21-foot fifth-wheel that can go anywhere is exciting. RV enthusiasts wanting to downsize, whether to scale back for simplicity and/or ease in handling, and those who are lured to more off-the-beaten-path adventures will find that the Escape 5.0TA is a great alternative to “big” without sacrificing comfort and convenience. Those who prefer to tow with an SUV can look to the 21-foot travel trailer without really giving up interior space or handling characteristics.
Escape backs its trailers with a two-year warranty, and U.S. customers get the advantage of a positive currency exchange (as of press time).
Escape Trailer Industries