Dodge Durango and Cruiser RV Shadow Cruiser
August 17, 2011
Filed under Trailer Reviews
RVing can hold a completely different meaning to each individual. To some, it’s a way to get away from it all, to enjoy the solitude and peace that natural surroundings can bring. To others, it’s a means to an end, an affordable place to eat and sleep on the way to a preferred destination. To me, it’s the best way to bring the whole family together — with a little bit of overlap from all of the above. Combining the Dodge Durango Citadel with Cruiser RV’s Shadow Cruiser S-280QBS not only allows RVers to bring their immediate family, but some cousins and friends as well.
That’s because the Durango seats seven, and the Shadow Cruiser can easily sleep eight. And, if some of the tykes share their sleeping space, you’re in double-digit sleeper territory. Hey, the more the merrier, right?
Intrigued by Cruiser RV’s claim that Shadow Cruisers are towable by smaller-sized SUVs, we paired the 32-foot-plus trailer with the midsize Durango.
After a two-year hiatus, the Durango returns with an all-new unibody design similar to the new Jeep Grand Cherokee (tested in the May issue). The Durango is available with a standard 3.6-liter V-6 or the optional 5.7-liter V-8 ($1,495) we tested, in either AWD or RWD (ours was the RWD). Upgrading to the 5.7-liter HEMI also adds a 220-amp alternator, a 3.45:1 axle ratio and heavy-duty engine cooling, among other features. Naturally, the Durango was also outfitted with the optional Trailer Tow Group IV Package ($695), which includes a hitch receiver, seven- and four-pin wiring harness, rear load-leveling suspension and a full-size steel spare wheel and tire.
Normally, pairing a small-wheelbase truck or SUV with a (relatively) long trailer could lead to plenty of white-knuckle moments. True, the Durango is rated to tow even more trailer than the Shadow Cruiser, but anybody who has ever experienced the tail-wagging-the-dog feeling of such a combo knows that just because the vehicle can tow a particular trailer doesn’t necessarily mean it should. Overall, the ride was fine. The trailer wandered behind the Dodge on a few occasions, but they were few and far between, and to be expected. The Durango’s integrated trailer-sway damping does a nice job of straightening things out by applying the vehicle brakes when it senses sway; however, drivers should be extra cautious when towing a long trailer with a short-wheelbase tow vehicle. We recommend some type of anti-sway device in addition to a properly adjusted weight-distributing hitch.
Our time behind the wheel was primarily spent admiring the quiet muscle of the Durango’s HEMI. Shifting was seamless and worry-free thanks to the tow/haul mode. The Durango never lacked the muscle needed to tow the Shadow Cruiser; lane changes, grade ascension and acceleration were all hassle-free. The Durango’s 23.6 mpg solo represents one of the rare instances where our test mpg exceeds that of the manufacturer’s (which is 20 mpg).
The Citadel trim level features scads of electronic conveniences — including a backup camera, upgraded audio/video system with GPS and adaptive cruise control, a nifty feature that once engaged, utilizes a radar in the front fascia to detect the vehicle ahead of you and adjusts acceleration and/or applies the brakes accordingly. The Durango’s Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Path Detection systems are great for some I’m sure, but in my experience they amounted to little more than an annoying chevron lighting up on the side mirrors every few seconds and were ultimately ignored. Many buyers may find the trick systems more useful than I.
It’s easy to appreciate the upscale feeling of the Citadel’s interior. The luxury Nappa-leather trimmed bucket seats were plush and comfortable — and that’s for each one of the seven seats. The second row offers seating for three (and a 60/40 fold/tumble seat), while the back row has two 50/50 fold-down seats, which is a handy spot for storage.
Creature comforts abound for the pilot and copilot, including vented seats (also featured in the second row), leather-wrapped everything, electronic vehicle information center with GPS, Bluetooth voice command and plenty of other electronic bells and whistles sure to make your life easier.
Our tester also included the optional rear DVD entertainment center ($1,695), which includes a fold-down ceiling-mounted screen and headphones, plus a one-year subscription to SIRIUS TV. That’s a pretty nice feature, but a closer look reveals it costs $200 more for that option than for upgrading to the V-8 engine. Naturally, we’d select the bigger HEMI if forced to choose only one. Rear air-conditioning also helps keep backseat passengers comfortable.
In the Shadows
The floorplan of the Shadow Cruiser S-280QBS is clearly geared toward the RVing family. Cruiser RV has recognized that many large families (or those who bring along friends) usually have to devise some creative sleeping arrangements for everybody to rest comfortably. Easily accommodating eight sleepers — including three bunks and a small convertible dinette in the rear — the Shadow Cruiser makes great use of the space provided. In addition to the four sleeping positions in the rear, the trailer features a large convertible dinette and a jackknife sofa in the slideout and traditional queen bed in the master bedroom.
But the Shadow Cruiser is more than a glorified bunk house. Cruiser RV claims the lightweight trailers are midsize-SUV–towable, as well as being TRA-certified Green. This means the trailers meet a number of eco-friendly standards including the use of sustainable materials and attaining certain efficiency levels. It’s a trend that continues to gain traction.
Another popular trend the Shadow Cruiser employs is the outdoor kitchen. In addition to a full galley inside, the S-280QBS includes a refrigerator, sink, two-burner stove and rear-bumper– mounted barbecue. The barbecue and stove are connected to the trailer’s LP-gas supply via two easy-to-use quick-connect hoses. We found the outdoor kitchen to be a great way to keep the festivities — and lingering cooking odors — outside the trailer. We could easily envision hosting a tailgate party from this trailer.
Inside, the trailer offers an abundance of space in the main living area thanks to its large living-room slideout. The spacious dinette booth and jackknife sofa create plenty of seating to watch the optional 19-inch LCD TV ($325) that’s mounted in the pillared entertainment center. The cabinet also acts as the dividing wall (along with two curtains) to the master bedroom.
The slideout also helps to keep the indoor kitchen nice and airy, which aids in food prep and cleanup when eating indoors. The galley features the standard implements: three-burner stove, 6-cubic-foot refrigerator, oven and microwave. What it doesn’t seem to have is much drawer space; a few small drawers can hold some utensils, but the majority of the food/dishes/pots and pans must be stored in the streetside pantry between the slide and the back room.
It’s a strange feeling to refer to “the back room” in a travel trailer, but the Shadow Cruiser does offer a “getaway” for children, complete with a dresser/TV stand and cable hookup. This is a great feature if some of your younger RVers turn in earlier than the rest of the party.
In such a family-friendly trailer, we found it odd that there weren’t any wall-mounted light switches, especially in the bathroom. This meant the little ones literally had to boost themselves up on the (closed) toilet lid in order to turn on the light for late-night restroom trips. Cruiser RV has noted this, and is seriously considering adding wall plates in future models. The bathroom was a bit cramped but offered enough space to take care of business. The shower and small tub are great for RVers 6 feet and under.
The master bedroom up front is highlighted by the entertainment-center pillar. The TV sits on a swivel so Mom and Dad can swing it around to face the queen bed. That’s a great concept, but one that will no doubt work better for RVers who are shorter than my 6-foot 2-inch frame, as the bed is exactly so long, yet seems shorter due to the way the curve in the wall impedes headroom. Also, the rigid entertainment center lies directly at the foot of the bed, meaning I couldn’t sleep there unless I curled up. So, I spent my evenings “testing” the dinette, and I slept very well.
In addition to the entertainment center, the bedroom features two hanging-clothes wardrobes, a small nightstand on each side and decent storage space above the bed.
Pairing a short-wheelbase SUV with a longer trailer takes getting used to due to potential stability issues. Even with the necessary equipment, you may not want to mate these two vehicles, although the Durango is more than up to the task power-wise, and Cruiser RV has done a good job keeping the well-appointed Shadow Cruiser lightweight. However, a seven-seat tow vehicle and an eight-plus-sleeper trailer do make for a pleasant family RV excursion, and the open floorplan of the S-280QBS ensures you’ll never feel cramped. Throw in the outdoor kitchen, and you have the makings for a fun family trip, with the ability to keep things outside, near the campfire for the majority of the stay, which is a great way to reconnect with your open-air surroundings.
Watch a video of the outdoor kitchen in action on the Web Exclusives section of www.trailerlife.com.
(260) 562-3500, www.cruiserrv.com.
(800) 423-6343, www.dodge.com.