Upscale Downsizing

TrailManor-1

Photo Credit: Chris Hemer and Scott Hirko

Highlander Limited features integrated fog lights, LED daytime running lights, 19-inch five-spoke alloy wheels and color-keyed, heated outside mirrors with puddle lamps.

by Chris Hemer
June 4, 2014
Filed under Reviews, Top Stories, Trailer Reviews, Trucks For Towing

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The TrailManor 2417KS Sport and 2014 Toyota Highlander make a practical, comfortable combination

 

In virtually every leisure activity, there are the cultists — those individuals who live on the fringe of everyone else’s reality, who base their choices not just on personal preference but on a feature or trait that may, in fact, be the very thing that is off-putting to others. In the world of travel trailers, there are more than a few cults — the teardroppers, the vintage trailer junkies — who would gladly forgo practicality in favor of passion. In the equal yet opposite universe are the folding-trailer fanatics who care not about a unit’s history or quirky appearance but delight in the minimalist nature of their rigs. They’ve been known to boast about such nerd-tastic details as aerodynamics and fuel economy, and may even launch into an unsolicited setup demonstration while challenging you to time them.
In these days of rising gas prices and storage costs, it’s not hard to understand folding-trailer fervor. These units are typically lightweight, can be pulled by the family vehicle and parked in a driveway or garage. But despite the obvious benefits, there are still many who aren’t impressed by folding trailers for reasons that would appear insurmountable — namely, setup time and canvas walls. Taking these two negatives out of the equation, wouldn’t it seem like you’d have the perfect travel trailer?

Once the bottom latches are released, torsion springs help lift the front section into position. Repeat the process for the rear section, then pull the king-size bed into place from underneath. After the door and frame are assembled, a conveniently located switch just inside deploys the front slideout. Exterior foot stirrups assist with the closing procedure.


TrailManor-3
TrailManor-4
TrailManor-5Once the bottom latches are released, torsion springs help lift the front section into position. Repeat the process for the rear section, then pull the king-size bed into place from underneath. After the door and frame are assembled, a conveniently located switch just inside deploys the front slideout. Exterior foot stirrups assist with the closing procedure.

TrailManor would like you to think so. Founded in 1983, the company built a reputation on its unique hard-wall collapsible trailers that were designed to set up in two minutes or less. Note that we said “collapsible,” not “foldable,” as this is probably the most accurate way to describe how the TrailManor works. The longer top half of the trailer actually consists of two pieces that overlap, each of which extends lengthwise as it is lifted up. Once the prescribed setup is completed, the TrailManor is as weatherproof and solid as any travel trailer, yet it tows and stores like a tent trailer. With its unique characteristics, theatrical setup and unusual appearance, the TrailManor has created a cult following all its own.
One of TrailManor’s newest models is the 2417 Sport, so named because its equivalent travel trailer size when open is 24 feet, and its length in the travel position is only 17 feet, 9 inches. It is offered in three floorplans — the 2417KB (with a king bed and a double bed), the 2417KS (king bed and a slideout living room with a sofabed) and the 2417KD (king bed and a slideout dinette). For our test, we obtained a 2417KS and matched it with a 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited.
Try as the company might to distance its product from tent trailers, there are similarities — for better or worse. For example, while setup of the TrailManor is faster than a typical tent trailer (especially for one person), it does require multiple steps, in the correct order, to achieve success. Frequency of use and the quality of your memory will determine how quickly you can transform this trailer from Trail to Manor. The abridged version is this: Release the latches on and below the body of the trailer on each side, after which torsion springs take over the heavy lifting. Pull back and up on the front section, and it lifts easily into place; corner latches prevent side-to-side movement of the section. Repeat the process for the rear section, pull the bed out, deploy the entry door, and you’re in. But you’re not necessarily finished yet.
The slideout on the 2417KS (which actually emerges from the front of the trailer, not the side) is deployed electronically with the push of a button, like most travel trailers — but unlike them, TrailManor cleverly fitted the switch with an interlock so children can’t accidentally deploy or retract the slide. That’s important, because if you forget to push one button, then the other, the slide won’t operate, leaving you to wonder if the battery is nonfunctional. Once out, the slide dramatically increases floor space and provides a very open and airy feeling — an effect that is further enhanced by leaving the weather flaps open. We’ll explain.

Once the prescribed setup is completed, the TrailManor is as weatherproof and solid as any travel trailer, yet it tows and stores like a tent trailer.

Once the prescribed setup is completed, the TrailManor is as weatherproof and solid as any travel trailer, yet it tows and stores like a tent trailer.

Because the TrailManor’s top halves close over the bottom half, there has to be a way to create a seal from the weather once the trailer is fully open and the halves no longer overlap. TrailManor’s solution is to fit the trailer with insulated flaps that fasten with hook-and-loop material. Leave the flaps unfastened, and the breeze is free to circulate throughout the trailer. In this way, TrailManor has effectively provided users with a way to enjoy the most positive aspect of tent-trailer camping — without the cloth walls.
The living space is spartan but homey. The front sofabed is comfortable enough for sitting or sleeping and serves double-duty as the dinette. Folding tables deploy from either wall and feature extensions that join both tables for three-across dining (four, if you’re small). There is some cabinet space above the sofa, and the three windows around the front of the trailer lend a cheery feel (the front window is a $455 option).
Clever as TrailManor’s designers may be, they can’t make everything collapsible, so the street-side refrigerator is a waist-high 3-cubic-foot model, on top of which is a small counter and two-burner stove with a glass top. The side of this cabinet houses the monitor panel and 120-volt AC/cable outlets, but there is no TV or obvious place to mount one — you’ll have to get creative here.

The front of the trailer features a sofabed and end tables with leaves that extend the dining area.

The front of the trailer features a sofabed and end tables with leaves that extend the dining area.

On the opposite side is a roomy storage cabinet with plenty of counter space and a stainless-steel sink with a folding faucet and glass cover. The low counter height takes some getting used to while preparing meals and such, but those who appreciate the versatile nature of a trailer like this one shouldn’t be bothered by this.
The 2417KS is also equipped with a wet bath and shower, located on the street-side center of the trailer, which takes just a few minutes to erect during the setup process. The wall panels are lifted up and latched into place, and the rest of the trailer is shielded from water spritzes by the shower curtain. The area works well enough for its intended purpose, but just keep in mind that the gray-water capacity is only 13.5 gallons, and the toilet is a 6-gallon cassette — so use the facilities wisely.
All the way at the back of the unit is a king-size bed surrounded by windows; it’s a great place to take an afternoon snooze. The bed was firm but comfortable, and there’s more than enough room here for two — in fact, you could probably sleep two adults and a couple of kids here, if you needed the room.
During our stay in the TrailManor, the climate was very mild, so we felt quite comfortable without using the optional air conditioner ($1,231) or furnace, day or evening.

The 3-cubic-foot refrigerator, two-burner stove and storage cabinet with a sink provide adequate equipment for meal preparation; the beige cabinet on the right is the bathroom enclosure.

The 3-cubic-foot refrigerator, two-burner stove and storage cabinet with a sink provide adequate equipment for meal preparation; the beige cabinet on the right is the bathroom enclosure.

Underneath the bed, accessed from the rear of the trailer, is the unit’s lone storage compartment. It is adequately sized for weekend getaways but can’t be accessed once the trailer is closed for travel, so make sure to pack the items you really need in the tow vehicle. The storage compartment also houses the freshwater tank, which could cause handling issues in some travel trailers. The TrailManor is designed with its axle located under the rear third of the chassis, so handling was a nonissue, whether the tank was full or empty.
On the TrailManor website, it reads, “It only takes about one extra gallon of gas to tow a TrailManor 100 miles.” Well, not exactly — but close. By our calculations, it took roughly a gallon and a half extra gas in the test Toyota Highlander to travel 100 miles, which is still very good. And, though we could feel the added weight behind us, the TrailManor tracked easily and seemed unaffected by side winds or the bow wave of passing trucks — another advantage of the trailer’s low profile.

At the scales, the TrailManor 2417KS Sport — with its optional manual awning ($1,397), TV antenna ($231) and alloy wheels with spare ($284) — weighed in at 2,968 pounds, full of water and propane, and had a gvwr of 4,041 pounds, which made it a perfect companion to the Highlander with a tow rating of 5,000 pounds.

The king bed offers plenty of room to spread out and is surrounded by windows.

The king bed offers plenty of room to spread out and is surrounded by windows.

Completely redesigned for this year, this third-generation Highlander is 3 inches longer and ½ inch wider than its predecessor and offers three-row seating. Inside, the changes are abundant and sweeping. The flowing dash layout features easily discernable instruments, between which is Toyota’s Multi-Information Display.
The second row can be had with bench seating for three passengers or captain’s chairs with a collapsible cup-holder tray. Access to the rear row has been made easier with the addition of a one-step second-row sliding seat function on both driver and passenger sides that provides nearly 3 more inches of space. This row is also 3.7 inches wider than in the previous generation Highlander, but we still found the space to be very tight. Toyota claims the Highlander has seating for up to eight, but we’d say that three of them should be preteens if you want everyone on board. That, or make it a short trip to avoid grumbling third-row passengers.
The Highlander is offered in LE, LE Plus, XLE and Limited grades, all of which come well-equipped with few options in an effort to make ordering easier. In fact, both the LE and LE Plus grades are “mono-spec,” meaning no options are available.

The Highlander’s dash layout is clean and legible, with well-placed, intuitive controls.

The Highlander’s dash layout is clean and legible, with well-placed, intuitive controls.

For the test, Toyota provided us with a Highlander Limited 2WD, which includes niceties such as perforated leather-trimmed seats (heated and ventilated up front), memory settings for the driver’s seat and side mirrors, a four-way power passenger seat and Entune Premium JBL Audio with Navigation and App Suite. At this trim level, you can choose from either the Driver Technology Package (Safety Connect, Pre-Collision System with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert and automatic high-beam headlights) or the Platinum Package, which includes the former plus the Panoramic Moonroof, a heated steering wheel and heated second-row captain’s chairs, all of which our test unit was equipped with. The only available standalone option is a rear-seat Blu-ray DVD entertainment system.
Non-hybrid Highlander models continue on with the same engine choices as last year, namely a 185-horsepower 2.7-liter four-cylinder or a 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6. Both engines are paired with a new six-speed electronically controlled transmission with a manual sequential shifting feature, which can come in handy when towing. The Limited tester came with the V-6, and frankly, we can’t see why anyone would choose the four-cylinder, its 1,500-pound tow rating notwith­standing. It comes with an almost 100-horsepower deficit and gets only 1-mpg better fuel economy in EPA city and combined ratings.
If you don’t consider yourself an SUV person, you might be surprised, even delighted, by the Highlander. The cabin environment, particularly when equipped with the Panoramic Moonroof, is roomy, light and airy; the seats are comfortable, and the visibility is excellent. There’s no shortage of power from the engine, whether towing or solo, yet it runs like a Swiss watch at idle. Credit the additional sound insulation, acoustic-type windshield glass and hydraulic engine mounts for the significant improvement in noise, vibration and harshness (NVH).
TL1406 test - TrailManor.inddLarge SUVs aren’t usually known for exceptional ride or handling, but the Highlander surprises here, too. The ride quality is compliant without being overly squishy, and during hard cornering, the chassis remains composed and predictable, without excessive body lean or tire howl.
Towing the TrailManor was no problem for the Highlander Limited, which comes standard with a heavy-duty radiator with engine oil cooler, 200-watt fan coupling, supplemental transmission oil cooler and 150-amp alternator. It also comes with a hitch receiver and the appropriate electrical connections but, oddly, no towing mirrors. So, while towing, we used hideous aftermarket strap-on mirrors that were removed for photography. Hopefully, you can find better towing mirrors.
If you have a small family and are looking for an RVing alternative that is practical yet doesn’t sacrifice creature comforts, the TrailManor 2417 Sport and Toyota Highlander Limited are a good combination that fits in your garage.

TL1406 test - TrailManor.indd TrailManorSpecsToyota Motor Company
www.toyota.com

TrailManor Manufacturing Company
402-316-7288 | www.trailmanor.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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