This Tennessee-based manufacturer builds low-volume, high-quality fiberglass trailers with some very unexpected features
Products for consumer use are almost always designed to satisfy the needs of the largest demographic. It just makes sense. If you want to sell a lot of the products you build, target them at the widest possible audience. And if you want to make the highest possible profit, use established manufacturing methods and readily available parts. It’s a page torn right out of the Business 101 textbook, and one that is almost completely ignored by Oliver Travel Trailers.
Oliver is different in almost every way from most other manufacturers. For one thing, it’s located far from the RV capital of Elkhart, Indiana, in Hohenwald, Tennessee, about 80 miles southwest of Nashville. It shuns traditional construction methods that typically use a combination of steel, aluminum, wood and fiberglass in favor of a two-piece, hand-laid fiberglass composite body mounted to an aluminum frame. And unlike some other small trailers that offer little in the way of features or options, Oliver trailers come standard with high-end components such as marine-grade stainless-steel latches and hinges, thermal pane windows, quad shock absorbers and Michelin LT radial tires, and offer a number of extraordinary options for a trailer this size. Clearly, this trailer was built not for the biggest slice of the demographic pie but for that single-digit percentage of discerning buyers searching for a small, well-equipped, high-quality travel trailer.
For this test, Oliver provided us with its newest and largest travel trailer, the tandem-axle Legacy Elite II, featuring another unique aspect: the floorplan. Throughout the years we’ve had numerous readers ask us if there were any small trailers designed to sleep two — a son and father, or two brothers, for example, but not necessarily a couple — and this one fills the bill. One of two floorplans in the Legacy Elite II lineup, the Twin Bed model features two beds at the rear of the trailer, bisected by a nightstand. Granted, these beds aren’t very wide or long (the trailer itself is only 7 feet across and has no slideouts), so those over 200 pounds or taller than 6 feet 2 inches should probably not apply.
The beds are comfortable, though, and the nightstand offers a large drawer with a Fiber-Granite top that looks like a solid surface but is as light as plastic and offers a neat trick: hidden storage. Lift it up, and you’ll hear the familiar tearing sound of hook-and-loop fasteners giving way as the top releases to reveal storage underneath. It’s a great place to store belongings like wallets and jewelry out of view. Above the curbside bed is a 24-inch LED television that is watchable from bed (if you position yourself so that your feet are at the rear wall) or from the small dinette.
The amidships galley offers pretty much everything you’re going to need, but look closely and you’ll find that it’s better equipped than most. The test trailer had the optional Fiber-Granite countertops plus a stainless-steel sink, a residential high-rise faucet, a European SMEV two-burner stove with a smoked-glass cover, and not just any microwave but a Summit stainless-steel commercial microwave that looks as though it was plucked from the kitchen of Gordon Ramsay. Below the kitchen counter are four good-sized soft-close drawers crafted from real wood with dovetail joints.
On the street side is a sizable pantry that looks like a picnic cooler turned on end; inside are two shelves and plenty of storage room for most trips. There’s also a two-place dinette with removable back cushions that converts into another twin bed. The test trailer was equipped with the 4 Reading Light Package that places LED lights on flexible stalks above the dinette and the beds. They are perfect for reading and are high quality, featuring metal construction.
All the way at the front, behind a full-length-mirrored door, is the wet bath. Obviously, this is not a large trailer, so the bathroom is commensurately sized, but it is roomy enough for the business at hand, so to speak. The low-profile porcelain toilet has the shower pan at its base, and there is more than enough room to move around while bathing. The sink’s metal faucet and hose pull away from the countertop to clip on to the shower wall. The fiberglass is very rigid, and the hardware used is very sturdy, so the arrangement actually works quite well. And unlike some wet-bath units we’ve tested, this one has no shower curtain, which makes for more room and keeps wet vinyl sheeting from encroaching on you while using the toilet. Below the Fiber-Granite countertop and small stainless-steel sink are toiletry shelves, and a covered holder keeps the toilet paper dry while showering. There is also a mirror, a towel hook and a towel bar, under which is the central-heat vent, so your towels will stay toasty on cold mornings. Nice touch. A small overhead fan keeps the area well ventilated.
To the right of the bathroom is another door for the large storage compartment, which has plenty of room for hanging clothes and stowing extra blankets, pillows and the like.
There is really very little not to like about the Oliver’s interior, as far as function is concerned, and you can tell that the designers made comfort and convenience their main priorities. Day/night shades are standard but operate differently than what you may be accustomed to. The European-style shades are housed in a valance that surrounds each window, with the day shade deployed by pulling up from the bottom of the frame, and the nightshade pulled down from the top of the frame. It works very nicely.
The trailer has two master-switch panels, one at the entry door and one at the center of the living area on the curbside wall for all of the interior/exterior lights. The switches feel robust and are clearly labeled with large white lettering that’s easy to read, even if you’re farsighted. Other thoughtful features include interior cabinet lights that emit a purple glow around the edge when the cabinet doors are closed but the lights are on, interior courtesy lights, exterior courtesy lights and even a switch for the refrigerator fan.
Elsewhere, there are switches for some very cool options on our test trailer, including the WiFiRanger RV Pack (repeats and strengthens any accessible Wi-Fi signal) and a Wilson 4G cell-phone amplifier to make it easier to stay in touch with friends and family while at camp.
In fact, about the only thing we’d change is the interior decor. Although the “Expresso” upholstery, available faux teak flooring ($1,000) and throw pillows are nice touches, the walls are stark fiberglass, and the cabinet doors are all mirror finish. They are available in black, but we don’t think that would look much better. Obviously, tastes in style are subjective, but if this were our trailer, we’d opt for different interior cabinet door inserts, some wall coverings and maybe a few other touches to make it feel homier.
Outside are more features you’re unlikely to find on other travel trailers at nearly any price point. Perhaps most notable is the large molded-fiberglass enclosure up front that houses two 5-gallon LP-gas cylinders (optional 7-gallon cylinders were in the test unit). The compartment’s rubber latches are quite substantial but also stubborn to use; perhaps with time and wear they’ll become easier to operate. And the cover makes it impossible to employ a traditional weight-distributing hitch, although Oliver does offer the Anderson No Sway hitch as an option. In any case, with only 500 pounds of hitch weight on the test trailer, we didn’t find a weight-distributing hitch necessary.
In front of the LP-gas compartment is an electric jack (one of three that come standard for quick leveling) and an unusual 7,000-pound-rated cast-iron Bulldog coupler with Collar-Lok. This coupler attaches to the ball differently from standard connectors. The ball coupler opens up, and when the ball is securely in place, it closes around it. A collar then slips over the assembly to prevent it from opening, and is secured via a standard-issue clip.
Our trailer was also equipped with the optional aluminum storage basket ($400) with portable generator quick-disconnect ($469), which makes it possible to put a generator up front and plug it directly into an electrical port in front of the LP-gas cover. An optional LP-gas quick-connect up front ($170) makes it possible to run a propane generator, while the rear quick-connect ($170) makes it easy to fire up a propane grill.
The most obvious difference between the test trailer and other travel trailers was its roof — or more specifically, what was mounted to it. Many manufacturers offer a small solar panel as an option to help keep the battery charged, but Oliver steps it way up with a serious solar package consisting of two 160-watt panels, charge controller and Blue Sky IPN Pro Remote Meter ($2,550). Add the 2,000-watt Xantrex inverter ($900) and four Trojan T-105 6-volt batteries on a slideout tray ($500), and the trailer is able to camp off the grid for many days without any power concerns. Granted, it’s expensive, but for the right buyer, having this kind of freedom is practically priceless, and it saves a trip to a solar specialist to have a system installed after the sale.
The rest of the roof’s surface was occupied by the standard Coleman Mach 8 13,500-Btu air-conditioning unit, MaxxFan Deluxe remote-control roof vent and an optional Winegard RoadStar Omni-Directional Antenna ($250). Oliver offers a list of other unexpected optional equipment, so visit its website for more details.
On the road, the 23-foot 6-inch Oliver towed like a dream. It tracked beautifully, and owing to its shock-absorber-equipped suspension, it didn’t bounce around like some small trailers do. The aerodynamic body contributed to good stability during crosswinds and a towing fuel-economy figure of 13.1 mpg in our testing.
You really couldn’t ask for a more capable and comfortable tow vehicle for a small trailer than the 2016 Toyota Tacoma, significantly updated this year with a new Atkinson-cycle 3.5-liter V-6 engine, new six-speed automatic/manual transmissions and an all-new body. Toyota offered us a few different models to choose from, and we went for the Double Cab model in TRD Off Road trim, finished in the popular Quicksand paint scheme.
Rated to tow 6,400 pounds in its 4WD configuration, the Tacoma had more than enough oats to pull the Legacy Elite II with its 4,600-pound dry weight and 5,120-pound tested weight. And even though the trailer’s 7,000-pound gvwr is 600 pounds beyond the Tacoma’s stated maximum capability, this is largely academic; the Oliver doesn’t have enough storage space to take on 2,000 pounds (or 1,300 pounds to tow rating, in this case) of cargo anyway. Outfitted with the optional towing package ($650), which includes a Class IV hitch receiver, automatic transmission cooler, engine oil cooler, power-steering cooler, 130-amp alternator, 4- and 7-pin connectors and Trailer Sway Control, the truck had little trouble pulling the Oliver. In fact, it was easy to forget the trailer was back there.
This new Tacoma, especially in TRD Off Road trim, is arguably the best looking truck Toyota has built. Its grille is large and aggressive without being overbearing (like some full-size trucks), and angular bodywork combined with black overfenders and silver/black aluminum alloy wheels give this truck an all-business appearance to match its extraordinary capabilities.
The TRD Off Road model is no ordinary 4×4; it comes with technologies proven to be effective on one of the world’s most competent vehicles, the Toyota Land Cruiser. Among these are an automatic limited-slip differential that can be locked electronically for maximum traction, and the five-position Multi-Terrain select, which allows you to adjust the traction control system based on the type of surface you’re driving on (Mud & Sand, Loose Rock, Mogul, Rock and Dirt, Rock), plus something you’re unlikely to use unless you’re a serious off-road enthusiast: Crawl Control. This interesting feature allows you to conquer severe and/or difficult grades without drama; simply select 4WD Low and choose the speed at which you’d like to “crawl,” and the truck’s 4WD, ABS and other systems handle the rest — all you do is steer, as the truck plods its way over rocks, ruts and brush. Even if you never use it, it’s nice to have — and besides that, the TRD Off Road package bundles in excellent Bilstein shock absorbers that give this macho truck a very civilized ride.
The Double Cab configuration nets four full-size doors and a full back seat, which is nice if you anticipate having passengers. It’s perfectly sized for kids and preteens, and will accommodate 6-foot adults if the front seatbacks are not positioned too far rearward. It’s a little snug, but it’s doable. The seats themselves are firm but supportive, and despite an automotive-enthusiast magazine that claimed the seating position was “lousy” (it probably shouldn’t review trucks), we never understood what they were complaining about.
In fact, with heated front seats and dual-zone climate control as part of the Premium and Technology Package ($2,330), we were always comfortable. The P&T package also includes rear parking sonar, Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, although we found these last two features to be unnecessary, as the Double Cab is practically all windows and affords excellent visibility.
Overall, the cabin is well executed. The steering wheel is thick and leather-wrapped with satisfying welts at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions. The switchgear is smooth and has great feel, and ergonomics are very good. About the only thing we thought could be improved was the audio system. The volume knob is at the bottom left of the touch screen, which means your knuckles can inadvertently make contact and change the station. And it seemed like the bass and treble adjustments are too assertive; they have to be dialed way back to make decent sound.
Toyota engineers spent a lot of time reducing the Tacoma’s Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH), and you can tell. The new V-6 is powerful but quiet and very smooth all the way up to redline. The automatic transmission is likewise smooth and offers a manual-shifting gate that is perfect for those times when you’re navigating a twisting, undulating road and the transmission wants to keep upshifting. Even when driving into a headwind, we couldn’t detect a trace of wind noise — which surprised us, given the truck’s blocky profile.
If you’re the sort who takes pride in camping in out-of-the-way places, it’s hard to do better than this combo. The Tacoma TRD Off Road has the chops to get you where you want to go, and when properly equipped, the Oliver Legacy Elite II gives you the freedom to stay
for a long time.
Oliver Travel Trailers | 888-526-3978 | www.olivertraveltrailers.com
Toyota Motor Sales USA | 800-331-4331 | www.toyota.com/tacoma