Grand Design’s smallest fifth-wheel delivers big features and value
In life, we’re constantly reminded that we can’t have everything. And yet, we always seem to be on a quest to find the best of all worlds. Delicious and nonfat. Luxurious and inexpensive. Powerful and fuel-efficient. Most of the time, a satisfying solution eludes us, because life’s principles are usually in inexorable conflict with our ideals. But sometimes, through clever engineering or outright determination, or both, we achieve what was once believed virtually impossible. Case in point: Grand Design’s new Reflection 27RL fifth-wheel, which is both roomy and surprisingly lightweight.
Of course, the word “lightweight” can be subjective, but it’s hard to deny that a 31-foot triple-slide fifth-wheel that weighs only 8,000 pounds dry is feathery indeed. In fact, with a gvwr of 9,995 pounds, it was designed specifically to be towed behind the current crop of properly equipped half-ton pickups (see “Half-Ton Towing: Fact or Fiction?” on page 38). Certainly, Grand Design may not be the first manufacturer to do this, but its execution is quite possibly one of the best we’ve seen in the lightweight fifth-wheel category.
Usually, when you walk into a lightweight, you can see where the manufacturer saved some pounds — but in the 27RL, Grand Design has done a commendable job making you feel like you’ve walked into a higher-end fifth-wheel, albeit a little bit smaller. It’s got hallmarks like the Beauflor faux wood-plank flooring, hand-rubbed maple cabinet doors and LG solid-surface countertops — and from the outside, it just looks like a smaller version of the company’s bigger trailers, which it essentially is. That’s not always the case with a smaller, lighter offering in a company’s lineup.
In fact, it’s only after you start using the trailer that you start to get a sense of its smaller proportions. For example, when packing the trailer for our test, we realized that the entry door is so close to the front storage that it must first be closed (or at least released from its catch) before accessing the front storage on the curb side. And once inside the living area, you notice that there’s no ceiling fan and no kitchen island, and the large pantry found in other Grand Design models is absent. Other than these details, the trailer feels surprisingly roomy and livable.
In fact, this trailer has the same furniture in the living area as other, larger company products. At the rear wall of the trailer is a comfy sofa that turns into a trifold sofa bed, and in the streetside slideout are theater seats that are among the best we’ve sat in. They’re easy to deploy and stow, and are equipped with a removable armrest in the center that features integrated cupholders — a thoughtful and welcome addition. We found the seats ideally placed directly across from the entertainment center, which features a flat-screen television, a Furrion AM/FM/DVD player and an electric fireplace. The Furrion unit was easy to use, and like other products in the market, has switches to control sound in the living area and patio. Sound was OK inside, but outside, the speakers are built into the ends of the power awning and produce tinny sound quality. We’d prefer it if the speakers were larger and built into the side wall, but we understand that space is at a premium and there is a budget to consider on a unit like this one.
Overall, we found the living area to be well executed, but we did find some areas that could use improvement. The curbside dinette is designed to seat four, but it’s pretty tight. You can use the table extension for more room, but if you do, the outermost legs of the outer chairs fall off the step in the slideout floor. There is storage space behind the TV and fireplace — but the cabinet doors are on the side facing the dinette, requiring you to move dinette chairs anytime you want to stow or access something here. In lieu of a ceiling fan, there’s an overhead vent, but it can’t be turned on with a wall switch, and it’s too high to reach. And, at a time when even entry-level travel trailers have LED lighting throughout, most of the lighting in the 27RL is still incandescent.
The kitchen may seem small compared to other fifth-wheels, but it is well-configured and nicely designed. The appliances have black faces, but the stove has a glass cover with an integrated solid-surface front that looks good and was easy to clean and stow. There is a small cabinet next to the microwave, and another next to the oven that is narrow but deep. The drawer underneath the stove would be a good place for large, low-profile items like cookie sheets and frying pans.
The forward kitchen wall has a semi-L-shaped counter that offers lots of prep space, and a solid-surface countertop with a double-bowl stainless-steel sink. Angling one side of the counter away from the wall not only looks good but is a clever way to add more counter space, and the huge cabinet underneath the sink can easily accommodate a residential-size kitchen trash can. Above this forward counter are two large, deep cabinets on either side, with a smaller cabinet in the middle fitted with smoked-glass doors. There are also three big drawers to the left of the sink. As mentioned earlier, there isn’t one of Grand Design’s famous pantries here, but the cabinet space should work well enough for most. We also appreciated that the monitor panel, slideout controls and fuse panel are conveniently located on the side of these cabinets facing the entry door.
From the front staircase forward, the 27RL is almost identical to the larger 303RLS that we tested in the February 2014 issue of Trailer Life. It features a queen bed that we found firm but comfortable, and offers storage underneath. On either side is a stubby cabinet with a nearby power outlet, and adequate storage space above. There are no lights directly underneath the overhead cabinet, but nice-looking sconces on either side provide enough light for reading. Dual air-conditioning ducts in the ceiling kept us cool, and an overhead vent here circulates air when the air conditioning isn’t on. Our unit didn’t have a television, but it did have TV prep on the curbside wall, which would necessitate a telescoping arm in order to watch TV from bed.
The bathroom is accessed via a door in the hallway and a sliding door from the bedroom. The semicircular shower is elegant looking and has clamshell-style doors that open from the middle. Once inside, there’s plenty of room to move around, and a large skylight above provides enough headroom for 6-plus-footers. We liked the fact that, when the doors are closed, the two knobs come together and can be secured by a supplied rubber strap during travel. There’s a porcelain toilet with a foot flush, and directly across from it, a cabinet with a small sink, storage space and a corner-mounted medicine cabinet with a mirror. On the street side next to the sliding door is a mirrored linen closet with a large drawer underneath. Interestingly, this is part of the wardrobe slide in the bedroom, which contains his-and-her wardrobes and one large drawer underneath. The only things we’d wish for in the bath area would be a lock on the hallway door to prevent unpleasant surprises, and genuine brushed-nickel faucets, not plastic ones.
The aforementioned exterior storage compartment may be smaller than what you’re used to, but it has enough room and is fully finished. Thoughtful details here include interior lighting, a 120-volt AC power outlet and a battery disconnect on the curb side. The underside of the floor is covered in a tough vapor barrier, and the area is heated as well via a register in the ductwork that passes above the compartment. A front storage compartment with a steel floor and a single battery box vents to the outside.
Seven-gallon propane cylinders are located in compartments on either side of the trailer, and the utility center on the street side offers plumbing options such as “normal,” “city fill tank,” “city fill fixtures” or “sanitize/winterize.” There are also handy features like a black-tank flush, outdoor shower, water-pump switch and light, plus the obligatory black- and gray-tank dump controls, which are cable-operated. Grand Design thoughtfully locates a sewer hose storage tube underneath the chassis, just forward of the axles.
One of the things we like about Grand Design is that the company always seems to add unexpected touches. For example, the Reflection’s entry steps are aluminum, not steel, and have grip tape on them. They look good and feel very sturdy. The power awning is large and has an LED strip porch light. Even the screen door is designed so that it’s not necessary to slide a small hatch to open it; a clear knob on the outside is simply pushed down. This is great when there are a lot of bugs in your area. This trailer also comes standard with 50-amp service, which is pretty unusual in a unit this size. It would be a good idea to haul along a 50-to-30-amp adapter because many smaller electric-hookup campsites that can accommodate a trailer of this size may not always have 50-amp service available.
The Grand Design 27RL is a full-featured fifth-wheel that is perfect for those who would like to step up to a bigger trailer but don’t necessarily want to have to change to a larger tow vehicle. It looks great, and sacrifices very little in the way of comfort compared to its larger siblings.