When it comes to serious trailering, there are essentially two factions: travel trailer and fifth-wheel. Dedicated travel trailerists love the freedom of a hitch-free bed for hauling extra cargo, while those with fifth-wheels often boast about ease of towing and copious
amounts of basement storage in their trailer. Petersen Industries, makers of the popular
Excel fifth-wheel, has thrown its hat into the arena with a brand-new trailer designed to
satisfy both sides.
The 2011 Winslow 33RLE travel trailer we tested represents Excel’s first foray into anything other than fivers for more than a decade. The engineers at Excel have created a “hybrid” trailer that tows with ease on a conventional hitch, as well as offering more than 120 cubic feet of basement storage. To begin with, Excel took its most popular fifth-wheel floorplan and duplicated it up to the galley. The front of the trailer consists of one small step up into a hallway that grants access to a lavatory and the master bedroom.
Of course, packing so much livability into a travel trailer requires a capable tow vehicle, and the Dodge Ram 3500 turbodiesel fits the bill quite nicely. The Winslow is a large trailer to be sure, but the 3500 had little trouble on the road with the trailer in tow.
In fact, the Ram 3500 had little trouble, anywhere. Throughout our evaluation period, and after we dropped the trailer at an RV park, we drove the truck in and around the quaint Danish-styled town of Solvang, in Central California. Navigating the tourist-friendly area required tight turns due to minimal clearance in some areas and, despite the size of the truck, we were able to negotiate the narrow, crowded streets without incident.
The Ram’s beefy 6.7-liter inline 6 turbodiesel works well with the
6-speed automatic transmission ($1,575) to deliver smooth shifts, minimal turbo lag and an
overall pleasant and powerful driving experience. A couple of the testers on staff
mentioned the Ram’s overly stiff suspension, though my family and I thoroughly enjoyed the
ride. If you’re a fan of trucks driving like trucks (rather than SUVs or sedans), you
should appreciate the ride as well.
Towing with the Ram was equally stress-free. The test trailer is easily one of the larger travel trailers out there, so I was definitely curious to see how the Ram would respond. It would seem this is exactly the type of trailer the Ram
has been designed for, as there was never any tail-wagging-the-dog feeling behind the
wheel, nor was the truck ever “pushed aside” by passing semis. The trip up a 7-percent
grade was almost as though we had a pop-up trailer in tow, and the descent was aided by the
factory-installed exhaust brake that is sure to extend the life of the truck’s four-wheel
ABS when the highways lead downhill.
The truck’s Inferno Red Crystal Pearl Coat paint ($225) turned a lot of heads while on the road and in camp. The Chrome Accents Group option ($1,175) and under-the-rail bed liner ($245) also look great and are definitely worth the extra expense.
Behind the wheel of the Dodge, the controls are straightforward and the gauges easy to read. The Ram features an Electronic Vehicle Information Center (EVIC), which allows users to program/ adjust/monitor nearly any moving part or system in the truck, from door locks to wiper modes to tilt mirrors.
The extendible side mirrors that tilt up and out to increase visibility to the rear and sides of the truck and an integrated trailer brake controller with display ($230) help tremendously while towing.
Center ($800) includes every type of electronic gadgetry imaginable, with a CD/DVD player,
GPS Navigation, satellite radio and a 30 gigabyte hard drive to store more than 4,000 of
your own songs. The back-up camera ($200) is always a welcome inclusion.
The front seats are comfortable and leather-trimmed ($500) buckets, and include bun-warmers and cooling fans. There’s center-console storage for wallets, CDs, maps, etc., and dual-zone climate control comes standard. We were able to easily fit two child car seats on the back bench, and would have no problems bringing along one more passenger even with the car seats in place.
As well received as the Dodge Ram seemed to be, the real star during our stay was
the Excel Winslow trailer. The large four-slide unit features an attractive exterior with
tasteful graphics and a burgundy color scheme that matched up well with the Inferno Red
What most people noticed about the trailer, however, was the lack of a fifth-wheel
hitch on an Excel trailer. Well, that and the basement storage. Knowing full well what the
responses would be, I made a point of leaving the storage bays open when I was outside the trailer to gauge fellow RVers’ reactions. Sure enough, I had several conversations about the benefits of basement storage, most notably with the full-time fifth-wheel trailerists, who were all intrigued by the Winslow’s concept.
The storage is extremely useful, but the area is a bit of a tight squeeze when your belongings float to the middle of the
compartment. However, a few spelunking expeditions under the Winslow are a small price to pay for basement storage.
The basement may be a major selling point for the Winslow, but there’s so much more to appreciate once inside. Namely, the floorplan. Excel claims its customers have long been asking about a travel-trailer design, as they had grown tired of walking up the stairs into a fifth-wheel bedroom. The Winslow doesn’t completely eliminate
the stairs, but it does reduce them down to a single small step up into a dual-slide master
bedroom with a comfortable pillowtop queen bed. Across from the bed is a mirrored wardrobe, with ample space left to right, but not quite enough height to hang up your Sunday best. Below the wardrobe are four drawers. The front of the trailer is lined with small storage areas ideal for shoes, and the lack of over-bed storage really isn’t missed due to the other options in the area. Two small nightstands, each with a small cabinet, are a good example of Excel’s smart use of space.
The bathroom is large and features a small “hallway,” which ends at a china toilet ($168). The spacious shower features an adjustable shower head, a step up from the typical “on/off” models we’ve become accustomed to in trailers.
Cabinetry throughout the Winslow features solid cabinet-face frames, and fit-and-finish in the Winslow is well executed. Slideout floors are flush and insulated, which, coupled with the trailer’s construction, helps the Winslow reach Excel’s minus 10? F
The galley arrangement offers adequate space for food-prep and cleanup, with
plenty of storage options. A pantry near the refrigerator takes care of food-storage
duties, while the microwave, three-burner stove and oven all do the trick for menu options.
In travel mode, the dinette appears quite small, but once the leaves contained inside the
top are extended, there’s room for four. It should be noted that some rearranging the
chairs is crucial when bringing in the slide.
The living room is another area where the Winslow truly acts like a fifth-wheel. The floorplan opens up at the rear of the trailer to an actual sitting room, complete with leather recliners, a sofa bed ($413), entertainment center and electric fireplace ($1,190). The arrangement of the kitchen counter works to create the feeling of separation from the rest of the trailer, offering a nice departure from typical travel-trailer floorplans. Bottom line, we were never wanting for space inside the trailer.
Outside, the Winslow offers even more full-time conveniences. An electric
A-frame jack and four electric stabilizers make setting up and breaking camp a breeze, and
there’s no need to wrestle with manual scissor-type jacks. The LP-gas cylinders are located
inside a strutted compartment up front, which cleans up the exterior and enhances the
For more in-camp convenience, a lighted compartment contains the dump valves,
a battery-disconnect switch and a water-manifold system. A black-tank flush and a
Pivot-Ease sewer-hose compartment ($259) help keep things neat.
As far as looks go, you’d have a tough time beating the style of the Ram and Winslow combination. As for livability, you’d likely have an even tougher time. The Winslow offers all the comforts and conveniences of a fifth-wheel in an easy-to-tow travel trailer, and the Ram features a comfortable truck-like ride with a monster of an engine lurking beneath the hood. The long combination doesn’t come cheap, and requires some extra attention while maneuvering around the RV park, but once you’ve settled in, be prepared to live well – and for your neighbors to stop by and admire this attractive duo.
Dodge, (800) 423-6343, www.dodge.com.
Peterson Industries, (800) 368-3759, www.excelrvs.com.