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The Ford Flex and TrailManor Elkmont 2417

Originally Published in Trailer Life Magazine

TrailManor has been involved with the lighter weight and better fuel economy side of towing for a long time with its unique clamshell-folding towables. Now the company has jumped into the full hard-side trailer market with its new 24-foot Elkmont model, continuing the tradition of easy towing.

We matched the Elkmont to the new Flex Limited AWD, which Ford describes as a crossover vehicle. That’s a pretty fair name, as the Flex doesn’t fit easily into any vehicle category, but it shares features and functionality with numerous other rigs, so it fills various niches for drivers looking for towing versatility.

One thing’s for sure; the Flex draws its share of second looks from passers-by. Between its generally boxy appearance and the somewhat spartan Elkmont visuals, accented by the wheelwell covers that further accentuate the trailer’s expanse of side wall, the pair won’t win any “sexiest RV lashup” awards, yet both rigs are delightfully functional – and that’s what truly counts.

As a hauler for up to six, this Flex succeeds. Low-profile bucket seats that support without enclosing provide comfort up front, and the four passenger spots middle and back likewise provide full-size adult accommodations. The dash and cabin maintain the Ford truck family look that’s softened a bit with wood and leather trim to suit a less-utilitarian hauler. A standard Sony audio system including MP3 connection, Sirius satellite radio and a dozen speakers make sure you enjoy the music. The system’s voice-activated Sync Voice mode helps keep the driver’s eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Full safety equipment  including air bags and a first- and second-row safety canopy – is standard.

Overhead, there’s a large and optional panoramic vista roof ($1,495) that gives the aft-seat occupants a bit more light and open feeling to their area.

The optional navigation system ($2,375) includes a backup camera, also with voice-activation capability, that’s second to none. Its centrally mounted camera means it’s a great aid for hitching. Once the driver is used to the fore-and-aft ball-and-hitch relationship, it’s possible to make hitching a one-person job.

The 3.5-liter V-6 is powerful enough to move the Flex in a surprisingly fun manner, yet it’s only moderately economical. Solo, we managed 13.9 mpg around town, and on the road the very best we could squeeze out was 24.4 mpg at 65 mph on level freeway. We averaged about 19.1 mpg overall, which isn’t bad – but not terrific.

A six-speed automatic is the sole available transmission; however, it does a great job, so additional models might be overkill.

Independent suspension and coil springs plus power disc brakes keep the ride civilized and in control. Advance Trac traction control and Roll Stability Control add safety and enhance the driving experience. The Flex handles with a blend of characteristics; firm and truck-like in performance, yet comfortably smooth enough to please a demanding occupant.

Hitched and Ready

Our brake-control experts at Eugene, Oregon-based Hitch Pro and Tow (541-434-2403) were pleased to find a readily accessible brake-control connection point amid the mass of wiring under the cramped driver’s side of the dash. They also found space for the brake control under the dash without it knocking the driver’s shins with every movement.

Our TrailManor had a moderate 540-pound hitch weight, so an equalizing hitch was a must due to the Flex’s soft rear suspension. Once tweaked and adjusted to suit the trailer, it felt like a natural behind the Flex.

Before we left the dealership with the trailer, the crew at George M. Sutton RV (541-342-2993, suttonrv.com) gave us a complete walkaround and detailed the trailer’s operating systems. There’s nothing tricky about the Elkmont, but we appreciated learning about the separate black- and gray-water dump outlets, for example, before we discovered them for ourselves at the dump station.

The Elkmont weighed in at just 3,220 pounds wet but empty. That’s pretty trim for a 24-footer. TrailManor uses polystyrene foam, aluminum-skin-laminated structures throughout and no chipboard or particleboard anywhere.

We know from experience that the low-profile fold-down TrailManors tow effortlessly, and the solid-wall Elkmont carries on that tradition. While on the road, we encountered some hail and snow in the Oregon Coast Range mountain pass and, thankfully, the Flex’s AWD equipment held us straight and steady as we motored cautiously ahead through the freezing highway slush. Back at lower levels, the Elkmont willingly followed the Flex and displayed no bad manners under adverse wind conditions, for example.

Our intended destination, Riley Ranch County Park (541-396-3121) is just a few miles north of Coos Bay, and getting there subjects drivers to a variety of road conditions. With the Flex in charge of the Elkmont, we arrived stress-free.

A compact trailer makes backing into a campsite easy, and the well-designed Riley Ranch RV sites made the late-afternoon parking job painless.

Exterior storage is trim in the Elkmont, but the Flex rear cargo area handled the overflow storage job just fine. We cranked down the corner stabilizing jacks, plugged in, offloaded our firewood and prepared for a quiet evening. Oregon’s swiftly changing weather ensured we enjoyed a rain-free fireside time.

The Elkmont packs a lot into its familiar but effective floorplan with an island queen bed up front; the kitchen, fridge and pantry arrayed curbside; the L-shape dinette streetside; and the bath in the aft streetside corner. Muted fabrics and maple cabinets add visual appeal, and the marble-look countertops, which are actually laminated and foam filled for less weight, add a touch of class.

We used the space under the lift-up bed for camp chairs and luggage and stowed our remaining gear in the cabinets near the bed. This trailer doesn’t have a lot of overhead storage spaces, apart from those over the galley and the head of the bed, so cargo storage could be tricky. Because this is mainly a two-person trailer, sensible packing with this kind of rig’s use in mind should not cause any undue space problems.

A giant stainless-steel sink is flanked by plentiful working counter space and the galley has drawers and cabinets liberally placed nearby. The drawers are molded plastic with a wood face in a setup that’s lightweight and durable.

We used the kitchen to prepare our dinner and side dishes, but we cooked outside on a tripod grill over the fire. Amazingly, considering what we drove through to get here, we enjoyed our meal outdoors under a partly starry sky with the cheery crackling fire for entertainment.

Back inside after the coals died down, we stretched out on the bed and the L-dinette for before-bed reading. Two posts support the removable 42-inch-long table, which is as sturdy as one could hope for.

The bathroom space measures 35 x 69 inches overall and offers a terrific, roomy area for bathing and general primping. The shower fits a real adult, and there’s enough cabinet space to handle a stack of linens. Legroom is not lacking near the toilet.

It’s probably an item chosen to save weight, but the Elkmont’s mattress was thin and not very supportive. Neither of us slept very well on it and we’d replace it immediately with something more substantial if this were our trailer.

We enjoyed our lightweight and eye-catching lashup. The TrailManor Elkmont is a slick new entry from a well-known builder in the lightweight arena, and the Ford Flex presents a different kind of vehicle for those wishing to drive and tow with something that is set apart from the rest. If a lashup that you won’t see every day is in your vehicle-buying plans, this combo could be it.

Ford Motor Company, (800) 392-3673, www.fordvehicles.com.

TrailManor, (800) 707-7061, www.trailmanor.com.


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