Ultima Fifth Wheeler
Early springtime and the Bay of Plenty was a picture; blossom on the trees, warm sun, not a hint of the Rena on the horizon, and summer just around the corner. I had travelled three hours from Auckland, but the Evergreen 'Ultima' I had come to review had travelled a lot further to make the rendezvous. Its journey began in Middlebury, a small town on the northern border of Indiana, 200km east of Chicago, USA. When created in 2008, the founders of Evergreen Recreational Vehicles had a vision; to use sustainable eco-friendly, recyclable composite materials to replace wood in order to produce higher quality, longer-lasting products that were fully equipped, lightweight and easy to tow. Evergreen's goal of producing lightweight fifth wheelers certainly suits the New Zealand market. Compared with the other American fifth wheelers seen here, the Ultima is relatively small and light. The benefit of its light tare weight of 2850kg, pin weight of 480/500kg (depending on the payload carried) and GVW of 3490kg, means it requires only a Warrant of Fitness (WOF) and it can be hauled by newer generations of ute like the Nissan Navara, Holden Colorado, Volkswagen Amarok or Ford Ranger, rather than the larger American imported pick-ups. While the bronze, black and brown external colour scheme doesn't sound that flash, it works well on a number of levels. It diminishes the bulky boxy shape, it doesn't show dust and dirt marks, it looks smart and – most importantly – it's not white! External fittings like the steps, rear bumper and rear corner steadies are practical and robust. Having power-assisted levelling jacks and being able to see the hitch point just a metre away through the rear window of the cab makes connecting and disconnecting from the tow vehicle a simple task. Apart from the large storage locker at the front of the Ultima, there are others specifically dedicated to 2 x 12volt 220a/hr house batteries, the water pump and filter along with the manual over-ride for the slide-out, the external shower, the mains water connection, a TV aerial connection, two 9kg LPG bottle lockers, the fresh water inlet, and two external speakers for the sound system. Looking down from above is the 4.8m-long powered awning. In and out at the flick of a switch, it's strong enough to cope with moderate breezes and easy to furl away. Another user-friendly feature the Ultima offers is the Reese Revolution hitch. Specifically designed for utilities with short trays (like the Kiwi favourites mentioned), it allows the Ultima to make turns tighter than 90 degrees without the front of the unit hitting the cab of the ute. The pivot point is under the nose of the fifth wheel, but it angles forwards so that its base rests on the deck-mount fastened to the tray of the truck. There's no sliding mechanism and only one maintenance-free moving part. Tight turns simply aren't a worry. Up four steps and I was in the rear corner of the Ultima lounge/dining/kitchen space that comprises just over half the floor area of the trailer. Extending the slide-out forms a room around 4.8m by 3.2m; bigger than the office in which I'm writing this review, in fact. The slide-out is home for the 'club lounge', a very long, softly upholstered settee and a great place for a couple to lounge away an afternoon in comfort, one at each end. Pop up the dining table and you can set places for four, five or six if need be. Opposite is a full-scale kitchen; oven with separate grill and four gas hobs, range hood above, microwave, twin sinks, a 180-litre Dometic fridge/freezer and, overhead, a reverse-cycle heat pump for the perfect climate. This is the reason fifth wheelers have such a dedicated following, particularly among folk who live in their RV full-time or who leave it at a destination on a permanent basis. Fifth wheelers offer a lot of space for a reasonable financial outlay. What other type of RV would accommodate all this plus a couple of rocker armchairs without a hint of overcrowding? But the space story doesn't end here. Step through the door to the bedroom and to your left is a separate cubicle for the toilet, while to the right sits a separate shower stall before you enter the bedroom proper. The queen size bed (2.0m x 1.5m) has a pair of side tables and reading lights, perfect for reading in bed with a morning 'cuppa'. Having the hand-basin on its own in the corner of the bedroom is a convenient arrangement too, freeing up the shower and toilet for others to use. Storage for clothes and personal effects is available throughout the Ultima; there are numerous drawers and overhead lockers. Generally I still find the interior décor in RV's from the USA to be rather conservative. For the review Ultima, On The Way RV selected one of the lightest upholstery options available; in this case honey-coloured furniture and a soft upholstery fabric in an autumn palette of gold, tan and chocolate, creating a warm, homely atmosphere. Comfort and peace of mind are high on the 'must have' list for most RV'ers. For peace of mind you need reassurance the RV you choose will go the distance without problems. Looking over the Ultima lead me to the conclusion Evergreen is doing everything it can to produce trouble-free products. Take the way the Ultima's major structural components are built. The wall and floor frames are made of double-welded heavy gauge aluminium tube with high-density polystyrene insulation foam filling the spaces in the frames. For extra strength the slide-out opening is framed with three-inch tube. The roof construction is slightly different because the alloy roof beams are curved. This makes the roof stronger. Because the ceiling remains flat, the polystyrene insulation foam is thicker in the middle of the roof. The one-piece outer and inner skins (made from ComposiTek, Evergreen's own trademarked product) are bonded to the frames to complete the process. Evergreen use the more costly vacuum bonding process to laminate the roof, walls and floor laminates rather than pressure rollers, because the 30 minutes or so the laminate spends being pressurised ensures air bubbles are eliminated. This way the adhesive has time to cure properly. The procedure produces rigid components and ultimately a stiff durable watertight RV structure. On The Way RV back up Evergreen's 'belt and braces' philosophy. As part of their pre-delivery program that includes re-installing items removed for shipping, they carry out their own 60-point check to make sure everything is 100 percent prior to final customer delivery. With this type of attention to detail it's not surprising that by Christmas this year, Mal Brady and his team at On The Way RV plan to have 30 Ultimas on the road in New Zealand, with more on their way from the US. The Ultima reviewed is available at $116,750, although subsequent 'club lounge' orders will retail for $119,750. The rear lounge layout with a dinette and two seater couches in place of the club lounge retails for $118,500, as will the rear kitchen version with the dinette and two seater couch. On The Way RV is the sole representative for the Ultima range in New Zealand. For further information ph 07 574 9594 or 0274 826 912, or visit onthewayrv.co.nz. Feel free to make a comment or ask us a question about this story on the MCD page. 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