words & photos - Michael Browning
With its new range of 5th wheelers, Jayco is set to change the way Aussies view these large, American-style caravans

>> Spacious concept and stylish European décor
>> Lots of everything?
>> Easy to tow and manoeuvre?
>> Inexpensive by 5th Wheeler standards

??>> Requires low-tech ute or light truck to tow ?
>> Needs large parking place when stored?
>> Care needed around trees and under some bridges
?>> Small pantry

Why on earth would someone choose a 5th wheeler over a similarly luxurious large caravan? After a day with the smaller of Jayco’s two new 5th Wheelers – the 24ft 8in long 24.73-2 – I can give you plenty of reasons why.

For a start, they take up less road and site space than a tow car and a caravan of similar dimensions.

From tow car nose to trailer tail, the 24ft 3in internal length model we tested occupies the same real estate as a tow car ahead of an 18ft 6in regular van. ??Do the math. That’s a quarter more caravan on your site – important in many older caravan parks designed for the vans of the 1980s and ‘90s.

They are also roomier inside. With their master bedroom sitting above the turntable and a rising, raked front roofline, the sense of space inside is significant and one of the things that immediately strikes you.

A 5th Wheeler is also easier to tow. Ask the pros. Many of the Jaycos ordered or delivered since their public introduction in October have been purchased by former truck drivers who know this by driving semi-trailers hundreds of thousands of kilometres. ??

They are more stable, follow the tow car more faithfully, wag their tails less in crosswinds and are less nervous and easier to reverse than a tandem-axle caravan.

Then there’s the intangible ‘wow’ factor. In a caravan park they sit apart from the motor homes and even the largest caravans in their own special zone and for many owners, it’s nice to feel a little special.

Are you getting the picture yet?

Of course detractors will point to the fact that you need a tray-bodied vehicle or a king or crew-cab ute in which to mount the turntable. ??The choice is narrowed down to the beefier models on the market, as with its Tare weight of 2748kg and more importantly ATM of 3223kg, the smaller Jayco 5th Wheeler requires a minimum 3.3 tonne braked trailer capable tow vehicle.

Today that gives you a pretty wide choice from the range of crew-cabs on sale in Australia. Ford’s Ranger with its 3.2 litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel pumping out 470Nm of torque has been an early favourite, but Holden’s 2014 Colorado with its up-rated 2.8-litre four cylinder turbo diesel now delivering 500Nm – which we used to tow the test van – is a serious challenger.

However if you choose the larger Jayco 28.87-2 (28ft 3in internal length) 5th wheeler with its 3886kg ATM, then you’re going to need one of the imported American pick-ups or a light truck like an Iveco Daily or similar to haul it legally.

However while the turntable (the two most popular are an Australian-made Hayman-Reese or an American-made Reese Hijack) sits above the tow vehicle’s rear axle and occupies the better part of the load bed when hitched, the whole turntable can be removed quickly when not required, leaving just its low mounting rails in the load bed. ??

Some people choose to cover these with a false floor for day-to-day use when not towing.

One advantage of the American-made turntable is that it can swivel either from its base in the load bed, or from where it attaches under the nose of the 5th wheeler, and if the latter, this means it can be swung out of the way under the rig when parked.


Enough of the rationale. What’s the smaller Jayco 5th actually like as an alternative to (say) a top-level Jayco Sterling caravan?

Well the largest Sterling is the 23ft internal length 25.78-2, which has a tare weight of approx. 2570kg (178kg lower) and in the high $60,000 bracket costs around $15,000 less than the test 5th wheeler $83,000 drive away price with options.

??But the latter is shorter overall and has slightly more interior space. Having dealt with a lot of the 5th Wheeler demons, it’s really a matter of personal choice.

Viewed on site, the 5th Wheeler makes even more of a statement. After manually dropping the front stabilising legs – more convenient electric ‘landing gear’ is on the way during 2014 – it’s easily to unhitch the van by pulling a locking pin and throwing a lever on the turntable. ??

Re-hitching is just as easy, as the turntable is on an angle and it’s easy to line up the hitch by looking through the tow vehicle’s rear window.

You then open the combined entry/flyscreen two-part door, press a rocker alongside to lower the two-part electric steps and walk inside. ??Erecting the awning operating the electric slide on the lounge is just as easy, involving two more switches. Then you’re fully set up.

Except for its two-level floor, with its queen-size bed, up four steps to its commanding position in the vehicle’s nose, the Jayco 5th Wheeler is similar inside to Jayco’s premium Sterling range. ??

This means a very European feel, with the Hamilton Oak timber and your choice of five leathers and three laminates creating a very light and airy feel. I had to blink twice to be sure I wasn’t in a top-of-the-range British Bailey.

This ambiance is enhanced by the van’s five huge double-glazed windows, two large, opening roof hatches and a barrage of LED lights – the main ceiling ones with three brightness levels – all controlled via a removable wall switch console. In a word, you feel special in this vehicle.

With the L-shaped lounge ‘slide out’, there’s sprawling room for four or more and plenty of space for someone to cook up a storm in the kitchen opposite, which as well as a three gas burner plus electric hotplate cooktop, gas oven and grill and microwave above, boasts a huge curved front stainless steel sink and a huge area for plating up.

There’s a handy Waeco six-bottle wine chiller built into the cabinet below, while opposite the cooktop there’s a 150 litre Dometic three-way AES (Automatic Energy Selection) fridge freezer, although many buyers option up to the large 190-litre Dometic AES or specify an even-larger 215 litre compressor (12 volt) fridge.

Similarly there’s a 100Ah AGM battery and a single 90W roof-mounted solar panel as standard, but many buyers at this level double up on the battery and go for the 120W or 150W solar option so they can continue living La Vida Loca well off the beaten track, or on overnight highway stops during a big Australian tour.

The twin 82-litre water tanks are already up to this role, while a 75 litre grey water tank for totally self-sustainable living is optional on the larger 28ft 5th wheeler.

Two TVs – the main 32 inch one of a swivel mount above the kitchen bench – and a smaller 23.5 inch unit for viewing outside on a separate mount behind a wall panel, are standard, as is a Winegard antenna, a rooftop-mounted Coleman heating and cooling system, an iPod enabled Pioneer sound system (a Fusion system is being fitted to 2014 models) and of course a top-loading washing machine.  

There is loads of cupboard space too – all with stylish brushed or polished stainless still hardware – although the pantry on the left side of the cooking tower is smaller and a little out of context compared with the other storage space on offer, which includes magazine ‘bins’ behind the slide-out lounge.

The ensuite is an inviting place for essential business, with its protruding round-bench vanity and mixer tap the dominant feature, while the separate fibreglass cocoon shower and Thetford swivelling toilet both offer good working space.

Up front, the twin stairways to the lofty island queen bed are separated by a five-drawer chest, with handy open storage spaces on either side, while nomadic belles will be happy with two bedside front and a separate rear robe, above another nest of drawers adjacent to the ensuite.

The shallow but flat space under the lift-up bed is the ideal place to store the two TVs when travelling, while the front boot, although not easy to access when hitched, swallows all the dirty stuff like hoses, electric leads and the awning matting.


There’s a lot for a relatively small but growing group of Australians to like in Jayco 24ft 5th Wheeler.

It’s an attractive, roomy, stylish and surprisingly practical package that’s set to take the lion’s share of the Australian market for these large, American-style vehicles, which in 2012 accounted for less than just 250 units, Australia-wide.

Jayco wasn’t amongst the brands in the 45 Aussie units in that mix then, but with plans to build 65 keenly-priced 5th wheelers a year at its Dandenong plant, it will both expand the market and eat into the dominant imports in 2014.


Body length: 7550mm
?Internal body length: 7388mm?
External body width: 2350mm?
Travel height: 3150mm?
Tare: 2748kg??
ATM: 3223kg?
Kingpin empty weight: 493kg? (Max 607kg)?
Frame: Space frame construction?
Cladding: Fibreglass sandwich wall and roof ?
Chassis: Galvanised with beam axles and leaf spring tandem suspension?
Brakes: 10in Al-Ko electric??
Stability Control: None offered??
Wheels: 15in alloy wheels fitted with 195/R150 tyres ?
Fresh water: 2 x 82L? ?
Battery: 1 x 100Ah? deep cycle
?Solar: 1 x 90W roof panels?
Air-conditioner: Coleman cooling and heating, roof-mounted??
Gas: 2 x 9kg??
Cooking: Dometic three-burner gas, plus electric hot plate & grill??
Fridge: Dometic 175-litre fridge/freezer with AES (Automatic Energy Selection)?
Microwave: Standard??
Toilet: Swivel cassette
??Shower: Separate fibreglass cubicle ?
Lighting: LED ?Price (on road, Vic): $81,867?
Supplied by: Bayswater Jayco, Bayswater, Vic
?More info: Jayco Australia

To comment on this article click here Published : Friday, 20 December 2013
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