RV Review: Fleetwood Folding Element Cobalt
Any way you slice it, the Fleetwood Folding Element is a towable RV that makes good sense for many families. All three models, the Graphite, Cobalt and Neon, offer more interior room than you would expect, small travel and storage dimensions, easy set up and take down, easy towing, and a manageable price. The Graphite is the largest, built on a 10-foot (inside length) box; the Cobalt is the middle brother, with a 7-foot box; and the Neon is the smallest, based on a 6-foot, 10-inch box. We took one of the new Element Cobalt tent trailers for a weekend spin, and this is what we learned.
Big Little Trailer
One of the first things we noticed was the Cobalt’s low weight and tiny size. This is an RV that can truly be stored inside a standard residential-style garage. We weighed our test unit at a public scale; the total unladen (empty) weight was 1440 pounds. With a GVWR of 2300 pounds, this meant our Cobalt had a cargo carrying capacity of 860 pounds. The bottom line: The Cobalt can carry an adequate amount of personal gear to accommodate multi-day family vacations. And, with the optional rack that mounts on the roof, you can bring bicycles and kayaks along as well.
Even though this is a small trailer, it’s designed to comfortably sleep up to six people. The two large pull-out platform beds measure 40 by 72 inches (rear) and 56 by 72 inches (front), and yield generous amounts of sleeping area and comfort with thick, high-density foam mattresses. The bench-style seats and the folding table located in the rear of the box quickly convert into a flat, unit-wide (street to curbside) sleeping area.
The Cobalt galley features a flip-over galley counter/complex in two separate pieces hinged together. One section sits on top of the other when the galley is configured for service and it rests on the floor when the unit is made ready for travel. When setting up camp, the top half of the galley complex simply swings up and into place. It’s like your kid’s Transformer went camping.
The galley includes a two-burner LPG-fueled cook-top with folding splatter shields across the back and along both sides. A single – but large – stainless steel galley sink can be filled with water using a hand pump. The 16,000-BTU, forced-air furnace is conveniently built into the galley complex, and can deliver heat quickly to the sleeping areas. With careful packing, the cabinets in the galley are capable of yielding respectable storage capacities; opposite the galley and just forward of the main entry is another storage cabinet that also offers goodly amounts of storage.
The interior of the Cobalt features a high tech look that employs multiple shades of the color gray. The galley cabinetry, and the single storage cabinet that sits just inside the entryway, feature an attractive, almost silver-sheen treatment, while the laminate counter tops are a dark and contrasting shade of gray. The folding laminate table, fabric upholstered cushions and mattress covers feature their own blended shades of gray, as well.
The actions required to set up the Cobalt and make it ready for camp are intuitive. We were not familiar with this unit, but with just a few simple instructions from the dealership service personnel we managed quite nicely on our own. It took about 25 minutes to set the unit up the first time, and that included unhitching the Cobalt from our Jeep Liberty. To do this, we used two hand cranks. One extends and retracts the corner scissor jacks that provide stability when campers are moving around inside. The second crank raises and lowers the roof.
The Fleetwood folding lift-system works well and features stainless steel cables and posts that smoothly articulate up and down without binding. Each lift-post includes its own separate cable, so a single cable doesn’t have to extend and retract all four lift posts at one time. After unlatching the roof from the galvanized and painted steel side body panels that come married to the full perimeter aluminum upper body rail construction and steel bulkheads, we inserted the hand crank into the slot in the rear bumper and simply cranked up the top to its full extended position. The way this system is designed makes it impossible to over-crank the mechanism and jam or damage it. However, we would have liked the crank location to be higher; stooping over to work the bumper-level crank was not much fun.
The Cobalt’s floor and bed platforms are made out of a product called Structurwood, a special type of heavy-duty plywood sheet made by Weyerhaeuser. Sidewalls are galvanized embossed steel laminated with foam. On the top, the Cobalt features a core of insulated foam that is laminated to the single-seam exterior aluminum roof skin. An optional roof rack system for carrying “toys” is available, and the roof will handle an air conditioner.
The chassis makes use of heavy-duty steel tubing, and it offers a full perimeter support system that insures the body’s durability for years to come. The tubular steel frame is used as the raceway for the trailer wiring, completely protecting it against debris kicked up from the road. Fleetwood uses an EZ Lube axle and a rugged leaf spring suspension system, and rides on 10-inch wheels attached with five (not four) lug bolts.
Our Cobalt came with a 20-pound-capacity LPG tank, and an exterior propane hook-up for outside cooking. The spare tire has a vinyl cover, as does the propane tank. Generous interior lighting and an exterior patio light offer illumination after the sun sinks. A 30-amp camp power cable and hookup provides 110-volt power to the converter/charger, the interior electrical outlets, and to a roof air conditioner should one be added.
The Element series of folding camping trailers from Fleetwood Folding, and especially the Cobalt model, make a good deal of sense for many families who want to begin enjoying the trailer-camping lifestyle. It’s got the elementals you need, without some equipment that would drive up the price. So you have to heat your own water on the two-burner stove (no water heater available), there’s no toilet (you can bring a portable toilet in the unit), and there’s no refrigerator (you can bring an ice chest), but it’s camping adventure you’re after, not retirement resort living! What you do get is a sturdy camping trailer that offers affordability, generous storage, spacious livability, and the promise of a tow vehicle that doesn’t need to be a monster truck.
Fleetwood Folding Element Series Cobalt
Base Price: $5618
Price as Tested: $6495
Length (travel/camp): 12′ 10″/16′ 9″
Width (travel/camp): 6′ 10″/incl. steps, 7′ 5″)
Height (travel/camp): 4′ 1″/8′ 4″
Unladen Weight (public scale): 1440 lbs.
Unladen Tongue Weight: 135 lbs.
GVWR: 2300 lbs.
Fresh Water: 5 gals.
LPG: 20-lb. bottle
Sleeping Capacity: 6 persons
Fleetwood Folding Trailers, Inc.
P.O. Box 111
Somerset, PA 15501
Thanks to Carl’s Acres of Trailers (909/983-8411; carlstrailers.com), Ontario, California, for the loan of the Fleetwood Folding Element Cobalt for this review.
Major Standard Features: Sunbrella 302 tent material, convertible dinette and bench seats, two end bunks with foam mattresses, 20-lb. LPG bottle with vinyl cover, spare tire with vinyl cover, electric brakes, 10-inch wheels, two-burner cooktop, stainless steel sink, manual water pump, 25-amp converter/charger, 30-amp camp power cord.
Major Optional Features: 12-volt power lifter system, air conditioner (dealer install), Yakima roof rack system, LPG auto changeover, battery box tie-down kit, sink cover, sand pads on stabilizers, furnace, combo light/fan, camper caddie, exterior grill, awning, screen room.