Off the rack

36
VIEWS

Words and pictures by Grant Spolander.

Off the rack. Off-road Trailer Review: Echo 4

Echo 4×4 is a major player in SA’s off-road trailer industry; they’ve been in the game since ’94 and have played a pivotal role in the market’s developments since.

Today, Echo 4×4 boasts a wide range of trailers and caravans, but there are three models which particularly interest the overland community: the Echo 3, Echo 4 and Echo 5 off-road trailers. (Another model worth taking a look at is their off-road goods trailer, the Echo Roadster All Terrain. This low-slung unit features minimal accessories and is designed for anyone looking for a multipurpose cargo trailer for off- and on-road use.)
The Echo 3, 4 and 5 models are similar in appearance but there’s a vast specification difference between the units. As their numerical titles might suggest, the Echo 3 is the brand’s entrylevel unit, the Echo 4 is significantly more feature-filled, and the Echo 5 is the brand’s flagship model. In the past, the Echo 4 (as reviewed here) was the company’s most popular offering. However, since its inception in ’09 the Echo 5 has swiftly gained popularity and now matches the Echo 4 on the sales front.

FORM & FUNCTION
The folks at Echo 4×4 looked at me a little sceptically when I told them I’d be reviewing this trailer man-alone. Would I know how to erect the trailer’s tent by myself, they wondered, especially as this was to be my first experience of this brand? So, let me begin this review by telling you that the Echo 4’s trailer tent is surprisingly easy to erect – solo. Sure, before I left Echo’s premises I was given a brief demonstration of the best method, but it’s still telling that I was able to pitch the trailer tent in about 10 minutes; with a bit of practice I know I’d be able to do it in half that time.

Interestingly, the most timeconsuming factor of erecting this tent is trying to undo the top cover’s Velcro beading. At first, Velcro seems like a great idea when compared to other covers which use often finicky tensioning straps or drawstrings, but the Echo 4’s Velcrosecured cover tends to reattach itself if you’re not holding it back carefully enough while separating the two pieces. Of course, if you have a handlanger, you shouldn’t have this problem.

Once the top cover is off, the tent is simply pulled over and then secured with tent pegs. Packing the tent away is a little more taxing, but once you get the action waxed it’s really quite easy – especially for taller folks who can push the tent over from a comfortable chest-height position.

When the tent is in place, the righthand- side of the trailer acts as an internal bedroom, with a fold-down counter and a total of six slide-out drawers. The opposite side is designed for kitchen use, sporting two more drawers, a fold-down worktop, a 2-plate gas stove and an adjacent cupboard for items like crockery, cutlery and general storage. The Echo 4’s built-in drawers are unique. Most trailer builders design their drawer systems around the dimensions of an ammo box; then they neatly slot several ammo boxes into each slide-out tray. The Echo 4, however, uses purposemade drawer units which are designed and manufactured specially for the Echo 4 and Echo 5 trailers. These drawers optimise the available space and hold 50 percent more than a conventional plastic ammo box. In other words, two Echo 4 drawers will hold the same volume as three ammo boxes.

At the trailer’s rear you’ll find a swing-out door and, behind it, a large cargo compartment for bulky items like camping chairs, groceries, a braai grid, firewood and the like. You’ll also find the trailer’s electrical distribution board and a neatly-stashed 1.2 m camping table.

Up front, the trailer’s nosecone is designed to accommodate an 80- or 90-litre National Luna fridge/freezer. A thoughtfully placed flip-up panel on the outside of the nosecone affords you quick access to your National Luna’s control panel. The nose cone is also finished in a hardwearing black paint, which is great for stone-chip resistance but perhaps not so great for ‘in cone’ temperatures – this black box gets very hot in direct sunlight, raising the interior temperature and forcing the fridge/ freezer to work harder than it might have done if the box were finished in a lighter colour.

An item which comes in for special mention is the Echo 4’s lever-lock door handles: they’re brilliant. I’ve been exposed to a couple of trailer brands so I can tell you confidently that the Echo 4’s door levers are top of the class. The door features a single swivel handle that simultaneously operates two securing cams at the top and bottom of the door. By incorporating three basic mechanical principles (leverage, weight and a cam-lock design) the Echo 4’s doors are incredibly easy to close, despite the resistance of a super-thick dust seal.

NUTS & BOLTS
The Echo 4’s door handles typify the unit’s build quality – the hinge rods, cam tabs and lever handles are constructed from substantial materials and nothing about this trailer feels weak or fiddly. From a construction perspective, the Echo 4 consists of a steel body made from pre-galvanised panels welded to a tubular steel frame, and this body is mounted on top of a channel-iron chassis. The trailer’s roof section is built separately and glued to the body / frame using industrial adhesive.

Overall, the Echo 4 feels purpose-built and designed to last. What’s more, the Echo 4 sports various plastic-moulded components, designed specifically for this model, which imbue this trailer with a distinctive identity.

HOOKED UP
The Echo 4’s weight distribution is biased towards the front of the trailer; it’s an intentional structural trait designed to keep the nose of the trailer grounded when cargo is loaded in the rear. The 100-litre water tank is mounted low and up-front – just behind the trailer’s A-frame – and is thus instrumental in this forward distribution of mass.

I particularly like the fact that the Echo 4 doesn’t have a long overhang at the rear, which helps the trailer’s departure angle when driving off-road. The undercarriage is also neatly laid out; nothing protrudes below the trailer’s 2 500 kg axle. However, if you start driving over really rough rocky terrain, there’s a small chance you could rip off the water tank’s outlet pipe – it’s a bit exposed. That said, if you damage the outlet pipe, you’ll probably have bashed the axle too, so the water pipe would be the least of your worries. Towed behind a Nissan Navara 2.5 diesel, the Echo 4 tracked well and showed no signs of trailer-sway or erratic movements. In fact, once I was on the open road, I forgot about the trailer altogether. And, in the streets of Pretoria, the trailer’s relatively narrow body offered plenty of visibility when looking back through the Nissan’s side mirrors. All in all, the Echo 4 is a compact and nimble trailer that’ll feel manageable for even the most novice of towers.

TOW 2 TOW
In its most basic form, the Echo 4 retails for R56 900; that’s for an empty shell with no accessories. The spec level featured in this review is apparently what most people opt for, and it’ll crank the invoice up to roughly R112 000. South Africans are spoilt for choice in the off-road trailer market. You can stretch your pennies on a budget buy, or blow the bank on a custom-made unit that’s over-engineered and kitted to the hilt. The Echo 4 shines brightly in the middle of these two spectrums. It’s not the world’s most radical trailer, but it checks all the right boxes as far as features, function, durability and competitive pricing are concerned. In many ways, you could say it’s the Fortuner of the trailer world; a dominant force propelled by good value for money and a successful sales record.

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