Sunday, June 20, 2021
Sunday, June 20, 2021

RV Review: 2021 Airstream Interstate 19

Today we review the 2021 Airstream Interstate 19 Class B motorhome on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van chassis. 

By Tony Barthel
Everything in life has a balance. One of the balances when choosing any RV is the tradeoff between a larger rig with more interior space and a smaller rig that’s more maneuverable. Today I’m looking at the 2021 Airstream Interstate 19, a Class B RV based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van. 

The difference in vans

Unlike the ultra-popular Winnebago Travato I reviewed recently, the vans on which the Airstream and the Travato are based couldn’t be more different. The Fiat Ducato/Ram Promaster is front-wheel drive using a transversely-mounted gasoline-fired V6. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is rear-wheel drive using a longitudinally-mounted turbocharged V6 diesel engine. 

So what, you say? Well, it does make a difference. 

For example, by having front-wheel drive in a van, it moves all the driving components up front essentially under the hood. This allows for a lower floor and the ability to hang a generator, as Winnebago does, under the floor easily. 

Disadvantages of Sprinter chassis

With the Sprinter chassis, a good bit of the space under the floor is consumed by the driveshaft and the rear axle with its differential. This means that the floor must be higher. That also means there is less space for things like water tanks and generators and all of that stuff. 

Furthermore, while there used to be an absolute advantage to a diesel engine in the past with their incredible torque and long life, that’s less true today. More and more electronic and emissions systems affect the reliability and longevity calculation of a diesel engine. Plus, it costs hundreds of dollars for just basic maintenance of a Sprinter. This is what owners have reported to me. 

I’ve been told a simple oil change is more than $200. Yikes. 

Yes, there are disadvantages of front-wheel drive in a van. More of the weight is likely to be on the back wheels. This eliminates the traction advantage of front-wheel drive in this type of platform. 

But it’s a Mercedes … and an Airstream

Of course, that oversized three-pointed star on the hood and the Airstream badge on the back doors of the 2021 Airstream Interstate 19 do have some cachet. Indeed, Airstream does have some nice features in this van. 

For example, all the shades are power activated. You can lower or raise them all from one place in the van. That’s cool. 

There is a power awning, as expected, but it has a motion sensor so it should retract if it senses wind. The lights on the awning are also dimmable. And the sliding side door is power-operated for 2021, a new feature. 

You can open or close the door with a button from the cockpit or on the pillar behind the passenger seat. You can also open or close the door by touching the door handle, or from a remote key fob. I also like Airstream’s simple but effective sliding screen door over the open sliding door. 

There’s also a power screen cover for the rear doors. If you choose to leave the rear doors open, you can just lower a screen to cover the whole opening with a button. There is also a privacy shade that covers the rear windows of this van, also power operated. 

Essentially, you’ve got it made with the shades. 

Two lithium batteries are standard

For 2021, the Interstate comes with two lithium batteries as standard. You can either charge these with solar panels on the roof or with the built-in generator or with the drive engine while rolling down the road. Two lithium batteries provide over 200 amp-hours of charge and with the built-in 1,000-watt inverter you’ve got a great deal of power with these. 

You can run virtually anything on the Interstate except the AC and the microwave on batteries and, I suspect, two lithium batteries are more than enough to keep things rolling overnight with reserves to spare. 

The black tank is of the macerator variety, which is essentially a garbage disposal for the toilet. The gate valves are both power-operated and all the controls are behind a panel so it’s both convenient and neat. Furthermore, since the black and gray tanks are pumped through a smaller hose you can literally pump the contents uphill. Nice. The hose is on a permanent reel that features a power retractor. The whole process of dumping the tanks is really effortless. 

What I don’t like about the Airstream Interstate 19

Unfortunately, I really don’t think this rig is well thought out at all. And I don’t often write that. 

There’s a small 9.34-gallon propane tank aboard that you have to find and drive to a propane station to fill. But there’s also 24.5 gallons of diesel fuel aboard. Which is easier to find? So why in the world is there a propane-powered generator instead of a diesel model? 

As part of writing these, I contact the manufacturer and also talk with owners. I watch several demonstrations of the vehicles so I get a good feel if I can’t see the rig in person. 

The touch screen system is complicated

In at least two of the videos I watched, I observed the typical Airstream customer fumble their way through the complicated touch screen system. They were trying to figure out how to turn on or dim lights, check tank monitor levels or do other basic functions. These could easily be done with redundant switches. Unless you can score user interface designers from Apple, don’t do user interfaces. This one has a series of nested menus and is just a hard no. 

Why is the TV a 110vac model? With this much lithium power aboard it’s silly to have to run the inverter just to watch the TV. There are plenty of good 12-volt televisions available. 

There are two ottoman chairs that are power-operated and this is a nice bed when the whole rear of the coach is converted to the same, but you can’t comfortably sit in those chairs. They make sense in the larger versions of this van but not here. Those ottoman chairs are partially under the counters from the kitchen and pantry so you’re paying for a power ottoman that you can barely use. 

Trying to be objective in my reviews

I have been accused of being too positive in my reviews. I do look for the good and the bad and try to be objective. The RV lifestyle offers so much joy. I also recognize that RVs are all hand-built in small numbers and undergo a regular torture test. You’re well served to have some mechanical ability if you own any RV. So I don’t mention that as all RVs have issues. 

Usually there’s enough good to outweigh the bad. But it seems to me that whoever was in charge of the Interstate project is more looking at spec sheets than actually taking one out and camping with it. 

So, if you’re thinking of getting a Class B RV there are certainly a lot of good choices where the inevitable compromise designers have to incorporate have resulted in more usable decisions. It seems that buyers share my opinion based on sales of the Travato versus the Interstate, but that could also be because at $165,143 for the base model, I could get a better floor plan and save $35,000 by getting the Travato.  

These RV reviews are written based on information provided by the manufacturers along with our writer’s own research. We receive no money or other financial benefits from these reviews. They are intended only as a brief overview of the vehicle, not a comprehensive critique, which would require a thorough inspection and/or test drive.

Got an RV we need to look at? Contact us today and let us know – thank you!

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Roger Spalding
5 months ago

To paraphrase what the English car magazines love to say, “The Interstate is the answer to a question no one was asking.” The Class C Atlas is the only sensible motorhome in the Airstream lineup. Price for the Atlas with only the few options available? A very reasonable Airstream/MB $250K. It makes the Interstate look like a bargain at $165K. But for that kind of money, you can buy a full boat 2021 Ford F-150 Powerboost 7.2 gen/inverter, or F-250 or F-350 Godzilla or V8 diesel, and tow a shorter 5th wheel from Jayco Northpoint or a larger Eagle, a smaller Keystone Montana High Country or a bigger Cougar, or a Grand Design Reflection 5th wheel. Those rigs may not have the “wow” factor of an Airstream, but they will take you a lot farther, in more comfort and with more reliability for many more years at less cost.

Ronald
5 months ago

Fair and honest reviews are the best way to do these articles,I own a class b and your bang on,it’s not being negative about interstate,as much as giving them a chance to correct deficiencies,keep up the good work.

Firefly
5 months ago

This was a very well thought-out and argued review Tony. Nice piece of work.

Ron T.
5 months ago

Tony’s right about the 120vac TVs. If you’ve ever looked inside most electric appliances, the power cord generally attaches directly to a transformer that steps that down to a more manageable level. Modern electronics try to avoid the heat from high power levels. By the way that “charger” for your phone and that rectangular box half way between your laptop and the wall plug are just transformers albeit smart ones.

Bob P
5 months ago

Of course there are my usual comments about German over engineering, why they make everything so over engineered. Well one reason I guess so you have to take it to a Mercedes dealer to find someone to work on them. Your not going to find a mechanic in Podunk AR to work on it when(yes I said when) something goes wrong. When we were in SE Texas two years ago a nice couple from CO was camped next to us in a Sprinter conversion (1year old) that had a check engine light on in the dash. I plugged my diagnostic tool into the OBD 2 connector under their dash and read the 2 codes but not having a book on what the codes were he had to call Mercedes. Then he found they were going to have to drive to Houston to the nearest Sprinter dealer (yes not every Mercedes dealer has the equipment to work on Sprinters) over 100 miles away, stay in a motel 2 nights while their motorhome was in the shop. Had that been an American brand of vehicle there were dealers in town.

Tommy Molnar
5 months ago

To me, there’s just too much stuff run by electronics on this small RV. Power window shades, power door opener, power screen deployers, power chairs, power dump valves . . . I can possibly see some of this ‘convenience’ stuff on a 40′ Class A, but in this case, you can reach almost everything by hand without getting out of your chair! I don’t want to sound too old fashioned, but the more electronic stuff (that you can do without), the more potential for things going amiss.

Dan
5 months ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Amen! Gimme buttons that go “click”. That’s not just my age showing, it’s also about being practical. Would you rather replace a failed switch, or wonder about the mysteries inside your touch screen?

Jim Thomas
5 months ago

Tony, I’m surprised you didn’t know the answer to your question about the generator. The smallest Onan diesel generator is 6 KW. It’s too big for the Interstate – not only does it not need 6 KW, it would take up twice as much space as a 2.5KW LP generator. When space is at a premium, squeezing in a diesel gen set makes no sense.

Roger V
5 months ago
Reply to  Jim Thomas

Check out the Leisure Travel Unity line. Same chassis. Somehow they manage to include a
3.2 KW Diesel Generator c/w Auto Changeover Switch as an option on every model.

Bob Reddington
5 months ago
Reply to  Roger V

The Unity is a wide body motorhome so there is more room. We have an older Leisure Travel Van Serenity on a Sprinter with a propane Onan. I’ve always thought the advantage was supposed to be you don’t deplete your diesel by running the generator. I never use it anyway except to “exercise” the generator but if you boondock more than we do it’s valuable and all the more reason to conserve diesel.

Michael
5 months ago
Reply to  Tony Barthel

Yes, but you fill with propane anyway, if you have a furnace, stove, or 3-way fridge.

Colin Grant
5 months ago
Reply to  Michael

Propane is very low maintenance compared to diesel or gas. I have a small Onan underneath my Sprinter and it works great at 14 years of age.

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