By Tony Barthel
I don’t know if this was true in the rest of the country, but here in California and even in the Pacific Northwest there seemed to be quite a love of those little Chinook motorhomes based on the Toyota compact pickup. They were like little turtles and offered great fuel economy and the promised reliability of the Toyota platform along with a motorhome.
Like so many other companies, the recession of 2008 was quite difficult for Chinook and, frankly, I thought they were long gone. But, it turns out, they just pulled back and were off some of our radars for a while.
Chinook is back, baby
But Chinook is back in full force and is sending out press releases and everything. I got ahold of one to share with you. Apparently, while I wasn’t paying attention, Chinook went from making compact motorhomes with pop tops to making Class C motorhomes on Ford Chassis until the whole recession nonsense.
Once things got weird financially, they then switched to making trailers including the trail wagon which is a cargo trailer made to look just like a Mercedes Sprinter with its nose cut off and trailerized, so to speak. The company also makes traditional “stick and tin” trailers and has a Class B offering as well as a corporate limo using a Sprinter.
But what they’re really excited about is the new Chinook Summit, a Class C motorhome based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter cutaway chassis. The company describes this as a “Class B+ premium” motorhome and the price reflects that – approaching $200,000.
They also indicate that some of the original tooling from the pre-recession Chinook models was used in this new model. That includes the signature backwards rectangle side window that makes a Chinook unquestionably a Chinook.
Chinook is noted for quality construction and innovation
The company makes a big deal out of the fact that the walls are not the typical RV walls with bonded fiberglass construction. Instead it uses a steel substructure that is like a roll bar. It is credited with being stronger than the typical aluminum. Insulation is also apparently better with the steel.
“Chinook RV has always been noted for quality construction and innovation since its inception, and this new model is no exception,” said Phil Rizzio, owner and president of the company.
Well, the company is doing one thing very differently in offering a rear entrance to the rig instead of the usual side entrance. This gives the 23’ 9” vehicle a decent amount of interior space and a decidedly unusual floor plan.
What’s inside the Chinook Summit
Since the entrance is at the rear, that’s the best place to start. The lavatory is on your left. This is a dry bath, for sure, as the shower is on your right. Before you get to the shower you’ll find a closet just inside the entrance. This is a good idea as it gives you the chance to dump those winter coats before going all the way in to the coach.
One of the things that is apparent in this coach is that the materials do feel high-end. The company is proud of their CNC-cut one-piece cabinetry, Infinity woven vinyl floors and soft-touch vinyl finishes including the walls and ceiling.
The galley is interesting in that it features a Dometic gas-electric refrigerator with the door that can be opened at the front and the back. One of the most collectible vintage refrigerators is the Philco that has this same feature. I don’t know why it took 70 years to come back, but here it is. (I’ve also seen it in some Leisure Travel Vans products.)
Ahead of the fridge, which is on the road side, is a single induction burner with some drawers underneath.
There’s a sink on the camp side which effectively splits the kitchen in half across either side of this motorhome. While this isn’t something I’ve seen much in RVs, it’s probably how many residential kitchens are configured. So I don’t know why I thought it was weird, especially since this is how my house is built.
Unusual sleeping arrangement in the Chinook Summit
The most unusual thing about the layout of the Chinook Summit is the sleeping arrangement. In daytime use there are two sofas, one on either side of the camper. You could easily have six people here for a game of cards or just a chill-and-chat session.
But do a little folding and you have one giant king-sized bed that is essentially the whole front of the camper. All around the couches is a halo of cabinetry, again, with the beautiful wood construction. Interior color and wood finish choices are subjective, of course. But my perception is that this is a very rich-feeling interior – much like a limousine.
The body of the coach is also not as wide as some but that improves maneuverability. It also means you don’t have to have mirrors extending out to compensate for the width.
I had the chance to speak with Jeff Butler, General Manager of Chinook, about the Summit. He had an interesting take on the thinking behind the Summit build.
Essentially the coach portion of the motorhome is built in-house with a steel chassis serving as the base for the rig, as is normal. The idea of how they build it is to eliminate squeaks and rattles, which are pretty common in motorhomes.
“It’s like building the house – you want to build on a solid foundation,” said Butler.
Then they use an aluminum skin around the entire exterior of the coach, including the roof. So, rather than fiberglass, the exterior is metal with the idea of following norms in the automotive industry. Seams and corners are bonded with urethane to reduce the chance of water intrusion.
The Summit is the only Truma gold-level certified RV in the U.S.
The thing that most intrigued me was their insulation, which they’re very proud of – and should be. The Summit is the only RV in the U.S. gold-level certified by Truma. How do you achieve this?
First, you put the motorhome into a cold chamber with all the doors and windows open to “cold soak” it. Once the whole thing gets to -15° C (-5° F), they then close the doors and windows and turn on the heater in the rig, all while it stays in that cold chamber.
To qualify for gold status a camper has to get up to 20° C (68° F) in four hours. But the Summit did so in three hours, 20 minutes. Then the heater just kept going. And going. And they finally shut it off after it was just crazy hot inside the RV while it was still -15° C outside.
Power to the people
Another area where the company prides itself is in their power system. This coach comes standard with a Xantrex 2,000-watt inverter and two six-volt AGM batteries. But it can be ordered with up to 630 watts of lithium power charged by the 400 watts of solar on the roof. Jeff Butler indicated that they’re sourcing AC systems that can be powered by this large available bank of batteries.
Incidentally, on the subject of power, the induction cooktop can be taken outside. So if one person chooses to heat up some coffee in the morning or make breakfast, it’s as simple as bringing a lightweight induction cooktop to a provided shelf in the back.
One of the appealing things about Class B motorhomes is that they can be driven like a regular passenger car. While the Summit is bigger than a Class B, it’s not so much bigger that this aspect isn’t part of the appeal. You could slip into a parking spot at a local grocery store and get supplies to stock up that fancy fridge, all while Fido relaxes in air conditioned comfort.
There are a lot of things Chinook is doing well with this design but it’s not an inexpensive Class C. While final pricing hasn’t been determined, the company’s literature says to expect retail pricing at under $200,000.
You’re getting quite a rig for this money but you’re also going to have to pass a lot of Class A motorhomes, as well. Still, there are a lot of people looking for something that’s maneuverable, offers a lot of tech and is built seemingly better than many RVs. And better-built products usually carry a premium. Just ask anyone whose car has one of those three-pointed stars on it.
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.
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