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RV Review: A look at 2021’s best – and worst – RV features, Part 1

Once again it’s time to take a look at the RVs we all looked at this year and pick out the best and the worst RV features, from my perspective. 

I mention working at a dealership in my reviews and, for those who have missed it, I used to work in both sales and the warranty department where I managed the warranty claims to the manufacturers. Both were really interesting jobs, and I moved on from the dealership right as the RV industry got super hot. Timing has never been my strong suit. 

It is the perspective of working within the industry and seeing how both customers and the industry folks think that I try to share tips and features, and blunders, I see in new RVs. Predominantly, I focus on the things that I think will make a difference over time as you use your new RV. 

I also know that a lot of RVs spend the vast majority of their time sitting wherever the owners keep them parked. It’s a pretty well-accepted norm that most new RVs only see about two to three uses per year. However, the spike in sales also saw a big spike in folks using their RVs. In fact, some of them, many of them, moved into their RVs full-time. 

Travel trailers are the overwhelming majority of what’s sold out there. But Class B motorhomes, vans, are super hot. The vans on which these motorhomes are based are in perpetual short supply as companies like Amazon also buy them to bring you your packages so they can be stolen from your porches. I wonder how much more of a percentage Class B RVs would be in the total RV sales picture if the people who turned them from vans into campers could actually get all they wanted? 

Awards

Right now I don’t have a fancy award to give to any manufacturer. But I’ve been talking with publisher Chuck Woodbury and, perhaps, that may change. These daily RV reviews are pretty popular and perhaps we could work toward some positive changes in the industry by handing out trophies of some sort. So, who would I give trophies to for 2021? Here we go. 

Cool features

When I come across something that I think really stands out and is a usable RV feature, I tend to think about that a lot. So, on our first stop on this journey we head out to Monkey Island to visit with the folks from Newell. 

Newell makes very high-end custom Class A diesel pushers (where the diesel engine is in the back). One of the features on the Newell coach that we looked at was a shade that covered the window that doubled as a movie screen. With projectors becoming smaller and less power-hungry but the images getting better, this use of space is just brilliant, to me. 

But the best thing about it is that the shade is somewhat translucent so you can flip the image so that it’s a rear projection and see whatever you want from outside through the window. The Newell also has outside speakers, as do so many RVs nowadays, so the audio for whatever you’re watching comes through those. 

I actually have a movie screen that we use for a variety of things including when we go camping. It is made of a Spandex-type material and we can do front- or rear-projection. I could see this being a great use of space in many RVs. You would get a larger screen than is possible with a televator and save space plus gain more functionality. 

Simply better

While I love fancy features and new gadgets, I have to hand it to Grand Design including the XPlor 200MK on some of their more affordable stick-and-tin trailers. On these they have a manual tongue jack with a provision for a standard electric drill. I would imagine anyone with manual stabilizers, as is common on travel trailers, would have an electric drill as it is. This is just a small but really thoughtful feature. 

off-grid camping in Anza Borego desert

Boondocking 

As more and more traditional RV parks are more and more difficult to find space in, boondocking has become something more RVers consider to get more use out of their RVs. My wife and I actually prefer boondocking in open spaces to camping at most RV parks for the peace and solitude it provides. 

RV companies are starting to provide more features that facilitate boondocking and some of those are pretty interesting.



Water

With the advances in solar and battery technology, water is really the bigger challenge than power in many cases now. So there were a few RVs we looked at who addressed this. 

Of course the enormous storage tanks in a motorhome along with diesel generators make them champions of off-grid camping. But the gigantic size of the rigs plus their being relatively low to the ground precludes them from a lot of the places I go boondocking. You’re not likely to find a Class A diesel pusher in the desert next to where I’m camped. 

Reuse

One of the most clever water-saving techniques I saw in any RV this year was in the RKS Purpose adventure trailer. This thing was nifty for a lot of reasons including the fact that you could go up onto the roof via a ladder in the trailer. 

But one of the neatest features on this trailer was that it used the gray water to flush the toilet. This is such a logical thing. The gray water is essentially soapy water. So using it to flush the toilet, rather than depleting your fresh water supply, makes so much sense. 

After I discovered this feature in the RKS Purpose, I asked our local RV service guy if he could do that to our trailer – he thought I was nuts. So does my wife. But I’m sure the folks who like their RKS Purpose trailers would disagree – this is a great feature. Another great feature is the tall bathroom up front and the roof-top deck. This trailer also features 70 gallons of fresh water aboard and has a 60-gallon black tank. I would definitely give the RKS Purpose the overlanding trailer of the year award. 

If I were giving out awards. 

If flushing your toilet with gray water isn’t your thing, perhaps not depleting your fresh tank while waiting for the shower to get hot might be. Several RVs feature a SHOWERMI$ER system. You can flip a lever and the water that would otherwise come into the shower gets diverted directly back into the fresh water tank while waiting for the hot water. 

Someone guesstimated that you could be wasting a gallon or more of water just waiting for it to get hot at the shower. This completely solves that problem. It does require additional plumbing, so I can see some cost-conscious RVs not having this. But it’s a great feature. 

I first saw this in Rockwood and Flagstaff RVs. It’s been a standard feature there for many years now. Recently, I’ve begun seeing it in rpods and some Winnebago products including Class B motorhomes. I would put this feature on your checklist if you’re RV shopping and have any ideas about boondocking. 

Solar

More and more RVs are coming with bigger and better solar systems. The caliber and performance of these systems are getting better all the time. I was so thrilled to be able to get an 80-watt portable solar panel for my trailer five years ago and, today, that’s almost laughable.

But the king of the hill with solar has to be Keystone RV. They have put at least 200 watts of solar on the roof of every RV they build regardless of price. This means the very affordable Springdale line all the way up to some high-end fifth wheels. Their Solarflex package ranges from those 200-watt systems up to 600 watts with a powerful inverter and batteries.

Best of all, the more affordable systems are expandable with provisions for adding more solar and inverters built in.

By far, this is the best general solar package I have seen. The commitment from Keystone to solar really is a feather in their cap.

Keystone has a team on staff called the Innovation Lab, which is responsible for this and other features including a man-made flooring product called HyperDeck – which is waterproof, essentially. They also have their Blade air handling system which delivers more air flow so AC units perform better.

I would say more than any other company, Keystone is offering a lot of usable value in a broad range of models. However, there are other companies with models that go beyond the basics and get really nerdy.



Not to be outdone, we looked at the Rockwood GeoPro campers with the Power Package that includes three of the 190-watt solar panels for 570 watts of solar, a 400 amp-hour Mastervolt MLI lithium-ion battery, and a 3,000-watt Mastervolt Combimaster inverter. Further, this system includes an 11,000 BTU Coleman Mach air conditioner with built-in soft-start technology.

Mike Sokol and I have been toying with this package for a while. He reports that he can run the AC off the batteries alone for about six hours, and more if there is any sun out.

As proof of concept, Winnebago, too, has an outstanding package on their Micro Minnie FLX series featuring 380 watts of solar on the roof via two 190-watt solar panels feeding 320 watts of lithium batteries. There’s a 3,000-watt Xantrex inverter so, essentially, you can run anything on the trailer. But the best thing is that this trailer includes the Truma Aventa air conditioner (see below for details). It also has the Truma VarioHeat and Truma AquaGo tankless water heater.

YouTube star Traveling Robert has had one of these for a while and has been really enjoying it, including the ability to run off the grid.

So, Rockwood, Keystone or Winnebago – which system is best? I have to give it to Winnebago simply because they are using the German-engineering Aventa AC unit and are literally the first in this country to do so.

Look for Part 2 of my review of 2021’s best and worst RV features in tomorrow’s RV Travel News for RVers Newsletter.

*****

I would love to read your comments and suggestions over on our new forums, where you can weigh in and start or join a discussion about all things RV. Here’s a link to my RV Reviews Forum.

Tony comes to RVTravel having worked at an RV dealership and been a life long RV enthusiast. He also has written the syndicated Curbside column about cars. You can find his writing here and at StressLessCamping where he also has a podcast about the RV life with his wife. 

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 in the form below – thank you!

##RVT1033

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Colin Grant
25 days ago

Advertising German engineered A/C doesn’t impress me having owned German vehicles including my current Sprinter RV. They have been poor performers compared to North American made vehicles a/c units and very expensive to repair.

Linda Dean
26 days ago

Re: Using grey water for toilet.
I think that is a great Idea, you don’t deplete your fresh water, and your grey water tank doesn’t fill up as quickly.

Mark
26 days ago

I think the idea of using gray water for toilet flushing is genius. It reuses unusable water, instead of fresh, and might also help clean the black tank & it’s sensors. There is also the side effect of running soapy water around your toilet bowl, perhaps making that easier to clean as well.

William Hetzel
26 days ago

Re the Newell TV projection system. You go RVing to watch movies and sports? You go RVing to watch movies and sports outside where you can annoy your neighbors? Please let me know where you go RVing so I can be sure to avoid those places!

Bobby
26 days ago
Reply to  William Hetzel

I so agree with you.

Gary
26 days ago
Reply to  William Hetzel

You’d change your mind if he was watching porn….;<)

And yes, we go RVing and watch TV and movies, usually at night.

Scott R. Ellis
25 days ago
Reply to  William Hetzel

Yeah. A bigger and better way to annoy your neighbors is not exactly progress.

captain gort
24 days ago
Reply to  William Hetzel

Amen to THAT!!

rvgrandma
26 days ago

Depending on the temp of the water, it takes a 1/3 to 1/2 gallon before I get hot out of the shower. I save it in gallon jugs then use it when I flush my black, especially during the winter when I can’t hook up the hose for the flush out. But, it is a lot quicker to dump 3-4 gallons into the tank after draining than turn the flush out on or stand holding the pedal down.

Also, they are always having to repair broken lines in the RV park I live in which means turning the water off. So I always have water on hand to use when it is turned off.

Fred
26 days ago

You’re right that using grey water to flush the toilet is a water saver, but there is a negative to this feature. Putting all the soaps & any other chemicals that usually go into the grey tank, into the black tank will likely kill the microbe action that dissolves the solids in the black tank. So you could end up with little to no dissolved solids, which might contribute to sludge buildup in the bottom of the tank, & possibly a plugged drain.

T G
26 days ago
Reply to  Fred

I think you way over estimate the amount of microbial action going on in your black tank.

Russ
26 days ago
Reply to  T G

Yup! Its a holding tank, not a septic tank.

MattD
26 days ago

Having the solarflex package on every Keystone model doesn’t make up for the fact that Keystone builds JUNK.

MattD
25 days ago
Reply to  Tony Barthel

To be fair, the Cougar we bought WAS a Western Edition built in Oregon. We had to drive from Colorado to Montana to buy it (this particular 5er model) from Bretz RV in Billings, another horror story. It was quite the learning experience, both the RV and the dealership. Still I would never buy a Keystone product again. We own an OutdoorsRV Titanium series TT That has not given us a single problem, also built in Oregon. Hmmmm

Steve
26 days ago

The use of gray water for toilet flushing should be a simple factory mod for Winnebago in their View/Navion 24V model. Due to the gray tank location, Winnebago uses a macerator pump to empty the gray tank when dumping (the black tank drains by gravity). Utilizing this pump to send gray water to the toilet would only require a two-way valve and a momentary “on” switch to flush. Simple, cheap, and a great way to complement the factory solar system and 2000W inverter, optional lithium batteries, OEM 12v refrigerator, Truma tankless water heater, LED lighting, and propane or diesel generator to create a true short-term boondocking RV.

This mod would help make up for the limited tank sizes due to the design of the Sprinter chassis. And, even if the toilet flushing system were optional, its cost compared to the costs of optional full-body paint, theater seats, or diesel generator should be minimal, and even more useful. Now, if Winnebago would just go to all 12v TVs . . . !

Steve C
26 days ago

This may be getting into the weeds, but many/most electronic devices need to be powered with pure sine AC power vs that from modified sine wave inverters. Inverters that provide this type of power are a bit more expensive, but invaluable if you don’t want to ruin your electronic devices. (Google “pure sine inverters” if you don’t believe me)

Gregory Illes
26 days ago

Nice tweaks for sure. But as an inveterate boondocker, I’m waiting to see a manufacturer provide a composting toilet and NO black tank. Probably too extreme for the typical RV crowd.

Bruce
26 days ago
Reply to  Gregory Illes

Agree on that. Went to the composting head on sailboat had and was so much better than dealing with the holding tanks, pump outs and other headaches and no smell. Lots of them on boats for those reasons. And holding tanks eventually leak and unlike a RV it’s coming out somewhere unpleasant in boat

martin a
26 days ago
Reply to  Tony Barthel

Funnel in the sink?

Roger Eide
26 days ago

Very interesting and thoughtful information. I have been very interested in the boon docking trend and found the information on the Winnebago A/C and solar systems very interesting indeed. I missed the review of that model at the time. That system seems to solve two problems(or opportunities) for RV enthusiasts, noise and power consumption. Love the newsletters. I look forward to them especially during the off season for us (we live in South Dakota).