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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 r•pods 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.
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!