If you’re going to make a fifth wheel, or any RV for that matter, how do you distinguish yourself from so many others, especially if you’re making what could be perceived as the same floor plan as so many others? I was recently sitting around the campfire, quite literally, talking about this with friends who work in the RV space.
This is especially true, to me, with fifth wheels where everybody and their brother makes almost this exact same floor plan. You’ve seen it if you’ve been in more than two fifth wheels and it’s popular for a reason. It just works.
But then, with each manufacturer making one, how do you stand out in the field?
Today we’re looking at two different iterations of the Cougar 316RLS and seeing what Keystone’s answer to this question is.
Let’s start with Keystone’s “Innovation Lab.” This is a group of people at the company who are tasked with solving the issues many RVers have in common.
So this group has come up with the “Blade Pure” air conditioner ducting system. The company’s tests demonstrate a 20% improvement in air delivery and air flow compared to typical RV AC ducting systems. Then they added MERV 9 filtration (minimum efficiency reporting value), which removes down to 1.0–3.0 micron particle size from the air.
This means things like dust mites, pollen, mold, dander and other sneeze-inducing particles are trapped in the filtration system.
Color-coded wiring system
Another thing that has made a difference when I was selling RVs is Keystone’s color-coded wiring system. What basically is done in the RV industry is that there are huge spools of wire on the line and the workers just pull based on need. But that doesn’t mean a yellow wire on one rig will perform the same function as it does on another one. This method is better.
On this model I also like that Keystone has focused on the towing. That includes using a Road Armor pin box and suspension system. Friends who have towed these say they tow well, but I have to take their word for it. This also means E-rated Goodyear Endurance tires and a tire pressure monitoring system.
What I don’t have to take anyone’s word for is the fact that this rig is warranted for full-time living.
For 2022, all Keystone products come standard with at least 200 watts of solar on the roof. Furthermore, even at the base level they’re wired to have inverter power specific outlets in the rig, if that’s something you need.
One of the things the RV industry has recognized is that campgrounds are full. Also, that many, many of us just would rather not spend $70 a night for a spot that is so cramped you have to be careful opening your awning lest you hit your neighbor.
For anyone who only uses developed campgrounds, solar probably doesn’t matter at all – other than potentially maintaining the RV’s batteries when it’s not in use. But for those who camp off the grid at all, solar can be a huge game changer.
With today’s lithium and AGM batteries and the power of the sun, the only reason you might have to come in from camping is to dump your tanks. It’s totally conceivable to have a camper that never needs to plug in. In fact, Mike Sokol, the RV electricity expert, is testing a travel trailer right now that can run the AC from its built-in battery bank.
Options in the SolarFlex™
The way Keystone implemented SolarFlex on this is not unlike some of the other newer Keystone products. The very minimum installed system sports a 200-watt solar panel on the roof. Then they wired it up to easily accommodate a second panel without much effort at all. You could also install an inverter and batteries such that specific plugs in the rig can operate only from the battery and inverter system.
If you truly do want more, Keystone’s next major upgrade is the SolarFlex 400i package. It has 400 watts of solar on the roof, a 2,000-watt inverter, and a smart battery monitor system. For many of us, this package is sufficient to do most of what we do camping – with the exception of running the air conditioners. For that you’d still need shore power or a generator.
Even more power is available
In the event that you don’t want to have shore power or a generator at all, you could upgrade to the SolarFlex 600i-L package. It puts 600 watts of solar on the roof and includes a Dragonfly® 270 amp-hour lithium battery system. This also includes a 3,000-watt hybrid inverter that can pull power from shore power and supplement battery power as needed. It’s a pretty smart system and will certainly get you off the grid.
To put this in perspective, I have an 80-watt portable solar panel and a single 105 amp-hour AGM thin cell battery, and camp off the grid quite a bit. This small system hasn’t been a hindrance to camping, so I can imagine what it would be like to have even Keystone’s 400i, let alone the 600i-L. But I do choose to camp where I use the rattle trap air conditioner on the roof as little as possible because, well, it’s noisy.
As mentioned, this is a pretty common floor plan, so you’ve already seen something like this.
However, there are some interesting features, too. That includes the fact that there’s a booth dinette standard, where most fifth wheels have free-standing table and chairs. But this booth dinette features a “Dream Dinette” table, which is wall-mounted and doesn’t have knee-knocker legs.
If you do choose the free-standing table and chairs, that table is wall-mounted, as well.
As much as I kvetch about those worthless 17” ovens, this trailer features the larger 22” model and yet, technically, is a couples’ camper.
Downstairs in the Cougar 316RLS
The downstairs seating consists of theater seats on the camp side facing a large TV on the road side. There’s also a couch along the back, of course, but I really like the open side tables on this couch that offer some storage and a place to rest your drink. There are also USB and 120-volt outlets on either side of the couch.
As you would expect in a fifth wheel, there are plenty of cabinets and drawers here, including a decent-sized pantry.
You can also get either a gas-electric absorption-style refrigerator or a residential model. With SolarFlex, you’ll already have an inverter to operate that residential fridge, if that’s your choice. I’m sure it won’t be long before they offer a 12-volt compressor fridge, but there isn’t one as of this writing.
Upstairs Abbey in the Cougar 316RLS
Again, typical of a fifth wheel, there’s a sizable bathroom upstairs. This one features two cabinets but no medicine cabinets. There are also two drawers below the sinks and two sinks. I don’t know if I’ve ever wanted to challenge someone to a tooth brushing contest – but you could with two sinks.
I think the oddest thing in the Cougar 316RLS is the bed area. Of course the standard bed is a queen-sized model, with a king-sized model available. But, strangely enough, there are no sideboards. So you won’t have a place to drop those digital distract-o-matics that we all know and love.
How are you going to read RV Travel and then finally put your iPad down somewhere if there’s no table to do so? There is a cabinet, of sorts, in the closet in the nose. But that requires having to get up and put the noisy device down there – which defeats the purpose. Honestly, this is a surprisingly big thing to overlook in an otherwise really well-thought-out floor plan.
But, heck, it makes it easy for me to find a “dislike” for my chart, so it’s good for me.
The other day I wrote about the Cedar Creek 291RW, which might be considered a competitor for this model. I also complained about the fact that Cedar Creek provides so little information about their product.
That’s not true of Keystone’s Cougar brand. There is plenty of information on Keystone’s website about the various things that are advantages of the Keystone brand in general and the Cougar specifically.
I’d imagine both Keystone and Forest River are selling these things like there’s no tomorrow. Right now. But in the near future, when things get a bit tighter, I would imagine that someone with $80K burning a hole in their pocket might be more discriminating.
By Keystone planting the seeds today, I think they’re poised to be in a better place tomorrow. And that’s just a good way to run a business.
My thanks to Josh Winters from Haylett RV in Coldwater, Michigan, for use of the pictures and this video.
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.
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