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RV Review: New 2023 Keystone Cougar Half-Ton 23MLE fifth wheel

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Today’s RV review is of the new Keystone Cougar Half-Ton 23MLE, a small fifth wheel that has a similar floor plan to the company’s very popular 22MLS. 

A few years ago there were a few good choices in smaller fifth wheels. I get a lot of input from readers asking about good, small fifth wheels. There have been a few choices thus far, but this new Cougar really is a good choice. Why? 

Keystone advantages

I have written in the past that Keystone has an Innovation Lab. It really has addressed things that affect the long-term experience of an RV owner. 

Cougar certifies their trailers for 0° F – 100° F camping, so they’re well-insulated and designed for those temperature extremes. Many campers are concerned about being able to camp all four seasons. Depending on where you camp, this would work. 

Speaking of seasons, Cougar’s warranty also covers full-time use. You might wonder how many campers would live full-time in a trailer of this size. But I lived in my own trailer with my wife for almost five months while we house shopped and traveled all over the place. 

On the subject of seasons, one of the seasons many RV companies don’t talk about is allergy season. Any of us who suffer from pollen allergies can attest to this being a legitimate season. To that end, another Keystone advantage is their Blade Pure™ air conditioning system. 

Keystone’s air conditioning system

The company has developed their own air handling vents and air intake for the air conditioning. It incorporates a residential air filter to help alleviate those airborne annoyances. I also like that Keystone utilized a standard-size air filter so you can just replace this at any hardware store. 

This is also the first time I’ve seen an RV with floor-mounted furnace vents that made sense. There are new vents in the floor of this RV that are not wide-open grates of foot hurting torture. Instead, they’re flat vents that even a pet can walk on. 

Bonus? Keystone indicates that they also provide better air flow. 

And speaking of the floor, this one features the company’s HyperDeck™ flooring. It is a man-made laminate product that uses materials that aren’t damaged by water. Another plus. 

There are a lot of features like this incorporated into the Cougar line. I think this is definitely a brand whose products I like quite a bit. 

I also like that the whole trailer now rides on Goodyear Endurance tires. We got to speak with Goodyear for this podcast episode and I truly do believe their trailer tires are the best available, period. 

Highlights in the Keystone Cougar Half-Ton 23MLE

This is a relatively short fifth wheel at a total overall length of 27 feet, 11 inches. In many ways it has the same floor plan as Cougar’s 22MLS. That is a trailer I like so much it was on our short list of units to consider before we bought our Rockwood. 

Downstairs there’s a rear kitchen with the counter extending the entire width of the trailer. On the road side is the stove and oven and, thank you Keystone, this one sports the larger 22” oven. 

Choice

There are a number of choices you get to make if this is the rig for you. Choice is good. 

You can get this with a 10-cubic-foot, 12-volt refrigerator. But you also have the option to have them build in the traditional propane-electric RV gas absorption refrigerator. 

There are theater seats on the road side in the slide room. But you can also get a trifold couch instead, thereby increasing the number of guests you can accommodate. 

Over on the camp side there is a booth dinette with a Dream Dinette™ wall-mounted table, but you can also have a freestanding table and chairs. The booth dinette does have the advantage of having storage under the benches, though. And it is another place where you can accommodate guests if you choose to. 

Further, the booth dinette incorporates a cubby under the seat nearest the entry door. It is the perfect spot for shoes or even pet bowls. 

Surprising space in the Keystone Cougar Half-Ton 23MLE

There is a surprising amount of storage in this RV, especially given the overall length. 

Over the kitchen counter there are cabinets, of course, but also a fair number of drawers and cabinets below the counter. 

There’s also a pantry on the bulkhead wall at the front of the living space along with a bit more cabinet space and a bit of additional countertop. Perhaps it’s just the right place for something like a coffee maker, if that’s your choice. 

Something new for 2023 Cougar models is a revised wardrobe slide. It now features drawers on one side and hanging space on the other, thereby raising the height of the hanging storage and also increasing the size of the drawers. Nice!

More pluses

Since this is a fifth wheel, you can tow a trailer behind it in some jurisdictions. This fifth wheel is equipped with a trailer hitch and four-pin wiring harness. 

I also like all the windows on the camp side of this RV. This directly flies in the face of a trend toward eliminating windows on the camp side. I know they’re expensive but, by gosh, they’re worth it. 

Oh, and while we’re thinking windows—there’s even one in the door and Keystone includes a shade. The word is that they’re going to get the supplier to mount that shade such that you can raise it from the bottom rather than lower it from the top. This lets you peek at who’s out there like Gladys Kravitz. 

Boondocking and travel access in the Cougar Half-Ton 23MLE

You wouldn’t think a fifth wheel would have great travel access, but this one nails that, as well. You can easily use the entire upper deck with both slides in. Further, you can get to everything you might need on the lower deck with that slide in. That is not something you expect in a fifth wheel. 

The only thing blocked by the slide is the stove, but that’s okay. You can get to the fridge and the bathroom, and the dinette or table and chairs you’ve chosen are there on the camp side waiting to be utilized. 

I also have shared that I think Keystone is probably at the forefront of offering solar to such a vast number of customers. 

All Keystone products come with at least 200 watts of solar on the roof, and you can upgrade that to 400 watts. That SolarFlex™ 400i package, as it’s called, includes a 3,000att inverter. Keystone has also partnered with a battery provider and you can get name-brand batteries installed by the dealer and covered under Keystone’s warranty. 

Conclusions

I really, really like this package. I think there’s a lot of very usable living space in an RV that’s not tremendously large. Further, there is a very good amount of storage in the Keystone Cougar Half-Ton 23MLE. Plus, the number of things Keystone is working on to better the RV experience makes a difference. 

The only area where Keystone and I don’t get along on this is in the naming convention. Keystone calls this model a “Cougar Half-Ton.” I think that designation is disingenuous. Half-ton trucks come in such a tremendous array of capabilities that to imply that this is towable by a half-ton pickup is on the borderline of being dangerous. 

Yes, there are half-ton trucks that can tow this. No, I don’t think most can. You can learn more on this towing resource which I wish more RVers would look at as it truly can be life-saving. 

But, other than that, this is a great package of very usable features. I betcha that they’re going to sell the absolute daylights out of this thing. 

*****

More from Tony

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.

If you’re RV shopping here are some tips on RV shopping from a former RV salesperson—me!

Tony comes to RVtravel.com having worked at an RV dealership and been a lifelong RV enthusiast. He also has written the syndicated Curbside column about cars. He also works closely with a number of RV manufacturers to get an inside look at how things are done and is a brand ambassador for Rockwood Mini Lite with his wife, Peggy.

You can also check out his RV podcast with Peggy.

These RV reviews are written based on information provided by the manufacturers along with our writer’s own research. They are based on information from a single unit and may not reflect your actual experience. Shop your RV and dealership carefully before making a buying decision. 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!

##RVDT1969

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Steve H
1 month ago

The dry pin weight of the 23MLS is 19% of the unit dry weight and the MLE should be about the same. If we assume that same 19% for the GVWR, it is 1,900# + a 300# fifth wheel hitch in the bed + 2 people in the cab + everything people carry in the cab + full water tank + full propane tank + ? = an overloaded 1/2-ton pickup. Keystone’s use of the “half-ton” moniker is not just disingenuous, it should have every ambulance-chasing attorney licking his lips in anticipation of a big payday. You would think Thor’s attorneys would quash such huge potential liability!

Roger Spalding
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve H

You have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. “HT” and “half ton” have always referred to the bed capacity of pickup trucks. They have nothing to do with how much a truck can tow, or whether a certain RV can be towed by a particular truck. Thor’s attorneys are alot smarter than you think. BTW, no “ambulance-chasing” attorney is going to take your case on a contingent fee basis. They’re smarter than you think, too.

Bob p
1 month ago

Our first 5th wheel was a 27’ with a dinette slide, ok for two, our second was a 32’ dinette/couch slide. The 27’ was stick and tin, the other was aluminum frame and fiberglass siding. Both weighed the same empty, but the 32’ was easier to pull and the extra 5’ made a real difference, we loved it. As was said, 1/2T debatable, I wouldn’t but some may be braver (or more foolish) than me. I know from personal experience how a trailer can push a 1/2T truck around. The 1/2T trucks today aren’t much different chassis wise than full size cars of the 70’s and 80’s and weigh about the same. If you’re a gambler and bet your family’s life on it go for it. I’ll go with the 3/4T everyday. The entire chassis is heavy duty, and the ride is not that much different.

patti panuccio
1 month ago

Finally

Tommy Molnar
1 month ago

If I was in the market for a 5er and wasn’t scared to death of anything coming off today’s assembly line, this would definitely be on my ‘go see’ list. I like the light colored interior, road side use, sliding windows, and kitchen space. On the downside, it has those swing up stairs cheesy loo fan ,and storage wasting outdoor kitchen. But as someone mentioned elsewhere, just get your screwdriver out and remove all that stuff and now you HAVE storage! Also, as someone mentioned before, he (and I) wouldn’t tow anything with less than a 3/4 ton truck. Overall though, a really nice looking and outfitted trailer. Oh, and we’ve had to live in our 30′ TT for over seven months at a time. You just “adjust” . . .

Wayne C
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Even with a 3/4 ton, watch the pin weight and gross vehicle weight rating of the pickup.