Recently we were in the Pacific Northwest enjoying Thanksgiving with friends. One of the things that struck me was how many Airstream single-axle trailers I saw being pulled by Honda Ridgelines. It was enough that it made me think we hadn’t really looked at Airstream’s single-axle lines in a while.
There are actually two lines in the Airstream family that are single-axle trailers, the Bambi and the Caravel. Essentially, both offer the same floor plans but the Caravel offers appointments you might more associate with the Airstream brand.
It almost seems incongruous to say that the Bambi is an affordable model in the Airstream line, with base MSRPs starting at $56,500. The model we’re looking at has a base price of $62,900.
I think we all get a bit of sticker shock looking at Airstream products, but there’s also some value there. For example, Airstream trailers don’t have rubber roofs, swishy stickers on the outside or laminated construction. One of the more appealing things about them is that they feature that famous aluminum construction.
The past matters
But something that shouldn’t be ignored: Airstream trailers also have a strong resale value. If you’re not in the fold, know that there is a huge fan base for Airstream trailers including a magazine (Airstream Life), social media groups, clubs, a registry and more. Vintage Airstream trailers are popular among restorers. One of the things many people who restore Airstreams know is that the first thing you’re going to look at is the wooden floor in a vintage Airstream to see if that’s rotted.
What Airstream has done is make improvements over the years, including to the flooring material. Now the flooring is no longer wood nor is it even able to be damaged by water. Now the material is vastly superior to what was used in the past.
Features in the Bambi
Today your Bambi will feature things like a tankless water heater which operates on propane only. But what I think is terrific in these is that they use a product called SeeLevel™ tank monitors.
SeeLevel monitors sit outside the tank and, through some sort of weird magic, they determine the tank levels in 1 percent increments. While the accuracy of the reading is definitely a huge plus, the fact that they are not fouled by the contents in the tank is what makes these fantastic.
It’s a joke in the RV world that there even are tank monitors. That’s due to the fact that they get fouled and often don’t work worth a darn after the first few trips out.
Another thing about Airstream products is that they come with a mattress that’s actually usable. It’s a pillow-top memory foam product. I have mentioned in the past that I used to take RV mattresses to a women’s shelter when customers didn’t want them. I felt somewhat guilty, although the shelter was certainly appreciative.
Plus, the materials used for the interiors also seem to be of higher quality than the average travel trailer – but they should be at this price point. Again, resale value.
Lest you think that I’m some huge fan boy of Airstream, know that I also recognize the downside of the design. For example, there are no slide rooms on any current Airstream. While I love that personally (I did a lot of slide room warranty claims), there are people for whom this may be a deal breaker.
Airstreams generally also don’t have much storage from the outside. This Bambi is no exception, having a single pass-through storage under the front bed.
Also, tank sizes are pretty small, and the awnings are manual. There’s a lot to be said for just pushing a button inside the trailer on most of what’s out there, rather than having to follow a series of steps to put the awning out.
Caravel vs. Bambi
As mentioned above, the Caravel and Bambi lines are essentially the same in terms of floor plan and size. However, there are a lot of differences between the two.
The Bambi 20FB features a single full-sized bed across the front of the trailer with cabinets overhead. There are also those wrap-around front windows that are so typical of Airstream trailers. But the rounded front of the trailer means that whoever’s in this space might be a bit cramped. Plus, you’ll be crawling over whoever’s by the opening if you have to get up in the middle of the night. That could either be annoying or amorous.
If the latter, here’s a story that might help.
The appointments in the Bambi and the Caravel are quite different
While the layout is the same on the Caravel, the appointments are quite different.
For example, the air conditioner in the Caravel is ducted, whereas the Bambi’s isn’t. That means the Caravel’s air conditioner is significantly quieter. Plus, air is ducted throughout the trailer, although this isn’t such a big trailer. But that ducted air also means an additional three inches of ceiling height inside.
Further, the Caravel offers windows built by Airstream throughout which swing up. The Bambi features windows made by Hehr which have a lower section that flips up with a crank.
Another thing that might make a difference: The Caravel features the typical “wing” front protectors you might expect in an Airstream, whereas the Bambi uses a clear protective film.
The Caravel also features a three-burner propane cooktop with cast grates compared to the Bambi’s two-burner stainless steel cooktop with glass cover.
The upholstery in the Caraval is what Airstream calls Ultraleather. The Bambi gets cloth, which I actually prefer. Especially in blue.
But the thing that I think makes the biggest difference is that the Caravel offers a rear bumper for your stinky slinky, which also has additional storage. That definitely makes a difference.
Also, the Bambi comes with a manual tongue jack. The Caravel comes with a power tongue jack. I wish the manual jack on the Bambi were the one on the Grand Design Xplor, that had a provision for an electric drill. That would also make raising and lowering the jacks an easier task, as that’s how I do it.
In the case of the 20FB, whether or not these differences warrant about a $7,000 difference in price is up to the buyer, of course.
I can understand why it seems like I saw so many of these when I was roaming the Pacific Northwest. They’re a very usable package in a smaller camper that still offers the features that make for a usable floor plan.
I’m not a fan of the sleeping arrangement in this. I think a couple of twin beds would make more sense and forgo the booth dinette altogether. You can see this in the much smaller Rockwood GeoPro 15TB or even the Winnebago Travato 59KL.
One more thing
Seeing several people towing their Airstreams with the Honda Ridgeline scares me a bit. The cargo carrying capacity of the Ridgeline is about 1,500 pounds and the vehicle is generally rated to tow about 5,000 pounds.
The Bambi and Caravel have a tongue weight of almost 600 pounds, more when you add batteries and propane. Figure about 700 when you’ve got it loaded. So, if one occupant weighs 250 and the other 150, now you have 1,100 pounds of cargo (passengers count against this number). This just comes way, way too close to the capacity for my personal taste. And that doesn’t count a dog, bicycles or anything else inside the truck. Or the trailer.
Just because the dealer of either your tow vehicle or the travel trailer claim you’re well within your limits when towing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your own research.
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!