I’m sensing a recurring theme and it’s not making me happy. Before I go much further I want to let you all know that I am starting to think that many of the larger Class C motorhomes based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis are not worth considering. At all.
There’s an old expression that goes something like this: Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it. It fits this reasoning quite well.
In the 1970s, Toyota, a bastion of ultra-reliable vehicles, especially so in those days, started selling their pickup chassis as a cab and chassis to motorhome companies. This all started with the Chinook, a small motorhome, but as the popularity of that grew so did the motorhomes themselves.
By the 1980s, these things were really popular and also considerably larger than the original models. A lot of companies had jumped onto the Toyota motorhome bandwagon, some of which established their names with these little beauties. They made a lot of sense—they were easy to drive and park and got fuel mileage that wasn’t cringe-worthy. Sound familiar?
Damon Corporation of Elkhart, Indiana, produced the Escaper motorhome, while Coachmen produced the popular Coachmen and Savanna models. Leisure Odyssey was building the Americana, Santa Cruz, and the Laguna campers.
Camper body expanded and overloaded half-ton pickup axle
By the late 1980s, the length of the camper body had expanded to 22 feet. This caused a severe overload problem on the original half-ton pickup axle. A national safety recall was issued to correct the problem. Under the recall, most of the models were then given a new one-ton axle which was less prone to failure, but the other components of the chassis were left intact.
In 1989, Toyota began offering a V6 in the chassis. This increased horsepower became very popular with the camper owners and production continued. Until 1994.
At that point, there had been so many axle failures and the damage to Toyota’s reputation had started to set in, so Toyota just stopped selling cab and chassis models altogether in the U.S. These little motorhomes weren’t so little any longer, and the axle failures were significant.
Class C Today
So, at the request of a reader who saw a video on the Coachmen Prism, I was requested to take a look at it. We’ve already looked at a few larger Class C motorhomes on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis, including the Thor Quantum Sprinter, the Airstream Atlas and the Leisure Travel Vans Unity FX. These all have the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis in common.
They also have in common that they are very close to the Gross Vehicle Weight rating of the chassis. Further, on none of the RV manufactuers’ websites was I able to find the unladen weight of these vehicles; whereas, almost every travel trailer lists their average unladen weight. Why wouldn’t they publish such an important metric?
Very limited cargo carrying capacity
In fact, it took looking at almost a dozen dealers’ websites to find the cargo carrying capacity of the Coachmen Prism—798 pounds.
Let’s look at those numbers for a moment. This rig can haul around 35 gallons of fresh water. It’s not unreasonable to think that you would fill the tank before heading out and boondocking. That water would reduce the cargo carrying capacity by 280 pounds, leaving you with 518 pounds total capacity.
Now, let’s say one camper weighs 250 pounds and the other 150—which isn’t far from the national average nowadays. There’s 400 pounds of people aboard.
If you plan to bring things like utensils, pots and pans, clothing and all of that, you are now very likely over the weight the chassis is rated to handle.
Compare this to something like the East To West Entrada 2200S—which is based on the Ford chassis—where there is 4,000 pounds of cargo carrying capacity.
Overall, the Prism is a nice rig and there are some positive aspects of how they’re building them. Those include using Azdel substrates in the wall, PVC roofing and many other touches.
In fact, this RV won a fairly prestigious award last year when it was introduced. It was referred to as the Class C of the year.
All of these Sprinter-based motorhomes also share some good features baked in by Mercedes-Benz. Those include active lane assist, adaptive cruise control, active brake assist, lane keeping and more. Mercedes-Benz has been a leader in safety systems for many, many years. That goes back to the 1970s when they had some of the best structural designs in the world from a safety standpoint.
But I still am concerned about what running at rated capacity over the life of one of these chassis is going to do to longevity.
When I’ve written about this in the past, someone messaged me saying that the axles are rated for much more than is stated so you’re good to go. But here’s the thing. If there is a failure and it is determined that your vehicle is considerably over the rated weight capacity, you may find that your insurance company has some issues with the situation.
Your opinion may be that the chassis is well within the limitations of its ability. But the fact is that your insurance company and, perhaps, whatever law enforcement agency is in charge, is more interested in the printed capacity of the vehicle. That means that your opinion is irrelevant.
I’m looking for your guidance
Therefore, I’m looking for your guidance here. Should I even bother reviewing these Class C rigs any more, knowing that many of them just don’t offer sufficient cargo carrying capacity? I appreciate your requests to review certain rigs very much. But I know that one of the first points I will be researching in the future is this number.
I am also by no means intending to single-out Coachmen here. Looking at a bunch of RV manufacturers’ websites, I notice that almost nobody puts the dry weight of these rigs on their information portals. However, they absolutely do on things like travel trailers. But the problem is still a problem even if you don’t admit it.
After all, I appreciate each and every one of the readers who are here with me and I want to be the voice for your safety. I’m curious how the RV industry responds to this.
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.
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Own a 2017 Prism, I’m usually the fastest thing on the interstate, except going downhill. Up any hill/mountain this things in the passing lane. Drives like truck or van. Zoom zoom zoom. Family of 4 cross country loaded 4 bikes on bike rack tons of stuff inside with water tank full. 50k miles no problems except those pesky speed sensors that seem to fault abt every 10k, covered for free repair at any Mercedez dealership. Get the 2150LE and you have a bed that usable at all times. Most are not accessible unless you put out a slide.
Some folks love the MB diesel, some folks love the Ford gasoline engine. A lot of RV manufacturers have no idea what their unit weighs. My Aliners weight was based on the bare bones Aliner. It did not include the Heat Pump, the front & rear dormers, propane tanks or battery. I imagine the Sprinter has the same issue.
I currently own a Pleasureway XL, with a MB chassis. No slides, no welded extensions, and a high quality build. It has between 4K and 5K of CCC and it handles like a modern pickup truck and regularly averages between 16 & 17 mpg. The unit comes in under 23′ and really is made for 2 people. Unfortunately Pleasureway had decided to focus on their B product line a couple years ago and no longer manufacture the XL version. So if your willing to buy used and a unit that can only accommodate a couple of people, there are still some Mercedes chassis RVs that are built to handle a load and/or towing.
Tony, again I think you’re doing the RV community a big favor by reviewing any/all RVs and pointing out its flaws. Many folks sink a lot of hard earned money into an RV, and the more information they are armed with, the better.
I think your doing the RV community well by continuing to review all units including this class of RV and chassis. The manufacturers continue to want to provide more for the customer while sacrificing good engineer to sell a product. I use to own a minnie winnie during the 90s and it was on a Ford F450 chassis at 31′ long. They cut the chassis to extend it between the cab and rear axle, then welded an extension on the end of the chassis to get it to carry the body to 31′. After weighing it several times with little fuel and everything empty found I had 927# of cargo availability. Not only would this be overloaded with normal packing, but it handled like a loose pig. With a full tank of water, propane, fuel, 2 adults and 3 kids, there is no room for anything else. Its not just the MB chassis that tends to be overloaded, many are or so close to their max, they will be when using it. I think reviews like this will get people talking, which hopefully will get back to the manufacturer.
I was intrigued by your statement that the East and West Entrada 2200s had a 4000 pound CCC. I wondered how I missed it when I was doing research for a class C over the past couple of years. I went back and read your review and the table shows the chassis is a ford e350 with a GVWR of 14,500 pounds. I immediately knew from my research that the reason I eliminated all E350’s from consideration was that the E350 has a GVWR of 12,500 pounds. You mentioned that Forest River was sparse on info. Looks like they were a lax on their fact checking also. Their web site now lists the 2200s on an E350 chassis with a GVWR of 12,500 pounds. They have a still respectable 2k CCC but it is nowhere near 4k.
I have owned my Ford Transit 20 CB for 4 years now. It has served me well and the cargo capacity has never concerned me. But I agree as the Class C get longer and adding slide outs gets it really heavy. My 20 CB is rated to tow 2000 lbs! I would never do that to my transmission,you’d just be asking for it.
I have driven dual axel trucks for 35 years and so I know what I’m doing. People who have never driven something oversized scare the hell out of me and they can buy just about anything and load the hell out of it.
I guess it is what it is. I do read most all the Class C reviews and will continue to do so as this is the size I prefer. I have boondocked in some really gnarly places that a Class A could never go.So keep the reviews coming and keep us informed.
As an owner of a LTV Unity on a 2019 Sprinter Chassis, I actually think the weight problem has begun to resolve itself. The components are actually getting lighter over time. One example of this is the removal of wiring as new modular systems are being substituted for traditional switches. Lithium batteries are being substituted for AGM’s or flooded lead batteries at substantial weight savings. Materials in general are stronger and lighter as well. Even the new generators are lighter and leverage common fuel sources. My unit even has a low profile AC unit, that I’m guessing is smaller and lighter than those used several years ago.
We have a 2013 LTV Unity TB on the Sprinter chassis; no slide. Our CCC is 1523 lb and the tow rating is 4900 lb. It is perfect for how my wife and I use our RV. We pull a Honda Fit, do not boondock and don’t usually stay in one place more than a week at a time. We do not live in it, so don’t need excess CCC. We do go somewhere every month. People need to base their buying decisions on how they plan to use the RV. Not everyone needs mega carrying capacity.
I should add we bought this rig brand new in 2013 and have towed our Fit all over the Western states. and to Oklahoma with no problems.
Thank you Tony, for giving a fair and accurate analysis of an RV’s strengths and weaknesses. While we may not always agree on every issue (I could never rip out my Murphy bed sofa – grin), I think most of your readers find your prolific reviews both informative and useful. I have to admit, I had been lusting just a little bit for one of these Mercedes jobs, but maybe not so much any more.
Yup. I have virtually the same floor plan layout, no overhead bunk over the cab (our choice), more storage cupboards, a larger bathroom with a window, 3 powered roof vents, a large skylight over the dinette, all in just over 25 feet with lots of CCC because it’s built on a Ford E450 truck chassis…..beyond any Mercedes spec chassis, the way it needs to be.
I own a Leisure Travel Vans, Murphy bed model. It’s CCC is 1171 lb. Fully loaded (including a bike rack with 1 standard bike) we run 375 lb. below the CCC. We don’t pull a toad. With this setup my wife and i have traveled quite comfortably over ~30,000 miles with trips running up to 4 months at a time. Among other rigs, I DID consider a Tiffin Wayfarer, but its CCC – similar to the Coachman you review here – ruled it out. One key variable is the size of water tank. Ours is 24 gl., which works for us since we don’t boondock for more than 3 days at a time. The Coachman & Tiffin have larger water tanks. Other notable weight variables would include type of generator (propane vs. diesel), type of coach battery.(lead acid vs. lithium), wheel option (aluminum vs. steel) and size/quantity of slides – BIG on the Coachman.
ONE SUGGESTION: Persuade the RVIA to require posting of CCC weights in any published specification sheets in order for a unit to carry their certification badge.
I agree about the little C styles. I’m also put off by the larger C styles since they are all too wide. Anything over 96″ isn’t legal on most of the state roads and parks. Also, many cities are narrowing the lanes to allow more traffic. The big trucks are all hanging over the lines driving through town. As I’m dodged their bumpers, I realized I don’t want to have to be constantly shoehorning an RV through town when we have to be in town.
Why aren’t the RV manufacturers offering more for travel that isn’t on the interstate? We had a nice full-size C years ago that was legal anywhere we wanted to go. People who get smaller RVs usually aren’t going from one city to another to park it in an RV park for the winter.
I’m frankly more interested in the various new B vans. Some of them look quite high for the footprint and chassis weight, especially the gas vans. We don’t want to invest in a new diesel with the changes coming, but we have looked at older ones.
Keep reviewing these potentially overloaded units. Folks see ‘Mercedes’ and think quality and safety. Always new folks coming into RV’ing, so education on weight is a continuing need.
I left response on blog page also. I think you should continue to review Class C units and hammer away at lack of reasonable ccc. Most buyers never consider this very important safety issue. Builders will continue to make and sell these units until pressure to improve.
Tony, If you never wrote another MB Sprinter Class C review, I, for one, wouldn’t miss it. Nor will I miss the folks who insist on calling Transit based rigs “B+.”
I appreciate all of Tony’s reviews, good and bad. A major time saver by knowing there are certain rigs not even worth considering based on certain factors.
Am I the only one who hates those sinks.
Great insight in your review. I have a couple friends with sprinter based RVs. Not with the slide outs though. The cargo weight is the big issue and 700lbs is only useful if you don’t travel much. Well Done
On one hand reviews on this and similar models are interesting but I’ve already ruled them out for the carrying capacity as well as the hassle of more expensive service and often a lot of distance to a service center. However, you may be saving some folks from an expensive investment that they can’t safely use.
In addition to the CCC of the coach you should consider the total weight on each axle. The coach can be well within the CCC but overloaded on an individual axle. Difficult to ascertain unless you have 4 corner weighing of the fully loaded coach. I suspect there are a lot of overloaded axles out there even on a Ford chassis.
Lots of “bling” here (check out that bathroom!) paired with a kinda crummy floor plan & safety issues, all for $138,000! No thanks.
Try checking out an Interstate or an Atlas. Those prices will send you to the ER.