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RV Review: Forest River Cardinal Limited 403FKLE, a “unicorn” 5er

Today’s review is of the Forest River Cardinal Limited 403FKLE fifth wheel. A unicorn, of sorts. Why do I write that? As you would imagine, with 365 RV reviews a year, I love finding floor plans or ideas that are very different from what I am used to seeing. Unicorns. 

That’s just what this unit is. It’s a large fifth wheel that doesn’t fit into the floor plan mold that a lot of fifth wheels fall into. Specifically, where so many fifth wheels have bedrooms up over the hitch pin, this one has a kitchen. And that is a really nice kitchen. 

The kitchen in the Cardinal Limited

I really like this kitchen, too. One of the first reasons I feel that way is the countertops. I’ve seen a lot of RVs where the kitchen has multiple places that cabinetry exists with countertops above said cabinetry. For some weird reason, RV companies seem to feel that it’s cool to have these counter tops at multiple heights. 

That’s not true here. There is a counter along the front nose of this fifth wheel and another in the camp side slide. Both of those have the same height countertops. 

There are also drawers and cabinets galore up here. For all those folks who tell me how much the things in their kitchen drawers rattle around when they’re at the back of a fifth wheel behind the axles, here’s one way to be completely opposite of that. 

Sometimes when you get up to this price point, these fifth wheels have those residential-sized ovens. But this one still has an RV oven, although at least they’re using the larger oven. 

There’s also a residential refrigerator. This has a 1,000-watt inverter to keep things cool, but I wonder if there’s an option for a 12-volt fridge? That’s one less loss. 

Use case

I wonder if a rig like the Cardinal Limited would see a lot of travel time, anyway. This thing is absolutely huge. It has five slide rooms and weighs in at 13,459 pounds. This isn’t something I’d want to be towing around too much, although there are certainly people who might—including some who use heavy-duty trucks to haul rigs around. 

One of the things I also like about this kitchen is that there’s a counter/table at the rear facing the living room, which is on the main deck of the trailer. In some ways this reminds me of a king and queen lording over their subjects. Depending on who you go camping with, this could actually be quite appropriate. 

You have a knight, perhaps, and then maybe some jesters. Heck, if they’re young enough, perhaps one of your subjects might even be the town cryer. 

Down in that living area there are theater seats facing a huge TV at the back of the space. Then there are jackknife sofas on either side of the area. One of the nifty things about this is that you could open both of those jackknife sofas and they don’t touch in the middle—which isn’t always true of opposing sofas. 

Josh Winters had a really good idea about the Cardinal Limited

Josh Winters, in the video I’ve attached here, had a really good idea. What if you took out one of those sofas entirely and replaced the space with a desk? I like this idea, and there’s a particular desk at Ikea that I can see fitting nicely into this spot. It has the function of raising and lowering. Of course, you could just as easily use that throne area above for the same purpose and retain the couches. 

Since this rig has the typical interior height of a fifth wheel, the living room benefits from that ceiling height. 

That’s also true of the bathroom, which is in the middle of this rig rather than at the top of the stairs as is typical of a fifth wheel. If you’re looking for a camper and the ceiling height is of particular concern to you, especially in the bathroom, this might be the trailer for you. 

Tall travelers will probably also appreciate the true queen-sized bed at 72” X 80” located in the back of the rig. 

Observations

One of the things that might not be apparent when you’re drooling over this rig at the dealership is that the water heater is all the way at the back of this long, long trailer, whereas the kitchen sink is all the way at the front. I wonder just how much water you’re going to go through waiting for it to get hot all the way upstairs in the front? It’s not a reason not to buy this trailer. But if you’re into off-grid camping where you’re using your own supply, it might be a consideration. 

One of the things that surprised me in a fifth wheel of this caliber is the bargain basement vent fan in the bathroom. I am not surprised seeing these in low-end trailers but not in something of this caliber. Heck, even the entry-level Cherokee line gives you a high-performance vent fan. 

Some big positives in the Cardinal Limited

Some of the big positives about this rig are that there are no floor registers for the furnace downstairs. Also, there is absolutely no carpet anywhere in here. There are floor vents upstairs in the kitchen, however. So this week’s messy spill is going to be a stinky surprise next winter the first time you fire up the furnace. 

There is an outdoor cabinet that has a bar-sized refrigerator but no sink. There is a rail onto which you can hang an included propane griddle, the same one I have for my own trailer and love, but no sink. 

However, one of the most unusual outdoor speaker placements I’ve seen is here where the outdoor speakers are in this cabinet. This makes sense, to me, because they’re not way up there where they’re blasting the whole campground. Having them inside the cabinet means that they’re not exposed to the elements, so it makes sense. But there’s not a lot of distance between them so stereo separation won’t be the best. Also, they’re RV speakers so I’m sure they’re no benchmark of audio quality either. 

Lastly, the pass-through storage up front is smaller than in some fifth wheels. But it is still larger than about every travel trailer out there. 

Boondocking and travel access

While larger fifth wheels are generally lousy at travel access, this one is a distinct exception. Even with the upstairs kitchen slide room closed you still have full access to almost everything up there, with the exception of a few drawers. But you can get into the fridge, use the sink and even use the stove and oven.

While you can’t get to the bathroom from the living room or kitchen, there is a second door so you can still get to the bathroom that way.

For a large fifth wheel, this one doesn’t have as much water capacity as some. I suspect this will be a model that will spend a good amount of its life in developed campgrounds with full hook-ups.

In summary

This is such a different floor plan in the Cardinal Limited, and I really like it. This trailer is like so many I’m seeing nowadays with no windows in the door. I got to thinking about it and realized that my 1970 Aristocrat has no window in the door either. What’s old is new again!

The Cardinal Limited would be good for full-time RV living

I think this could be a really good floor plan for full-time living for so many reasons, particularly because the living room feels so spacious with the high ceiling. But so does the bathroom. 

One word of warning. On the website it says that the Cardinal Limited l is temporarily unavailable. There are dealer stocks of this unit and the situation may change. But if you want one of these, it might be good to start your search now. 

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.com having worked at an RV dealership and been a lifelong 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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Donald N Wright
2 months ago

We have slide outs, but never slide ups or slide downs. Why not a second floor when parked, like a covered observation deck? How to use that wasted space under a trailer when parked? Why not build the kitchen and rest rooms and hot water heater next to each other?

Thomas D
2 months ago

Looks good but at my age, 2 bathrooms are more important than 2 kitchens.
And those around me that have 2 kitchens never use them

Dan
2 months ago

At that price-point and size there are too many negatives. With limited clothing storage you can’t use two sofas/beds. Eliminate one and provide table/desk/office space. Agree about the TV positioning. Electric fireplace just for show? Too small of a bathroom. Queen bed option would be nice also.

Scott
2 months ago

At 6’7″ I can only assume the front kitchen would be a problem for me. Probably better to have the lower ceiling in the bedroom since I’d primarily be laying down.

Tommy Molnar
2 months ago

Sleeps six? Eats two. Unless everyone is a fan of ‘lap tables’.
Interesting about the water heater being waaaay at the other end of the trailer. This could be a problem for us boondockers.

Steve
2 months ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Just means a trip to IKEA for a half-dozen “TV trays” or whatever name they now have. In a fifth wheel this expensive, you would think they could at least include some airline-style tray tables or even Lagun tables for the couch potatoes who can’t sit in the kitchen. And, speaking of size, most 42′ fivers are 101″ wide, not 96″. Other companies, even within Forest River, build 8.5′ wide trailers, so why can’t the Cardinal-Sandpiper twins?

Tommy Molnar
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve

Even our 10 year old Arctic Fox is a “wide body”. I guess I foolishly ‘assumed’ all new-er trailers were. Personally, wifey and like sitting across from each other when we eat.

Leslie Schofield
2 months ago

I still like a real table for eating. With that size of rig you are going to have guests for dinner.

Mike
2 months ago

We looked at a similar model (Sandpiper 38FKOK), and we absolutely loved the kitchen. However, as trivial as it sounds, the placement of the TV was a deal breaker. When sitting in the recliners the TV was much too high. I understand that from the dinette/bar the height was perfect, but it was way too high from the recliners. Like sitting in the first row at the movies. I pointed this out to the salesperson, and he sat down and said “Oh my!”.

I think it should be mandatory that executives experience living in a new model for a weekend, or longer. There are bad design choices (big or small) in most RVs. These could be corrected moving forward. We ended up purchasing a Keystone 3712KB that we like very much. But, as an example, (and something an executive would have noticed), the bottom of the cabinets to the left and right of the TV (front living room) are knife sharp. I mean razor sharp. Also the bottom of the bathroom cabinets. Easy fix with some 1/4″ round moulding.

Leonard Rempel
2 months ago

2,000 lbs cargo capacity? What a joke!

Don
2 months ago

Units this size, which are clearly intended for long-term use, really should have more than one bathroom sink. Twiddling your thumbs waiting for your significant other to do his/her business at the sink every morning and evening is a non-starter for me.

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