I would imagine the popularity of this column is based on the fact that so many of us, myself included, are looking at purchasing an RV in the near future. Yep. I want another one, too. And I’m assuming you’re looking at these reviews with the understanding that I look for hidden things in RVs to share with you – good or bad.
Let’s go there and use the 2022 Grand Design Imagine XLS 22MLE as an example, shall we?
Grand Design has probably done one of the best jobs in the RV industry at honing its reputation to embody quality and thoughtful design. There are few brands in the RV space that have as much general recognition as Grand Design, and people speak very highly of the brand. But do they deserve the accolades?
What I look for
There are so many factors in an RV’s design to consider, including not only what the general type of construction is on an RV but also how the company executes that construction.
For example, the Imagine series is a smooth-sided trailer built with what’s called laminated walls. That means the outside wall, the inside wall, the framing between those walls and the insulation are essentially all glued together in one big piece – much like a sheet of plywood.
But what goes into those pieces is what I look at. I’m a big fan of using Azdel over Luan as a substrate. But this trailer does not use that product. Bummer. I’m sure plenty of people have plenty of good experience with Luan, but I’m not one of those people. I feel Azdel is a better product, being a man-made waterproof material.
One of the areas I’m pretty focused on is RV suspension. There are countless examples of vintage trailers riding on leaf springs with “dry” mounts (a suspension that isn’t designed to be lubricated). But there are also plenty of RVs that ride on better systems than that. I believe maintenance is the key to longevity in any mechanical system.
So I prefer a suspension that’s mounted with what are called “wet bolts.” In other words, the system is designed to be lubricated regularly. Now, the down side of this is that you have to perform that maintenance regularly. These types of suspensions are more expensive.
Even better, in my estimation, is a torsion axle suspension. I just like these systems as they tend to absorb some of the impact of the roads we get to drive on, which are often bumpy and full of imperfections.
So, looking at this particular trailer, it’s fitted with the least expensive example, the dry bolt suspension. In fact, there are a number of forums for this brand where people have upgraded the suspension and tires, but I wish you didn’t have to. As I shop for a replacement for our own 5-year-old travel trailer, this is a deal breaker on my personal list. Of course, everyone is different and you should be aware of what matters in your shopping.
Furthermore, I’m no fan of Westlake tires.
I also use the MAXXAIR fan in my present trailer and absolutely love the thing. So I’m always disappointed when I see those cheap fans in ceiling vents. I’ve found the cheap fans just don’t do anything other than buzz up there in the vent. So, ding, another reason this one’s not on my list.
Your priorities may vary
Perhaps you can see that as I examined my own shopping priorities I’ve already checked off enough things from my personal list that the Grand Design Imagine XLS 22MLE isn’t on there. We each have to determine what is important to us. But I think a lot of people look at the cabinetry and decor, and those are easy to change.
I look more at structure and underpinnings and suspension and frame.
What I do like in the Grand Design Imagine XLS 22MLE
Now, there are absolutely factors in this trailer that I really do like.
For example, I like how Grand Design puts all their wet connections into a single place inside a baggage compartment door. I think that that is a good thing. You bring your hoses in through a hole in the floor and up to the fittings that are protected from the elements and dirt.
I also really like that Grand Design hasn’t gone to the stable steps that are so popular.
I do like that the stable steps support more weight and have feet that hit the ground. In fact, I’ve put Lippert Stable Steps on my own steps in my present travel trailer. But the steps don’t require as much of an arc to deploy and they don’t bring dirt back into the RV when put away.
As someone who has upgraded a 1928 house to be completely voice controlled, I love automation and technology. I’m a nerd. So being able to use my phone to control stuff in an RV is something I like.
But I also know that visitors or even my own wife would just rather push a button to get a light to work, and I respect that. Having both buttons and an app is the solution I prefer – and that’s what you get here.
Mid journey slide fit
Another thing that’s a total deal breaker for my way of travel is aspects of the slide room. Oftentimes on our journeys we will stop partway through to either use the restroom or grab a drink from the fridge.
If we can access the fridge and a place to sit for lunch (the dinette) and use a sink, this escalates an RV on our list. If we can stealth camp overnight without ever extending the slide room, so much the better.
The Grand Design Imagine XLS 22MLE does that. You can get to everything with the slide room in. Now, it’s a bit of a squeeze, but that’s okay.
Another thing I like is that the awning on this trailer is long – a full 18 feet. There’s good pass-through storage and a full residential queen-sized mattress.
Furthermore, I like that there is no front windshield in the Grand Design Imagine XLS 22MLE, and it’s a smooth front. A windshield makes sense if you have a front kitchen, but I don’t want a windshield if that’s where the bed is. And that is where this bed is.
I like flexible shower doors, particularly the nautilus style that incorporates a squeegee in the mechanism. When I handled warranties, I replaced a lot of glass shower doors and I just don’t like them. This is, first and foremost, a vehicle, after all. This trailer features the nautilus-style shower door.
While in the bathroom, take a look at those cabinets. There’s a place for towels, a small cabinet up above and a large medicine cabinet. There is more storage below the counter. We have a bunch of stuff in our own trailer’s cabinetry in the bathroom. So being able to put that stuff somewhere is important to us.
I hope this window into what I look at when writing these reviews is a bit helpful to you. In the case of a smaller travel trailer like this one, I am literally considering it as a replacement for our own present trailer. This size and layout really works well for the way I travel.
One of the things I noticed that I thought was odd in the Grand Design Imagine XLS 22MLE is the mirror mounted on the wall of the pantry. It’s essentially facing the seat in the dinette that faces rearward. I would imagine this would be a great addition if you’re on a diet and you see yourself eating whatever that is that you’re not supposed to eat.
When shopping, make a list of what will matter to you down the road
If you’re shopping for an RV, I encourage you to make a list of qualitative features that will matter to you down the road. Perhaps it’s good to know what style of camping you prefer, be that RV parks or boondocking or some combination thereof. Do you have destinations in mind and, if so, does an RV fit into those places? Can it turn around and come back out?
Yes, a 43-foot fifth wheel with six slides would be luxurious. But would I want a $100,000 truck to pull that with and then have to deal with that much of a rig getting into and out of small-town filling stations? Perhaps your answer is yes, perhaps not.
The beauty of the RV space is that there’s an answer to each of our questions. But it’s also good to peel back the skin and look past those nice cabinets and pretty paint jobs. Which is what this column is all about. And now you know why this rig isn’t going to be on my shopping list.
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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