By Tony Barthel
Yesterday we looked at some of my favorite RVs that I got to review for 2020. Today I want to look at some of the special, well-designed features in some of these RVs that really make them stand out. While most RVs are built from the same box of Legos, innovative features are few and far between. Occasionally, though, someone will take those same building blocks and make something truly unique.
You can almost tell which RV manufacturers empower their team to take the units out and use them and which don’t do a good job of this. When I first got hired into the RV business I asked a few RV industry folks what their style of RVing was and, to my great dismay, most of them said they weren’t regular RVers at all. In fact, many of them didn’t ever go RVing as it wasn’t their style.
Seriously. Folks who work in the RV industry who don’t go RVing? That’s like someone in the music industry listening to podcasts instead of tunes. Or a fat doctor who smokes. Wait… I know both those people as well.
Anyhow, these are some of my favorites standout features thus far…
We’ve all seen the typical outdoor kitchen in an RV. A lousy two-burner stove, maybe a sink and a refrigerator that only operates when the RV is plugged into 110vac. That means you’ll have to wait a good long while before your beer is chilled after arriving at the campsite. That’s dumb.
Forget that noise, the outdoor kitchen on the Lance 2075 is the example every other RV should look at. It’s 100% metal so you can put hot things on any surface. There’s a small stainless steel (not plastic!) sink and a two-burner stove with a wind guard. But the best thing is a 12-volt cooling drawer instead of a 110vac refrigerator. That means whatever you pack into that drawer will remain cold as you shuttle down the road.
Best of all, this kitchen is designed around a space that’s suited to hold camp chairs. Seriously, why is this so miraculous? I can’t imagine any camper not bringing chairs, yet this is the only RV I’ve seen that specifically has a space designed for them.
I also like that the window above this kitchen opens fully and you can pull the shade down so it becomes a pass-through window. There’s an optional awning above the kitchen to round out the whole package. This is how it’s done, son.
Lastly, this trailer also does not come with a radio, per se. Instead, it comes with a Bluetooth rechargeable speaker. Honestly, if you enjoy high-quality audio then you’re probably disappointed by your RV’s audio system unless you’re in a really high-end RV. A simple Bluetooth speaker is the way to go for me. I can’t tell you the last time I listened to terrestrial radio and the user interface on the typical RV radio is terrible. I challenge most people to figure out how to control the volume on the outside speakers without having to go back to the manual.
The IBEX 20BHS also uses a Bluetooth speaker instead of that horrible iRV radio.
Winter. It can go suck eggs in my book. I used to have plans to chase summer around the planet but, well, reality set in.
There are so many travel trailers that proclaim “four-season” capability, but the best one that I saw was by Northwood in the Arctic Fox 25W.
The holding tanks are heated, of course, but are also within a heated enclosure as are the knife valves for the holding tanks. The frameless windows are the Thermopane variety and the baggage doors are all 1″ thick with block foam insulation, which is thicker than most.
The Alde heating system used in the nuCamp trailers (the AVIA and the T@b 400) employs a pump to circulate heated glycol throughout the trailer acting as a radiant heat system. This is a quiet and pleasant heating system with the side benefit of being a demand-based water heater. The downside is that, with no fan to blow the heated air inside the coach, it does take longer to heat it up to the desired temperature. Both of the above trailers also feature an AC system that incorporates a heat pump to help alleviate this issue.
For the most part, mattresses in RVs are terrible. It’s rare that I don’t read comments from new RVers wondering if RV mattress designers had been former medieval torture chamber operators in a previous life. So the Froli™ sleep system in the T@B 400 and several Winnebago Class B RVs does help somewhat with this.
Another mattress feature worth noting is the heated mattresses in the Rockwood and Flagstaff trailers; however, just because they’re heated doesn’t make them comfortable. Having one of these myself, I still went out and bought a thick memory foam topper which did solve the backaches.
The AVIA and Lance trailers share another thing – the batteries are not exposed to the elements. In fact, the Lance has two battery compartments, one on either side of the trailer, that are vented and also lock. This is great for traditional flooded batteries, but if you spend the money on lithium batteries you’ll really appreciate that they’re not just out on the tongue waiting to be stolen.
I have rewired my house such that I can ask the devil who resides inside my speakers, phone and watch to turn on lights, change temperature, look at cameras and all sorts of other things. Sometimes she even gets the requests correctly. Sometimes.
But I can also walk right up to a light switch, plug or the thermostat and just make them do what I want. Oftentimes this is faster. And involves much less swearing.
So when I complain about whole-house control systems used in so many RVs, it’s with this background that I come from. I love automation. I love technology. But sometimes it’s better to just have a button – and I always want to be able to make the choice myself.
The Rockwood Mini Lite 2514S, and all Rockwood Mini Lite and their identical Flagstaff Micro Lite trailers, agrees with me. If you just walk in you’ll see the traditional buttons as you would expect in an RV. But you can also use your smartphone to operate things. If you never use the phone you’ll be fine. I like choices and don’t usually like the digital touchscreen-based systems in most RVs.
They may have been designed by the same user interface wizards who did the radio.
Storing good ideas
The Palomino River Ranch 390RL fifth wheel has a number of things that really make it stand out. The most obvious of those is the motorhome-caliber basement storage made possible by the fact that this is a single-level fifth wheel instead of the usual split-level design. But that also necessitated going with a Coleman-Mach underfloor air conditioner which uses a 5x16x22 residential air filter which is easy to find at local hardware stores. This is a much better filtration system than the typical thin foam insulation on most RV air conditioners, and it’s also a plus that you can get replacements at most local hardware stores.
Another storage plus could be found in the Lance 2075, which had a huge sliding drawer in the front making the whole bay accessible. Furthermore, they tucked a folding outdoor table above that on a little rack. Bonus!
We don’t talk a lot about safety-related items but there are some significant things that could save your life. One of the biggest issues with RVs is tire blowouts and one of the leading causes is under-inflated tires. As such, any tire inflation pressure monitoring system is a plus.
For travel trailers, I really like the ones with a remote feed to your tow vehicle that show inflation pressure and temperature but, barring that, the Cherokee comes with valve stem covers that show green when the tire is correctly inflated and red when it isn’t. It’s a simple solution but a good first step.
Several brands, including Rockwood/Flagstaff, come with a remote tire pressure monitoring system, and an even bigger step toward tire safety.
Jayco has what they call a S.M.A.R.T. system which stands for Signals, Markers And Reverse Travel. Basically, the trailer’s side marker lights and upper marker lights blink with the turn signals – which is a really good idea. This trailer is also not only prewired for a rearview camera, which is a common thing, but also side-view cameras, which is terrific.
Least favorite features
Have I complained enough this year about the small 17” oven that many, many RV manufacturers still use? So many of you weighed in on our Facebook Group about how little you use these smaller ovens. While I understand that having different cabinet configurations is a parts issue, I wish RV companies would give us the option of either a larger oven or no oven whatsoever.
When I first stepped into the 2021 Cherokee 294BH I was absolutely shocked by the black cabinetry. I’m not a fan of the pure white cabinetry in some RVs either, but the black color was not well done and really makes the interior of Cherokee’s 2021 models feel confining, to me. With as many home runs as the Cherokee line has, this is a complete strikeout in my book. What do you think?
One of the fallacies of RVs advertised as “winter-ready” and “four-season” is the outdoor shower, which is often placed behind the thinnest plastic door available. This is particularly true of travel trailers, but some motorhomes and fifth wheels share this. If you’re truly wanting a winter-ready RV this might be something to keep in mind as that shower will be the first thing that freezes even if you have heated holding tanks and knife valves.
Lastly, so many RV companies’ websites are just awful. Considering how easy it is to build a great website nowadays, it’s ridiculous that you can spend tens of thousands of dollars on a product with a website that doesn’t have a single image of that vehicle. Now, this isn’t always true, but so many RVs have absolutely no manufacturer photography.
I have built detailed websites for a restaurant while I sat there with my laptop and had lunch at the restaurant. How is it that it’s so difficult for RV companies? If I can build a multi-page website with a laptop next to a cheeseburger in the time it takes to eat said cheeseburger, surely a multimillion-dollar company can do something with actual paid marketing people… right?
And, I’m throwing particular shade on Warren Buffett as I think Forest River is among the worst, considering the size of the company. Although there are a few that are worse.
So there you go. My favorite and least favorite features found in RVs in 2020. What’s to come in ’21? Well, make sure you’ve subscribed to our newsletters to find out!