Lightweight Highlights

February 24, 2004
Filed under Feature Stories

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The only thing constant about the lightweight RV trailer market is that it’s going to change. It seems that every year a manufacturer breaks the mold, offering something contrary to what we thought this category was all about. Today, however, it’s not just one builder, but several manufacturers that have stirred the pot. Lightweight towables are going off-road, upscale, and totally retro. Among this year’s notables are units small enough to be pulled by just about anything in the driveway but with enough good looks and design twists to turn heads when it’s time to hit the highway. On the flip side, tricks of the trade are allowing manufacturers to create larger units while keeping weights in check. And the equipment onboard is only getting more and more enticing. Here’s a look at some of 2004’s most impressive lightweight towable RV offerings.

It’s business as usual at A-Liner (724/423-7440; aliner.com), perhaps the RV industry’s most unorthodox builder, and creator of the Cabin A. The company’s line of ultra lightweight towables just doesn’t fit into the traditional mold — and that’s why we’re so fond of them. This year’s new debut, the Cabin A15 and its three floor plans, continues to separate the manufacturer from the field. For starters, weight is a virtual non-factor, with all three models tipping the scales at less than 1300 pounds. Those paltry numbers are sure to take all the drama out of the tow vehicle decision, making just about anything in the driveway a possible tow truck in waiting. And the Cabin A’s appearance continues to deviate from the mainstream: a boxy look quickly tapering off for better towing and less wind-resistance.

The Cabin A1 model features fairly Spartan accommodations, mostly limited to a bed, dinette, refrigerator, sink and microwave oven. A small list of options lets you spruce things up. The A2 floorplan adds a three-burner stove, larger dinette and three-way refrigerator to its list of standards. Finally, the 3A boasts the most self-sufficient characteristics of the trio, with the addition of a shower, toilet, and choice of double bed/dinette or two single beds. Add the Expedition package and the unit grows 3 feet in the form of a front storage compartment.

A-Liner Cabin A15
Length: 15’
GVWR: 2000 lbs.
Dry weight: 975-1250 lbs.
Hitch weight: 100-120 lbs.
Base MSRP: $4895-$8085

We liked what we saw of last year’s Coachmen (800/353-7383; coachmenrv.com) Captiva, but thought it could use a few refinements. Apparently, so did Coachmen. Most of the changes, however, were of the “no-see-’em” variety, but that doesn’t make them small. The Alumicage laminated construction now carries over to the door and windows. Floors are now fully laminated for greater resistance to wear and tear. The trailer’s bottom side is safeguarded with a fully enclosed underbelly. The same is true for the LPG bottles. ABS plastic front and rear caps were added, as well.

Still, all these structural changes take away nothing from the Captiva’s seven distinct floor plans. Simply put, there’s a model for every occasion. The 293TB offers bunk beds in the back and a double bed up front. The 277TBS has the same, but adds a slide-out and full tub to the mix. The 199DB, the smallest unit of the bunch, tempts buyers with a massive U-shaped dinette, double bed and full rear bathroom. Meanwhile, the 296KS features a queen-size bed in the back and offers a leisurely nook with two swivel chairs up front.

Coachmen Captiva
Length: 21’ 8”-30’ 11”
GVWR: 5220-6350 lbs.
Dry weight: 3047-4590 lbs.
Hitch weight: 420-630 lbs.
Base MSRP: Approx. $19,710

The classic aluminum-skinned Airstream finally has some competition in the form of an adorable “microlite” trailer from Dutchmen (574/534-1224; tab-rv.com). The T@B (Taking America Back) is a true throwback to a time when, well, a flat-screen TV and triple slide-outs weren’t part and parcel of exploring the great outdoors. The classic design and minimalist appeal make this unit easily the most fantastically retro product to come from a major RV manufacturer in years. Just look at those curves, the shiny aluminum, the port holes for windows — really cool!

The interior is sparse, limited to a small galley (two-burner range and ice chest), wardrobe, and U-shaped dinette that doubles as a 70×80-inch bed. The unit itself is just a shade over 15 feet in length, so don’t expect to get lost inside. Still, expect a stampede of onlookers when you take the T@B out for a spin, and you’ll get plenty of enjoyment out of the stylish interior. Its GVWR of less than 1900 pounds makes just about any vehicle a suitable towing companion for the Dutchmen T@B.

Dutchmen T@B
Length: 15’ 6”
GVWR: 1868 lbs.
Dry weight: 1250 lbs.
Hitch weight: 106 lbs.
Base MSRP: $10,785

The new Caravan Micro-Lite from Fleetwood Folding Trailers (800/444-4905; caravantrail ers.com) is, well, not exactly micro-light, but with a GVWR of just 6600 pounds, this new line of Caravan trailers still falls within the lightweight category. The two Micro-Lite floorplans (both 26 feet, 11 inches long) are, however, the lightest in the Caravan’s seven- floorplan fleet. And like their larger predecessors, they still feature a nice mix of creature comforts, including a 20,000-BTU furnace, 13,500-BTU air conditioner, 16-foot awning, EZ lube axles, 6-cubic-foot refrigerator, AM/FM/CD, and approximately 149 cubic feet of storage. With the exception of a choice of bunk beds and entertainment center, or sofa bed and wardrobe, our two featured Micro-Lite floorplans are extremely similar. A queen-size bed, bathroom with toilet, tub/shower, sink, galley complete with microwave, three-burner stove, double sink, oven, four-person dinette, and 6 feet, 6 inches of headroom are all standard issue.

Fleetwood Folding Trailers Caravan Micro-Lites
Length: 26’ 11”
GVWR: 6600 lbs.
Dry weight: 3960-4160 lbs.
Hitch weight: 630-675 lbs.
Base MSRP: $18,697

Your grandchildren will listen to tales of RV camping without slide-out rooms and marvel at those primitive times. Ok, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but slide-outs on pop-ups are still a novel concept to some of us. Obviously, not to Jayco (800/RV-JAYCO; jayco.com), considering that the innovative company constructed a completely new series, the Eagle Select, around just that concept. In the Eagle Select, the dinette is the benefactor of the extra space. But designers didn’t stop with this show-stopper — another 10 inches were added to the Select’s sidewalls (more the any other Eagle model), giving it more space inside and greater headroom. The move also opened up additional storage and gave designers the opportunity to raise countertops to a more traditional (and less backbreaking) height. The Select also features an arched fiberglass roof, as well as a bathroom/shower option.

The Jay Flight isn’t exactly new, but it’s got some cool new tricks for 2004 designed to remedy a common list of RV annoyances. The StorGalore option (on select Jay Flight models) is a pass-through storage compartment accessible from both sides of the unit, and from inside the Jay Flight’s bedroom. The room is raised from the rest of the interior to accommodate the bedroom hatch, giving the unit a sort of fifth-wheel feel. More importantly, the extra 86 cubic feet of storage puts an end to those tough decisions about what you can and cannot bring along. Consumers looking for more interior height got that, too, with ceiling height elevated 4 inches over last year’s model.

Jayco Eagle Select
Length: 18’ 10” (towed); 24’ (in camp)
GVWR: 3500 lbs.
Dry weight: 2550 lbs.
Hitch weight: 250 lbs.
Base MSRP: $10,157

Jayco Jay Flight
Length: 21’-32’ 6”
GVWR: less than 10,000 lbs.
Dry weight: N/A
Hitch weight: N/A
Base MSRP: Starting at $13,714

Despite this being its first foray into the world of ultra-light travel trailers, you would never know it by the complex elements onboard the new Keystone RV (574/535-2100; keystonerv.com) Zeppelin LWT line. According to designers, the goal for the interior was a fluid, European look. Therefore, you’ll notice a conspicuous lack of “clutter” to break up sight lines.
Gone is the headboard and windows on the door; there are no wall borders to break up the 360-degree effect the company is seeking. Everything is rounded and smooth; edges, angles, and the typical boxy look are taboo. All black appliances (even the sink) contrasted by the light maple hardwoods and fabrics give the Zeppelin a cool look. This, too, is no accident.

Even more risks were taken, including floor plans without dinettes, a nod to consumers who prefer eating outside at the picnic table — or via TV tray on the couch. An enlarged galley and living space are the benefactors of the extra space. To maximize views, a skylight was installed over the bed. And talk about mood lighting for those cozy moments when Mom and Dad are camping sans children — what do you think those dimmers are for?

Keystone Zeppelin
Length: 18’-30’
GVWR: 3800-6200 lbs.
Dry weight: 2500-4100 lbs.
Hitch weight: 390-490 lbs.
Base MSRP: Approx. $12,000-$18,000

Komfort (503/722-5199; komfort-rv.com) offers its brand-new, rough-roading 19ATRV (All-Terrain RV) and it’s equal parts home, garage, and mobile eatery, all in one. Start with the rear cargo area — a virtual rarity in a vehicle of this size and weight — capable of hauling anything from motorized toys to that oversized canoe (stowage is brought through the unit’s 36 inch entry way rather than traditional ramp door). Freestanding furnishings, a fold-up sofa bed, and roll-away dinette easily clear out when such storage space is needed. And seven tie-downs keep these items from moving around. Moreover, the 19ATV also boasts more than a ton of cargo capacity, which really gets the imagination going with possibilities, doesn’t it?

The 19ATRV gives more than the illusion of roughin’ it. Independent front suspension (with 16 inches of ground clearance), an enclosed and heated diamond-plated underbelly (just try to scratch it), four tow hooks, and Yakima roof racks not so subtly indicate what this unit is all about. The unit also comes pre-wired for solar power, a generator, and the full range of optional exterior lighting. Perhaps most interesting is the pull-down Komfort Kamp Kitchen found outside the trailer, complete with three-burner stove, steel sink, pantry, and counter space for the catch of the day. Obviously, the gas BBQ is a must-have option.

Komfort 19ATRV
Length: 20’ 11”
GVWR: 7645 lbs.
Dry weight: 4985 lbs.
Hitch weight: 645 lbs.
Base MSRP: $34,365

The new Antigua 235SRG from Starcraft RV (800/945-4787; starcraftrv.com)comes with a tip-out Stargazer window, and people, let me tell ya, it’s like camping in an observatory. Featuring expanding bunks, it’s big for a hybrid towable, which is what the Antigua is, and it holds its own with the big boys of the travel-trailer field. This trailer not only holds a four-person dinette but also carries a sleeper sofa along for the ride. Other manufacturers of lightweight expandables with paltry amenities who are hoping to placate consumers in this market segment might be sweating this season.

The Antigua 235SRG also delivers a full bathroom/shower, 36-gallon freshwater system, 27/25 gallons gray and black, 6 feet, 4 inches of interior height, and a nimble travel size of just 23 feet. However, the sleep count transcends the unit’s modest dimensions. Two expandable bunks (one on the side, one on the front), aided by a convertible dinette and sleeper, push the number of potential sleepy heads to 10 (depending on size and willingness to cuddle). Perhaps best of all for travelers already with a mid-sized SUV in the driveway, the Antigua’s 5000-pound GVWR means you probably already have a suitable tow vehicle happily in place.

The choice of many new RV campers is the dutiful pop-up, and who can blame them? Manageable costs, waif-like weights, and an ever-growing list of onboard amenities make a compelling case. However, after a while the constant set-up and take-down routine can get a little old.

One of the benefits of the Starcraft Centennial brand — and the new 2600 floorplan in particular — is that the interior is always ready to go. The sink, galley, and furnishings never require setting up, unfolding, or rearranging; and all countertops are residential height.

The design of the Centennial addresses another constant dilemma, too: storage. All models feature a trailer-wide storage trunk (25 cubic feet), several decent-sized compartments, and room underneath the dinette seats for life’s not-so-little necessities. The optional “soft wardrobe” gives garments a place to hang without crowding the rest of the interior. Unique to this floorplan is a slide-out indoor/outdoor ice tray, good for everything from drinks to the catch of the day. A not-so-common list of standards is also new to the Centennial series, including a 3.7-cubic-foot (three-way) refrigerator and freezer, floor lighting, white appliances (microwave is optional), double sink, 6-gallon water heater and 19-gallon freshwater tank.

Starcraft Antigua 235SRG
Length: 23’ 0” (travel); 25’ 4” (in camp)
GVWR: 5000 lbs.
Dry weight: 3426 lbs.
Hitch weight: 412 lbs.
Base MSRP: $17,434

Starcraft Centennial 2600
Length: 15’ 11” (travel); 22’ 1” (in camp)
GVWR: 3500 lbs.
Dry weight: 2071 lbs.
Hitch weight: 284 lbs.
MSRP: $8994

Ask any RV dealer what ultimately moves product and he or she will tell you it’s the floorplan. However, what determines repeat business is generally much more subtle. Often it’s the little things onboard that matter most, something Sunline (717/336-2858;
sunlinerv.com) clearly took into account in its new Sunline Solaris T-264SR model. For starters, there’s the new living room slide-out, complete with overhead cabinetry. A quick examination of the Solaris also unveils attention to details often overlooked. The built-in trash can, bathroom hamper, paper-towel holder, slide-out pantry for all the food staples you no doubt will be transporting, the large double sink, and double-door refrigerator are all no-brainers in terms of satisfying the family dynamics onboard. Other niceties include Venetian blinds, 19-foot awning, CD stereo with four speakers, and an outside shower.

Sunline Solaris T-264SR
Length: 27’ 7”
GVWR: 8600 lbs.
Dry weight: 6330 lbs.
Hitch weight: 845 lbs.
Base MSRP: $25,815

Trail-Lite by R-Vision (574/268-2111; trail-lite.com) just added a new wrinkle to the lightweight-towable market. Once, the lightweight class was limited to traditional travel trailers and pop-ups. Then along came hard-sided “hybrid” trailers with expandable bunks; now Trail-Lite has taken it one step further with the debut of its Bantam flier (three floorplans available) and its pop-up size dimensions and single, expandable bunk. The unit weighs less than 3700 pounds and its overall height is just 93 inches, while maintaining a respectable interior height of 6 feet, 1 inch. The Flier offers a queen-size bed and a wide closet on the other end of the trailer. In between are the very gracious galley, dinette, full bathroom and sleeper sofa. Consider the Rocky Mountain Edition if off-highway adventures are a part of your camping plans: Higher ground clearance, “mag” wheels, and increased water-tank capabilities help support all your backwoods adventures.

Trail-Lite Bantam Flier
Length: 17’ 10”-18’ 11”
GVWR: Starting at 3693 lbs.
Dry weight: Starting at 2262 lbs.
Hitch weight: Starting at 193 lbs.
Base MSRP: Approx. $11,000

Building pop-ups is all Viking (269/467-6321; vikingrv.com) does, so you know the company is pretty serious about this market segment. And by the looks of the list of changes to its Clipper trailers, the manufacturer is not afraid to redesign until it gets it just right. Take the five-model Clipper Classic line, for instance. For 2004, the new 1271 ST model is complete with slide-out exterior storage bin, self-storing B.A.L. stabilizer jacks, a water filter, 12-volt mattress heater and a Filon exterior (new graphics, too) were also added. A modular compartment can now be used for extra storage or to house an optional cassette toilet. Viking didn’t change its use of the WideTrac heavy-duty suspension for stable towing, the E-Z lube bearings, four-ply laminated roof, or the 4-inch insulated bed, now bolstered by an additional inch of foam insulation.

Viking Clipper Classic
Length: 16’ 4”-18’ 3” (travel);
20’ 7”-24’ 5” (in camp)
GVWR: 2500-3100 lbs.
Dry weight: 1683-2319 lbs.
Hitch weight: 160-200 lbs.
MSRP: $4365-$10,105

Just prior to press time, we received some last-minute announcements. New and worth noting are the Destiny DLX and Highlander Hemlock pop-ups from Fleetwood Folding Trailers. The Destiny DLX is a 10-foot box with a tip-out galley and interior shower; the Highlander Hemlock is a 14-foot box with a slide-out dinette. Also just released from Fleetwood Folding Trailers are plans for two more Caravan units: the 21 CK and 28 FQS. The 21 CK will offer a center-kitchen floorplan, a 6100-pound GVWR and dry weight of 4005 pounds. A front-queen and slide-out plan, 7600-pound GVWR and dry weight of 5585 pounds highlight the Caravan 28 FQS.

Really hot news is the Kelty and Airstream collaboration. The joint effort between Kelty (famous for its tents, packs and other outdoor gear) and Airstream (a household name in the RV industry) has produced a prototype of a super-lightweight towable that’s half sleek, aerodynamic travel trailer and half durable, easy-to-set-up camping tent. The tent blooms from the back of the trailer, and the entire package is said to be light enough to tow with any car.

Much of the information gathered for this preview of things to come has been released to us prior to final production approval. Specifications and equipment rosters may be altered or revised during production, and prices quoted in this article are subject to change and should be used for general comparison purposes only. Contact the featured manufacturers via telephone or website to locate your nearest dealer. The dealer can provide full details and final pricing for any products that caught your eye.

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