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Photo Credit: Shawn Spence

by Chris Hemer
January 13, 2016
Filed under RV & Trailer Reviews, RV Reviews, Top Stories

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Known for its fifth-wheels, Grand Design RV builds a lightweight travel trailer for upscale family fun

Sometimes, the measure of success isn’t what you do right but what you don’t do wrong. In the highly competitive world of trailer manufacturing, where features and amenities must walk a narrow tightrope with affordability, Grand Design (GD) has quickly grown a reputation for doing what its customers want … and not doing what they don’t. It’s a formula that has worked for fifth-wheels like the company’s Reflection, Solitude and Momentum, and one GD no doubt hopes will work for its new lightweight travel trailer, the Imagine.

The elegant kitchen offers stainless-steel appliances and good counter and cabinet space. Positioned above a roomy wardrobe next to the refrigerator, the TV is angled down, facing the couch.

The elegant kitchen offers stainless-steel appliances and good counter and cabinet space. Positioned above a roomy wardrobe next to the refrigerator, the TV is angled down, facing the couch.

This 2800BH floorplan (the only one available at press time) focuses on the wildly popular bunkhouse layout, with two bunks at the rear suitable for sleeping a couple of youngsters each, or one not-so-youngster preteen each. The success of these layouts, of course, is the execution, and GD certainly hasn’t done anything wrong here. The rear bunks are sturdy, and the thin but comfortable mattresses are covered with a soft, plush material. GD thoughtfully puts a window at each bunk so the kids can observe their surroundings at first light, and each window has its own heavy vinyl covering and privacy curtain for bedtime. One thing to consider is that the foot of the bunks is tapered to allow the rear bathroom door to open, which means that if two kids are to sleep on each bunk, the shorter of the two is going to have to sleep on the side against the bathroom wall.

Only a couple of areas in the bunkhouse could use some improvement. The ladder is strong and very securely mounted to the bunks, which is great; however, a handle for kids to hold onto as they ascend to the upper bunk would make getting there easier and safer. And the fact that the ladder is permanently mounted in the vertical position means it’s difficult to get back down; kids are more likely to jump with an alarming thump in the night. Lights and power outlets are at the foot of each bed, which is OK, but the ideal solution would be to place a light at the foot of each bed, then put a secondary light at the back, overhead, along with the power outlet. That way, the kids could read or play on the laptop or tablet while lying in bed.

Underneath the two bunks is an open area with a bungee net at the bottom to stop stowed goods from shifting during travel. It works as intended, but it would be nice if the net had clearly marked hooks on it; right now, if you don’t pay attention to how it’s mounted, it’s difficult to put it back in the right position.

Grand-DesignFloorplanGD’s designers are masters of creating a high-end look and feel, and this is true even in this lightweight, budget-priced unit. The dark-brown cabinets provide elegant contrast against vinyl flooring that looks like travertine and laminate counters and table that look like marble. The matching dark furniture has white stitching, and the upper cabinets have white plastic panels and brushed-nickel handles. The appliances all have stainless-steel fronts, except the vent hood. Even the sink, which is plastic, is silver instead of white, and the plastic faucet is high-rise and finished to look like brushed nickel. LED lighting and multiuse fabric shades are used throughout. There is no question that the look is successful, but we wonder if it’s the right one for a family-oriented trailer. Right now, it looks like an executive lounge rather than a cozy camper, which will be viewed as either a welcome change or a head scratcher by traditional RVers.

Grand-DesignSpecsThe bathroom is conveniently located right next to the kids’ bunks, and it has all the essentials including a large fiberglass shower enclosure with shelves and an interesting shower-curtain arrangement. The cloth is secured to a semicircular rail at the top, and at the end it has a metal rail that stays in place courtesy of a magnet. It’s a clever, low-cost solution that is better than a traditional shower curtain and perhaps even a door. The rail at the top causes the curtain to bow out so it doesn’t stick to your body and provides more room to move around. We spilled nary a drop of water out of the shower during testing, so it gets a thumbs up from us. Plus, the fabric is a nice-looking material, rather than the common plastic sheet.

Next to the shower is a tall, narrow cabinet with four deep cubbies that are large enough to stow washcloths, towels and sundry items, and the opposing sink cabinet has more shelves along the wall, plus there’s more storage underneath the sink and in the mirrored medicine cabinet. The Thetford toilet is plastic to save weight, but it works well and is positioned in a corner, so there is plenty of legroom. The ceiling fan kept the area well ventilated, and logically placed switches inside the doorway activate the overhead light. All in all, it’s an efficient, usable space. The only thing we’d wish for, which we would wish for in every trailer, is a switch for the water pump in the bathroom, just in case you forget to turn it on when you come in the door.

The street side of the trailer has a large slideout that houses a sofa and a U-shaped dinette large enough for four (or possibly six) that converts into a bed for two. The couch is comfortable and nice looking, and the trifold bed suits its intended purpose of accommodating two more guests. It is also directly across from the entertainment center, featuring a Furrion combo CD/DVD player/stereo system and an LCD television angled toward the couch, which made us wish for the theater-seating option.

Behind the TV is another storage area with a bungee net that would be a good place to stow additional blankets or sleeping bags for the kids’ bunks. Underneath the TV is a large double-door cabinet with a removable shelf on one side to accommodate hanging clothes.

With the couch and dinette converted into beds, the 2800BH can sleep up to 10.

With the couch and dinette converted into beds, the 2800BH can sleep up to 10.

The dinette is adequate for mealtime and has dual posts so it is reasonably stable. However, only the ends of the U configuration are really comfortable for adults; the middle section (which doubles as an ottoman) has a shorter seat cushion, and shorter, thinly padded backrest, so only kids will be comfortable there. We appreciated the overhead light with a manual switch and the 120-volt AC power outlet at the seat base, so the dinette can function as a desk.

The kitchen is pretty traditional, other than the stainless-steel embellishments we mentioned earlier, with some notable exceptions. There is a huge drawer underneath the oven and a good-size double-door cabinet underneath the refrigerator for less oft-used items. Underneath that cabinet is a low-profile drawer that contains — get this — bowls for pet food and water. This is a thoughtful touch and a good use of otherwise wasted space. The only suggestion we would make here is that the drawer should have a plastic liner (almost like a utensil drawer at home) so the wood can’t get wet when Rover gets sloppy with his drinking. This would also allow the liner to be removed and washed when needed.

 In the forward bedroom, mirrored wardrobes flank the queen-size bed.

In the forward bedroom, mirrored wardrobes flank the queen-size bed.

Moving toward the front of the kitchen, there is a cabinet with sliding shelves for utensils and other items like foil or plastic wrap, plus overhead cabinets for dishes, plates, etc. The cabinet beneath the sink is large and has a single shelf in the middle. It would be nice if there were a cutout for a trashcan, but you could probably make this modification yourself if you found it necessary.

The forward bedroom is adequately sized for this type of trailer and continues GD’s elegant style. The champagne-colored bedspread has the sheen of satin and pairs nicely with the dark furniture and padded faux-leather headboard. Small mirrored wardrobes on either side have drawers and power outlets underneath and cabinets and reading lights above. We were happy to find a roomy storage compartment underneath the bed with a forward section that is easily supported by gas struts. We were able to stow a large suitcase as well as a camera bag and sleeping bag there with no problems.

When the weather is nice, you can bring the party outside with the outdoor kitchen. The two-burner stove slides out in a drawer and is reminiscent of a camp stove with its fold-up wind guards. The small refrigerator has enough room for mealtime food and cold drinks. Exterior speakers keep the party going with your favorite tunes.

When the weather is nice, you can bring the party outside with the outdoor kitchen. The two-burner stove slides out in a drawer and is reminiscent of a camp stove with its fold-up wind guards. The small refrigerator has enough room for mealtime food and cold drinks. Exterior speakers keep the party going with your favorite tunes.

Utility-wise, the Imagine is also effective. The tank monitor and light switches are right inside the door, although we wish these were a little larger and easier to see and read. And the thermostat control is right across from the entryway, next to the bathroom door. We didn’t have occasion to use the furnace during our summer testing, but the single air-conditioning unit worked flawlessly and had no trouble keeping the trailer cool and comfortable on humid, mid-80-degree days.

The outside appearance of this trailer is understated; its plain-white gel-coat exterior with uninspired graphics certainly doesn’t tell you this lightweight is anything special. A graphic treatment reminiscent of the other products from the GD family would be a better match for the interior design. However, the exterior works pretty well from a functional standpoint. We liked the sturdy aluminum entry steps and power A-frame jack. The power awning with LED light strip, outdoor kitchen (with a refrigerator and two-burner stove) and exterior speakers made for a pleasant place to hang out and enjoy balmy afternoons.

The rear bunks have plenty of room for two kids each and storage space underneath for blankets, pillows and the like.

The rear bunks have plenty of room for two kids each and storage space underneath for blankets, pillows and the like.

We also appreciated the large forward storage compartment, which features a utility center on the street side designed to mimic those used in high-end fifth-wheels. It offers connections for city water and cable, but the sewer connection and dump valves are at the opposite end of the trailer, which means you might need a long water hose and cable. The leveling jacks, which were manufactured (poorly) in China, did not fit in with the rest of the componentry and weren’t mounted securely to the trailer. If this were our personal trailer, these would be replaced immediately with more sturdy BAL jacks and mounted with suitable hardware.

 

Overall, however, we were happy with GD’s first lightweight effort, and we think it is a solid contender in the category — in other words, it’s just what we would expect from Grand Design.

 

Grand Design Recreational Vehicles 574-825-9679, www.granddesignrv.com

Grand Design Recreational Vehicles
574-825-9679 | www.granddesignrv.com


 

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