The Great Pretender
Keystone’s Cougar XLite 30RLI looks like a travel trailer but lives like a fifth-wheel
Among the many reasons RVers prefer fifth-wheel trailers, the floorplan ranks near the top. The large opposing slides make for a comfortable, spacious living area, and the kitchen, typically equipped with an abundance of countertop space and even an island in some models, makes a great venue for entertaining guests. Many enthusiasts would prefer to own a fifth-wheel for these attributes but can’t justify purchasing one due to the extra cost and the fact that a larger, heavier-duty truck and extra equipment will likely be required to tow it. However, many manufacturers offer lighter-weight travel trailers with floorplans designed to mimic the classic fifth-wheel layout, and the Keystone Cougar XLite 30RLI is one of them. Though it measures 36 feet from end to end, it has a gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr) of just 9,500 pounds, making it towable by most newer half-ton pickups.
Obviously, packing fifth-wheel features into a trailer this large and keeping the weight less than 10,000 pounds isn’t an easy task, especially when you consider weight-saving efforts must be cleverly concealed to retain an upscale appearance. Keystone has done a good job in this regard, incorporating the typical hallmarks of a fifth-wheel floorplan with very little required in the way of compromise. For example, one of the heaviest components a manufacturer can put in an RV are stone or solid-surface countertops, so the Cougar uses laminate counters that look like stone. The microwave and living room television are also smaller than what you’ll find in most fifth-wheels, but these are about the only obvious concessions to weight you’re likely to notice in this trailer.
Something else you may miss is the abundance of front storage typical in a fifth-wheel, but the Cougar does offer pass-through storage up front that is well lighted and well finished. The trailer had no trouble accommodating the essentials for our test, and, indeed, should be big enough for most with careful packing. We were also pleased to find that Keystone placed the trailer’s on/off power switch on the street side, as well as the switches for the front/rear power stabilizing jacks. This thoughtful detail, combined with the standard power A-frame jack and docking lights, makes setting up at the campsite quick and easy, day or night. If additional storage space is needed, there is also a smaller carpeted compartment on the street side.
The living area slideouts are large and deep, meaning that you can’t access anything but the bathroom and part of the bedroom during travel. Thankfully, the control panel for the slideouts, tank monitor, etc. is right inside the entry door. We were a bit dismayed, however, to find that the back of the curbside slideout was roughly finished with exposed staples and wood; granted, you can’t see this when the slides are deployed, but it’s not pleasant to look at as you enter the trailer. A few extra minutes to finish this area would be a great improvement to the overall impression of build quality.
In general, the interior of the Cougar looks good, with glazed walnut raised-panel cabinets, faux-wood-plank vinyl flooring and Ultraleather/cloth furniture in contrasting shades. The rear sofa is well padded and supportive, and converts into a surprisingly comfortable trifold bed that is easy to deploy and stow. We appreciated the large built-in end tables, which have deep cubbies in them. Above the couch are three cabinets that, unlike many fifth-wheels we’ve tested, are easily reachable by someone in the 5-foot-tall range.
On the curb side, dual cloth recliners fit well into the space, and although there isn’t a handle to deploy the footrest, the recliners are light enough to easily pull away from the wall, at which point you just push with your arms and back to deploy the footrest. The seats are well padded and very comfortable, but felt a little rickety in some areas. We understand that weight is a concern in a unit like this, and if the chairs were more robust, they would be heavier and harder to move, but it would be nice if they felt a little bit stronger.
In contrast to most fifth-wheels, the 30RLI has a booth dinette, which we tend to prefer for a few reasons. One, it turns into another bed, which a free-standing dinette cannot. Two, you don’t have the problem of the outer chairs’ legs falling off the lip on the edge of the slideout. And three, there’s an opportunity for storage drawers underneath the seats, which Keystone took advantage of. The dinette offers enough room for four slender adults, and the spring-loaded “pop-up” dinette table allows you to easily lower and raise the table for sleeping/eating. However, there is a cross member underneath that will meet the knees of taller diners and another cross member on the floor that at least one foot will have to rest on or butt up against. If you’re shorter than 6 feet, this shouldn’t be a concern; we were able to gain knee clearance by sitting upright, which wasn’t terribly comfortable but bearable for the limited amount of time we spent here.
Directly across from the recliners in the opposing slide is a 32-inch Legend flatscreen television, optional Graystone electric fireplace and controls for the audio system, which offers Bluetooth compatibility, a DVD and CD player, AM/FM stereo, aux/USB ports, and A, B, C speaker selection that allows you to choose front, rear or outside speakers, or all of the above. The sound from the system is decent, but the outside speakers sounded weak compared to the interior speakers, and we wish they were flush-mount instead of housed in bulky enclosures. Also, the audio system works on 12-volt DC power, but the television does not, and the mounting execution leaves something to be desired. On one hand, the TV is mounted on an arm that extends and swivels for easier viewing if you’re sitting someplace other than the recliners directly across from it. On the other, the connections for the cable and 120-volt AC power are on the wall next to it, not behind it, so you have ugly wires hanging underneath and another wire running from the bottom of the TV through the counter, presumably to a connection behind the audio system.
The kitchen offers an 8-cubic-foot Dometic refrigerator with a raised panel wood front, a stainless Atwood three-burner range with no cover, an overhead hood, a standard oven and a tiny stainless High Pointe microwave above the counter. There is an abundance of countertop space next to the stove, although you’ll likely use this to place prepped items, since the slideout is too short to allow prep here unless you duck under it (or you’re no taller than about 5 feet 5 inches). However, there is plenty of prep space on the forward hutch (not to mention a handy charging station for your electronic devices) and the kitchen island, which also features a stainless-steel dual-bowl sink. There is a ton of storage space, with cabinets above and below the hutch (the ones below are big enough to serve as a pantry), four large drawers underneath the countertop and lots of utility-type storage underneath the sink. A cutout for a trash can here would be nice addition.
There are just a few items in the kitchen area that we’d like to see changed. For example, there is a nice light fixture above the dinette but not above the island; some pendant lights here would be an elegant touch. And, although we appreciate the two 120-volt AC outlets on the island, we wish they were on the kitchen side. Placing them on the dinette side means you have to walk around the island to plug in your appliances, which doesn’t make it easy to plug in appliances, but it does keep cords out of the way of the more frequently used traffic pattern. Finally, the curved wall that transitions into the bedroom hall is inexcusably flimsy, flexing even when touching the wall-mounted thermostat. Just a simple strip of 2- x 2-inch wood behind this panel would solve the problem.
One thing that’s nice about a fifth-wheel floorplan in a travel trailer is that no steps are required to get to the bed/bath area, so the door to the bath can open and close without having to step down the stairs or squeeze between the wall and the door. The bathroom is roomy enough, with a large fiberglass shower enclosure, lavatory with lots of storage underneath and a huge corner linen closet. The only thing that’s weird is that the closet doesn’t quite meet the shower, but the space in between is too small for a broom or vacuum attachment, so we think this will become a haven for dust and dirt over time that can’t be cleaned easily. Elsewhere, the bath area features an overhead roof vent, three towel hooks and a porcelain toilet with a foot flush, a nice surprise in a lightweight.
In the bedroom, the queen bed is housed in a deep streetside slideout and offers substantial underbed storage, with the platform supported by gas struts. The bed is very comfortable, and overhead cabinets offer lighting underneath for reading. We just wish that Keystone had taken a little more time finishing the underside of these cabinets, as there were exposed staples to stare up at, and the ones that were covered were still very noticeable. At the foot of the bed is a chest of drawers with four very large drawers and a good-size side cabinet, plus another cabinet overhead. There was no TV in the bedroom, although it is TV-ready and there is a suggested mounting point for a TV bracket. Overall, the room feels light and bright, thanks to a large window above the counter and windows on either side of the slideout. The mirrored closet also contributes to the feeling of spaciousness and has plenty of room inside for hanging clothes.
It’s never easy to get the best of all worlds in an RV, but for fifth-wheel living in a travel trailer that weighs less than 10,000 pounds, the Keystone Cougar XLite 30RLI comes pretty close.
Keystone RV Company | 866-425-4369 | www.keystonerv.com/cougar
Chevrolet Silverado High Country
Handling the towing duties on this month’s test was a Ruby Red Chevy Silverado High Country equipped with the optional Duramax diesel engine and Allison automatic transmission. Admittedly, this was more tow vehicle than required to tow a trailer with a gvwr of 9,500 pounds, but the truck’s standard trailer tow rating is 13,000 pounds, which actually is a good margin of capacity when towing.
Today’s trucks are becoming increasingly content rich, and the High Country trim level represents the pinnacle of luxury features, doodads and gizmos available in a contemporary pickup. In addition to niceties like heated/cooled leather seats and power everything, the High Country comes with dual-zone climate control, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, a rear-vision camera, front and rear park assist, the Chevrolet MyLink audio system with an 8-inch color touch screen and navigation, and much more.
Mechanically speaking, the High Country comes standard with a gasoline-burning 6.0-liter V-8, six-speed automatic transmission, an auto-locking rear differential with 4.10:1 gearing, the trailering equipment package, integrated trailer brake controller and a 150-amp alternator, all of which would qualify this truck as a loaded model. But wait, there’s more. When you tick the Duramax/Allison option box, you also get the Duramax Plus Package, which, in total, is a hefty $9,115 option. For this, in addition to the robust drivetrain, you get power-adjustable pedals, a heated steering wheel and electronic nannies like lane-departure warning, forward-collision alert and a safety-alert seat that vibrates alarmingly when your electronic copilot has determined (sometimes without reason) that you’ve violated a safety parameter. The truck also was equipped with a rear-seat entertainment center with wireless headphones, a power sunroof and excellent heated trailering mirrors with integrated turn signals and a power-folding feature. Option cost was $11,835, bringing the total cost of the truck to a staggering $66,095.
Is it worth it? That depends. We liked the seats and the leather-wrapped steering wheel, and the fit and finish in the cabin were exceptional. The truck feels very solid, and even the Duramax engine’s presence was subdued, amounting to a distant thrum. Needless to say, it had no trouble towing the test trailer, and we have little doubt that the truck’s heavier suspension and long wheelbase contributed to a stable and effortless towing experience. It is a very competent, comfortable truck (even when driving solo), but we question GM’s decision to lump a lot of features in with the already expensive diesel option. The High Country with the standard 6.0-liter gas engine saves nearly $10,000, which may be a practical choice when planning on towing a travel trailer or a midsize fifth-wheel.
Ford Motor Company | 800-392-3673| www.ford.com/new-trucks