I’ve written many times about the lifestyle advantages of a small motorhome, primarily from the viewpoint of a first-time RV owner. Our Free Spirit SS has now traveled 27,000 miles, so I’m no longer seeing things through the eyes of an RVing novice. Fortunately, this motorhome has proven to be everything we had originally hoped – a pleasure to drive and a cozy basecamp when parked.
With every new route and new destination, the RV travel experience continues to evolve. You are always learning new tricks to streamline both the driving and camping experience, identifying new gadgets and modifications to make mobile life easier, and reflecting on how to do things more smoothly next time. Inevitably, you identify the limits of your current motorhome . . . and that gets you wondering about whether those limits are acceptable. RVing is an exercise in compromise, since there is always a tricky balance between motorhome size, comfort, utility, convenience, and economy. Everyone has a different tolerance range for each of those five factors, and no one RV can satisfy all those needs at all times.
As an example, our Class B (van conversion) motorhome is well-suited for traveling to and camping at an enormous variety of locations, thanks to its relatively small size – 23 feet in length – and the corresponding ease of maneuvering and parking. But what happens when you are unexpectedly camping in a bad weather pattern with, say, nonstop rain for several days? That’s happened to us a number of times, and a small motorhome can go from cozy to claustrophobic. Usually we end up driving hundreds of miles to find a better weather forecast rather than remain cooped up inside The Silver Box.
I admit that during each of those rainout experiences, the limited interior space made me envious of those who own a Class A RV, a much larger motorhome built on a truck or bus chassis. I also confess that I have usually stereotyped every Class A as a boxy beast that sacrifices traveling flexibility for interior size. When Virginia and I were first thinking about a motorhome purchase, Class A options were not even considered. From what we had seen, the length of a typical Class A was 40+ feet, the price was forbiddingly high, and the advantages seemed to satisfy only the opposite of our traveling and camping goals.
Now it’s nearly two years since that original decision-making process, and we’ve learned a lot about what we like, what we need, and what we’re missing for the type of RV traveling we do. We’ve also realized that we had overlooked a market segment that is priced in the same range as our Free Spirit was: gasoline-powered Class A motorhomes. These front engine “gassers” are much less expensive to purchase than Class A rear engine “diesel pushers,” and we were surprised to discover a wide variety of models ranging from 28 to 35 feet in length. Any of those would be considered small for a Class A but are at the upper limit of what I would want to be driving into a national park, navigating on smaller roads, or parking at a shopping center. Many of the typical large Class A advantages (like much more storage, bigger tanks, and roomier living spaces) are still featured on the smaller models, and routine maintenance on gas engines is far less costly than servicing the diesels.
As a result, we have recently flirted with the idea of swapping The Silver Box for a small Class A gas-powered motorhome. After considerable research and a surprisingly satisfying test drive, we decided to order a 2017 Tiffin Allegro 32SA (pictured below). It’s obviously a much bigger box – 34 feet long, 8½ feet wide, and nearly 13 feet tall – so the contrast with our current RV is not subtle. I’m trying to get used to the equally unsubtle exterior paint job, a Class A hallmark that is supposed to break up the visual monotony of those large flat walls (or perhaps just to brand this vehicle as not-a-bus). But despite the jarring shift in size and aesthetic, we are hoping that this solution will offer a better balance of those five factors I mentioned above (size, comfort, utility, convenience, economy), at least for the majority of our kind of travel and exploration. That was our objective – to find a sweet spot in the RV world that is optimized for most of our limited vacation time.
I’ll write more soon about the advantages and tradeoffs we found ourselves contemplating as we narrowed the field of motorhome contenders and balanced their feature sets with our own priorities. Whether we are making a smart decision is hard to know right now. We see it as an exciting experiment, and I look forward to relaying what we discover about this motorhome lifestyle shift, both positive and negative. In the meantime, if you or anyone you know is looking for a sleek and nimble 2015 Free Spirit SS in mint condition, please contact me!