In my last blog post, I started by pointing out the most obvious distinction between our current and former RVs: size. And now that I’m going to turn my attention from the driving experience to the camping experience, I need to start with that same issue. I had labeled size as the “fundamental genetic difference” that guides your RV decision. To extend that metaphor, size also hints at the evolution of these two different motorhome styles. The Class B Free Spirit looked and felt like it started life as a vehicle but evolved to have the household features of a small apartment. In contrast, the Class A Allegro looks and feels like it started life as a small apartment but evolved to have the mobility features of a vehicle. True to their evolutionary origins, the advantages of the Class B lie in the journey, while the Class A strengths are focused on the destination.
Nothing more dramatically illustrates this than the formal motorhome specification called “OCCC,” which stands for Occupant and Cargo Carrying Capacity. Like most of the other Leisure Travel Vans models, our Free Spirit’s OCCC of 1700 pounds was directly related to what the Sprinter chassis can safely accommodate. Add a driver, a passenger, and a tank of fresh water, and that number drops to about 1100 pounds. If you buy one of the most spacious LTV models (such as the Unity Murphy Bed), the coach’s larger body, furnishings, and cabinetry drop that number to 600-700 pounds. Even though the Unity model line has plenty of interior cabinet space and up to 63 cubic feet in exterior storage compartments, filling that space is tricky with these weight restrictions – especially if you want to carry extra passengers, hitch-mounted bicycles, etc. That’s the DNA of the current Sprinter chassis, and it dictates the most severe limitation of the current LTV models.
Class A gas chassis motorhomes are typically built on a variety of sizes of the Ford F53 chassis, allowing Tiffin to design Allegro models without similar cargo limitations. Our Allegro’s OCCC is listed at 3800 pounds. After loading all our household items, packing our camping/recreation gear, and filling the fresh water, gas, and propane tanks, I weighed our Allegro and learned that we can still carry another 2000 pounds. There is plenty of storage space remaining (the “basement” compartments total 140 cubic feet), and the sofa has seat belts for safely transporting another couple of passengers. But even now, we’re traveling with much more cargo than we could have carried in any current LTV model. It is liberating that we no longer have to choose between taking the bike gear vs. packing the inflatable kayak gear, which was always the biggest decision we faced as we loaded up the Free Spirit for a trip.
After these considerations related to size, the next most obvious comparison between our former Class B and our current Class A is style. I have to admit at the outset that I still favor the form factor and design of the Free Spirit, inside and out. It had an exterior automotive sensibility combined with a modern interior design featuring clean cabinetry lines, a lot of natural light, and a wide screened entry that reduced the visual barrier between outdoors and indoors. Some of the design choices had a direct practical benefit: for example, the Free Spirit’s frameless hinged windows opened without letting the rain in, whereas the Allegro windows slide open and do not have that awning-like advantage. Even though I like the colors we chose for the Allegro, it is taking a long time to get used to its busy exterior paint scheme (typical of Class A RVs). Overall, the Allegro’s more traditional interior decor is less appealing to me than the European-inspired style featured in the LTV motorhome line.
Balancing style is always substance, and here the comparison tilts differently. As I mentioned in my last blog post, the purchase price of our new Allegro 32SA (which has nearly all the available factory options) is almost identical to that of a fully optioned Unity MB. Both manufacturers pride themselves on high quality materials used in construction so that the coaches are solidly built and can withstand vibrations, are not prone to leaks, and have a high level of fit and finish. Where things differ most substantially are the interior component choices, which are not as well-matched as the pricing would suggest. For example, much of the exposed wood in the Unity is veneer (or occasionally laminate), while the Allegro cabinetry and drawers are solid wood. That might be a weight-related decision, but many other substantial choices have nothing to do with weight. With few exceptions, Tiffin chooses interior components with better features and from better manufacturers. This is particularly noticeable with the electronics and appliances, which include an LG Blu-ray player with a 5.1 surround sound speaker set, “smart” (internet-connected) LG televisions, a Maytag refrigerator, a Sharp convection microwave oven, etc. LTV chooses lower tier brands like a High-Pointe microwave or outdated products like a DVD-only player (instead of Blu-ray). The Allegro uses multiplex wiring to integrate the electrical systems with redundant lighted touch panels that control the furnace, water heater, water pump, lighting, vents, fans, etc. There is a 2000-watt pure sine wave inverter that powers all the electrical outlets, the refrigerator, and the microwave oven. LTV also provides an inverter but it is wired to power only a subset of electrical outlets, and the inverter is not powerful enough for many kitchen or bathroom appliances like coffee makers, blenders, hair dryers, etc.
That fundamental genetic distinction I discussed earlier – size – is the factor that accounts for rest of the differences in the feature set between our former LTV Free Spirit and our current Tiffin Allegro. Just look at the scale-matched floorplans below and you'll see what appears to be an apples-and-oranges comparison:
The Allegro’s larger size permits two distinct living areas, something that we were missing in the Free Spirit and which is a big improvement in our camping experience. Although difficult to see in the floor plan, there are two pocket doors on either side of the bathroom area; when closed, these create a complete lavatory-shower suite that separates the bedroom from living/dining/kitchen area. This is a good example of something that is a strength of both LTV and Tiffin designers – making the most out of the available space. In both floorplans, there is a lot of attention to maximizing interior storage space with drawers, cabinets, and closets. There’s just more of that possible in the Allegro, and there’s also more opportunity for multi-use areas. For example, the dining area doubles as a computer workstation, with sliding shelves for a laptop and a printer. The straight living room sofa expands to become L-shaped (as shown in the floorplan) and also includes an inflatable queen bed. The kitchen countertop has 4 removable panels that expand the countertop while hiding the double sink and the 3-burner cooktop. There’s just more of everything, as you would expect – a larger bed, a larger shower, and even four TVs (standard – I didn’t choose that!).
The additional size and weight capacity of the Allegro chassis predictably allows a lot of additional features outside the actual living space. Above the coach, there are two air conditioners, but they run quieter and cool more evenly than the Free Spirit’s single air conditioner, thanks to a network of ceiling air ducts. Below the coach, there’s an automatic leveling system that’s operated by a single button press, and there are also four house batteries (vs. two in the Free Spirit). The Free Spirit had a solar panel to help keep those batteries charged, but the Allegro recharges its batteries more rapidly thanks to a gasoline-powered 7 kW generator that is automatically started when the battery voltage gets too low. The higher electrical storage and recharging capacity is essential for powering the residential refrigerator, which is four times larger than the Free Spirit’s refrigerator. These features combined with a larger propane tank and larger water holding tanks make the Allegro more energy- and water-independent for longer periods of dry camping (i.e., without electric/water/sewer hookups). As I wrote about previously, the plumbing, fresh water tank, and waste water tanks are all placed in a basement compartment that is heated by the propane furnace, so it is also possible to camp in freezing weather and still have fully active water systems.
You simply can’t put most of these Allegro features in a smaller motorhome like the ones made by LTV. Still, I remain a little bewildered as to why the purchase price is the same when the feature set is so different. There is some economy of scale (Tiffin manufactures many more RVs each year), but perhaps there are also a lot of hidden costs in building a small motorhome on a Mercedes Benz diesel chassis. The question remains: does the advantage of having all these features available for camping outweigh the driving flexibility and maneuverability offered by a smaller motorhome size? Honestly, I don’t yet know the answer to that question for me, never mind other people. But I think that making a Class A vs. B decision when buying your first motorhome is much harder than for people like us who are transitioning from one to another. In terms of driving and camping, we already know a lot about what we like and don’t like, what we need and what we can lose. Of course, that’s not the same now as it was two years ago, and there may be different priorities and pressures two years from now. Hmm, sounds a lot like evolution.