We’ve only had time for a few weekend trips in our new Class A motorhome, but the memories of Class B traveling are still fresh. Before those fade, I thought it might be worth reflecting on the gains and losses with this transition. In part, this is a response to my friends who own a Leisure Travel Vans motorhome and are still wondering why I didn’t trade our LTV Free Spirit for a larger LTV model. It’s a good question, since a new fully loaded LTV Unity Murphy Bed – currently the most popular LTV – sells at almost exactly the same price as a new Tiffin Allegro 32SA. Buying a Class C Unity would have been a more familiar transition, from one Sprinter van-based motorhome to another. How do I feel about the more extreme jump to a Class A motorhome built on a much larger truck chassis?
Let me say first that our satisfying experience with LTV set a very high standard that considerably narrowed our acceptable choices for RV manufacturers. Both LTV and Tiffin are family-owned companies that pride themselves on innovative design, craftsmanship, and customer service. Although Tiffin has a significantly larger motorhome production capacity and dealer network, there are many similarities with LTV in terms of sales, support, and overall customer loyalty.
The most obvious difference between these motorhome choices is size, and unlike a house, it’s not just a question of living and storage space. Size is the biggest variable in mobility, flexibility, and site access during RV travel; there are state parks, city streets, and parking lots that simply can’t accommodate Class A motorhomes. This is a fundamental “genetic” difference and perhaps the biggest part of the RV decision, which depends on your traveling style and goals. In an earlier blog post, I discussed the size-related reasons for our switch to a larger motorhome. Now, after 3000 miles of driving the Allegro, I’ll compare the driving-related features that distinguish these two similarly priced choices:
There are some undeniable advantages to traveling in a van-based motorhome like the Free Spirit. For example, I took for granted some of the standard automobile features like a key fob for remote locking/unlocking, air bags, a spare tire, and even driver’s and passenger’s side doors – all present on the Free Spirit but absent on the Allegro. There are also a lot of advanced driving enhancements in late model Sprinter-based RVs, including automatic windshield wiper control, lane keeping assist, high beam assist, blind spot assist, and parking assist (all missing on the Allegro). The seats in both coaches are finished in a synthetic stain- and sun-resistant fabric, but the Free Spirit’s Ultraleather is softer and feels more like rich leather.
The Allegro offers some other driving and comfort features that help compensate for these deficiencies. For example, the built-in Kenwood DNX571TR audio/navigation system is a major improvement over the Sprinter’s Becker system in terms of both audio quality and navigation software (Garmin), which is tailored with RV-related features that include routing avoidance of low bridge clearances, campground locations, etc. The dash also features a separate always-on video display showing the view from the rear camera or, when your turn signal is on, the view from one of the two side mirror-integrated cameras. There are two windshield shades (light filtering and light blocking) that are powered by dashboard switches, making it remarkably easy to adjust for sun and glare through that large window. The driver and passenger sit in powered 6-way adjustable seats (the Free Spirit seat adjustments are manual), and the passenger even has a powered footrest that essentially converts that seat to a recliner. And if the passenger would like to work on a laptop computer, there’s a slide-out laptop table built into the dash and an inverter-powered 110 V outlet underneath.
Highway cabin noise is similar between the two motorhomes, except that there is more engine noise when the Allegro shifts down a couple of gears to maintain speed while going uphill. Even with that downshifting, the heavier Allegro has a harder time maintaining the posted highway speed on extended uphill drives; in contrast, the Sprinter’s diesel power band provides great torque for handling ascents. On the other hand, the Allegro is better at controlling speed during downhill stretches thanks to a “Tow-Haul Mode” that can be easily activated for graded engine braking. The turning diameter is only 10% different between the two RVs, so the Allegro – although 11 feet longer than the Free Spirit – is surprisingly maneuverable, and I feel reasonably comfortable in shopping center and supermarket parking lots.
The Free Spirit’s suspension is optimized for the front end, making the ride smoother for the front seats but rather bouncy in the rear. Although rough roads are not handled as well by the Allegro’s suspension, the overall ride is definitely smoother in the rear; this is very noticeable when you’re standing in the kitchen or the bathroom. My biggest suspension complaint about the Free Spirit was the dramatic side-to-side sway that occurs when you drive over valleys or bumps at an angle, such as when you are making a turn into a gas station. Our Allegro has factory-installed Sumo Springs that largely eliminate this issue and also help stabilize the ride on uneven road surfaces. I have also installed a Safe-T-Plus steering stabilizer, a common mod that reduces steering “wander” (a common gas chassis complaint) and helps the Allegro track better on straight roads. I should also mention that a wheel alignment was a key factor in optimizing the steering stability, and proper adjustment of the tire pressure (after weighing the fully loaded RV) significantly improved the ride and handling. While I think the native Sprinter suspension is superior, these mods and adjustments for the Allegro yielded a rather comfortable ride and substantially improved handing. Still, crosswinds and wind gusts still have a greater effect on the Allegro – not surprising considering that this is a much bigger box. For this reason, I have settled on a top highway cruising speed of 65 mph in the Allegro, a little slower than my comfort level with the Free Spirit.
So as you can see, there are pluses and minuses to both, with a predictable edge to the Free Spirit but a surprisingly good driving experience in the Allegro. In my next blog post, I’ll compare the “home” aspects of these motorhomes, including chassis and exterior features, power and utilities, and interior features.