It really is an exciting time in terms of travel-trailer floorplans. The economy is such that manufacturers are reexamining the way they design new models, recognizing that (relatively) smaller tow vehicles that get better gas mileage are en vogue, therefore bringing the overall weight of trailers to the forefront. Simply put, how do they pack all the comforts of home into a more manageable package? Getting a look at the Heartland North Country 26BH is a good start.
At a relatively lightweight 5,880 pounds, ready to camp, the North Country matched up well with Toyota’s 4Runner Limited 4 x 4. The sleek 4Runner features a host of bells and whistles and, once the proper adjustments were made, towed the lightweight trailer with aplomb.
The 4Runner also looked great while doing so. The color-matched grille, bumper accents, handles and fenders all blended nicely and, coupled with the standard 18-inch alloy wheels and black running boards, offered a touch of class to the capable SUV. The Salsa Red Pearl exterior turned more than a few heads while cruising down the road, towing and solo.
Inside, the 4Runner got the leather treatment on the front bucket seats and rear 60/40 benches that can lay flat for toting purposes. It has power everything, from seats to windows to mirrors to optional moon roof ($900). An optional ($1,580) rear-seat entertainment system featuring a drop-down screen, DVD capability via the front console and wireless headphones keeps the back-seaters entertained.
The dash gadgetry offered dual-zone climate control, and the basic instrumentation on the SUV was straightforward and easy to learn. The optional navigation system ($2,420) may seem a bit pricey, but the peace of mind of knowing where you’re going is well worth the cost. The system also features hands-free phone technology, a back-up camera and voice-activated technology which – although extremely high-tech and very cool – will never be mastered unless owners crack open the instructions manual and spend some serious time reading.
The rear cargo area features an impressive 42 cubic-feet of storage, and did a decent job handling our array of duffel bags and camping gear.
On the road, the 4Runner displayed plenty of muscle, and its power was never really taxed by the North Country. However, the relatively low hitch weight of the North Country led to an annoying bucking sensation while towing, and driving this combo definitely called for the use of a sway-control device. A bit of roadside adjustment aside, braking and lane-changes went off without a hitch, and the 7-percent grade en route to the campground presented no challenge for the 4.7-liter V-8-powered Toyota.
The soft-sprung suspension (compared to that on a pickup) on the 4Runner is typical of an SUV, and did a good job at mimicking a passenger-car ride once I made the proper adjustments with the spring bars. The standard Downhill Assist Control (DAC) is a nifty feature that made heading down the grade easier by utilizing computer sensors to assist engine braking. The DAC system works by calculating the required brake hydraulic pressure for each of the SUV’s wheels, which enables each wheel to meet a predetermined vehicle speed.
Road noise didn’t present a problem even while climbing the 7-percenter, so the upgraded stereo (included with the navigation system) wasn’t pushed too hard, though a trial run in the parking lot did leave my ears ringing in a good way.
Solo, the 4Runner performed quite well, as the suspension kept the body roll in check during tight turns. Much the same as while towing, throttle response was spot-on, and braking was smooth. I could easily see using the 4Runner as an everyday vehicle, and it’s always nice to know you have 4WD on tap should you need to go to the supermarket or pick up the kids on a snowy day.
The graphics on the exterior of the North Country feature a serene, alpine-like setting evocative of tranquility and light, wispy cloud cover. The 26BH certainly delivers on that front; a light, highly manageable package that can easily be handled by many properly equipped light-duty tow vehicles, including the 4Runner. The aluminum skin and I-beam chassis construction keep the weight down, while still retaining the look and feel of a much heavier travel trailer. Plus, it packs a surprising amount of features and amenities in its svelte profile.
When I climbed the steps into the North Country, I was immediately impressed by the cabinet space. The 26BH is built with storage in mind, as attractive cabinets and shelving units line the galley area, and add to the livability of the dining/living room area as well.
One of the first things you’ll notice when entering is the jackknife sofa/bed, straight ahead, which is a great addition for extra seating and for overnight guests.
A right turn brings you into the master-bedroom area, and a sliding accordion door offers welcome separation from the rest of the trailer. Small nightstands flank both sides of the comfortable RV queen bed. The limited wardrobe cabinets above will help keep formal-attire-packing light, but the overhead enclosed shelves expand storage for the normal camping garb such as jeans, t-shirts and shorts. There’s plenty of walk-around space surrounding the mattress, which allowed us to make the bed each morning without any acrobatics. A small shelf for a small TV is mounted on the wall across from the bed.
Back in the main living area, the galley is well-appointed, with a three-burner stove, an oven, a microwave, a dual-basin sink and a large two-door refrigerator that will all handle any food-prep/storage duties you may throw at them. Workable counter space is plentiful.
No television is offered, but there is a shelf above the dinette that’s prewired for cable that could house a small flat screen.
The bathroom has a surprising amount of room for the everyday tasks, and there is ample cabinet space for toiletries and the like. A mirrored medicine cabinet offers additional storage. The tank-monitor panel is located on the wall, seemingly for up-to-the-second updates on storage capacities.
The large shower was a real treat; simply put, this was the roomiest and most comfortable shower I’ve experienced in a conventional travel trailer.
The back of the trailer features the bunkhouse (hence the BH in the name). This type of setup is no doubt aimed at younger RVers, though the large bottom bunk would be the bed of choice for an adult. The top bunk will support up to 200 pounds – ideal for two little ones or one nimble adult. Another wardrobe cabinet offers more storage here, though the lack of TV hookups for the kiddos was disappointing.
Heartland’s North Country has voluminous storage capacities that would rival many larger fifth-wheels, and the floorplan was well thought out for the weekend RVer. Plus, its light weight puts it right in the towing range for many lighter-duty vehicles. The 4Runner SUV is a solid everyday cruiser, and had plenty of power and torque to handle the North Country. Combined and properly adjusted, this combo looks great, tows with ease and offers plenty of livability.
Heartland Recreational Vehicles
LLC, (574) 262-5992, www.heartlandrvs.com.