When I received the call from my publisher telling me to prepare for an incoming Lance trailer, I thought there was a mistake. A Lance camper, certainly, but a trailer? For more than 40 years, Lancaster, California-based Lance has manufactured its popular line of slide-in campers. Innovative styling, top-quality construction and spacious floorplans have always been mainstays from Lance, but we haven’t seen a new Lance that features wheels and an A-frame for years. Until now.
The Lance 1880 trailer weighs in at a svelte 3,800 pounds wet, which makes it towable by a wide range of pickups and SUVs, including Honda’s redesigned Pilot 4WD Touring Edition SUV.
After the once-unlikely combo was hitched up and ready to go, we set off to put the vehicles through the paces.
On the road, the Lance tracked like a dream. Lane changes, quick stops and low-speed campsite maneuvering were all non-eventful, which is a testament to the Lance and the Pilot. We did receive some curious glances from RVers who, at the last minute, realized they were passing a Lance trailer. We even got a thumbs up from a man with a Lance camper lashed to his pickup.
While on the road, the interior of the Pilot offered plenty of comfort and a surplus of space for our three-person test family. Thoughtful features like a drop-down screen for backseat DVD viewing, XM Satellite Radio and a voice-activated GPS system made the trip to the campsite an absolute joy.
The 3.5-liter V-6 in the Pilot was never taxed by the Lance, and the Variable Cylinder Management System lead to decent fuel-economy numbers while towing. The front strut/rear multilink suspension meant body roll on the Honda was virtually nonexistent. Smooth braking via ABS was apparent both while solo and towing.
Once in camp, it was time to test the mettle of the Lance in real-world circumstances.
When a longtime manufacturer debuts something completely new like the Lance 1880, it is virtually impossible not to compare the new product to the old. And, the new Lance trailer compares quite favorably to the long line of Lance campers.
Stepping into the trailer, the familiar feeling of being in a Lance becomes immediately apparent. The cabinetry in the 1880 is very much like that in a Lance camper; it’s well-made, with no seams or gimp to be found. The handcrafted cabinets are screwed together and into the frame; there’s no glue or staples used to cut corners – something on which Lance prides itself.
The front of the trailer features a convertible jackknife sofa for overnight guests, and above it is a grated shelving unit that’s ideal for hanging jackets and the like while in camp or on the road. To the right of the sofa are a spacious wardrobe and large, enclosed storage area.
This area of the trailer is a bit dark, but subsequent floorplans should feature an additional Fan-Tastic vent to let a little more light in – and to offer an alternative to the optional air conditioner on moderate-weather days.
Mealtime can get a little tight, but that’s certainly to be expected in a trailer this size. The functional galley features a three-burner stove, dual-basin sink and optional microwave, in addition to a 6-cu-ft refrigerator. A small section of counterspace is devoted to meal prep, but it offered plenty of space for some traditional (hot dogs) and not-so-traditional (turkey tacos) camping fare.
Across from the galley is the dinette, which fits a family of four fairly easily. The dinette also serves double-duty as another sleeping area when it’s time to hit the hay. An optional TV/DVD player is viewable either from the dinette, or can be swiveled around for the sleeping areas.
Continuing rearward, a sink with storage below enables hand-washing duties outside the lavy, and the bathroom features the cozy toilet and separate shower you’d expect in a lightweight travel trailer.
The main sleeping area features a double bed for Mom and Dad, and a double bunk above for Junior. This arrangement makes for some interesting late-night events; the child in the bunk has to step down onto the unsuspecting sleepers below in order to reach the lavy. Luckily, our 4-year-old doesn’t weigh much, so there were no hard feelings (or bruised thighs) when he made his nightly bathroom breaks – but there were plenty of restless moments whenever the time came. Lance expects to offer different floorplans in the future.
The 2009 Pilot Touring model we tested came with all the bells and whistles (Touring editions have no options; if it’s offered for a Pilot, it’s in there). In addition to the aforementioned audio/visual gadgets, the array of features includes a rearview camera that is so accurate I was able to utilize it to hitch up (something I’ve never had the nerve to do before). An eight-position power-adjusting driver’s seat (with memory), dual-zone climate control and intuitive steering-wheel-mounted controls were all much appreciated, as was the capability for hands-free cell-phone conversations through the Pilot’s audio system via Bluetooth technology.
But there’s much more to the Pilot than electronic gadgetry. The 2009 version is longer, taller and wider than previous Pilots, and 17-inch wheels and tires are now standard – all of which add up to a more aggressive, robust appearance. In addition to the obvious off-pavement possibilities, the Variable Torque Management 4WD system included on the Touring edition is designed to enhance all-weather traction, which came in rather handy as we endured a rare fall storm (it does rain in Southern California!) while en route to the campsite.
The standard 3.5-liter V-6 engine features an updated version of Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management, which allows the engine to run in six-cylinder, four-cylinder and three-cylinder modes for greater fuel efficiency. An integrated hitch receiver and hill-start assist are welcome additions to the RVing contingent.
Up to eight passengers can fit in the three rows inside the Pilot, and Honda says there’s enough room for a midsize cooler or folded baby stroller behind the third row. We can confirm that there is room for several duffles and a sleeping bag. However, we opted to fold down the third row (an absolute cinch), which allowed the voluminous interior of the Pilot to swallow most any cargo we threw its way. An electronic lift gate that can be controlled with the key fob was a nice addition, and was especially impressive to younger folk.
Lightweight construction, long-term amenities and attention to detail make the Lance 1880 a solid addition to the travel-trailer segment – and the company continues to improve designs for future models. The Pilot is a great family SUV with plenty of space for passengers and luggage, and solo fuel economy that rivals many passenger cars. Together, this combo is a great way to explore the highways and byways across the country.
Lance Camper Manufacturing
Corp., (661) 949-3322, www.lancecamper.com.