In the alphabet soup of motorhome designations, Class B-plus is easily the most misunderstood. These motorhomes are an outgrowth of a group of vehicles originally deemed “van conversions” – though that description is woefully inadequate for today’s crop of extraordinarily outfitted “killer B’s” that oftentimes command six-figure price tags. Still, stereotypes persist, and Class B-plus motorhomes are often thought to have a bit less, in both size and equipment, compared to their Class C brethren, compromising creature comforts for a more roadworthy silhouette.
In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Today, all that really separates a B-plus from its Class C counterpart is the absence of a bunk above the cockpit, space behind the front cap that many manufacturers now utilize for audio-visual equipment and storage. In fact, it’s not unusual for a contemporary B-plus motorhome to stretch for 30 feet or more.
Elkhart, Ind.-based Phoenix USA Inc., for example, offers two Phoenix Cruiser model lines, the 2910 and 3100, that stretch the tape at 30 feet 6 inches. The differences between the floorplans are in how each maximizes interior room – augmented by one, two or three slideouts – and configure sleeping and dining arrangements.
Phoenix specializes in Class B-plus motorhomes – it’s all the company has ever built – and offers nine floorplans beginning with its 21-foot 2-inch Model 2100. The smaller units are manufactured on the Ford E-350 or Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis, while the bigger units get Ford E-450 underpinnings. What they all share is a svelte width; the entire line is just 7 feet 9 inches wide, much narrower than typical B-plus or C rigs and a world of difference from the nearly 8-foot 6-inch width common to the Class A coaches from which many Phoenix owners trade down.
Another common attribute is its relatively low profile. Even the largest Phoenix models measure just slightly taller than 10 feet to the top of their air-conditioning unit. As we discovered when living in a Phoenix Cruiser model 2910T, the narrower footprint and low silhouette translate into surprisingly responsive road manners.
To appreciate the handling, you have to visualize northern Indiana roads that, once off main thoroughfares, typically revert to a single lane in either direction. In a larger rig, the wind tossed off by a tractor-trailer coming from the opposite direction can make for a harrowing drive in such close quarters, and the road shoulder itself is frequently shared with horse-drawn Amish buggies. Bend the roadway – our route along Indiana 120 tracked portions of the St. Joseph River – and the drive can be memorable for more than its scenery.
Powered by a 6.8-L Ford V-10 capable of pushing the fully loaded, 13,000-pound coach from 0-60 mph in just 21 seconds, the Phoenix did its part to keep things on an even keel. You won’t be lulled to sleep in such situations, but the 2910T offers a comfortable ride, courtesy of rubber dampeners mounted between the chassis and subfloor that also lessen road noise. Just as importantly, it handles the inevitable tar strips without complaint – and even with an overhang of 10 feet from the rear axle centerline to the back bumper, there was none of the “tail wagging the dog” oscillations that sometimes creep up when crossing ill-repaired roadways.
The drive was further enhanced by another Cruiser feature not readily apparent before you slip behind the wheel: nearly limitless driver seat space. When viewed at an RV show, this always appears to be the case with most Class B-plus and Class C motorhomes because potential buyers are, for the most part, seeing the rigs with their slideout rooms extended. With the coach in travel mode, however, the forward wall of a retracted streetside slideout invariably restricts positioning of the driver’s seat, sometimes to a painful degree. The body of a Phoenix Cruiser extends back and away from the cutaway cockpit to increase interior room, and those “wings” also serve to position the slideout well to the rear of seatbacks. The streetside bulkhead also serves as a handy mounting location for the monitor panel, slideout switch, 1,800-watt Xantrex inverter/battery charger and optional Onan generator.
We set up camp at Eby’s Pines RV Park & Campground, a family owned 300-space facility a few miles east of Bristol, Ind. While we missed out on one of the spaces ringing the stocked trout pond at the back of the campground, there really isn’t a bad spot among the pines. Eby’s also offers tennis and basketball courts, sand vollyball pits, a playground, camp store, game room and a 2,400-square-foot heated pool. Its vicinity to Amish communities in nearby Shipshewana, Middlebury and Nappanee also make it a great base for exploring local attractions and restaurants.
The 2910T boasts opposing slideouts forward, with a third streetside extension for the rear queen bed. We were already impressed with the overall interior of the 30-footer – it’s designed to allow for access to the main cabin and bathroom with the slides fully retracted, and the large overhead cutout combines with a swivel passenger seat to allow easy entry from the cab – but once campside with the three slides extended (two are standard), the unit’s livability became readily apparent.
That rear overhang, for example, is long enough to demand leveling jacks in order to eliminate the typical side-to-side rocking as folks walk through typical rigs. The 2910T we tested had them, but we ended up not deploying them. There wasn’t any discernable movement transmitted through the coach with normal use, a testament to the motorhome’s build quality. The Phoenix is constructed using a 2-inch-thick floor framed with tubular steel, and since Phoenix USA abhors the use of oriented-strand board, the subfloor is comprised of moisture-proof plywood with a fluted plastic sheet protecting the underbelly. It ties into slightly tapered side walls built of 1½-inch tubular aluminum with block foam insulation, with metal framing – not wood – surrounding every opening in the side walls and roof. The exterior is vacubonded, laminated fiberglass gelcoat (full-body paint is optional).
Those optional leveling jacks, by the way, are simple HWH hydraulic fold-down units (with controls added to the driver’s door). Phoenix engineers its motorhomes in such a way that in the rare instance where something goes awry a traveler isn’t stranded, and jack choice is no exception.
“Everything we’ve added to this motorhome that’s electric has a manual override – we designed it so no one will ever get stuck,” Phoenix USA’s Sales Manager Stuart Bailey told us when we picked up the unit. “If you have jacks that travel straight up and down and they quit working, you’re stuck. With these, you can quite literally drive off of them. The same goes for the electric awning, which can be put up and down manually, and we left the handles on the dump valves [the Phoenix comes standard with a Sani-Con macerator system] for the same reason, along with a 3-inch dump outlet. Even the slideouts used are electric screw-driven units that can be retracted with a hand crank if need be – though we’ve never had to.”
While just 10 feet 1-inch high outside, the 2910T offers 6 feet 4 inches of interior height everywhere save directly below the air conditioner. The front cap is filled by a Samsung 32-inch LCD TV and flanked by storage compartments that also house the DVD player and amplified surround-sound system. For quieter operation, the TV can be played through its integrated speaker.
Available in four interior color schemes – ours was CafÃ©, a combination of light browns and bronzes – there’s a wealth of raised-panel cherry wood cabinets and drawer space throughout the motorhome, including overhead units attached to all three slideouts. Deeper drawers also are designed into each bench seat in the dinette within the curbside slide. The streetside room extension houses optional paired electric recliners (a sofa is standard) that will lay flat for sleeping, along with a two-burner rangetop and convection microwave oven. The galley cabinet below the cooktop is home to three large drawers; two more, along with a wood cutting board, are concealed behind a cabinet door. Like the drawers below the dinette seats, they all ride on ball-bearing guides.
Counter space is at a premium, but the sink and additional cabinets above and below are installed in an east-west design, creating an “L” with the galley slideout extended to maximize usage of what’s available. A bit more meal prep space is added with a flip-up extension. Switches for the water heater, holding tank heaters and water pump – one of three found in or on the Phoenix – are mounted in the cabinet below the sink.
The opposite wall houses a two-door refrigerator and 30,000-Btu furnace, with the full-size shower just aft. The bathroom – with toilet, sink and medicine cabinet – is streetside. And, while a pocket door closes off the rear bedroom, the facilities can also be separated from the living quarters by opening the bathroom door until it connects with a slight room divider installed between the refrigerator and shower, then engaging the doorstop.
The bedroom layout is fairly typical but, again, is designed with an eye to maximizing space. Aside from the expected array of overhead cabinets above the memory-foam queen bed, the curbside wall is home to his-and-hers wardrobe cabinets and drawers, separated by a vanity shelf/desktop and 17-inch LCD TV and DVD player. There also are windows (with MCD day/night shades) in all three exterior walls for cross-ventilation.
With its low center of gravity – entry through the sliding screen panel is via a single step – fewer opportunities are available for locating storage pods. All of them, including smaller compartments on either side, an oversized bay incorporated into the sleek bodywork next to the distinguishing Phoenix molded fiberglass spare tire cover and a unique compartment with a hinged, flip-up shelf for accommodating larger items at the curbside rear corner, are fitted with fiberglass liners. Other exterior features include a solid one-piece fiberglass roof and frameless windows.
While it’s evident throughout the motorhome, Phoenix USA’s attention to detail is especially apparent in how it safeguards the exterior. Diamond Shield protection is part and parcel to its full-body paint option, from the front cap and mirror backs to the side wings. But when you can find that same protection under the wheel wells, it’s a safe bet to assume normal motorhome fit-and-finish are above reproach.
You have to look a little harder to locate a Phoenix motorhome – the company elected to go factory direct when dealers were experiencing financing problems during the recession and now offers rigs only through its Elkhart facility and factory-direct dealers in Albuquerque, N.M., and Southern Florida – but it’s worth the effort when you can buy a solid, optioned-out 30-foot motorhome for about $100,000.
Fuel Economy: 9.3 MPG
0-60: 21.1 sec
40-60: 11.6 sec
Model: ford e-450
Engine: 6.8-l v-10
Sae hp: 305 @ 4,250 RPM
Torque: 420 lb-ft @ 3,250 RPM
Transmission: ford 5-speed auto
Axle ratio: 4.56:1
Brakes, f/r: abs disc
Suspension, f/r: independent front i-beam with coil springs; non-independent live axle with leaf springs
Fuel cap: 55 gal
Warranty: 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Ext length: 30′ 6″
Ext width: 7′ 9″
Ext height (with A/C): 10′ 1″
Int width: 7′ 5.5″
Int height: 6′ 4″
Construction: TUBULAR ALUMINUM FRAMING, LAMINATED FIBERGLASS EXTERIOR and ROOF, BLOCK FOAM INSULATION
Freshwater cap: 46 gal
Black-water cap: 23 gal
Gray-water cap: 35 gal
Water-heater cap: 6 gal
Lp-gas cap: 9.9 gal
Air conditioner: 13,500 btu with 7,000 btu electric heat
Furnace: 30,000 btu
Refrigerator: 6 cu ft
Inverter/charger: 1,800 watts
Battery: (1) 12-volt chassis, (2) 12-volt coach
Ac generator: 4.0 kW
Base msrp: $79,995
MSRP as tested: $98,650
Warranty: 1 yr/12,000 MI (COACH);
3 YEARS/36,000 MI (CHASSIS);
5 YEARS/60,000 MI (POWERTRAIN)
(Water & Heater, Fuel, LP-gas Tanks Full; No Supplies or Passengers)
Front axle: 4,260 lbs
Rear axle: 8,910 lbs
Total: 13,170 lbs
GAWR, f/r: 5,000/9,600 lbs
GVWR/GCWR: 14,500/22,000 lbs
ROCCC: 1,330 lbs
GAWR: gross axle weight rating
GVWR: gross vehicle weight rating
GCWR: gross combination weight rating
ROCCC: realistic occupant and cargo carrying capacity (full water, no passengers
Phoenix USA Inc.