Heartland North Trail
With a rear bunkhouse and outdoor entertainment built in, the King Slide 33TBUD promises fun for the family
There’s little question that lightweight travel trailers are the hottest segment of the RV market today, and with good reason. Fluctuating fuel costs, combined with a preponderance of half-ton trucks and SUVs, have made every manufacturer take a close look at their lightweight offerings. And where these trailers used to sacrifice some amenities in order to shed excess pounds, lighter materials and high-tech manufacturing methods have made it possible to produce surprisingly large and well-equipped travel trailers
weighing well south of 10,000 pounds.
Such is the case with Heartland’s North Trail King Slide 33TBUD travel trailer. Twenty years ago, who would have thought you could own a 37-foot, triple-slideout trailer with a dry weight just shy of 7,500 pounds? In fact, the 33TBUD is one of nearly a dozen King Slide models, the smallest of which is 32 feet 6 inches long and has a dry weight of 6,695 pounds. Then there are an additional eight North Trail travel trailers, and four more in the line’s Focus Edition. To say Heartland is committed to lightweights is an understatement, for sure.
Besides being the largest King Slide model in the North Trail line, what makes this floorplan interesting is its family friendly layout. Not only can it sleep five to six people, it features a dedicated rear bunkhouse for the kids. While this feature may not be uncommon in travel trailers, Heartland takes the concept a step further with a pair of bunk beds, the streetside of which converts into its own mini dinette. There’s also plenty of storage for toys and such, and even a bookcase with a top shelf that’s TV ready. The kids should have very little to complain about; the only thing we’d like to see is a little more light. There are only two small windows back here, and the curbside one gets blocked when the upper bunk is raised to make headroom for the dinette. A large rear window would be a nice addition.
Moving forward, Heartland did a very nice job making the living area feel expansive and luxurious. The centerpiece is the island kitchen, which features a residential-style pull-out faucet in a contemporary, brushed nickel finish. There’s plenty of meal prep space here, adequate cabinets, and a large (but shallow) pantry on the back wall that can accommodate an array of seasonings, canned goods and the like. The cabinets look good and seem well made, and the drawers are all equipped with ball bearing drawer guides for smooth operation. A 6-cubic-foot, double-door Norcold refrigerator, Suburban three-burner range with oven and a microwave round out the galley area. In the streetside slideout is a dinette with removable table and a couch that faces a 32-inch TV and AM/FM/DVD player on the opposing wall.
As you look to the front of the living area, you’ll find there are two doors: One that accesses the bedroom, the other, the bathroom. Having two doors side-by-side looks odd, but a bigger issue is that, once the large slideout is pulled in for travel, you can’t access the bedroom or the bathroom. In fact, you can’t access the rear bunkhouse, either. And since the slideout is on the street side, deploying it for a quick pit stop by the roadside isn’t an ideal situation.
The bath area is roomy enough, however, and features a large shower with glass door, a good-size lavatory with storage and a mirrored medicine cabinet. An opposing door leads into the front bedroom, which is equipped with a 60-by-74-inch queen bed with nightstands on either side. Nothing to write home about here, but the area has enough room to get some shuteye at the end of a long day of adventure — and that’s all most of us really want anyway.
Outside, the North Trail King Slide 33TBUD offers numerous outdoor entertainment options. At the curbside corner, a compartment door opens on gas struts to reveal a refrigerator and slideout countertop, and the back wall is TV ready with 120-volt AC and cable outlets. Outdoor speakers are standard, as is a TV in an exterior compartment. Plenty of room for outdoor gear is provided by a large, fully finished pass-through storage area up front.
Heartland is very proud of the North Trail’s construction details, which include a fully enclosed underbelly with heated holding tanks and gate valves, laminated/insulated floor and roof, 2-inch laminated side walls and insulated slideout rooms. In fact, Heartland maintains that the North Trail has been “comfort tested” at extremes ranging from 0 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and is backed by an All Season Warranty.
One disadvantage we’ve noticed with large, lightweight trailers is that they can be difficult to tow, as their expansive side walls and feathery nature make them easy to blow around. Heartland thoughtfully addressed this issue as well, with Wide Trax axles that are spaced farther apart for better stability, the Correct Track trailer alignment system and standard radial tires. After towing the North Trail to the hills north of our offices in Southern California we can say that these additions really did seem to work — the trailer towed as steady as a rock.
The Heartland North Trail lineup comes very well equipped as standard, providing pretty much everything an adventurous family could need. But if you want to up the content level, opt for the available Caliber Edition ($2,999) we sampled here, which adds solid-surface countertops, stainless-steel sink, aluminum wheels, a pull-out bike rack, spare tire, power awning, power jacks, the aforementioned 32-inch LCD TV, slam latch baggage doors, porcelain toilet and hidden cabinet hinges.
Like most travel trailers, the Heartland North Trail King Slide 33TBUD is not without its quirks — but it is a well-built, well-equipped travel trailer that tows like a dream and offers room for the whole family.
Lightweight trailers are designed for half-ton trucks, so we paired the Heartland North Trail King Slide 33TBUD with the redesigned 2014 Toyota Tundra. Featuring a muscular new exterior as well as a more refined interior, the new Tundra is an improvement on what was already a very capable package. Toyota provided us with a Tundra Double Cab standard bed 4WD in Limited grade, which includes the 381-horsepower 5.7-liter engine, six-speed automatic transmission and tow package, as well as exterior upgrades like chrome door handles/mirrors, billet-style grille insert and a Deck Rail System that makes it easier to manage bed cargo.
The test truck was also equipped with a couple of option packages. The Limited Premium Package includes features like parking assist sonar and driver/front passenger power windows with auto up/down ($595), while the TRD Off-Road Package replaces the Limited’s standard 20-inch wheels with 18-inchers and off-road tires, and adds Bilstein shock absorbers, engine/fuel tank skid plates and TRD decals, a bargain at $45 (when added to the Limited grade). With the addition of available running boards ($345) the cost of truck came to $41,970, including $995 in destination fees — a great value.
As equipped, the truck has a tow rating of 9,900 pounds per the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J2807 towing standards (which Toyota adopted in 2010) making it a perfect match for the North Trail’s 9,600-pound gvwr. Towing mirrors are also an option (which we think is odd, considering the Limited grade comes with a tow package) but were not included on this truck, so we made due with aftermarket add-on mirrors (not pictured) when towing.
The most common suggestion Toyota received about the previous generation Tundra was a more welcoming and less work-oriented interior. So while it retains Tundra hallmarks like large knobs that can be used with or without work gloves, it’s also more ergonomic and more comfortable than before. For example, the reach to the audio and HVAC controls has been shortened by 2.6 inches, and materials have been upgraded for a more premium feel, especially in the Limited, Platinum and new 1794 Edition grade.
The Limited grade’s leather-trimmed seats are
available in Black, Graphite and Sand Beige, the latter of which is the color of the test truck’s interior. These seats are heated, and the driver’s seat is power operated. With dual-zone climate control, power sliding rear window, auto-dimming rear view mirror with compass and Toyota’s Entune Premium Audio with Navigation and App Suite, we found the Limited’s cabin is a very comfortable place to spend time. We particularly appreciated the armrests, which are deeply padded right where the point of your elbow lands when driving. Easily legible instruments and multiple storage compartments make the truck very easy to use. About the only thing we wished for was better-looking faux-wood trim (which comes with the Limited grade) or an option for a different adornment.
Whether driving solo or towing, the Tundra is a pleasure. The engine is as smooth as a Swiss watch, yet emits a satisfying growl when pedal meets metal. The transmission, which seems to anticipate which gear is needed for a given condition, remains one of the best available. And while the ride is firm, it never felt rough, even over the heaving pavement transitions and expansion joints of the Los Angeles freeway system.
If a capable, comfortable half-ton truck is on your shopping list this year, you should definitely take the Toyota Tundra into consideration.