Tales From the Heartland
Living large in the Big Country 3150RL
Smaller fifth-wheels have become big business. At a time when fuel prices can escalate 50 cents or more at the drop of a hat, consumers are understandably concerned about hauling a 40-plus-footer. Then there’s the issue of hauling around a trailer this big — you have to choose your fuel stops carefully and plan your trip accordingly to make sure the campsites or RV parks you visit can accommodate a large trailer. Reducing the length of a fifth-wheel to around 35 feet solves many of these issues, of course, but then how do you pack in all the features fifth-wheel owners have come to expect?
That’s the rub, especially when you consider that the current trend is toward luxurious living areas with theater seating, grand entertainment centers and electric fireplaces. But Heartland Recreational Vehicles has given it a go with its new Big Country 3150RL, a well-appointed fifth-wheel that measures just longer than 35 feet, making it one of the smallest fivers in the eight-floorplan lineup.
The Big Country follows the current trend of tan fiberglass with graphics and frameless windows (optional dual-pane on the test unit) for a striking visual appearance. Heartland also goes the extra mile by applying Correct Track alignment to its heavy-duty 7,000-pound axles, which are cushioned by Dexter EZ Flex suspension with shock absorbers and fitted with aluminum wheels.
Packing for a weeklong trip on the California coast, we were delighted when we opened the front exterior storage, which Heartland claims is the largest in its class.
Not only is this area tall enough to sit up in, it is one of the best-finished storage compartments we’ve seen. The floor and walls are fully carpeted, the ceiling is covered by a vapor barrier, and the area is heated as well. The only negative we noticed is that the control panel for the optional Level Up hydraulic leveling system was on the curb side; the street side would be a more user-friendly place for this feature.
When we arrived at the park, we disconnected, leveled the trailer and stepped inside to open up the living area. Heartland fits its trailer with a slide mechanism that deploys the living area slide rooms in sequence — simply hold one button to deploy both living area slides. A second switch deploys the bedroom slideout. Some of our staff liked the speed and simplicity of this feature, while others preferred that the slides be deployed one at a time in the event that the predetermined sequence would not be convenient for some reason. Fortunately, Heartland offers optional hydraulic selector valves that allow you to change the order of slide deployment, but we’d prefer individual controls.
We would also like to see a much better organized and clearly labeled utility center. The city water and black-tank flush connections are not clearly marked, and to confuse things further, there is a sticker on the right side labeled City Water Connection and another on the left labeled Freshwater Connection. But that’s not the worst part. The closest point to the Freshwater Connection label was actually the black-tank flush. You can already see where we’re going with this. Looking straight into the cabinet, we connected to what appeared to be the freshwater connection and minutes later heard screams emerging from within the trailer. Blue water from the black-water tank (which thankfully had not been used yet) began to flow into the kitchen sink. We don’t know how this could even happen, since the gray- and black-water systems are supposed to be completely separate — and just in case you’re wondering, yes, all the dump valves were closed at the time. Indeed, there is a schematic that shows you how everything is supposed to be connected, but it’s on the left wall inside the plumbing center — so you almost have to stick your head in to see it, where it’s then too close to read. Obviously, Heartland needs to rethink the plumbing center design.
After recovering from (and cleaning up after) our initial blue-water drama, we found that the living and kitchen areas were truly elegant. An abundance of handcrafted Bordeaux Cherry cabinetry is nicely finished and feels solid, and is complemented by neutral tones throughout the space. Faux wood Beauflor flooring is used in the kitchen, the living area is carpeted, and the rear couch and curbside rockers are upholstered in authentic-looking simulated distressed leather.
Surprisingly, we found that the furniture wasn’t as pleasing to use as it was to look at. For example, the recliners appear thickly padded and comfortable but are actually quite firm, and when they recline the footrest can barely hold the weight of your legs. Moreover, the recliners are just too large for their allotted space in the slideout and are jammed up against the dinette, requiring you to move one of them onto the living area floor at mealtime. The dinette itself is tiny, and in sharp contrast to the cabinetry in the rest of the trailer, was not well made. Its painted brown finish began flaking off almost immediately. We should note here that a booth dinette and theater seating are both available options, and we would recommend investigating these as possible upgrades.
The couch is okay for short periods but could use some improvement. It essentially forces you to sit upright, and the seat cushions aren’t very wide, so you feel like only half of your legs are supported. We were pleased to find the couch was equipped with an honest-to-gosh spring-assisted bed like you’d find in most residential couches (instead of a segmented trifold or, worse yet, an air mattress). It’s nothing fancy and seemed a bit on the springy side but should work fine for overnight guests.
Directly across from the recliners in the streetside slideout is the entertainment center, which is dominated by a Samsung flat-screen television and, in the case of our test unit, an available electric fireplace. There’s plenty of storage here for DVDs and other items, and above the TV are two cabinets with frosted panel inserts, one of which contains a Sony entertainment center that functions as both a DVD player and radio receiver. Sound and picture quality are decent inside, but we found the outdoor system lacking. Small speakers are located close together near the front of the trailer, and they’re controlled by a common car stereo head unit located in the front compartment. As you might have guessed, this arrangement doesn’t produce very good sound. Upgrades would be easy enough, but we don’t think that should be necessary in a fifth-wheel like this.
Preparing for dinner in the evening, we found that the kitchen was not only great looking but well conceived. The centerpiece is an island with a large solid-surface countertop, double-bowl stainless sink and a residential faucet with pullout sprayer. There’s plenty of space for chopping or serving here, and if you need more room you can employ one or both of the solid-surface sink covers. Storage space is provided by three large drawers and one small one at the top that would be a good place to keep miscellaneous knickknacks. We liked that there is a huge amount of under-sink storage — more than enough for a trash can — but we felt like this area could be improved upon with a shelf of some kind that would allow storage space for things like cleaning supplies. You could, of course, add something like this yourself, if desired.
Across from the island on the street side is a stainless-steel gas oven and a three-burner cooktop with stainless-steel cover. We liked that there is lots of food-prep space on either side of the cooktop, as well as additional cabinets and drawers for anything a traveling chef could want to bring. We also appreciated the full-size stainless-steel microwave and the large four-door refrigerator with wood panels to match the cabinetry.
On the forward wall is a large pantry/storage area. Opening the top two cabinet drawers reveals an interesting organizer of sorts with a solid-wood spice rack affixed to the right door and another one directly in front that slides from side to side on fixed rails. Behind this are two shelves that are infinitely adjustable, so we can see this as a good place to keep an ambitious spice collection, as well as small bottles of items that don’t require refrigeration. Beneath this is a larger, deeper cabinet that could be a good place for canned items, and the shelves here are easily adjustable as well. To the right of this cabinet is a shallower space with adjustable shelves that could be used for more food or just miscellaneous storage.
All the way to the right of this same cabinet is a small shelved area and a control panel consisting of the tank monitors and switches for the water heater, interior lighting and the aforementioned slideout switches. This panel also had switches for the optional Yeti extreme weather package, which provides heat to the water-pump lines and includes heating pads for the holding tanks, neither of which we had occasion to use during our summer test. One detail we found very thoughtful was a decal inside the cabinet door with factory-direct phone numbers for all of the trailer’s vendors, including Lippert, Norcold, Atwood, Suburban, etc., which will save a lot of time in the event something goes wrong.
The bed and bath areas are adequate for their intended use, but it seemed like the designers started losing inspiration once they got to the front of the trailer. There are the standard porcelain toilet, medicine cabinet and one-piece fiberglass shower with a glass door. We liked the lavatory with its glass vessel sink and solid-surface countertop. But the area seems to suffer from an overall misuse of space; there is no shelving underneath the sink, no linen closet and the toilet paper roll is mounted inside the lower cabinet door where it is nearly out of reach. Also, the unit uses sliding pocket doors for entry to the space from either the bedroom or hallway; we’d prefer a standard door with a lock for the hallway entrance.
The design issues continue in the bedroom. First, we thought it odd that a king bed comes standard with a queen as an option. The test unit was equipped with the latter — and although there is adequate room on both sides of the bed for nightstands, there were none. We think you should be given a choice between a big bed and no nightstands or a smaller bed with nightstands. On the upside, the bed was one of the most comfortable we’ve ever slept on in an RV, and there is storage underneath with gas struts that did a commendable job supporting the weight of the mattress.
At the foot of the bed is a chest of four drawers, and the test unit had a flat-screen television located above and center, perfectly situated for viewing from the bed. There is no overhead vent in this space, which can be viewed as a positive or negative. On one hand, the bedroom can be kept very dark by pulling down the standard MCD blackout shades (provided throughout the fifth-wheel) and shutting the doors; on the other, there’s not much ventilation if the air conditioner is turned off. In our case, we liked the dark bedroom and stayed comfortable, thanks to standard 50-amp service and an optional second air-conditioning unit in the bedroom.
All the way at the front is a wardrobe that isn’t cedar lined but does feature another chest of drawers, a compartment for shoes, a Dyson vacuum and hanger rods of varying heights. The test unit also had a washer/dryer-ready cabinet that could be used to store more hanging clothes, if you didn’t opt for the appliances.
Overall, we think Heartland’s newest Big Country floorplan is a success. It packs in a lot of standard features, offers abundant options and is the right length for the growing midsize fifth-wheel market.