Top of the Mountain
The 2017 New Horizons Summit successfully integrates traditional design with some very unexpected features
Innovation — the truly game-changing stuff — comes once in a blue moon in the RV industry. Most of what we’ve seen in the past decade amounts to product evolution, added features and interior design influenced by the residential sector. This isn’t a criticism so much as it is an observation. After all, there’s only so much you can do with a maximum of 400 square feet and a living space that amounts to a large rectangle. However, when several interesting ideas are integrated in a single floorplan, the result can be truly inspiring. Such is the case with the Summit S39FB4S fifth-wheel by Junction City, Kansas-based New Horizons RV.
Now boasting a 102-inch-wide body (up from 96 inches), the S39FB4S combines a traditional living area, a main-floor guest bathroom and a forward master bath, which work together to great effect. However, what will likely grab your attention immediately is the entry door in the slideout, which offers the functional advantage of making the living area feel more open when you walk in. Though rarely seen, even this is not a totally new idea; Peterson Industries and its popular and well-respected Excel line of fifth-wheels offered this unique feature as an option, and two thirds of buyers ponied up for it during the Excel’s final two years of production. So when the manufacturer closed its doors last year, it was no surprise that New Horizons scooped up Peterson’s president, Bryan Tillett, to head up operations, and tapped him as a resource for ideas like this one.
Instead of facing a hallway or kitchen cabinet when you walk into the Summit, you enter the living area, with the kitchen and large island in front of you. This arrangement requires unique entry steps that remain attached to the doorway, and fold up and lock against the door during travel. Once the slideout is deployed, the steps are unlocked and lowered to the ground.
This setup is bigger and taller than traditional entry steps, but the real plus is that the step angle is more natural. The steps are designed to pivot back up to the door, adapting to rising or falling grades. Adjustable feet beneath the bottom step allow for bumpy, rocky or otherwise uneven ground. It’s a little bit of an extra effort when setting up and taking down, but not much, and the weight that must be lifted to stow the steps amounts to a paltry 14 pounds. Don’t worry about some joker using the steps to trap you inside; the lock arrangement prevents the steps from being set in place without the key.
Many motorhomes, even midline gas models, are now offered with a guest bath, so it just makes sense to offer one in a high-line fifth-wheel. With the master bath up front, you wouldn’t want guests traipsing through your bedroom to get to the bathroom anyway. The idea of a living area guest bath is also not new, but the way Summit optimizes the space is. Having a bathroom on this level means a very tall ceiling, and empty space above that is essentially wasted. Instead, New Horizons puts the ceiling at a normal height, and then places a huge storage compartment above it that can be accessed from the living area (with a step ladder) or readily from the bedroom. The space is plenty large enough for extra blankets, comforters, pillows or any other bulky items you’d like to keep out of sight.
The Summit line is just one step down from the flagship Majestic and has a price tag that averages about $20,000 less. In some trailers, you can tell that you’re not in the top model, but not in the Summit. Natural Cherry hardwood cabinetry (made in-house, and sanded and stained by hand) is everywhere, lending a contemporary cabin feel when combined with the stainless-steel appliances and other high-end finishes. Hand-scraped genuine hickory wood flooring ($3,750) was used throughout the test unit.
The Summit shares the Majestic’s core features: a 12-inch I-beam frame (stacked with 2×4-inch box tubing) built in house, a four-point Bigfoot automatic hydraulic leveling system, hydraulically operated slides, Goodyear load range G truck tires on aluminum wheels and Dexter 7,000-pound axles. Electric drum brakes are standard, but we highly recommend the electric-over-hydraulic disc-brake option ($2,470) that the test unit was equipped with. If you opt for the hydraulic disc brakes, be sure your truck’s brake control works with the electric-over-hydraulic pump unit; not all integrated trailer-brake controls are compatible. Your choice of 10 full-body exterior-paint combinations in three colors is standard, or you can choose a four-color scheme like the Silver Mist on the test unit ($1,495) with deep cherry, black and silver graphics.
So where, then, is the money saved between the two lines? The Summit comes standard with pleated shades (optional solar/blackout shades were in the test unit), the shower is fiberglass instead of solid-surface, the furniture isn’t quite as fancy, and customization is not available. Of course, since New Horizons is a factory-direct, build-to-order manufacturer, you can choose from a long list of options, but as the price begins to rise, the line between Summit and Majestic will begin to blur.
There’s no denying that a base price of more than $187,000 is a lot relative to other 40-foot fifth-wheels on the market, but much of what you get for the money isn’t readily apparent. For example, all Summit models have a heated and enclosed basement, as well as a fully insulated and heated forward exterior-storage compartment. A revised air-conditioning system, which features two 15,000-Btu units, operates off a single duct that runs directly down the middle of the fifth-wheel.
The advantage here, and it’s a big one, is that one A/C unit can be used to cool the entire trailer when placed on auto mode. We quickly learned how nice this is during our stay in Kansas when the heat soared to 100-plus degrees with 50 percent humidity and we had only the public park’s 30-amp power source to work with. Even so, the duct system, combined with the high-density foam in the exterior walls and 4 inches of insulation in the roof, kept the living area, the bedroom and the bath at a comfy 78 degrees. Ordinarily, working the A/C system that hard all day in humid conditions would result in a small waterfall of condensation dripping down the side, but New Horizons uses a pump that routes the water through a tube in the ceiling that exits at the rear bumper and underneath the front storage compartment.
As mentioned, the living area is pretty traditional, with a large bay window at the rear and a window on either side of the Ultraleather couch that converts into a traditional fold-out bed. On the curbside, two manually reclining theater seats face an entertainment center that features a 50-inch Samsung LED flat-screen with a Yamaha sound bar, plus cabinetry above and below, and an electric fireplace. We took the opportunity to sample the system on one blustery evening and found both the picture and the sound — which is augmented by a subwoofer behind the theater seats — to be more than adequate. A stereo system isn’t standard, but the sound bar is Bluetooth-enabled so you can stream music from your phone or other device, if desired.
A large center island with an under-mount dual-bowl stainless sink and a commercial-style high-rise faucet with a sprayer dominate the galley. The island offers an abundance of storage underneath, which can be accessed from either side, as well as storage cabinets on either end. A nice feature is a bottom drawer on the living area slideout that houses pet food and water bowls recessed into a laminate panel for easy cleanup. There are also 120-volt AC outlets on either end, and two drawers on the galley side.
Opposite the island is the kitchen counter with a two-burner Thetford “gas-on-glass” cooktop concealed by solid-surface covers for more prep space when needed. We would prefer three or even four burners, but New Horizons has yet to find another range that suits its standards, and we have to admit that the two-burner unit, with its electric ignition and high-output burner, is pretty nice. Above the cooktop is a stainless-steel residential Whirlpool convection microwave, and next to it is a 19-cubic-foot Samsung residential double-door refrigerator. There’s plenty of storage offered by the tall pantry with pull-out shelves, cabinets above the kitchen counter, and a tall pantry/spice rack in the corner next to the fridge.
All the way at the front of the living area is the aforementioned half bath, which offers plenty of room for the job at hand, as well as a porcelain toilet with a sprayer, solid-surface countertop and an under-mount sink with a stainless-steel residential faucet, plus storage underneath and a mirrored medicine cabinet. Because storage is located above, there is no ceiling fan, but there is a window for ventilation. We liked that even this area had solar/blackout shades on the window, as well as accent lighting above and beneath the cabinet.
Next to the bathroom door on the forward wall is a utility cabinet with switches for the dual Carefree of Colorado power awnings, two deep storage areas above and a coat closet at chest level. On the curbside is a smaller closet (ideal for that “one” jacket you always grab when heading out) and a two-place dinette with an extension. Two folding chairs, which stow underneath the bed, accommodate guests.
Walking up four solid wood steps takes you into the master suite, with a queen bed in a streetside slideout and a wardrobe in the curbside slide. The wardrobe offers large storage cabinets on either side of the window, six large drawers beneath, and a countertop with a shallow, wide drawer that can be used as a computer workstation. To the left of the wardrobe is a small chest of drawers, and on the forward wall, next to the bed, is another cabinet with a sliding door. Above the bed are more cabinets, and an open display area with built-in reading lights is underneath. Because the bed is appropriately sized for the space, there is room for nightstands with storage on either side.
The forward bath really adds to the residential experience, with an en suite feel that we felt was preferable to the Jack-and-Jill arrangement necessitated by the usual common bathroom in the hallway. Slide the solid wood pocket door shut to isolate yourself from the living area and, courtesy of the guest bath, you can be assured there will be no late-night interruptions or surprises caused by a hallway door you forgot to lock.
A standard door opens into the bathroom, which features a porcelain macerator toilet and a vanity on the right, a large closet up front, and a washer/dryer-prepped cabinet to your left. Behind the door is a large fiberglass shower with a sliding glass door and stainless-steel detachable showerhead. There is plenty of room to move around while showering, and the skylight helps wake you up in the morning. There is plenty of countertop space as well, along with drawers and cabinets for all of your necessities. One cost-saving measure here is that the closet isn’t cedar-lined, as it is in the Majestic, but you could easily add cedar panels, if desired.
Another great feature of all New Horizons fifth-wheels is the lighting. It’s everywhere, and sections such as the living area, galley, bedroom and forward bathroom are controlled by multiplex panels that are easy to use. When a light group is active, the button for it glows blue; when it’s off, it’s white. The rest of the lighting, such as the sconces in the curbside living area slideout and some fixtures in the bathrooms, is controlled by independent switches. Accent lighting throughout is a great addition that makes the interior feel cozy and welcoming. When it’s time to clean up, the hardwood floors and central vacuum system make the job quick and easy.
When you’re full-timing, you can never have too much exterior storage, and the Summit doesn’t compromise here, either. The forward storage compartment is 42 inches tall and measures a cavernous 120 cubic feet. The floor is covered in rubber tread plate, and it is carpeted elsewhere. The plumbing is neatly arranged and labeled, and everything is accessible for service or repair.
The most unpleasant part of RVing is emptying the tanks, so New Horizons makes it as easy as possible with a tidy utility center featuring a freshwater drain valve, cable-operated black and gray dump valves, cable and satellite hookups, a freshwater inlet, and black- and gray-tank flush connections. Next to this compartment is a feature we haven’t seen in other fifth-wheels — a sewer-hose storage compartment that uses a steel grate for the floor. This makes it easy to rinse off the hose when you’re done, and provided you aren’t driving through a lot of rainy weather, it will by dry and odor-free by the time you reach your next destination.
The decision to go full time isn’t one that should be taken lightly, but with a beautifully crafted, well-equipped and unique fifth-wheel like the New Horizons Summit S39FB4S, the choice becomes a lot easier.
New Horizons RV | 785-238-7575 | www.horizonsrv.com
Special thanks to Ryan Gnagy, camp host of Milford State Park’s Cedar Point Campground in Milford, Kansas.