A Perfect Match

December 1, 2010
Filed under Trailer Reviews

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From the outset, matching a truck and trailer would seem an easy task; find a trailer that has the features you want and is well within the truck’s maximum tow rating, and you’re off. But experienced RVers know there’s much more to it than that. Factors like weight distribution, wheelbase and suspension design all play critical roles — and quite often, what should be a match made in heaven tows like a lash up from, well, you know. It seems like only when all the numbers add up and the stars are in perfect alignment that we find a tow vehicle and trailer that behave as a single unit, providing a towing experience that exceeds all expectations.

test drive mobile suites chevy front exteriorSuch is the case with this Chevrolet Silverado 3500 Duramax dually and DRV Mobile Suites 38RSSB3 fifth-wheel. GM’s significant revisions to the 2011 HD models have dramatically improved functionality and comfort, while the Mobile Suites fiver, with its standard Equa-Flex by TrailAir suspension and optional TrailAir pin box ($2,502), is barely noticeable behind the truck on all but the roughest stretches of highway.

Manufacturing a great fifth-wheel requires more than a beautiful exterior and sumptuous interior — especially when the trailer in question is designed for long-term or full-time use. DRV obviously recognizes this, bestowing its products with quality materials, robust construction and heavy-duty equipment. Where some manufacturers fit their trailers with equipment that’s merely “good enough,” DRV includes standard features like a heavy-duty industrial hydraulic pump that powers the front and rear jacks and slide rooms. Magnum aluminum wheels and Goodyear tires hide Kodiak automotive-style disc brakes and 8,000-pound axles with sealed bearings. Mind you, these are just a few of the details that make this trailer unique.

test drive mobile suites floorplanOne of 26 floorplans in the Mobile Suites line, the quad slide 38RSSB3 features a traditional fifth-wheel layout with some nontraditional features. Starting with the central nervous system of any home — the kitchen — the 38RSSB3 boasts a large center island with a Corian top and a stainless-steel sink with pull-out faucet sprayer. The island has more than enough room for meal preparation, and faces the living area so you can interact with friends and family while performing your version of “Iron Chef America.” At your back is a stainless-steel GE Profile convection microwave oven and another countertop with tiled backsplash and hinged Corian range cover. Our test unit, provided by Sunshine RV in Lake Havasu, California (800-355-6648, www.sunshinerv.com) was also equipped with the optional Amana three-burner range/oven ($254) and 13-cubic-foot, side-by-side refrigerator ($2,168).

test drive mobile suites kitchenThere’s plenty of room for your pots and pans, and a cabinet with clear doors will help you show off your best dishes and glasses. A roll-up door underneath hides a coffee maker and/or any other small items you’d like to keep out of view. Overall, the kitchen is attractive and functional; the only complaints we have is that the large pantry at the front is too shallow to accommodate anything other than spices and small bottles, and the larger cabinet doors shudder when opened, making them feel cheaper than they are.

The living area was clearly designed for cozy evenings, with two faux-leather recliners ($1,088) facing a built-in fireplace ($958) and a 32-inch LCD HDTV home-theater system with power television lift ($1,778). Adjacent to the recliners in the curbside slideout is a four-person dinette, and all the way at the back is a comfy sofa with end tables, and overhead storage that can actually be reached by someone less than 6 feet tall.

test drive mobile suites interior living areaThe front master suite has a contemporary feel and features a Linen Package King bed ($414) with mirrored cabinets above, but only one nightstand, which seems a bit odd. A voluminous, mirrored wardrobe at the front is cedar-lined, and has lots of room for hanging items as well as shoes. The large chest of drawers at the foot of the bed is roomy enough for folded items and socks, and there are overhead cabinets as well. Our unit was also equipped with a Sansui 26-inch LCD HDTV ($864), which seemed dwarfed by the overall size of the space.

The bath area and toilet are enclosed in one room, which has a curved exterior wall that lends a pleasing, modern look in the bedroom area. Inside, there’s a corner shower with glass door, and the test unit was equipped with a flip-down shower seat ($218), which is a thoughtful touch. The lav has room for all of your necessities and is topped off with a Corian countertop and sink. There’s a mirrored medicine cabinet, and even a small compartment that houses a hair dryer. A spacious linen closet can easily hold a week’s worth of folded towels. The only thing we found strange in the bath area was the placement of the heater vent, which is next to the toilet. It seems it would be easy to drop something into it (such as a piece of jewelry) when getting ready; locating it in the corner of the area or at the base of a cabinet would be preferable.

Since this unit is designed for long-term use, it also features a utility closet directly across from the bath area that is washer/dryer ready and can accommodate brooms, mops and other household items. A vacuum wasn’t necessary in the test trailer, because it was equipped with the optional central vac system ($400).

test drive mobile suites exterior rearMobile Suites fifth-wheels feature painted exterior graphics (the company will match any tow vehicle’s color) and frameless tinted windows, and most models (including our test unit) have a cavernous 130-cubic-foot pass-through storage compartment that’s well lighted and features vinyl flooring and carpet throughout. Our test unit was also equipped with the optional Level Up hydraulic leveling system ($2,024) that allows easy side-to-side leveling, and is powerful enough to lift the tires off the ground. That’s a handy feature for changing flats as long as you also use the normal safety equipment during such an operation.

The Mobile Suites 38RSSB3 is a lot of things, but lightweight it isn’t. Tipping the scales at 16,460 pounds (wet, no cargo), it takes at least a 3500 truck to move it down the road. The test Chevy, with a tow rating of 21,100 pounds, had more than enough power to handle this fifth-wheel.

test drive mobile suites chevy 3500 engineWhile the 2011 GM HD models aren’t “all new” like the Dodge and Ford competitors that preceded them, they have been revised in all of the areas that matter to RVers. For openers, the venerable 6.6-liter V-8 Duramax diesel has been updated to produce a class-leading 397 hp and a whopping 765 lb-ft of torque, along with reduced NOx emissions and 20 percent biodiesel compatibility (aka B20). Internal components have been enhanced for greater durability, and the already robust Allison 1000 automatic transmission has been strengthened to handle the higher torque output of the engine. The combination proved potent in our testing, pulling the trailer effortlessly at 55 mph on all but the longest, steepest grades.

Perhaps even more important is the addition of a new exhaust-brake system, which leverages control of the variable geometry turbocharger and engine compression to generate engine backpressure to slow the rig. Driver selectable with a center stack-mounted switch, the exhaust brake is integrated with the cruise-control feature and varies engine braking in proportion to the grade and vehicle load. Decelerating while in top gear, the system is almost transparent — but as the transmission downshifts to lower gears, the engine braking becomes more and more noticeable and begins to slow the rig in a hurry. Once we learned how effective it was, we just left it on — towing or solo.

test drive mobile suites chevy interiorSpeaking of braking, the truck’s brake system has been vastly improved to provide both stronger braking and better feel. Stiffer and stronger calipers clamp the 14-inch front and rear rotors, and four-wheel ABS brakes are standard (four channel on single rear wheel trucks, three channel on duallies). The difference is noticeable — and combined with the Mobile Suites’ Kodiak disc-brake system, slowing the combo safely and predictably, even from highway speeds, was a no-drama affair. We should note here that the truck’s factory internal brake controller was not initially compatible with the disc-brake system, so we installed a Carlisle HydraStar Controller Module on the Mobile Suites to allow them to work together.

Heavy-duty trucks have never been known for their ride quality, and GM has addressed this as well. A completely redesigned independent front suspension not only offers up to a 25 percent greater front gross axle weight rating (gawr) than in previous years, but also a better ride than the beam axle front suspension of its competitors. The rear suspension has been redesigned as well, and features new asymmetrical leaf springs that are 20 percent wider than before. The improvements yield ride quality that is truly amazing for a truck with such a high tow rating and a maximum payload of more than 6,500 pounds.

Overall, we were very impressed with the Chevy 3500 and Mobile Suites 38RSSB3. You can certainly find a pair that cost less, but you’d be hard pressed to find a combination that tows easier, looks better and has the potential to last a long time.

Chevrolet
, (800) 950-2438, www.chevytrucks.com
DRV, (260) 562-1075, www.drvsuites.com

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