Tacoma & Forest River r•pod: Downsizing Without Downgrading
August 1, 2009
Filed under Trailer Reviews
A very decent amount of fanfare has accompanied the downsized-trailer trend in the past several years, and with good reason. Smaller trailers travel lighter and typically cost less than their larger counterparts. What’s more, they are easily towable with today’s smaller trucks, crossovers and hybrids. And we’d all like to save a few bucks with more miles per gallon. But no matter what the trend is, it really all boils down to one truth: The American RVer wants comfort.
But can lightweight utility really be compatible with functional comforts? We think so, and the proof is in our latest test duo – the 18-foot Forest River r•pod RP-175 and the compact Toyota Tacoma Double Cab 4 x 4.
The first leg of our test-drive was a bit unpleasant and bouncy, but that had more to do with the scores of concrete seams on California’s U.S. 101. Once we hit the better-paved and winding Pacific Coast Highway, the ride became smoother and a lot more fun.
The Tacoma comes with a 2.7-liter, four-cylinder engine or a 4.0-liter, V-6 five-speed automatic. We tested the V-6 version, and it displayed authority on the road with very decent acceleration and plenty of power to tow the r•pod with ease. Yet we expected as much from a compatible tow vehicle. What was less expected, however, was the exceptional comfort inside this midsize pickup.
The Tacoma comes in three cab styles: regular, Access Cab (extended cab) and Double Cab (crew cab). The crew cab version we tested had a spacious interior and a shortened bed, but a longer 6-foot bed is also available. Its cloth bucket front seats with driver-side lumbar support made it easy to keep going with excellent driver visibility. The contemporary look of the dash was more than styling; the quality was good and the locations of the gauges made sense. We didn’t have to look hard to find what we needed: speedometer/tachometer straight ahead; stereo controls on the steering wheel as well as on the dash at the top of the center console (auxiliary audio jack and MP3/WMA playback capability is now standard) with the temperature controls at the bottom; optional overhead console with compass and temperature gauge; and a cool dimming monitor inside the rearview mirror to display the backup camera images – a well-used option.
Many of the Tacoma’s options are grouped into packages, and our test model, painted Barcelona Red, came with the TRD Off-Road Package ($3,840), which includes the rear park assist camera/monitor system, Hill-Start and Downhill Assist Control, heavy-duty suspension, a locking rear differential, 115-volt/400-watt electrical outlet (great for an extra power source while camping), satellite radio, Bluetooth, some nice exterior extras like chrome trim and smoked headlamp trim, and more options that either add off-road capability, comfort or aesthetics to the vehicle.
The Tacoma also offers safety features like traction and stability control as well as side-impact and curtain airbags.
Now, obviously the r•pod does not share the Tacoma’s commanding presence, but don’t let that fool you. Despite its modest proportions, the r•pod packs a lot of livability. For instance, while counterspace in the galley is understandably limited, it is a fully equipped kitchen with rugged wood cabinetry, hardwood drawers, a sink, a three-way refrigerator, a two-burner stove and an optional convection microwave ($413). We met up with some friends in California’s beautiful wine country, and hosted a dinner in the r•pod to test out the workable space. It was easy enough to work within the kitchen to make appetizers, cook meals and clean up the dishes.
And for additional space, the street-side slideout adds a surprising amount of extra elbowroom when moving about and legroom while hanging out on the sofa, but we particularly appreciated this layout when it came to mealtime. The table for the dinette is stowed in the outside storage area in the back of the r•pod, and setup is as simple as unfolding it. The dinette will seat three comfortably on the bench side of the table, but you can easily fit a couple more people by using the two optional bar stools, or by bringing along some folding chairs like we did. And when dinner is done, it can convert to a small 54 x 41-inch bed, just in case you have a very small guest wishing to stay the night.
The optional Dolby Digital AM/FM/ CD/DVD/TV combo ($435) is handy for some background music or movies, and the standard three-speed Fan-Tastic Fan helps to regulate the temperature while entertaining inside. Our test unit included the optional low-profile air conditioner – which adds only 6 inches to the exterior height – but the weather was on our side this trip. We also set up the optional Dometic screen room ($580) to test its usefulness. It’s a nice option if you’d like to be out of the elements while “outdoor” living; however, the ambiance in the screen room is more like that of a tent’s than an RV’s.
When the dinner party was over, the queen mattress in the back of the unit was a welcome retreat. In fact, the mattress was so comfortable we didn’t need to use foam toppers, as we normally do when sleeping in test units. In the bedroom and throughout the trailer we found expandable cargo netting for extra storage, helping to keep the unit tidy and organized.
The cargo netting also lines the back wall behind the integrated toilet in the wet bath. The morning shower is roomy enough with this setup, a good design decision for this size of trailer.
All in all, the use of space in this diminutive trailer is clever. The optional extras do add a splash of luxury, but because of its smart layout, it seems the standard unit would provide sufficient functional comforts.
The r•pod and Tacoma were easy towing, easy living and easygoing. Together, the two offer lightweight utility that we believe is comfy enough to appeal to the American RVer.