Exclusive first look at Ford’s new Explorer Hybrid SUV paired with Airstream’s cozy Nest

As a rule, up until now, if you wanted to tow a travel trailer, you needed at least an SUV with a gasoline or diesel engine. Hybrid vehicles were off the table. But times are a-changing, and with Ford’s introduction of the 2020 Explorer Limited Hybrid 4×4, a projected tow rating of up to 5,000 pounds and remarkable fuel efficiency will become a reality. Trailer Life was granted an exclusive look at the new Explorer Hybrid, and, after pairing it to a 2019 Airstream Nest 16FB, it was clear that the next generation of efficient tow vehicles and high-end diminutive trailers is ready to rock and roll.

This Ford Explorer Limited Hybrid prototype was delivered to Encore RV Resorts’ Tropical Palms in Kissimmee, Florida, where we were able to take the first look, with the understanding that the SUV was still under development. Ford will begin production in June.

Interior bedroom of Airstream Nest
Inside, the Nest is bright and efficient with lots of windows. The front queen bed, outfitted with a light and neutral deluxe duvet and throw pillows, has a high-quality memory-foam mattress.

The Airstream Nest is the company’s foray into molded-fiberglass trailers, akin to other high-end clamshell-style “egg” trailers like those from Bigfoot, Casita, Escape and Oliver. The Nest is strictly a couple’s trailer, and about a third of the 16FB model is occupied by the front queen bed. The high-end aura is supported by the $47,000 price tag for a 16-foot trailer.

FORD EXPLORER HYBRID

Hybrid SUVs are not new. But a midsize hybrid SUV that can tow 5,000 pounds raises the bar dramatically and brings real-world towing to a reality among those looking for small but livable trailers for camping versatility. Obviously, the automotive industry is on a full-steam-ahead course to replace as many vehicles as possible with hybrids and electrics, as well as making those vehicles self-driving. While most RVers are less enamored by self-driving vehicles, they are excited about more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly models that can actually tow trailers.

Interior console of Ford’s Explorer Hybrid Limited 4x4
Smart dash controls on Ford’s Explorer Hybrid Limited 4×4 are available through the touchscreen (right), along with the dial gear shift switch.

For long-distance driving, hybrid technology combines a gasoline engine with an electric-motor drive and battery system to power the vehicle. At lower speeds like city driving, the electric motor is the motive force. At highway speeds, the engine takes over, charging the batteries as it goes. When extra power is needed (towing or during a fast acceleration), both systems can work together to increase performance. All of this is controlled by the vehicle’s computer system.

The Explorer Hybrid, which will be available only in the Limited trim package, uses a 3.3-liter hybrid engine that produces 318 horsepower. According to Ford, an EPA-estimated range of up to 500 miles between fuel stops is possible; though actual mileage may vary with production models and usage. Towing a travel trailer will likely reduce fuel economy, as will driving the vehicle full of cargo and passengers. However, when not towing the trailer, the Explorer Hybrid is poised to turn in high-mileage figures.

While details are still being ironed out by Ford, the Hybrid Limited is nicely equipped with everything you’d expect from an upgraded trim package. The entire Explorer line has been redesigned for 2020, inside and out. The exterior sports an updated grille and body lines that make for an aggressive, can-do stance. On the inside, features like a two-thirds (roof length) sunroof, added smart technology, improved cargo capacity (87 cubic feet), and leather seating that includes middle-row “easy access” captain’s chairs are all part of the refit. These middle seats fold forward to allow better access to the rear electric folding bench, and the chairs are pretty comfortable for backseat drivers.

AIRSTREAM NEST 16FB

Airstream is arguably the most iconic name in travel trailers on the planet. People around the world are familiar with the silver-bullet aluminum design. While the classic design is definitely recognizable, the company has ventured into other profiles over the years that appeal to a different clientele, and so it is with the 2019 Nest.

Interior galley view of Airstream Nest
The galley’s clean and efficient design offers a surprising amount of storage. The removable swing-away table works for dining, food prep or a laptop.

The Nest has a two-piece fiberglass clamshell design, available in two floorplans, with a Bowlus Road Chief-esque rear-entry door. Airstream’s Nest literature states, “The design is simple, modern, useful, well made and incredibly comfortable” while appealing to “modern-living outdoor enthusiasts.” For the most part, the Nest succeeds at achieving the company’s stated goals.

Airstream nest exterior curbside viewWhat we liked

Overall design, build quality, interior storage, bathroom shelves and cabinetry, china-bowl toilet, ease of towing, high-quality mattress, and clean, modern appearance.

What we’d like to see

Exterior storage access, separate black- and gray-water tanks, awning-box rain diverter, bed lift, solar prep, inverter option, Wi-Fi repeater, stereo, and TV or tablet brackets.

The original Nest Caravan trailer was designed and built by Robert Johans at his Bend, Oregon, factory. Airstream purchased the design rights and added its own special touches and modifications.

Two floorplans are available: the 16U, which features a U-shaped dinette at the front that converts to a bed, with additional counter and storage space just aft on the driver’s side. The test 16FB has a queen-size bed in the front and a small single-bench dinette just aft on the driver’s side. Otherwise, the trailers are identical.

The egg-shaped semimonocoque design has been embraced by a number of trailer manufacturers and features notable benefits, including increased structural strength and, because of fewer seams, a lower risk of leaking. Also, because the body is all fiberglass, similar to a boat hull, the effects of water intrusion are greatly reduced. These types of trailers tend to be smaller in size than their framed counterparts, with the largest in the market currently built at about 25 feet long.

FORM AND FUNCTION

In typical tiny-trailer fashion, size and design supplant some features many RVers are accustomed to, which is to be expected. Storage, for instance, is often lacking, but in the Nest, Airstream has done a decent job of utilizing all the space under the front queen bed for stowing items. The downside is that these storage areas require lifting and/or removal
of the heavy memory-foam mattress to access the compartment; some type of assist device or prop rod to hold the mattress up would be a welcome addition.

Unlike some other manufacturers of fiberglass-shell trailers, Airstream opted not to mold in exterior access doors for the storage spaces, which is a bit of a limiting factor. The other limiting factor is the holding-tank configuration. The Nest has one 30-gallon black-and-gray combination holding tank, so disposing of gray water requires a dump station, which can be counter to the needs of adventure travelers parking off the grid.

Interior view of Airstream Nest refrigerator
The 3.2-cubic-foot Norcold refrigerator, located just inside the rear entry next to the closet, operates via a 12-volt DC compressor. The microwave, housed below the fridge, is easy to use.

Otherwise, the functional and aesthetic design is modern and tasteful, and adheres to Airstream’s high-end design legacy. The smooth, aerodynamic exterior is ultramodern, clad in a two-tone gray-over-white color scheme that is complemented by a dark-tinted wraparound automotive-style windshield and frameless side windows. The roof and ceiling are raised in the standing area of the trailer, improving overhead clearance in the aisle and wet bath.

The A-frame of the trailer is enclosed by a molded-fiberglass cover with hinged butterfly-style doors. The single 5-gallon LP-gas cylinder and dual 12-volt DC deep-cycle batteries are located beneath the cover, making access easy while concealing them for aesthetics. In front of the cover is a manual-crank A-frame jack, rather than an electric version or the new Lippert Quick Drop, which is an enigma for a trailer at this price point. Given the trailer’s light weight, the manual jack, though, should not be a major hassle for most owners and is easily upgraded.

The rear-entry door is reminiscent of older trailer designs and truck campers, and makes for an efficient use of center-aisle space. A custom, locking aluminum step aids in entering and exiting the trailer. The door is also molded fiberglass, with a tall, tinted, frameless window in the center, and is strong and sturdy. The Nest is very well equipped, and there are no options available.

A nice feature is shade offered by the 9-foot Carefree Freedom electric lateral-arm awning, but it’s unavoidably mounted on brackets on the radius of the passenger-side wall. Because of the space between the brackets and the roughly ½-inch gap between the awning box and the wall, water runs down the side of the trailer in the rain, even when it’s extended. We recommend adding a rubber-wiper seal or some kind of flashing to avoid this issue.

INSIDE INFORMATION

The interior decor is a case study in modern design and aesthetics. White laminate, gray carpet and classic Airstream aluminum, inserted where appropriate, adorn the surroundings. Countertops have the appearance of gray driftwood, as does the flooring. The deluxe bed covering adds to the comfort of the mattress and is reversible, in Wingspan White or Clutch Blue. Seating surfaces are also available in either color.

Interior wetbath view of Airstream Nest
The Nest’s wet bath is reminiscent of a marine lavatory with its sealable cabinet for sundries.

Interior storage is well thought out and plentiful. Overhead is a combination of open cabinets with bungee cords to hold items in place and two cabinets with opaque sliding plastic doors; screw-down locks are available for galley items. The galley structure has two large drawers, including one with a hardwood silverware organizer, and two large-opening cabinets below.

The mattress is “hinged” in the middle to allow for “easier” lifting to access the storage and utilities underneath; however, the forward-most compartments require moving the mattress to the center aisle. The storage is lined, illuminated and large enough to carry quite a bit of gear, even though it may be a bit hard to access, as previously mentioned. But, as with a boat, if you’re looking to keep the size of the unit small, having efficient storage is essential, and the Nest does it well.

On the curbside is the compact galley, which includes a two-burner cooktop and a single-bowl stainess-steel sink with a cover. A removable table swivels from the bench seat to the galley and is easy to position for additional meal-prep space. The table and stand stow out of the way in the closet, and beneath the bench cushions are additional storage cubbies.

Interior closet in Airstream Nest
A cedar-lined closet with a clothing rod has plenty of space and shelves for smaller items. The jack crank, table and mount are all stored in here.

Wet baths are customary in RVs of this size, and while it’s somewhat compact, there is just enough room for a 6-footer. The standard Thetford china-bowl foot-flush toilet is high quality. Water-resistant enclosures protect the toilet paper and other items, and small shelves hold necessities in the shower. Care must be taken to make certain the holding-tank level is low enough to avoid an overflow during a shower. The shower drain has a 1½-inch sanitary check valve to help prevent sewage backup into the shower pan.

Across the hall is the closet, which doubles as a storage area for the stabilizer jack crank and the aforementioned table and stand. Next to that is a 3.2-cubic-foot Norcold N1090 12-volt DC compressor refrigerator, which is unusual in a travel trailer. This refrigerator doesn’t require external ventilation, which is a design benefit. It operates in two modes, and is rated to draw 4.5 amps in standard mode and 2.4 in night mode.

TECHNOLOGY LOWDOWN

With the dual group-24 battery setup, boondocking time can be extended, but certainly not indefinitely. For extensive off-the-grid camping, additional batteries and a charging source will be required, although space might preclude this modification. Because of the diminutive size of the Nest and the roof space required for the air conditioner and skylight, there’s not much space for a solar array.

Interior, under-bed storage area in Airstream Nest
There is plenty of storage under the queen bed, divided into small sections and all lined and lit. The mattress has to be moved to access these.

Also absent are electronics components like a stereo, TV, TV antenna and Wi-Fi booster system. We have seen similar approaches in millennial-centric RVs, but while some have no conventional TV equipment, they are IoT (Internet of Things) powerhouses, with items like tablet mounts, Wi-Fi repeaters, solar systems and other similar items. This approach gives buyers the option of selecting their own systems. It will just be more of a challenge installing the equipment.

For couples looking to get away, the Airstream Nest is a stylish and comfortable little travel trailer that is ready for weekend adventures and even weeklong vacations, and is ripe for owners who relish the idea of customizing their RVs.

Specifications

2019 AIRSTREAM NEST 16FB.

Exterior Length 16′ 7″
Exterior Width 7′ 1″
Exterior Height 9′ 6″
Interior Width 6′ 10″
Interior Height 6′ 6″
Construction Fiberglass shell
Freshwater Cap. 24 gal.
Black-/Gray-Water Cap. 30 gal. combined
LP-Gas Cap. 5 gal.
Water-Heater Cap. Instant
Refrigerator 3.2 cu. ft.
Furnace 16,000 Btu
Air Conditioner 13,500 Btu
Converter 55 amp
Battery (2) 12-volt
Tires ST235/80R16
Suspension Torsion axle
Weight (freshwater, water heater,
LP-gas full; no cargo) 3,590 lbs.

Airstream nest exterior front-quarter curbside view
The Nest’s clamshell design reduces the need for seams that can leak. Batteries and an LP-gas cylinder are hidden under the hood on the A-frame and are easy to access.

Hitch Weight 480 lbs.
Axle Weight 3,110 lbs.
GVWR 4,000 lbs.
GAWR 4,000 lbs.
Cargo Carrying Cap. 410 lbs.
MSRP, Base $45,900
MSRP, As Tested $45,900
Basic Warranty 36 months

Prototype: 2020 FORD EXPLORER HYBRID LIMITED 4X4.

Fuel Economy, Solo NA
Fuel Economy, Towing NA
Engine 3.3L V-6
Horsepower 318 combined
Torque NA
Transmission 10-speed modular hybrid automatic
Axle Ratio NA
Fuel Cap. 19 gal.
Tires 255/55R20
Suspension, Front Independent strut
Suspension, Rear Independent multilink
Brakes Disc w/antilock
Tow Rating 5,000 lbs. projected
GVWR NA
GCWR NA
Weight, As Tested 4,969 lbs.
Length 16′ 6″
Wheelbase 119″
MSRP, Base NA
MSRP, As Tested NA
Basic Warranty NA

The Ford Explorer Hybrid pulling a Airstream Nest
The all-new 2020 Explorer Limited Hybrid, with its 3.3-liter engine, is projected by Ford to tow up to 5,000 pounds.

Chris-Dougherty-headshotChris Dougherty is technical editor of Trailer Life and MotorHome. Chris is an RVDA/RVIA certified technician and a lifelong RVer, including 10 years living full time in an RV. He and his wife make their home in Massachusetts and hit the road in their heavy-duty truck towing their travel trailer every chance they get.


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