With thoughtful features and upgraded materials, the Cardinal Luxury 345RLX fifth-wheel flies high on the value scale
The Cardinal and I go way back: it’s our state bird, my college mascot and a favorite of my late grandmother and (middle) namesake. Gramma June was a true bird lover. During my visits to her Michigan home, I’d lend a hand with her canary-breeding business when we weren’t playing Boggle, watching a Tigers game or reading her Barbara Cartland books.
She was also steely, having raised three sassy girls and two hell-on-wheels boys who all put her on a first-name basis with local emergency-room staff. “Which one is it today, June?” they’d ask. (Usually, my dad.)
A recent walk-through of Forest River’s Cardinal Luxury 345RLX fifth-wheel brought that sweet-but-strong dichotomy to mind. It certainly earns its Luxury label, but underneath, this bird is a bruiser. Advanced designs and upgraded materials help it adapt to a gamut of weather and road conditions, plus provide more space, less stress-point impact and improved load transfer with the use of Lippert’s Next Generation Upper Deck chassis, which relocates the pin-box mounting plates to minimize stress on the front section of the frame. Combined with the Trailair Rota-Flex pin box, the chassis is able to provide improved road-impact absorption and a tighter turning radius, according to Lippert. A welded-aluminum wide-body Z-frame is layered with multiple types of insulation under a vented attic.
The 345RLX is also a contradiction of expansive space designed for minimal occupancy; sleeping and eating accommodations decree it’s best suited for two, with short-term wiggle room for two more. An extending table leaf and two extra folding chairs allow the freestanding dinette to seat four (a fifth can squeeze in on the end, if everyone’s on board with tight spaces), though place settings will be crowded. You and the table won’t bump legs, as it hasn’t any — a beefy L-bar anchoring it to the wall supports load-bearing on top with open space underneath.
Five can enjoy the living room’s two theater-style recliners and three-seat sofa (which folds out into a comfy 60-by-80-inch queen bed) to watch the 50-inch LED TV placed over a full-tech stereo and electric fireplace. Overhead cabinets are quite high, so most folks will need a stepstool or grabbing tool to access them, with dome lights underneath that must be clicked manually and individually, leaving us longing for wall switches.
But you can let those domes gather dust if you like since other fixtures provide plenty of illumination. Indirect lighting behind the TV, atop the kitchen hutch and at the island base, along with the fireplace’s fun color-changing feature, create a particularly cozy ambience.
Groups can still be entertained outside under two curbside awnings around the 32-inch TV and camp kitchen with a glass-front fridge, storage cabinet and pullout shelf for the gas griddle (a $218 option), plus a port for the exterior nozzled shower hose. The sturdy one-piece step set swings up on its hinge to rest inside the entry door. If dirt falls off inside, no worries, just feed it to the push-button central vacuum nearby that’s built into the bottom step leading up to the bed and bath near the entry.
We can’t neglect the pragmatic inner side of this redheaded bird. The 345RLX includes smart-space features like a full-height foyer closet with interior shelves (but no hanging rod, so BYO), as well as an entry bench on which to perch and remove shoes before stashing them in the open cubby underneath. Our favorite secret spot is behind the entertainment-center wall, which flips up to reveal a roomy hidden bookcase with a left-hand section that’s also cleverly accessible through cabinet doors behind the dinette.
Storage is plentiful, especially in the well-appointed kitchen that’s dotted with soft-close drawers and magnet-latch cabinets located in the island, around the stove, and in the buffet and hutch wall. There’s also a lovely lighted pantry with solid drawers and adjustable shelves. You can’t literally walk into it, but it does have a full-height door, which is thankfully windowless (my foodstuffs are never company-ready). All entry and cabinet doors are solid wood graced with diamond-patterned mirrors, giving the illusion of glass with the comfort of privacy. The kitchen is rounded out with a three-burner hooded range, microwave, large stainless-steel farmhouse double sink, built-in trash can and four-door refrigerator.
Necessities delivered with swank continue in the bathroom where a one-piece fiberglass shower with a seat and tri-pane door faces a large wall mirror over two sinks set into long solid-surface countertops with under-storage. In the bedroom a true walk-in closet includes built-in rear shelves. Short drawers share dresser space with a second electric fireplace under a 32-inch TV.
Exterior Length 40′ 2″
Exterior Width 8′
Interior Width 8′
Interior Height 6′ 5″
Freshwater Cap. 64 gal.
Black-Water Cap. 38 gal.
Gray-Water Cap. 76 gal.
LP-Gas Cap 14 gal.
UVW 12,964 lbs.
Hitch Weight 2,410 lbs.
GVWR 15,500 lbs.
Cargo Carrying Cap. 892 lbs.
MSRP, Base $75,103
Nightstand shelves, reading lights and a backlit headboard crown the 72-by-80-inch king bed. Its under-bed space, though largely occupied by the exterior pass-through compartment, does flip up to reveal a shallow but full-area inset, which struck me as an ideal spot in which to secure expensive electronics and smaller valuables.
This Cardinal is full of thoughtful features and high-quality materials, so any assumptions of maxed-out weight and cost are understandable but incorrect. The 345RLX has a surprisingly respectable cargo-carrying capacity hovering around 2,500 pounds, though opt-ins like a dishwasher or slideout awnings will, of course, shrink that number quickly. It’s also a good value for a fifth-wheel of this size and substance, even after adding a mandatory $8,000 worth of feature-heavy packages onto the base MSRP.
Have a look at the Cardinal 345RLX, and you may find this is the birdhouse for you.
Forest River, www.forestriverinc.com
A northern Indiana native and lifelong intermittent RVer, Barb Riley uses her news-journalism degree writing for publications such as Trailer Life, Woodall’s Campground Management and RVBusiness, and scripting marketing communications for the RV industry. She enjoys reading, zip lines, roller coasters and finding new things to cook inside pudgy-pie irons over the campfire.
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