Forest River’s flagship fifth-wheel offers spacious living, augmented by a large galley, separate office and a roomy bedroom
Two-plus decades. That’s how long Forest River has been manufacturing its flagship Cardinal fifth-wheel. According to the company, the Cardinal is one of the longest-standing fifth-wheel brands in the RV industry. After testing the well-appointed Luxury 3525SOX model, it was clear that towable giant, Forest River, pulled out all the stops when it designed and produced the highly livable Cardinal.
With its kitchen island and seating for nine, the 40-foot, 9-inch SOX fifth-wheel has a dream galley for people who like to entertain or simply enjoy spreading out when preparing meals, a walk-around king bed complemented by plentiful bedroom storage, a roomy bathroom, a huge pass-through exterior compartment, and the kicker: a separate office off the kitchen. Climbing the stable MORryde StepAbove steps and entering the Cardinal, you will find yourself in the hallway, with the living area to the left, and the bedroom and bathroom up three steps to the right. Inset shelves and a coat closet are located by the entry for dropping off keys and jackets.
To the Left
The living area radiates luxury with its 8-foot-high ceiling, crown molding and raised-panel Monticello Maple hardwood cabinetry accenting white rounded- edge solid-surface countertops. Add to that a ceiling fan, a fireplace, tan leatherlike sofas and a plethora of LED lights that can set the mood. The focal point is the large center island with a deep two-basin stainless-steel sink and overhead pendant lights that’s truly a showpiece. It divides the room between the stainless-steel 20-cubic-foot residential refrigerator and freestanding dinette table (featuring lift-up storage) with its two chairs. Lighting fixtures over the dinette and on the wall are lovely, as is the accent lighting around the island and above the cabinetry.
A two-place theater-seating group faces a 50-inch LED TV that is housed in a cabinet and is mounted on a lift so it disappears into the counter behind the 31-inch Greystone electric fireplace that offers two levels of heat. The Lippert OneControl panel near the bedroom controls much of the fifth-wheel’s lights and functions, including raising and lowering the TV, and can also be operated via an app on an iOS or Android smart device through the OneControl system. Entertainment possibilities are endless with the Cardinal’s Bluetooth Bose soundbar, a Samsung Blu-ray disc player, JBL Flip 4 portable Bluetooth speaker, over-the-air King antenna and WiFiRanger Sky3 wireless router and signal-booster.
The theater seating with footrests (electric operation is optional) is housed in the curbside slideout. The seats have well-positioned armrests and cupholders, but the footrests work better for short folks. Tall RVers who wanted to stretch out had to slide their feet off to the side of the footrest to get comfy since the leg supports weren’t quite long enough. Longer legs will partly cut off the walkway from that side of the island. The sofa’s backrest also partially blocks the knobs used for opening and closing the lower portion of the windows behind it.
What we’d like to see
Longer footrests on theater seating in living area, larger display on OneControl panel, better grip on steps leading to bathroom.
The rear sofa, suitable for three without crowding, is fabulous, with cushions that feel just right. Since this sofa doesn’t have footrests, I liked sprawling out lengthwise on it to read, listen to music from my phone through the Cardinal’s sound system or enjoy the surroundings through the large windows. It was so comfortable that one night I didn’t bother to make the trek to the other end of the Cardinal to the king bed and slept on the couch instead.
A friend, however, who popped in for a visit, slept on the sofa’s hide-a-bed 4-inch-thick queen mattress. Jody spent a couple of nights camped out on the “guest bed” and appreciated all the surrounding space to “spread out and make myself at home.” She described the bed as “mostly comfortable, but I could feel the mattresses coils.” Then again, she was using only a sheet, so adding a thick comforter may do the trick. The fluid-operating Slow-Rise Roller Shades kept the room wonderfully dark, even with full sunshine in the mornings. The two-layer shades consist of a black mesh that blocks a good amount of sunlight during the day, keeping the inside cooler, and a tan blackout shade for full darkness.
One evening in preparation for a grill fest and potluck for a group of 14 people, there was a flurry of activity in the Cardinal sautéing veggies and cooking couscous on the Furrion RV Chef Collection cooktop, baking brownies in the RV Chef Collection gas oven (we really liked the oven’s heavy-duty door handle) and nuking ingredients for a spinach-artichoke dip in the 30-inch convection microwave. The first-rate three-burner cooktop has a stainless-steel finish and center oblong burner, all covered with cast-iron grates. We also had fun “playing” the residential refrigerator’s chimes for lights, filter-change-due, water, ice and door-left-open warning. The quiet-running stainless-steel LG 20-cubic-foot French-door fridge (10-year warranty on the inverter linear compressor) has a Slim SpacePlus Ice System — leaving more than enough room for a stockpile of half-gallon containers of ice cream that occupied the bottom freezer.
2019 FOREST RIVER CARDINAL LUXURY 3525SOX
Exterior Length 40′ 9″
Exterior Width 8′ 4″
Exterior Height 13′ 6″
Interior Width 8′
Interior Height 8′ living; 6′ 9¾” bedroom
Construction 2-inch welded-aluminum framing, vacuum-bonded walls, high-density block-foam insulation, 3-inch vacuum-bonded floor with welded-aluminum truss, 5-inch double-radiused aluminum truss TPO roof
Freshwater Cap. 64 gal.
Gray-Water Cap. 70 gal.
Black-Water Cap. 40 gal.
LP-Gas Cap 14 gal.
Water-Heater Cap. 12 gal.
Refrigerator 20 cu. ft. residential
Furnace 42,000 Btu
Air Conditioner (2) 15,000/13,500 Btu
Converter 70 amp
Inverter 1,000 watts
Battery Dealer supplied
Tires ST235/80R16 LRG
Suspension MORryde CRE3000
Weight (freshwater and LP-gas full, no cargo) 14,900 lbs.
Hitch Weight 3,100 lbs.
Axle Weight 11,800 lbs.
GVWR 16,575 lbs.
GAWR (2) 7,000 lbs.
Cargo Carrying Cap. 1,675 lbs.
MSRP, Base $80,908
MSRP, As Tested $109,378
Basic Warranty 1 year
The island houses the stainless-steel sink with pull-down sprayer off to the left, leaving more than 4 square feet of counter space. There’s plenty of under-sink storage and deep drawers, plus elbowroom galore for multiple chefs to work in harmony. We also liked the pop-up “tower of power,” with electrical outlets and USB ports, flush-mounted in the island’s counter. Combating all the heat coming from the kitchen appliances were the two Dometic air conditioners, a 15,000-Btu and 13,500-Btu (the bedroom has a separate control, and the fifth-wheel is wired for a third 13,500-Btu A/C).
All was going well, until a paper plate disappeared down the rabbit hole: the opening in the counter where the TV resides when not in use. This one-piece counter houses the TV and the cooktop, so it’s natural to have utensils and plates at the ready in this area. But when the TV is in the up position, there’s nothing covering the open space in the counter, so if something drops down there, the fireplace may have to be pulled out (removing four screws) to get to it. Lesson learned. We also noted that, with the TV retracted, the small opening in the counter might be susceptible to spilled liquid. Otherwise, the hidden TV is wonderful, and when it’s in the down position, there’s another window to look out of.
Across from the island is a large pantry and, to the left, off the kitchen behind another door, an office with a window. The office is also TV-ready and has a two-place theater-seating group, so these quarters work as an extra entertainment room or place to kick back in privacy. There’s a built-in desk with deep drawers sized to work as a file cabinet and lots of additional storage. If dinner is cooking in the neighboring kitchen, the flow-through vent above the door may entice the one locked away in the office to join the group for supper.
To the Right
Leaving the living area, we head down the hall and up three wide steps to the bathroom and bedroom. At the top, the Beauflor laminate flooring gives way to plush tan carpeting. Safety features include a sturdy wood handrail to hold on to as you climb the steps and a light switch below the control panel. Those steps could be slick when our flip flops were wet; we’d like to see some grip tape added.
Inspiring tranquility, the bedroom, with small windows bookending the head of the bed and a 32½-by-16½-inch frameless tinted window that lets in minimal natural light, did not get overly bright during the day. Those who like daytime naps or waking late will appreciate the night shades, which kept the room dark even when the sun was high in the sky. In contrast, when the bedroom’s LEDs are turned on, the mood changes and the room goes from translucent to radiant. Even the individual reading lights are bright — so much so that if one person is reading, the other person may have a hard time escaping its high-beam if trying to sleep.
Neutral tones, a king-size bed with wood headboard, matching designer bedding and mirrored closet doors with wood inlays add an elegant touch. The closet’s cedar-lined interior offers plentiful storage with built-in drawers and a large shelf below a shoe cubby on the left side; the natural position was to sit on the bed to reach them. On the right side of the closet are four 7-inch-deep smooth-gliding drawers and plumbing for a stackable washer and dryer. The closet doors rolled easily, and the full-height clothing rod kept my one dress from dangling on the floor.
Bedside power outlets are on both sides of the walk-around king, and there is about 2½ feet of space between the end of the bed and the dresser with cedar-lined drawers. The plush 9½-inch-thick deluxe pillowtop mattress was nothing short of insanely comfortable with its right mix of firm and squishy. The head of the bed faces a 32-inch TV centered between cabinets, and a King Jack HDTV antenna, parked in the ceiling with its glowing blue light (which can be turned off), acted as a nice little nightlight. Below the mattress platform, held up by gas struts, is a 4½-inch-deep storage area, and the room has a port for the Dyson central vacuum.
The bathroom, with single access in the hallway to the bedroom, has a door that opens out toward the stairs. When the door is fully open, it blocks the walkway into and out of the bedroom — so you’ll want to be careful that someone isn’t making a spirited jog up the stairs just as you open the bathroom door. There’s lots of practical storage, and we two women with our variety- pack of shampoos, conditioners, facial cleansers, combs and every anti-aging cream known to womankind couldn’t fill half of the five-shelf cabinet next to the sink.
The spacious molded-fiberglass shower with seat has a tri-slide glass door and 6 feet, 5 inches of height with the skylight that also brightens the bathroom. The adjustable showerhead was sturdy, though we were disappointed it did not have a shutoff valve. When seated on the porcelain Dometic throne, there’s adequate clearance between one’s knees and the vanity. A remote control for the MaxxAir powered roof vent with rain sensor is conveniently located in a holster by the door. The vent did a great job of pulling out shower steam.
On the wall above the stairs is where the 3525SOX’s command center resides: the aforementioned Lippert OneControl Wireless with a 5-inch digital screen. The app-based OneControl allows users to operate and monitor the Cardinal’s systems — including lighting, extending or retracting the awnings, auto leveling, checking the holding tanks…the list goes on — from the panel itself or from a smartphone, tablet or computer. A digital version of the trailer’s owner’s manual is also on here in case you need to brush up on the unit’s various systems.
Take It Outside Now
Our campsite was on a lovely grass area, and we enjoyed our downtime seated in camp chairs under the height-adjustable 18-foot power awning with LED light accents. At night, the sunshine was replaced with an amber patio light and two security lights.
A large, lighted pass-through storage compartment with slam-latch doors, tall enough to store the spare ST235/80R16 tire upright, is easily accessible from the passenger side but is under the bedroom slideout on the driver’s side. Likewise, one gray-holding-tank valve is not-so-conveniently located under the living area’s slide; we had to crawl under it to pull the valve when the tank (servicing the shower) was full. A pair of gray and black dump valves is conveniently located in the enclosed bay up front where the freshwater hookup, water filter and outside sprayer are housed. Other notable features on the test unit included awning toppers for all slideouts, 50-amp service, a full-length ladder, a heated and enclosed underbelly and prewiring for solar panels.
In keeping with the luxury theme, we paired the Cardinal Luxury 3525SOX with a Cajun Red Chevy Silverado 3500HD High Country 4WD dually with the Duramax 6.6-liter V-8 turbo diesel and Allison six-speed automatic transmission. Outfitted as it was with leather bucket seats (memory adjust for the driver’s seat), remote vehicle start, remote keyless entry, Chevy MyLink Audio System with 8-inch color touch screen, navigation, HD radio and Bose sound system, we couldn’t ask for anything more. Safety features include StabiliTrak (GM’s stability control system that automatically intervenes when a loss of lateral traction is sensed) with trailer sway control and hill-start assist, lane-departure warning, forward-collision alert and antilock brakes. With its 22,700-pound tow rating, the Silverado pulled the 14,900-pound Cardinal with ease.
Some Cardinal Rules of RVing include making memories, having fun, enjoying time with family and friends, being comfortable and getting a good night’s rest…all of which we experienced in the 3525SOX. Thinking back to our grill fest and potluck with friends gathered around, and the Cardinal filled with laughter and the delicious aromas of dinner and brownies baking, it felt like home. Twenty-plus years and counting — the Cardinal still rules the roost as one of the longest-standing fifth-wheel brands, and Forest River sure got leisure right with the Luxury 3525SOX.
Trailer Life Managing Editor Donya Carlson grew up camping with her family in Southern California and loves spending time hiking, mountain biking, motorcycling, snowboarding and just about anything else outdoors. Before joining the Trailer Life and MotorHome team, she served as managing editor of Rider, a magazine for motorcycle enthusiasts.