Country Coach Inc.'s ultimate high-line motorhome provides pleasurable on-board experiences in every category, from driving to arriving.
By Jim Brightly, Technical Editor
My wife, Saraine, and I recently were given the opportunity to test a Country Coach Lexa, and after our outing in this state-of-the-art motorhome, we decided that it could best be described as 42 feet of luxury on eight wheels. What a joy it was to travel and live in this exciting new addition to the Country Coach lineup.
A birth certificate is written for each Lexa long before the coach is made. Each Lexa begins with a complete design package, including blueprints, exterior graphics, and interior designs, and each coach is assigned a tracking number. In the case of my particular test coach, it was 6169. This number is then written on every piece of paper, every component, every strut, every piece of furniture … well, you get the idea.
Construction and features
When it debuted at the California RV Show in Pomona, California, in October 2001, the Lexa created an instant stir of interest in the high-end motorhome marketplace. The Lexa's futuristic design includes large flush-mount, awning-style windows and a smooth, dynamic, European look inside and out. Motorhome enthusiasts will appreciate its panoramic full-height windshield, integrated hidden bay latches, and LED running lights.
The Lexa is 102 inches wide and available in lengths of 42 and 45 feet, with dual-slideout floor plans and triple-slideout floor plans from which to choose. Each Lexa is built on Country Coach's exclusive DynoMax semi-monocoque chassis and features a Dana/Kirkstall independent front suspension. The coach is powered by a Caterpillar C-15 diesel engine rated at 515 horsepower with 1,650 foot-pounds of torque at 1,200 rpm. A six-speed automatic Allison World 4000 MH transmission connects the engine to the drive axle. The Lexa boasts the most powerful engine in the Country Coach product line.
There's an adage that says, "Measure twice, cut once." Country Coach's employees go beyond that. They measure, design, remeasure, and turn out CAD drawings for each and every change or addition, from an art niche to a stereo speaker location.
All coach frames are designed and manufactured (not simply assembled) at the company's facility in Junction City, Oregon. Pride of ownership at each station and at each inspection point, of which there are many during the course of constructing the motorhomes, is readily apparent in the quality of workmanship. The technician doing the work signs off on each step of construction using a light pen, and then his or her work is inspected and signed off on by another employee charged with the task. As each component assembly is completed, it is again inspected and signed for. This process continues until the entire coach is completed, with the exception of paint and final interior touches.
The Lexa is then filled with fuel and water and driven over to the brake testing facility. If the unit's braking figures fall within Country Coach's parameters for the coach being tested, the unit is passed on to the artists in the paint and interior finish shops.
Finally, the coach receives a detailed inspection by the team that will introduce it to its new owners. These final inspectors look at the coach with the same eyes as a new owner would, with one exception. They have the experience needed to locate any minute flaws that a new owner may not find until several months of intimate contact with the coach. Yet even these inspectors are inspected by their manager, Jim Reab. He has the final say as to when the coach is ready to be turned over to its new owners.
Each Lexa is basically custom ordered, and that process can take several days. Typically, customers spend one day making interior design decisions and another day selecting exterior graphics. Upon delivery, customers spend two to three days becoming familiar with the vehicle and its systems. They receive two owners manuals and a black box. Inside the box are user's guides and warranty information for the coach's components.
Lexa designers developed a sleek new look for the coach. At first blush, it appears to have no awnings; in reality, all of the equipment is hidden away behind the roof fairing. This design allowed the engineers to disguise the electrically controlled Girard awnings above the roofline. With the touch of a button, the awnings appear out of the top of the coach. If the wind picks up while the awnings are deployed, the system automatically retracts them before damage can occur. The TV antenna and roof air conditioners are also concealed.
The coach has sleeping accommodations and seat belts for four. Our test coach was equipped with a sofa bed behind the driver's seat and a couch behind the navigator's recliner. Aft of the couch was the dining table, which could expand to accommodate four people; two of the chairs can be stored in the bedroom closet when not needed. The galley rides behind the sofa bed.
All the fabric and paint patterns in our test coach matched exactly: the fabric patterns on the sofas and chairs were aligned nicely from cushion to cushion, armrest to cushion, and so forth. Likewise, the exterior graphics were continued on the front and rear walls of the slideouts so that the paint shades matched perfectly, whether the slideout was retracted or extended.
The radiused wood surround of the driver's compartment between the pilot and copilot seats has a tray and a cup holder formed into its top. The tray is a nice place for eyeglasses, a flashlight, or a book.
As would be expected in a coach such as this, the driver can easily find a comfortable position, thanks to a reclining leather captain's chair; dual pull-down, height-adjustable armrests; and the ultimate in an adjustable steering wheel/dashboard. An electrically adjustable, custom-contoured dash featuring a six-way-adjustable instrument cluster has been designed specifically with the driver's comfort and convenience in mind. It moves in conjunction with or independent of the steering column, allowing the driver to electrically move the dash panel up and down, or tilt it forward and rearward.
A leather-wrapped steering wheel fills the driver's hand, even if that hand may be above-average in size, and the rim itself has a comfortable diameter for controlling the Lexa, even on Oregon's back roads. Each of the electrically controlled, heated outside mirrors has an LED chevron imbedded in the glass and a light on the bottom of the frame. A beep alerts drivers when the turn signals are on.
The fit and finish of the Lexa I tested was extremely well done, as it should be in a high-end coach of this quality. Attention to detail is fantastic, right down to the Panasonic 7-inch dash-mounted color backup monitor. This monitor can be teamed with an optional navigation system not included on our test coach.
This brings up the one item on our "dislikes" list: the lack of a dash radio. The dash-mounted Panasonic monitor system includes an AM-FM tuner; however, no speakers are attached directly to it. The coach does have a Bose radio/surround sound system, but it runs on 120-volt AC power and thus requires the use of either the generator or the inverter. Because of this, we never bothered with over-the-highway tunes or news reports, which we really missed. (Country Coach has addressed this issue since my test drive and has resolved it by adding two speakers to the cab area, which run directly off the dash stereo.)
This did allow us to evaluate more closely the level of road or wind noise while traveling in the Lexa. The coach is very quiet. Passengers hear virtually no engine noise, except occasionally under hard acceleration when a bit of turbo whine can be detected. At 55 to 65 mph, virtually no wind noise is heard either, especially after the air lock for the entrance door is actuated.
This type of entrance door is brand-new to Country Coach motorhomes. It features an air lock that is controlled by a dash-mounted switch. Two air-actuated cylinders are located in the wall at the top of the door and on the side near the bottom. When the door is closed and the system is activated, these cylinders force wedge-shaped strikers into the door, pulling it tightly into the door frame seal. This keeps out road and air noise, and adds security beyond the standard deadbolt lock. The door automatically deactivates when the ignition is turned off; however, it can be engaged for added security at other times.
And don't worry about forgetting to lock the door when you're on your way to the campground store -- just hit the lock button on your remote control, as you would for your car. This is the first motorhome I've tested with remote door locks, and I loved the convenience.
Convenience is the watchword in the Lexa. All window coverings (windshield privacy curtains and side window shades) open and close electrically. The windshield privacy curtains are controlled by two switches located in a panel behind the driver, and the optional side window silhouette shades in our test coach were controlled via a Phillips universal remote control with touch-screen buttons.
We were told that our particular coach was the last Lexa to use the Phillips universal remote technology, so we will not go into much detail about it. The Phillips remote control had a touch-screen menu that lists all the systems this one device activated, including the front and back televisions, the DVD player, and the VCR player. The Bose Surround Sound system is controlled by its own remote.
An additional infrared system known as Xtra-Link is among the Lexa's list of features. Xtra-Link eliminates the limitation of line of sight for the infrared remote. This means the DVD player in the bedroom can be controlled by the person watching the movie up front. This is also true of the electric silhouette shades.
The bottoms of the window shades were properly weighted so that they slid up and down evenly. The Phillips remote-control unit activated each individual shade, or all of them at once. We had to use the remote to move the shades, so if we were in the bedroom and the remote was in the galley, we had to find the remote. We were told this minor inconvenience is a moot point in the Lexa, as the window controls now are being placed at each window.
We had a long list of "likes" with the Lexa, starting with a handy flip-down recessed cup holder adjacent to the passenger seat. It is hidden in the wall and made accessible by lightly pushing on its edge. The holder rim drops out of the wall, rotates, and unfolds, ready to hold your beverage of choice. When you're finished with your drink, simply push up on the holder, and it folds and rotates itself back into the wall.
Below the cup holder on the copilot's side is a control panel full of switches for a variety of lights, including the porch and entry light; the battery disconnect; the storage bay door locks; the power sun visor; the step cover; and the entry step switches. The passenger side of the dual-control dash heater and air-conditioning zones also can be controlled from this panel. Above the cup holder, a concealable panel contains controls for the front awnings and the power TV antenna. (Another remote controls all four electric awnings, so they can be opened from the outside while making sure they don't hit any obstructions.)
The new Coach Command system is available in two locations. This monitoring system enables one to check engine information such as average mileage, various engine gauges, and trip information; to monitor tank levels; and to control the generator. Coach Command uses touch-screen control technology. One screen is mounted next to the driver and another is on the control panel situated behind the driver.
Just below the Coach Command dash monitor is the HWH automatic leveling system, which uses the air bag suspension system to keep the coach on an even keel. The system also can be used to temporarily raise the coach over a bump or to lower it to clear an opening.
The HWH slideout mechanism was co-designed by Country Coach and HWH. The corners of each slideout are equipped with an electrically actuated serpentine hardware system. These systems work independently of one another to extend or retract the slideout and lock it in place.
The slideout in the galley and living room is 13 feet 2-1/2 inches long by 17 inches deep. It is controlled by a keyed switch in the main control panel, located just behind the driver. Also in the panel is the second Coach Command screen, two LINK 2000 battery monitors/inverter controllers, the control panel for the central hydronic heating system, the water pump switch, and a variety of other switches.
The bedroom slideout measures 6 feet 10 inches long by 17 inches deep and is controlled by a keyed switch in a bedroom cabinet.
The software necessary to drive the serpentine hardware uses a language called CAN (Control Area Network) electronic protocol. This technology was adopted by HWH so that it could combine the electronic control of the slide rooms with the electronic control of the coach's leveling system, so only one computer system would be needed. A fully electric leveling sensor is used in place of the traditional mercury switch, resulting in a tighter tolerance in coach leveling. (The CAN electronic protocol is also used to control the tag axle, which reduces the number of mechanical parts needed, such as solenoids and relays.)
Living in the Lexa can only be described as luxurious. The cockpit seats enfold you in super-soft UltraLeather, making traveling a pleasure. However, it's the rest of the coach that lets you know you are living in the lap of luxury. The curbside sofa in our test coach was also covered with UltraLeather. That sofa, as well as a comfy sofa bed on the street side, entice passengers to enjoy the Lexa's entertainment package after a "hard" day at the wheel.
Nearly hidden in the ceiling is a 42-inch Panasonic plasma, full-matrix, color television monitor, which swings down at the touch of a button. Whether you're watching a videotape, a DVD, an over-the-air broadcast, or something via satellite, you'll enjoy it. Combine this huge monitor with the full surround sound of the Bose Lifestyle 30 home theater system, and it's probably the most entertainment you've ever seen outside of a movie theater. To fully test the system, we watched Top Gun and Spy Games.
What a treat! Before using the Bose system, however, lock the door and drop the shades. The surround sound is so realistic, you're sure you can hear people walking around the coach. If it were any more realistic, the coach would vibrate to their footsteps.
The remainder of the entertainment center is concealed inside a bedroom cabinet behind sliding, wraparound doors. The Bose main unit, a DVD player, a VCR, and the audio-video selector switch are located there. The switch lets you route whatever audio or video signal as desired to either television or to the sound system. For instance, you can route the antenna signal to the bedroom's 20-inch flat-screen Panasonic television while routing the DVD signal to the front monitor. A separate AM-FM/CD player is also located in this cabinet and connected to two speakers in the ceiling.
Our test Lexa had the optional all-electric package, which afforded some galley luxuries, in addition to including 8D maintenance-free absorbed glass mat deep-cycle batteries on roll-out trays. The option includes a recessed electric cook top and a 21-cubic-foot residential side-by-side refrigerator with an ice dispenser in the door. The galley also had the optional GE Advantium microwave oven, which uses GE's Speedcook technology (a combination of convection, microwave, and halogen lighting) to bake, broil, brown, roast, and grill food in less time than traditional appliances. I have no idea how it works, but it does.
Just aft of the galley, through a pocket door that can be secured open or closed, is the center-aisle bathroom. On the curb side is a washer-dryer unit topped by a spacious shirt closet. Next is a separate area that houses a vanity sink with storage beneath and a medicine cabinet, as well as a residential-style ceramic toilet that uses air pressure to force-flush. It does use more water than a traditional RV toilet, but the Lexa has a fresh water capacity of 102 gallons and a 40-gallon black water tank, so this shouldn't be an issue in most cases.
The path to the bedroom travels past the toilet area when the slideout is closed; when the slideout is extended, a second bedroom entrance on the other side of a mid-aisle wall becomes available. The wall is formed by the toilet and a make-up center. Either side can be secluded using pocket doors.
On the street side of the bath area, the dominating presence is the round glass shower enclosure; in our test coach, it was beautifully etched in a design that matched the vehicle's Southwestern theme. Inside the shower is a fixed showerhead and a hand-held wand, as well as a convenient seat. A second sink and a medicine cabinet are on the wall next to the shower. The aforementioned shirt closet and washer-dryer are aligned across the aisle.
An elliptical light is in the bathroom ceiling; two elliptical fixtures are located in the galley/living area, and another is in the bedroom.
Outside, you'll find more than enough storage compartments to take full advantage of the Lexa's plentiful payload. An owner can store nearly 6,500 pounds of gear, food, toys, and people aboard before exceeding the gross vehicle weight rating of 49,500 pounds. Basement storage is dominated by two large pass-through compartments that measure 43 inches by 30 inches by 100 inches, each of which has a dual-direction sliding tray that covers the compartment's entire floor.
The forward cargo bay compartment contains two Bose speakers that are wired into the coach's sound system. A phone jack, an antenna connector, two 120-volt AC receptacles, and a 12-volt DC power connection point also are a part of this assemblage.
The 50-amp shore cable is stored out of sight on a powered reel.
Driving the Lexa
Once that big Caterpillar engine is warmed up and the brakes are full of air, you're ready to pull out. I kept the Panasonic rearview monitor on all the time, which reassured me that all was well at the back of the coach.
When we pulled out of or into any campsite (except for pull-throughs with easy access or egress), we raised the tag axle to aid in the maneuvering.
Tag axles come with blessings and curses. The positive side, obviously, is that they increase the carrying capacity of the coach. The primary curses can be tire dragging and lack of traction on soft ground or slushy pavement, because the coach's weight will press down on the tag, allowing the drive wheels to spin and lose traction. However, this was not the case with the Lexa. Its air bag technology enables the driver to lift the tag axle whenever tight maneuvering is anticipated, such as backing into a site, or turning around on a two-lane backcountry byway.
The turning radius of the Lexa is fantastic. No other word describes it so well. If you lift the tag axle and turn the front wheels all the way to one side or the other (both sides are equal at 52 degrees of wheel angle) and slowly make your turn, it looks to an outside observer -- and feels to the driver -- as though the coach is pivoting on the inside duals while holding them stationary. This isn't actually the case, but that's how it looks and feels, especially in a left-hand turn. The driver seems to float almost directly sideways while the rest of the coach comes along for the ride. Country Coach recommends lifting the tag axle whenever a tight-radius turn is made and while backing into a campsite. It avoids "scraping" tread off the tag axle's tires during these maneuvers.
In addition, you needn't worry about forgetting to lower the axle again when you hit the streets, because the HWH computer will automatically drop it back into place once you reach second gear.
Highway speeds are easily reached and held with the big Cat diesel engine pushing the Lexa along. We discovered, however, that driving was much more comfortable when we stayed within the suggested speed posted on the yellow signs preceding any curves, hills, and so forth. That's not to say the coach has a bad ride at high speeds; it does not. But the Lexa is a big coach, and for this test driver, adhering to the suggested speeds was more comfortable.
Acceleration is brisk, even with the water and fuel tanks topped off. Fuel consumption during our test drive averaged between 4 and 6 miles per gallon, but the true mileage was nearly impossible to ascertain because the hydronic heater and 12.5-kw generator both operate on diesel fuel. It was much easier to trust the onboard Coach Command for fuel consumption information, because it provides a constant mileage average. The figure hovered at 4.9 mpg as we traveled on interstates and byways.
Deceleration could also be brisk, if the driver wished it. The standard Jacobs engine brake has three settings, easily selected from the switch just forward of the Allison shifter. Pick your compression brake pressure and your transmission gear, and then sit back and let the engine slow you down. This was something I got used to very quickly, even though we weren't forced to use it much in the rolling Oregon countryside.
Another feature that was placed very high on my long list of "likes" was the dual fuel fills. Just behind each front tire is a lockable fuel door, both of which feed the 145-gallon fuel tank.
The Lexa comes with an extra pair of serpentine engine drive belts, which can be changed with a 1/2-inch drive breaker bar on the spring-loaded idler wheels such as those sold by Sears.
The final analysis? This is one fine motorhome, and it lives up well to its position as the top of the line in Country Coach's production motorhome family. If you demand the best, consider testing the Lexa for yourself.
The base suggested retail price of the Lexa is $682,500. My particular coach had the following options, which gave it an as-tested price of $715,670: All-electric package; tile entry; Relaxor massage/heated driver and passenger seats; light cherry wood cabinetry; electric silhouette shades; custom interior package; Advantium speed cook microwave-convection oven; stained-glass inserts; beveled mirrors; metal galley backsplash; etched glass shower enclosure; dual-directional slide trays in storage compartments; radiant floor heating; and UltraLeather padded ceiling.
Manufacturer ... Country Coach Inc., 210 E. Sixth Ave., Junction City, OR 97448; (800) 654-0223 www.countrycoach.com
Model ... Lexa
Floor plan ... 42 Alexandria
Chassis ... DynoMax (Country Coach)
Engine ... Caterpillar C-15; 515 horsepower at 1,800 rpm; 1,650 foot-pounds torque at 1,200 rpm
Transmission ... Allison World 4000 MH six-speed automatic
Axle ratio ... 4.30 to 1
Tires ... Toyo steel-belted radials; front, 315/80Rx22.5; rear and tag axle, 12Rx22.5
Wheels ... Alcoa aluminum (6); steel inner dual wheels
Wheelbase ... 270 inches
Brakes ... dual ABS air; front -- disc, rear -- drum
Suspension ... front -- Dana/Kirkstall independent front suspension with double wishbone construction and bus-style air bags; rear -- Ridewell model 227 with four air bags; tag -- Ridewell model 207 with arched beam and four liftable air bags
Alternator ... 200 amps
Batteries ... chassis -- (2) heavy-duty deep-cycle 8D; house -- (2) Freedom 25; optional all-electric package includes 4 absorbed glass mat heavy-duty deep-cycle 8D maintenance-free house batteries
Steering ... Sheppard power steering with tilt and telescoping column
Inverter/convertor ... (2) 2,500-watt solid-state inverter; 130-amp solid-state convertor/charger with 15-amp charge system
Electrical service ... 50 amps
Auxiliary generator ... Onan 12.5-kilowatt diesel
Exterior length ... 42 feet
Exterior width ... 102 inches
Interior height ... 6 feet 8 inches
Exterior height ... 12 feet 7 inches (with roof air conditioner)
Gross combination weight rating (GCWR) ... 56,500 pounds
Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) ... 49,500 pounds
Gross axle weight rating (GAWR) ... front -- 17,500 pounds; rear -- 20,000 pounds; tag -- 12,000 pounds
Wet weight as tested ... front axle -- 14,009 pounds; rear axle (including tag) -- 29,030 pounds; total -- 43,039 pounds
Payload ... 6,461 pounds
Frame construction ... 8-inch-by-3-inch-by-1/4-inch tube steel cage with vacuum-bonded walls and floor
Insulation ... 1-1/2-inch expanded polystyrene sidewall and floor; R20-valued roof insulation
Fresh water capacity ... 102 gallons
Holding tank capacities ... gray water -- 60 gallons; black water -- 40 gallons
Fuel capacity ... 145 gallons
Fuel requirements ... diesel
Water heater ... Atwood 10-gallon with Doucette heat exchanger
Water system ... demand with motor aid
Furnace ... Hurricane 45,000-Btu with dual-zone climate controls and freeze protection for plumbing bay
Air conditioner ... (3) 15,000-Btu roof units with heat strips
Refrigerator ... Dometic 21-cubic-foot side-by-side with ice dispenser in door
Toilet ... china, electronic with air assist
Warranty ... chassis -- 2 years/unlimited miles; coach -- 1 year/unlimited miles; structural welds -- 5 years/50,000 miles (excluding slideout rooms)
Base suggested retail price ... $682,500
Price as tested ... $715,670