This diminutive motorhome is long on fuel economy, ease of handling, and potential uses for an active family.
By Jim Brightly, Technical Editor
Some still call them blue highways — the back roads that connect the interstates, U.S. routes, and scenic spots. They are secondary roads with just two lanes and were depicted on old road maps with blue lines, whereas main routes appeared in red. Earlier this year, during a test drive around Lake Powell that included roads in southern Utah and northern Arizona, I found the B Touring Cruiser to be an ideal secondary road hound. Although it is at home on the big, wide, straight interstates, with the cruise control set at the legal speed limit, the B Touring Cruiser's capabilities really shine on the two-lane macadam many of us prefer for sight-seeing and meandering.
My test vehicle was the 5230 B Touring Cruiser, manufactured by Gulf Stream Coach, and it measured 23 feet 9 inches long and 96 inches wide. The motorhome's relatively small size is a factor in its ability to hug the road, but so is its design. Rather than using the shape of a brick, which must force its way through the air, Gulf Stream designed this type C motorhome with a modified front wedge shape that cuts through the air. The wedge starts at the front bumper and slopes upward at almost a 45-degree angle toward the 10-foot-4-inch-high roof. This wedge shape helps to hold the front of the coach steady, as do the angled sidewalls from the cab's B pillar to the coach's outside vertical walls. Top off these designs with wide running boards that flow backward from the front fender flares, and the B Touring Cruiser boasts a handsome overall appearance. The running boards also made egress and ingress much easier.
The B Touring Cruiser is constructed on a Ford E-350 chassis and powered by a Ford 6.8-liter V-10 engine. Gulf Stream offers a Chevrolet chassis with a 6-liter V-8 engine as an option on some floor plans.
Gulf Stream introduced the new B Touring Cruiser for the 2002 model year and bills it as a "multiuse" motorhome "intended not only for family travel, but also everyday use, fulfilling the same purpose as an SUV, minivan, or a family station wagon."
The B Touring Cruiser is available with four floor plans: the 5210 and 5211, which are 21 feet 9 inches long; the 5230, which I reviewed; and the 5270, which is 27 feet 9 inches long. The 5270 also contains a living room slideout and has a rear bedroom, while the others have a rear bath and galley. Sleeping space is created by using pull-out sofas in the front living area.
As for fuel economy, this motorhome is not far away from that of a large SUV. While encircling Lake Powell on a 979-mile test loop, which varied in altitude from approximately 10,000 feet to less than 4,000 feet, my test coach averaged 11.1 miles per gallon, with a high of 12.1 and a low of 10.3. That is quite respectable fuel economy for a motorhome, especially considering that the tour included back roads and various grades.
Which brings up another point. During our test drive, my wife, Saraine, and I had a small disagreement over the ride. I thought it was a bit soft, while she maintained it was just right. Since I prefer what many people would call a "truck-like" ride, the B Touring Cruiser's suspension probably would be more attractive to a larger group of RVers than my preferred stiff ride. Regardless, the B Touring Cruiser cornered and handled well in the gusty desert winds that we encountered during the test loop.
Saraine and I agreed, however, that the two front high-back reclining captains chairs were very comfy.
The 5230 model B Touring Cruiser has a slideout on the street side behind the driver's seat. The standard item inside the slideout is a 72-inch sleeper sofa, but my test unit featured the optional booth-style dinette. Unlike many slideout designs, when this slideout was closed, I was still able to slide the driver's seat all the way back if I wished. (However, to avoid the possibility of damaging the driver's seat, it should be moved all the way forward before opening the slideout.)
Speaking of the slideout, it took me some time to find the location of its controls. The switch is mounted almost directly above the driver's left shoulder. Once I discovered it, however, the location made good sense. For the slideout to operate, the engine must be off, the transmission in "park," and the parking brake set. Because of the location of the controls, these steps can be accomplished right from the driver's seat.
While we're still sitting in the driver's seat, it's time to reveal the novel location of the backup monitor. This 5-inch LCD flat screen is mounted on the driver's sun visor. Flip down the sun visor, and the monitor is used in the same manner as any other. It can be run continuously or used only when the shift lever is placed in reverse. The unusual location of the backup monitor prompted some comments from passengers, but it provided excellent coverage. The optional backup proximity warning device also worked well; its LED display and alarm sound always warned of the location of obstacles during reverse maneuvers, including backing the coach into a campsite (the B Touring Cruiser's nimble size means you won't need a pull-through spot).
Our test coach was equipped with the optional 19-inch television and VCR in the cab-over area. Gulf Stream designers made good use of available overhead storage space in this area by placing shallow cabinets on either side of the television. However, our test coach didn't seem to have as much overhead storage space as some type C coaches do.
Good use of space is afforded in the cockpit also in that the engine cover sports a wood overlay that contains two cup holders; two small drink holders; a small pocket for eyeglasses or maps; a large pocket for CDs, books, or cameras; and a tilt-open glove box.
The B Touring Cruiser can accommodate seven people for a drive (it contains seven seat belts), but our test unit had sleeping accommodations for four, at best, possibly more if the reclining captains chairs could be enlisted temporarily. On the curb side, behind the passenger seat, is a sofa that makes into a 70-inch-by-39-inch bed. It was a bit small for this 6-foot 2-inch test driver, and likely would prove too small for two average-size people. Minimal storage room is available beneath the sofa, as the water tank is located there.
As noted, the slideout directly behind the driver contained an optional dinette suitable for two adults or a family of four with two small children. This, too, cut down on the available storage space in the test coach, because on floor plans with the standard sleeper sofa in this spot, an overhead cabinet is included as well.
The dinette does make into another small bed, which is 68 inches by 37 inches — suitable for two small children or one adult. If I had my choice, I'd opt for the 5270 floor plan, the one with a rear bedroom. My guess is that it would provide virtually the same on-road performance and drivability without losing too much in handling agility or fuel economy, yet it would yield more sleeping space. The 5720 also would provide additional storage space, and the bedclothes would not have to be moved. Obviously, however, every motorhoming family's needs — and preferences — are different.
Immediately aft of the dinette is the small but convenient galley. On the countertop, between the double sink and galley window, is sufficient space for an electric coffeemaker that is within reach of the dinette. A three-burner stove top resides just to the left of the sink, and a microwave oven and range hood are situated above the stove. My test unit was equipped with the optional oven, which is situated below the stove top. A double-door refrigerator is located just a step away on the curb side.
Padded carpet covers the floor in the living area and vinyl flooring runs through the galley and bath. The windows are dressed with valances and shades, and the ceiling is covered in fabric.
A somewhat tight but fully equipped bathroom is aft of the galley. In addition to the shower/bathtub combination, which is accompanied by a shower curtain and measures 33 inches by 17 inches, the room includes a demand toilet and a sink. The sink area is sufficiently large enough for putting on makeup, brushing teeth, and other duties, and has a mirror above it. A power vent is situated in the ceiling.
A shirt-length closet is located on the curb side, behind the entry door.
It may take you awhile to become accustomed to the entry door, as it did us, because it opens automatically after you initiate the movement. This was a bit disconcerting for us at first, but we quickly became fans of the air-cylinder door holder device, which kept the door open for us even in blustery desert winds.
The B Touring Cruiser's heating system consists of a ducted 25,000-Btu furnace; the coach is cooled by an 11,000-Btu ducted roof air-conditioning system. A 13,500-Btu AC system is available as an option.
The B Touring Cruiser features welded aluminum cage construction. The tubular steel floor is laminated, with a metal underbelly. Foam sealant and undercoating are added. The coach exterior is smooth fiberglass. The roof, front caps, and wings also consist of fiberglass.
Other standard features in the coach include a CD player and an AM-FM stereo with four speakers; an Easy-Store 30-foot electrical cord; a 45-amp convertor with charger; a battery disconnect; and stainless-steel wheel covers.
The base suggested retail price of the 5230 B Touring Cruiser is $52,113. My test coach had the following options, which brought the price to $59,491: Driver Convenience Package, which includes backup sensor, backup monitor, and keyless entry; 19-inch television; VCR; three-burner range with oven; and 4-kw gas-powered Generac generator.
To sum it up, the 5230 B Touring Cruiser is somewhat limited in terms of storage space and sleeping room. However, as with all motorhomes, potential drawbacks are in the eye of the beholder. Once you consider the savings this coach offers in fuel costs, they may outweigh the smaller storage areas. And with seven seat belts, a full-size bathroom, and a double-door refrigerator, the B Touring Cruiser could prove to be your favorite vehicle to take to a weekend NASCAR race, a soccer game, or a family excursion. With its economical price tag (not far from some SUVs, actually), it truly can serve as a versatile vehicle that a family will want to use for a multitude of reasons.
Manufacturer ... Gulf Stream Coach Inc., 503 S. Oakland Ave., Nappanee, IN 46550; (800) 289-8787, (574) 773-5761; www.gulfstreamrv.com
Model ... B Touring Cruiser
Floor plan ... 5230
Chassis ... Ford E-350
Engine ... 6.8-liter Triton V-10, 305 horsepower at 4,250 rpm, 420 pound-feet torque at 3,250 rpm
Transmission ... Ford 4R100 four-speed automatic with overdrive, in-tank oil cooler, auxiliary oil cooler
Axle ratio ... 4.10 to 1
Tires ... Michelin LT225/75R16 steel-belted radial
Wheelbase ... 168 inches
Brakes ... four-wheel antilock (ABS) disc, dual hydraulic, self-adjusting, hydroboost
Suspension ... front — coil springs with twin I-beam; rear — multileaf
Alternator ... 130 amps
Batteries ... chassis — (1) deep cycle (maintenance-free); house — (1) 750-amp deep cycle (maintenance-free)
Steering ... power assisted with tilt wheel
Inverter ... Parallax, 45 amps
Electrical service ... 30 amps
Auxiliary generator ... 4-kw Generac gasoline (optional)
Exterior length ... 23 feet 9 inches
Exterior width ... 96 inches
Interior height ... 6 feet 5 inches
Exterior height ... 10 feet 4 inches
Gross combination weight rating (GCWR) ... 20,000 pounds
Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) ... 11,500 pounds
Gross axle weight rating (GAWR) ... front — 4,600 pounds; rear — 7,800 pounds
Wet weight as tested ... front axle — 3,680 pounds; rear axle — 6,480 pounds; total — 10,160 pounds
Payload ... 1,340 pounds
Frame construction ... sidewalls — aluminum; floor and sub-floor — tubular steel
Insulation ... brick foam
Fresh water capacity ... 38 gallons
Holding tank capacities ... gray water — 30 gallons; black water — 30 gallons
Fuel capacity ... 37 gallons
Fuel requirements ... unleaded gasoline
Propane capacity ... 48 pounds
Water heater ... 6-gallon Suburban
Water system ... demand
Furnace ... 25,000-Btu Suburban forced air, ducted
Air conditioner ... 11,000-Btu ducted roof air
Refrigerator ... Dometic 8-cubic-foot, double door with freezer
Toilet ... SeaLand Aqua Magic
Warranty ... chassis — 3 years, 36,000 miles; coach — 2 years/24,000 miles
Base suggested retail price ... $52,113
Price as tested ... $59,491