Foretravel Inc.'s 40-foot double-slideout Unicoach carries on a proud tradition by offering motorhomers a long list of fine appointments.
By Lazelle D. Jones
On a warm and humid mid-June day, I paid a visit to Foretravel's manufacturing plant in Nacogdoches, Texas. A 2004-model, 40-foot tag-axle Unicoach with two slideouts had just rolled off the line, and soon I was taking it on the road for a review. Overall, I was not left wanting. This motorhome matched the high level of excellence that has come to be synonymous with the name Foretravel Inc., a company that has been building motor coaches since 1967.
Indeed, after 36 years and 7,000 motorhomes, Foretravel Inc. continues to present new products and new choices for the high-end luxury motor coach enthusiast. Case in point is the 2004-model U320, a 102-inch-wide luxury motorhome that is available in lengths of 38, 40, and 42 feet. Two slideouts are standard — one encompassing the front sofa and dinette and the other a rear queen bed. A floor plan with three slideouts — galley, living area, and rear bedroom — is offered as an option.
Summer weather in eastern Texas is referred to by the locals as "90-90" — 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity. But these harsh realities seemed nonexistent once I was inside the U320 and surrounded by its luxury and comfort. Two whisper-quiet 15,000-Btu roof air conditioners; dual-pane windows, which lace the walls of the coach fore and aft; and 1-7/8-inch-thick vacuum-laminated walls (the crowned roof and the interior floor are also vacuum-laminated) create a barrier that is impervious to the most uncomfortable outside conditions.
The heart and soul of every Foretravel motorhome is the company's own Unicoach chassis. Foretravel was one of the first motorhome makers to design and build its own chassis. Over the years the company has honed and fine-tuned its foundation. Foretravel manufactures every component in this chassis except the axles, suspension system (such as air bags and shocks), engine, and transmission.
All U320 models have a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 42,000 pounds, and a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 52,000 pounds. Foretravel's engine of choice is the Cummins ISM02, a turbocharged diesel that develops 450 horsepower and yields 1,450 pound-feet of torque. Even the side-mounted cooling system (the radiator, transmission/oil coolers, and charge air cooler) is of Foretravel's own design. With the 180-gallon fuel tank filled and the 112-gallon fresh water tank topped off, the unit I reviewed weighed 35,220 pounds. You can do the math, but simply put, our coach had the capability of accommodating almost 3.5 tons (nearly 7,000 pounds) of cargo, passengers, or fluids in the gray water and black water tanks (these tanks hold 115 gallons and 56 gallons, respectively).
The air-ride system on the U320 consists of ten 12-inch Firestone air bags. All are outboard-mounted, with the exception of the tag axle air bags, and all are augmented by 10 matching Koni shock absorbers. These air bags also function as the center of the coach's computerized leveling system.
The efficiency of this air leveling system became apparent when I was photographing the coach. I had parked the U320 in a good location for a cover photo, but it was on an incline. I had to level the coach for aesthetic reasons, and the system performed very well. Once the U320 is leveled, the computer checks it every 30 minutes to make sure that it stays that way, and will automatically make adjustments if necessary. An onboard 12-volt-DC air compressor delivers air to the appropriate air bag(s) when needed.
The Unicoach chassis boasts a convenient feature that no doubt would be handy in the event that the U320 becomes mired in mud during severe weather. Foretravel installs a special receiver-type device on the front of the coach that is accessible when the generator compartment door is opened. This hitch enables the coach to be towed out safely without damaging the vehicle.
The tag axle, which has a gross axle weight rating (GAWR) of 9,000 pounds, can be raised to accommodate slow, tight turns that otherwise might cause undue wear to the axle's tires. Should the driver forget to lower the tag after resuming normal driving, the coach computer will lower it automatically once the vehicle reaches 7 mph.
Every Foretravel power train comes with an Allison transmission retarder. This was my first experience at operating a motorhome equipped with this kind of braking device, and I immediately liked it. It has its own joystick with settings that range from zero to six; six yields the greatest amount of braking. I found that the retarder slowed the forward progress of the coach dramatically, affording better control and handling in challenging situations.
The other half of the equation is that, depending upon how hard the driver applies the brakes (all wheels including the tag axle are equipped with air disc brakes), the Allison retarder automatically responds with the appropriate amount of power. Depress the brake pedal 20 percent and you'll get 20 percent retardation, and so on. The retarder also can be disengaged if the driver wishes.
Foretravel designs and builds its own cargo bay door hinge mechanisms. Except for the bay door below the living area slideout and the bay door that houses the LP-gas tank, the U320's cargo doors all are pantographic: first they pull away from the side of the coach and then they rise parallel to it. These doors work very well.
I did take issue with the nonpantographic door located below the streetside slideout. The U320 can be refueled from either side, and this is the bay door that must be raised for refueling on that side. To fully open this door and reach the fuel fill spout while the slideout is retracted, you must first uncouple a retaining chain. To detach the chain, you have to bend over and reach under the inside of the door, which was a struggle for me. There should be a simple fix for this, and I pointed this out to Foretravel officials. The curbside refueling spot, which is located behind a pantographic-style door, posed no such problem.
Cargo bay storage on the 40-foot U320 totals 108 cubic feet. The forwardmost bay spans the entire width of the coach. It comes equipped with a storage tray that can be rolled out from either side for unfettered access to one's gear.
At the very front of the coach, a pantographic door provides access to the 10-kilowatt Power Tech diesel generator; a similar door provides access to the rear engine compartment. The generator is housed in a well-insulated sound box, and air circulation is enhanced by a large squirrel-cage-type fan. The generator's radiator is located off to the side, enabling fluid levels to be checked by simply opening the door.
For 2004 Foretravel is using a pneumatic slideout front entry step. Unlike hinged electric steps, it does not fold below the coach. It is quiet, operates with smooth precision, and looks great. However, I was concerned about the height of the step above the ground. This is a single stair instead of two, and I found I had to take a good-sized step when entering or exiting the coach. To avoid this, customers may want to add the optional fold-away entry step.
The ceramic floor tile in the entryway of the U320 continues over to the cab area, beneath the cockpit seats and below the brake and accelerator pedals. Buyers can choose whether they want this feature, but it makes good sense when it comes to maintaining the cleanliness of this high-traffic area.
Foretravel's interior design department is responsive to the likes, wants, and needs of the individual customer. The company's factory showroom in Nacogdoches offers a plethora of fabrics and floor coverings from which clients can choose and thus personalize their coach. Buyers often bring in their own fabrics and materials, and Foretravel accommodates them. If a client wants a particular style of window covering, bed cover, or window treatment, the Foretravel upholstery shop will design it.
All upholstery work is completed at the Nacogdoches facility, including that which involves leather. Leather can be used to dress countless areas in the coach, and it is standard on the cockpit seats as well as on the dinette bench seats; I found the latter to be exceptionally comfortable.
Five different types of wood — mahogany, cherry, maple, walnut, and oak — are available to choose from. My test coach featured walnut cabinetry. Cabinets and woodwork also are made at the Foretravel facility; in fact, if you take a plant tour in Nacogdoches, you will see all of this for yourself. Tours are offered at 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
In addition to ceramic tile and plush or sculptured carpet, buyers also can choose granite flooring. Even countertops can be made of granite if you like; however, this is one of the few jobs that are outsourced to a specialist. Foretravel creates its own solid-surface material to any size and thickness necessary and then crafts it into countertops, shower walls, and décor pieces.
The company also makes the large sheets of fiberglass that cover the coach's exterior. And when it comes to exterior finishes, Foretravel can boast of an exceptional job. Every coach receives full body paint and a hand-rubbed clear coat. For every color in a paint and graphic scheme, the entire coach is painted with that color and then masked off. For example, if the design calls for thin black lines that swirl across the surface, the coach is first painted completely black. Then the surface is masked off to retain those black lines and the next color in the scheme is applied (yes, over the entire surface of the coach). If a paint and graphics scheme has five colors in it, the entire coach will be painted five times. Between each application of paint, the color is baked on for 45 minutes at 145 degrees. Obviously, this is a complex, time-consuming, labor-intensive process, one that mixes science and art.
The U320 has all the appointments one would expect to find on a half-million-dollar motorhome. The rear bedroom boasts a 60-inch-by-80-inch queen-size bed, the head of which is in the slideout. It is flanked by nightstands and faces a clothes cabinet topped by a TV. At the very rear of the coach is yet more storage space for clothes, as well as a closet with washer-dryer connections (the actual washer-dryer is optional).
Buyers also can opt for a washer-dryer floor plan that places the unit in a linen storage area in the bath area. However, if they do, they will have one sink in the bathroom, not two.
Yes, the standard walk-through bath in the U320 Unicoach features two separate lavatories, each with its own medicine cabinet. One sink is in the enclosed toilet area; the other is situated across the aisle next to the shower. This bath area also features a linen closet.
The luxury continues in the galley, which features an ample 14-cubic-foot side-by-side refrigerator, a two-burner stove, a microwave oven, a large counter, and a double sink. A pantry is located on the street side of the coach, next to the booth-style dinette.
Standard electronics in the living room include a 37-inch plasma TV monitor, a digital AM-FM audio/video receiver, a DVD player, a VCR, and surround-sound speakers. In the bedroom is a 22-inch LCD flat-panel TV, a digital AM-FM audio/video receiver, a DVD player, and bookshelf speakers. A bedroom VCR is available as an option.
The Unicoach U320 comes equipped with the Aqua-Hot heating system. Optional equipment includes a SilverLeaf monitoring system; a GPS system; a patio entertainment center; and much more. This is a fine home on wheels that can be tailored to individual tastes and needs.
The 50-amp shore power cable reel is electrically powered, as is the city water hose reel; both are housed in a side storage bay. The larger gel-cell house battery packs can be enjoyed along with a larger inverter (optional); together, they can operate one of the roof AC units. In fact, clients can purchase an all-electric coach; in this case, a 12-kilowatt generator is supplied.
I found driving the U320 to be a comfortable experience, whether on the interstate or along an urban thoroughfare. The cockpit was very quiet. Acceleration was instant, and, as already noted, so was braking and slowing. The standard automatic traction control system on the U320 is a good addition to any vehicle, especially a large vehicle like this one. The triple-split power mirror system provided a good view down both sides of the coach.
The power blackout shades can be lowered to accommodate the changing angle of the sun as you drive during the day, and they offer complete privacy when you're in the campground at night.
My test motorhome had the optional see-through sun screen; it was as wide as the entire windshield, and I thought it was an excellent addition to the cockpit area. I would have preferred the trim on the windshield center post to have been a bit narrower, but this is something the client can request.
My test U320 had a base suggested retail price of $554,500; its as-tested price was $555,850, with the optional see-through sun screen and mirrored ceiling inserts.
Many of the employees I talked with at the Foretravel manufacturing facility have been with the company between 15 and 30 years — a wealth of experience that any business owner would envy. Their on-the-job devotion made them resemble a guild of specialized craftspeople, not a group that merely punches the clock. All of this shows in the final product: a coach that owners can be proud of.
Manufacturer ... Foretravel Inc., 1221 N.W. Stallings Drive, Nacogdoches, TX 75964; (800) 955-6226; fax: (936) 564-0391; http://www.foretravel.com/
Model ... Unicoach U320
Floor plan ... 4020 PBBS
Chassis ... Foretravel Unicoach
Engine ... Cummins ISM02, 450 horsepower, 1,450 pound-feet @ 1,300 rpm
Transmission ... Allison HD4060 with retarder
Axle ratio ... 3.91 to 1
Tires ... Michelin 275/80R 22.5 XZA-2
Wheelbase ... 252 inches, 302 inches to tag axle
Brakes ... air disc with ABS
Suspension ... Firestone air springs; 10-bag, 100 percent air ride
Alternator ... 200 amps
Batteries ... chassis — (3) Optima D31 deep-cycle; house — (3) 8D gel-cell with heat probe
Steering ... Sheppard
Inverter ... 2,500-watt ProSine inverter/charger
Electrical service ... 50 amps on power reel
Auxiliary generator ... Power Tech 10-kw diesel
Exterior length ... 40 feet
Exterior width ... 102 inches
Interior height ... 6 feet 5 inches to 6 feet 8 inches
Exterior height ... 11 feet 6-1/2 inches
Gross combination weight rating (GCWR) ... 52,000 pounds
Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) ... 42,000 pounds
Gross axle weight rating (GAWR) ... front — 14,320 pounds; rear — 21,000 pounds; tag — 9,000 pounds
Wet weight as tested ... front axle — 11,360 pounds; rear axle — 16,820 pounds; tag axle — 7,040 pounds; total — 35,220 pounds
Payload ... 6,780 pounds
Frame construction ... steel
Insulation ... Dow Thermal Barrier and Baltek rigid structural foam
Fresh water capacity ... 112 gallons
Holding tank capacities ... gray water — 115 gallons; black water — 56 gallons
Fuel capacity ... 180 gallons
Fuel requirements ... diesel
Propane capacity ... 17 gallons
Water heater ... Aqua Hot, unlimited hot water
Water system ... demand
Heating system ... Aqua-Hot, (2) heat pump air conditioners
Air conditioner ... (2) 15,000-Btu Dometic roof-ducted units with heat pumps
Refrigerator ... Dometic 14-cubic-foot side-by-side
Toilet ... porcelain
Warranty ... chassis — 36 months/36,000 miles; coach — 36 months/36,000 miles
Base suggested retail price ... $554,500
Price as tested ... $555,850