Newmar’s 45-foot top-of-the-line diesel pusher offers 456 square feet of spacious living on a Spartan K2 chassis.
By Guy and Pamela Selbert
A motorcycle rider had taken refuge from the sun in the shade of our test coach while we were shopping. As we approached, she jokingly pleaded for us not to take away her shade — it was abundant and refreshing on this hot day. She admired the coach, then smiled and said, “If you can’t go large, go home.”
This motorhome measured nearly 45 feet long, 102 inches wide, and 12 feet 6 inches tall, with four slideouts and a 500-horsepower Cummins diesel engine. The elegant coach, now in its second year of production at the Newmar factory in Nappanee, Indiana, has been engineered from the ground up to provide discriminating motorhomers with an uncompromising alternative to luxury bus conversions.
Our test coach, the Essex model EXDP 4502, is equipped with two sets of opposing slideouts — two in the great room (no exaggeration in this case), and two in the bedroom. This quad-slide layout gives the 4502 a generous 456 square feet of interior space. Newmar offers the 45-foot Essex in four different floor plans, two with three slideouts and two with four slideouts. More recently the company added a 41-foot, four-slideout model.
The Essex is built on a Spartan K2 chassis and derives its power from a Cummins ISM six-cylinder diesel engine, which extracts 500 horsepower from a 10.8-liter (661-cubic-inch) displacement. This more-than-ample power is delivered through an Allison 4000 MH six-speed transmission.
Driving away from the Newmar factory, we noted some seemingly clunky shifting. Ken Williamson, Essex sales representative, had warned us of this possibility and explained what was happening. The transmission, he said, was “learning” the driver’s habits as to acceleration, average speed, pressure on the accelerator pedal, and so on, and was customizing itself to the driving style. This is made possible by the WTEC III electronic control system, which enables the transmission to adjust to a driver's individual style and subsequently shift with smoothness and efficiency. It’s one of those things that you really do have to experience to believe. It works amazingly well.
Next in the powertrain is a Meritor differential with a 4.30:1 gear ratio, which transfers the power to the big Michelin 295/80R 22.5 tires mounted on stylish Alcoa Dura-Bright aluminum wheels.
The coach is sprung on six air bags that give it excellent ride and handling characteristics. On this evaluation we subjected the coach to about 2,000 miles of varied road conditions: interstate to gravel, flat and straight to relatively steep hills with tight turns at speed, and rapid deceleration and acceleration. This coach performed like a thoroughbred throughout.
One additional note about the Spartan chassis: the turning radius of this big coach is remarkable. With a 296-inch wheelbase and a Silent Drive air-ride tag axle, it could have proved difficult to exit a tight parking spot. We were pleasantly surprised the first time at the ease with which the coach maneuvered, and felt confident from then on. The driver simply pushes a button that dumps the air from the tag axle and makes the turn. This prevents damage to the tag’s tires on tight turns. Also, the coach’s forward placement on the chassis gives the design excellent balance and eliminates excessive rear overhang, thus keeping tail-dragging to a minimum.
These design elements combine to make the Essex a coach that for its size and weight is surprisingly easy to drive, park, and back up.
With these things in mind, let’s get behind the wheel. As you ease into the Villa captain’s chair, covered in soft-touch leather, you’ll reach the six-way power controls and the power-adjustable lumbar support by dropping your right hand to the seat belt buckle. (The belts are built into the oversized seats.) The seat arms are adjustable up and down. The copilot’s seat is an electric recliner, and both chairs swivel to become living room seating while in camp. One small problem: when we turned the copilot’s chair to face the living area, we pulled the wiring harness apart (impossible not to). In repairing it, we discovered that the harness came up through the floor about 6 inches from the center of the seat. A Newmar spokesman stated that the company's quality control department had been notified of this issue. The ensuing correction has been to lengthen the wiring harness and center the installation.
The dashboard of the Essex, which is formed ABS, is well designed and conveniently arranged. All switches and controls are well marked, lit, and within easy reach. The central cluster is composed of three retro-looking round gauges. The middle gauge, slightly higher than its neighbors, is the speedometer. The odometer is in the traditional place, but it is not a traditional gauge. It provides an electronic readout of miles traveled and can be transformed into a trip odometer. This small screen can also deliver pertinent information on fuel status and running gear, plus maintenance codes.
The circle to the left holds the voltmeter along with a gauge to monitor front and rear air reservoir pressure. To the right is the tachometer above, and oil and engine temperature gauges below.
Below the speedometer is a section with “antenna up” and “jacks down” lights and alarms. Under that is the array of indicator lights for “engine stop,” “cruise,” “auxiliary brake,” and so on. Some 20 switches — from the entry lock and four sun visors to the two-stage Jacobs engine brake — are arranged in a convenient arc across the dashboard.
The push-button control for the Allison transmission is on the left, just in front of controls for the HWH computerized leveling system. The leveler has four enormous jacks controlled from a single hydraulic pump up front. The system works fast and well.
On the dash’s lower right is an excellent Pioneer AM/FM/XM radio with a remote CD changer in the overhead compartment. Adjacent is the Pioneer display screen for the rearview and side-view monitors. Just below are a Pioneer DVD player, cockpit air-conditioning and heater controls, video controls, and the OnStar link. Down another step are two 12-volt power sockets and a status light for the roof-mounted solar panel.
Facing the driver is a walnut and leather “Smart Wheel.” This highly convenient feature includes the controls for windshield wipers and cruise control, plus buttons to flash either headlights or marker lights for signaling other drivers. The wipers themselves deserve a mention. To establish the interval of your choosing, push the delay button, wait for rain to gather on the windshield, and then push the button again. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes to accommodate the driver, and the pedals move up and back to suit the driver's legs.
The ignition is located low and to the right of the steering wheel. We found the ignition lock, which is recessed, to be somewhat inconvenient. Because the key must be left in the auxiliary position to operate the jacks, and it’s difficult to see the key from the driver’s position, it would be easy to forget and leave the key on while the coach is parked.
The copilot also enjoys a comfortable ride, with easily reached controls for sun visor, map light, and the dash air-conditioning and heating system. Map storage is provided in the dash. Because of the placement of the copilot’s seat aft of the entry, however, the passenger is too far back from the dash to reach it when the seat belt is fastened. When the coach is moving, passengers shouldn’t be, but there is no place within easy reach to store frequently needed items.
An overhead cabinet contains all of the “housekeeping” controls, such as the thermostat, status lights, charger/inverter controls, great room slideout and awning switches, and the auto-start control for the generator. The generator can be set to start automatically when the battery charge falls below a certain level, handy if you’ll be away from the coach for an extended period. The diesel-powered 12-kw Power Tech generator is located in a motorized slideout at the front of the coach, below the windshield.
Also in the overhead cabinet is the control for the Hydro-Hot utility. This intriguing feature, heated by either diesel or electricity, provides hot water to warm the coach interior with zone radiators. It also can preheat the engine for easy starting in cold weather. The Hydro-Hot also provides abundant residential hot water via a coiled water line that runs through its heated reservoir. Thus, the Essex does not have a traditional LP-gas-fired water heater or furnace. Not to worry, however, as this device is so efficient that it is equipped with an automatic cold water mixer to prevent you from scalding yourself.
Return, for a moment, to the navigational/exterior monitor display. We mentioned the screen on the dash, but in our test coach, the copilot also had access to an optional screen mounted under the overhead cabinet. The system includes a satellite navigation feature and Trip Tek Electronic Travel Information as well as the views from the backup camera and two side-view cameras. The Trip Tek, an optional feature, keeps you informed about miles, route, weather conditions, fuel economy, etc., and when you start the engine, it runs you through a pretrip checklist. High-tech gizmos sometimes are more of a burden than a blessing, especially if you’re something of a Luddite; however, with few exceptions, we found the Essex’s high-tech features to work well and to be user-friendly. The checklist is especially useful, as it reminds the driver to go through the basics before putting the coach in gear.
One terrific option is the side-view monitors. Located just below the outside mirror mounts, mini-cameras allow the driver to see down both sides of the coach. The left camera view stays on screen except when the right turn indicator is switched on. Then the right camera provides a clear, wide-angle view down that side, eliminating any blind spot. The backup camera goes on when reverse gear is engaged; however, the driver can switch cameras at will and re-aim the backup camera from the dash.
The interior of the coach can best be described as luxurious. Sometimes the interior décor of large, high-line coaches is what we consider “over the top.” In the case of the Essex, however, we found the décor to be sumptuous yet tasteful.
In our test coach a full-size Villa convertible sofa covered in soft-touch leather is just aft of the driver’s seat. Across from the sofa is a matching loveseat. To the rear of the sofa is a Corian-topped table for two that can be extended from the wall, which exposes a leaf inside a compartment under the tabletop. Adding the leaf and two beautiful wood and cloth folding chairs doubles the dining area. When not in use, the folding chairs can be stowed under the bed.
A narrow cabinet lines the wall adjacent to the table and includes a Corian countertop. Corian also graces the generous kitchen counter opposite the dinette, as well as the sinks and all work surfaces.
The kitchen is equipped with an unusually deep double-bowl sink served by a single-handle faucet/sprayer/soap dispenser. The sink covers have their own storage compartment under the fridge.
The Essex comes standard with a two-door 13.8-cubic-foot Dometic refrigerator, although buyers have the option of a four-door Norcold at no extra cost. Our test coach was equipped with the Norcold, which included an ice maker.
Aft of the sink is the two-burner, self-lighting LP-gas stove top with a hinged Corian lid that matches the counter. A GE Spacemaker combination microwave-convection oven is over the cook top. These appliances are more than adequate for the preparation of most meals.
The bath area is at the midsection of the coach and can be separated from the great room by closing an elegant pocket door, which locks in the open and closed positions. The toilet, in its own water closet, is an electric flush Thetford Aria. It is located in one corner of the nearly triangular closet and extends diagonally, providing ample room. A corner cupboard behind the toilet furnishes storage space for bath tissue and toilet chemicals. A small corner vanity, topped by a Corian countertop, is opposite.
The water closet is laid out well and can be separated from the rest of the bathroom by a swinging door. The room is convenient and spacious. As mentioned, the Thetford Aria toilet is an electric version rather than the traditional foot-pedal flush model. It is equipped with two buttons, one for filling and the other to activate the motor that opens the valve. There is no spray attachment. That has been supplanted by a pulsating flush intended to clean the bowl. The system works reasonably well. The Aria electric toilet is equipped with a manual override. At the back of the toilet is a handle that resembles an outdoor faucet. This knob manually operates the blade mechanism by turning it clockwise, opening the valve located in the toilet in case of an electrical power loss.
The shower is an absolute dandy. The door is a semi-circle of glass that snaps tight on one of the finest showers we’ve seen. A large wand on a flexible hose is equipped with a downright magnificent showerhead. The whole affair swings right or left to the wall, allowing plenty of room for toweling off. When opened after a shower, the door drips water on the tile floor, but this isn’t a significant problem.
Across from the shower is an elegant Corian-topped lavatory/vanity. The vanity is equipped with a hinged counter section that opens to reveal a makeup compartment, and it comes with a padded chair. Adjacent to the vanity is a wardrobe, also topped with a Corian counter, which houses the optional Splendide 2000 washer/dryer.
The bedroom, spacious when the slides are out, can be closed off from the rest of the coach by a two-panel, etched-glass sliding door that can be locked in the closed or open position. When the door is opened, it reveals a sumptuous stateroom with a king-size bed and a large mirrored-door closet. The bed lifts on air pistons to reveal storage for the two extra dining chairs.
At the rear of the coach is a spacious cedar closet with sliding, mirrored doors. Inside is plenty of hanger space, plus three shelves and eight slots for shoes built into the cedar wall.
Across from the bed is a Corian-topped dresser under a jalousie window that provides the room with good cross ventilation (small windows also flank the cabinets at the head of the bed). Like all the woodwork in this coach, the dresser is a cabinetmaker’s dream, with deep, roomy drawers. This coach provides plenty of storage.
The carpeting is fine throughout. An interesting pattern has been sculpted into the great room section, which adds flair. The carpet proved to be durable and easily cleaned during our test outing. Although we try hard to avoid it, dirt can sometimes be tracked inside the coach. In the Essex a vacuum and damp cloth were adequate for a good cleanup.
The cockpit, entry area, galley, and bath area have an immaculately laid polished porcelain floor. We have had significant experience laying tile (no fun job), and commend the work herein. (Newmar also provides several spare tiles, just in case.) The grouting has been sealed to resist staining.
Entering the coach, you are greeted by a veritable symphony of master woodwork. Our test coach included 47 generous cabinets and 11 drawers. Although the quad-slide apparatus limits basement storage, the cabinetmakers have made up for it on the coach’s interior, and the quality throughout is impressive. Joints are tight and smooth, and finishes are uniform. Small natural flaws in the wood, such as knots, have been incorporated to lend interest. Fluted half-columns with capitals and crown molding cover the joints when the slideouts are extended.
The insides of the cabinets and drawers are finished with care equal to the exteriors. They are lined on the bottom with a soft, non-skid fabric that helps keep cargo orderly when the coach is in motion.
The interior lighting of the Essex is plentiful and more than adequate, but figuring out all the switches can be a bit confusing at first. Each room has a selection of lighting methods. Mini-light strings follow the joints of the ceiling, supplying a dim glow that can be augmented with low-intensity indirect lights on the ceiling. The floor can be illuminated by small lights along the baseboard. For reading, sconce lights over the sofa and a large alabaster globe over the dinette table can be turned on. Lighting in the galley and at the vanity is generous. Convenient reading lights are positioned over the headboard in the bedroom. Light switches are set in gangs of four, six, or eight, and are illuminated by faint blue lights that spell out the function on each toggle, albeit in small letters. Most of the switches are conveniently and logically positioned, but we found one switch gang that was set under a galley cabinet in such a way that it was difficult to reach.
The Essex has two Fan-Tastic Vent fans, one overhead in the galley and one in the water closet, with switches set in the appropriate gangs. We’ve raved about these fans before and know the technology is no longer cutting edge, but we still think they’re, well, fantastic.
Windows in the Essex are of the standard sliding type. Manual day-night shades pull down from tasteful hard valance window treatments, adding interest to the coach’s interior. We found the matching wall covering ordinary, but you see little of it.
Our test coach was outfitted with a remarkable home entertainment array. Viewing the Sony 32-inch plasma television in the great room, you feel as though you could walk right into the picture. The entertainment center includes DVD and VCR players, plus an audio-visual Smart Source switch that allows viewers to switch between cable, satellite, or antenna via remote control.
A second television, this one a Sony 24-inch flat screen, telescopes out of a cabinet at the rear of the coach in the bedroom and turns to face the headboard. Our test coach was also equipped with an optional outside entertainment center with an LCD TV monitor and an AM/FM/CD radio. The clock radio in the bedroom is a Bose Wave, completing an altogether impressive system.
The paint work on the Essex is exceptional. None of the decorations are decals — all those swoops are paint that has been applied by a master’s hand. Paint joints between colors are nearly indistinguishable to the touch, and the whole has been clear-coated to give the coach an elegant shine.
Throughout we found the coach’s fit and finish exemplary. In the Essex, with few exceptions, the details have been given careful attention.
The coach’s handling characteristics and ride rate good to excellent. Although the cockpit is located ahead of the front axle, you feel little of this in the ride — just when turning, and then it’s mighty handy. Making turns is a snap: the Essex’s short turning radius and ease of steering moves you in and out of tight places with little effort.
The air bag suspension equalizes quickly and accurately, keeping the driver in confident control. When accelerating, the coach performs admirably — the 500 horses under the throttle respond instantly, making even necessarily quick turns on steep grades easy.
This coach shines in virtually all categories, but perhaps most brightly at the campground. It’s invariably the object of admiration and compliments, but beyond the luxury, this coach is just plain easy to live in. From the quad-slide arrangement and the convenient design of the bath and galley to the copious storage, basement freezer, excellent entertainment array, and comfortable interior, the Essex would be a joy for the most discriminating motorhomer.
Manufacturer ... Newmar Corporation, 355 N. Delaware St., Nappanee, IN 46550; (574) 773-7791, fax (574) 773-2895; www.newmarcorp.com
Model ... Essex Diesel Pusher
Floor plan ... EXDP 4502
Chassis ... Spartan K2
Engine ... Cummins ISM, 500 horsepower at 2,000 rpm, 1,450 pound-feet torque at 1,300 rpm
Transmission ... Allison 4000 MH
Axle ratio ... 4.30 to 1
Tires ... Michelin 295/80R 22.5
Wheelbase ... 296 inches; 320 inches including tag
Brakes ... Full air brakes with auto slack adjusters
Suspension ... Reyco air suspension
Alternator ... 160 amp, Leece-Neville
Batteries ... house — (4) 6-volt; chassis — (2) 950 cca
Steering ... 55-degree Trans-TAS 85
Inverter ... Trace 2000
Electrical service ... 50 amps
Auxiliary generator ... 12-kw Power Tech Diesel Quiet Series with automatic changeover and automatic start
Exterior length ... 44 feet 11 inches
Exterior width ... 101.5 inches
Interior height ... 6 feet 10 inches
Exterior height ... 12 feet 6 inches
Gross combination weight rating (GCWR) ... 54,600 pounds
Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) ... 44,600 pounds
Gross axle weight rating (GAWR) ... front — 14,600 pounds; rear — 20,000 pounds; tag — 10,000 pounds
Wet weight as tested ... front axle — 14,200 pounds; rear axle — 17,580 pounds; tag axle — 7,140 pounds; total — 38,920 pounds
Payload ... 5,680 pounds
Frame construction ... Aluminum frame sidewalls and roof
Insulation ... R-7 sidewalls and floor, R-11 roof
Fresh water capacity ... 105 gallons
Holding tank capacities ... gray water — 65 gallons; black water — 45 gallons
Fuel capacity ... 150 gallons
Fuel requirements ... diesel
Propane capacity ... 32 gallons
Water heater ... continuous
Heating system ... hydronic zone
Air conditioner ... (3) 15,000-Btu Penguin heat pump central air conditioners
Refrigerator ... Norcold four-door with ice maker, optional; Dometic Side-Wise with ice maker, standard
Toilet ... Thetford Aria
Warranty ... 36 months/50,000 miles (comprehensive)
Base suggested retail price ... $380,675
Price as tested ... $424,307