This diesel pusher is distinguished by four slideouts, several floor plan choices, and a long list of standard items.
By Jim Brightly, Technical Editor
Someone once said, and I'm undoubtedly paraphrasing, "Travel is not just about the exercise of getting from point A to point B, but rather the trip itself." RVing, in general, and motorhoming, to be more specific, confirm that notion. And RVing in a Fleetwood Excursion, to be even more specific, is the proof at the bottom of the pudding bowl.
I formed this opinion while driving a 2004 39-foot Excursion diesel pusher from Buffalo, New York, site of FMCA's 70th International Convention, to Fleetwood's Riverside, California, headquarters. I was traveling with my wife, Saraine, and four of our grandchildren. We covered the 2,500-mile journey in one week.
As I drove, new words to an old poem and song called "Mother" started running through my head. Perhaps you have heard, "M is for the many things she gave me; O is only that she's growing old," and so on. For some reason, I started thinking about how "Excursion" would be spelled in the same manner.
Here's my version. E is for the ease with which everything is done in the Excursion — entertaining, driving, enjoying, connecting, and spreading out. X is for marking the spots you'll be crisscrossing the country to see. C is for cake, for with the Excursion you'll have your cake and eat it, too (you'll also be able to bake it in either an LP-gas oven or a microwave-convection oven). U is for the ultimate adventure(s) the Excursion will provide you and your family. R is for returning in your Excursion time and time again to your favorite spots. S is for the super times you're sure to have. I is for the interest that others will show in your new coach. O is for the "oohs" and "aahs" you will hear from passengers as you tour in the Excursion. N is for the next trip that you'll find yourself planning to take in the coach.
But once you're done spelling "Excursion," you'll want to be driving it. And drive it I did. Most of the early going was through the remnants of a hurricane that kept the eastern United States very wet. By the time the leftovers reached us, we were crossing Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, where we encountered torrential downpours, wind gusts, a bit of hail, and some fantastic lightning displays.
The storm provided an excellent test of the weatherproofing Fleetwood installed on the Excursion, and it passed with flying colors. Nary a drop entered the coach, except when the entry screen door was open, and that occurred only until I discovered that by deploying the awning, this minor annoyance was eliminated. Press the remote's button and the optional A&E power awning protects the door from incoming rain. We wanted to leave the door open in the rain to enjoy fresh air with the fragrance of the countryside, rather than the highly scrubbed air-conditioned breeze blowing from the registers and ceiling ducts.
That is not to say that the two roof-mounted air conditioners did not get a workout. The tropical storm had pushed a mass of very moist, warm air before it, which caused the Excursion to resemble a sauna — until we started the 7.5-kilowatt Onan diesel generator, set the dual-zone residential-style thermostat, and let them do their jobs. The thermostat added to our comfort, because it let us set the bedroom temperature lower for us, and the living area's temperature higher for the grandchildren. Everyone, even our youngest granddaughter, who snoozed on the window seat in the bedroom, slept better once the temperatures were properly adjusted.
I appreciated the fact that the heater vents were in the walls rather than in the floor, since I was wary that objects such as crayons and toys might fall inside them. (Plus, heat distribution would be better.) But we never needed to switch the thermostat over to its heat mode. In fact, once our journey took us into the deserts of the Southwest, we were using both rooftop units as well as the dash air to keep the 39-foot coach cool in the late July sun while driving. The roof units were adequate while we were hooked into 50-amp shore power, but the Denso dash air conditioner, which puts out 16,600 Btus, calmly accepted all of the cooling duties, except in the desert.
Window defogging fans are mounted in the upper corners of the windshield. However, we did not get an opportunity to test their effectiveness; we turned them on only to make sure they worked.
Several items worth noting are also located adjacent to the dashboard. First is the windshield privacy curtain. As is usual, it is attached to its channel track in two pieces, one on either side. But in the Excursion, the driver's-side curtain covers the entire windshield, all the way to the right-hand A pillar. The right-hand curtain covers just the right-side window and the entry door. This is convenient, because you don't have a large curtain to guide around half the windshield each time you wish to depart the docked coach.
This diesel motorhome has a small shelf in the cab where the engine would be if it were gas-powered. It is equipped with two fold-out cup holders and a nonskid top that can hold books, a cell phone, etc. Hidden behind this mini doghouse, which is concealed with hook-and-loop fasteners, are many of the fuses for the onboard electrical systems.
The mini doghouse rests upon simulated stone flooring, which continues to the entry door steps. This sturdy flooring provided space for all our shoes during our test. (We didn't want to leave wet footprints all over the carpet.) Situated on the floor in front of the passenger's seat is a carpet-covered, fold-down step cover for those long-distance trips.
Three powered sun visors — one for the driver; one in the center of the windshield, directly below the overhead-mounted television; and one for the passenger — are controlled by separate rocker switches that are easily accessible to both driver and passenger. They roll up and down with a flick of the switch. A weighted, heavily tinted plastic shade can then be positioned at the necessary height to block the rays.
Our test coach was equipped with an optional A&E Weather-pro automatic patio awning. However, the first two times I attempted to test it, the weather intervened. The awning automatically retracts if wind speeds exceed a certain figure, and in our case, the breeze was too strong. (The smaller entry-door awning was not affected by these conditions.) Finally, on a calm afternoon as the sun was beaming, I tried the patio awning a third time. It deployed and retracted with a mere touch of the button on the handheld remote. Very cool indeed (pun intended).
The sofa bed makes into an oversized double bed, but the love seat does not. The coach could sleep seven in a pinch, but it has only six seat belts (there are no seat belts in the dinette). Since our crew consisted of six, we were able to put all locations to the test, and all was well. The love seat has two seatbelts, as does the sofa bed.
By using the dinette table's leaf and two freestanding chairs, we could extend the dining area to accommodate all six of us. The table leaf and folding chairs are stored in the bedroom's cedar-lined closet and secured with attached bungee cords. This floor plan also has a folding coffee table for use while parked, which can be stored in the bedroom closet or beneath the bed. It must be removed for travel. Other Excursion floor plans include a freestanding round dinette with a removable leaf, and a pair of dual swivel recliners with a table in place of the sofa bed.
In the galley, which is on the curb side opposite the dinette, the laminated tile floor surface continues and provides a counterpoint to the grayish-silver Corian countertops without too much contrast. This area is also accented by robust, warm, cherry wood cabinets with adjustable-height shelves, and a ceramic tile backsplash. The stainless-steel appliances add an ultramodern touch. As I mentioned earlier, the galley has both an LP-gas oven (optional) and a microwave-convection oven.
A pull-out cabinet in the galley extends the countertop work surface. This extension can be lifted into place just below the higher countertop, or left at its lower height to hold taller serving bowls. Matching pieces of countertop material beautifully cover up the extra-deep double stainless-steel sinks and the stainless-steel stove top to form a huge serving or work area.
A Black & Decker coffeemaker with a thermal carafe comes with the coach. Since I've given you the cake, now I'm giving you the coffee! In my opinion, as a confirmed coffee drinker and RVer, the carafe is perfect for coffee-drinking motorhomers, because it doesn't require continuous electricity to keep the coffee hot; in fact, it has no hot plate. When you start the coffeemaker (which can be set to brew automatically if you're plugged into shore power), your beverage heads straight into the carafe, which keeps it at a drinkable temperature for up to eight hours. Shut off the coffeemaker and take that carafe outside with you to enjoy a leisurely coffee klatch under the awning, or over at a neighbor's coach.
My test coach had the optional residential-size 12-cubic-foot four-door refrigerator by Norcold with stainless-steel doors and an ice maker. It graces the galley in superb fashion.
Just aft of the galley is the walk-through bathroom, in which a stainless-steel sink and cherry woodwork carry on the design theme. A separate toilet room includes a grab bar and two cabinets, and the wide entry door can be opened to form a large, private area with the added use of the pocket door into the bedroom. Also in the bathroom is a large shower enclosure with a three-spout soap, shampoo, and lotion dispenser on its wall and a showerhead that can be adjusted for proper height by sliding it up or down a stainless tube. A sidewall bar is provided for those who need more help to maintain balance.
Tucked nicely away in its own bathroom cabinet was an optional combination washer-dryer.
The rear bedroom has two slideouts, one that encompasses the head of the queen-size bed and its side nightstands, and another that contains a window seat located on the curb side, across from the foot of the bed. The bed is usable regardless of whether the slideout is deployed, but the window seat is not. And one or other of the bedroom slides have to be deployed to gain access to the under-bed storage or to the cabinets beneath the window seat.
The bedroom TV is situated in the curbside corner of the back wall atop a column of storage cabinets. The remainder of the back wall holds a cedar-lined closet, with each closet door equipped with a full-length mirror. In fact, the mirrors in the bedroom and bathroom are carefully placed for dual duty. They add an illusion of space and are well placed for appearance checks.
To watch the bedroom TV, you slide it outward slightly and rotate it. It cannot be watched while the curbside (window seat) slide is closed. The TV shelf is equipped with a safety contact switch that will not allow the curbside slide to be retracted unless the TV is locked into its traveling position.
The Excursion's four slideouts are controlled by two dual-control switches. One switch is on the monitor board above the entry door and controls both living area slideouts, and the other is on a bedroom wall. Two rocker switches control each pair of slides. One switch determines which slide will be operated, and the other controls inward or outward movement. The ignition switch must be on, the parking brake set, and the Allison World transmission placed in neutral before the slides will activate. The same criteria also pertain to operation of the automatic hydraulic levelers.
Good lighting is offered in the bedroom for reading, makeup application, and dressing. Lights in the cedar-lined closet make searching for items convenient. In fact, all of the interior light locations are well thought out. Just a few hours in the Excursion tells you that Fleetwood designers actually use their products after they've designed them, and that they do their job with the end users in mind.
In the forward living area, the entertainment center beckons for attention. Mounted above the windshield and equipped with a 27-inch Panasonic television, DVD player, VCR, and circuit controller, the entertainment center can supply both TVs with a large selection of programming. The main television is also equipped with surround sound, using Panasonic speakers mounted on the ceiling around the room. The in-dash radio also had the optional six-CD player, but no cassette player. The coach comes wired, domed, and equipped with a KVH satellite dish, but no receiver.
Thanks to the standard 2,000-watt Xantrex inverter with which the coach is equipped, all of the entertainment components, as well as the coffeemaker and microwave oven, can be operated without firing up the generator.
It's quite a hike up the Excursion's entry stairs, which consist of two auto-extended steps, then three more steps up onto the floor — but it's worth it. First off, the front door is equipped with a remote-controlled deadbolt, so you don't have to fumble for keys in the dark with your hands full of groceries. Then you'll immediately notice the illuminated acrylic entry grab bars.
The high floor level not only keeps the driver's head up above the madding turnpike crowds, but also leaves an abundance of space for basement storage — 140 cubic feet. Each storage door is equipped with two gas-support struts.
At the driver's seat the gauges are easily read thanks to an electronic panel with 22 indicator lights, set in two rows. These include the turn signals (which I had difficulty seeing behind the thickly padded steering wheel until I corrected the problem by adjusting the tilt wheel); the cruise control "on" light; the check/stop engine lights; seatbelt indicators; and several other items. The backup camera monitor is also within easy reach of the driver.
Both captains chairs are extremely comfortable, and remain so for extended driving times behind the wheel. The driver's seat has an adjustable lumbar support and a six-way electric control, plus it reclines and rotates to face the rest of the coach when in camp. The passenger seat also rotates and has a heating element, a six-way control, and a powered footrest.
Driving the Excursion can be invigorating. Just let that 350-horsepower engine get wound up and you're shortly cruising down the highway at 65 miles per hour (1,750 rpm) without a care in the world. Even though this test coach weighed 25,425 pounds, and we were actually carrying quite a bit more than the coach's wet weight, the combination of the 350-horsepower engine and the six-speed Allison World transmission moved the Excursion with ease.
Running solo, the 39-foot Excursion turned in 8.7 miles per gallon, and while towing a Chevrolet Suburban, it averaged 7 mpg. The Excursion had only 500 miles on the odometer when I took over the controls, so the fuel economy should improve slightly after more use.
When towing, I set the cruise control to 60 mph and kept to the right lane as much as possible. I think this slower traffic speed aided in the decent mileage figures for a coach of this weight. Also, while towing in heavy traffic or on long downhill slopes, I kept the standard engine retarder engaged, which helped greatly in quickly slowing the combined weights before I had to apply the service brakes. The sharp cut angle on the front wheels of the Freightliner chassis also contributed to a turning radius that seems very tight for this wheelbase.
While we restricted most of the driving to daylight hours, trying to keep to our delivery schedule forced some night and evening miles. At these times, the Hella dual-filament headlights with matching Hella driving lights and foglights kept the demons of darkness at bay.
To ease refueling chores, Fleetwood gave the Excursion dual fuel fill doors, one on either side of the coach, just behind the front wheel housing. This means you don't have to jockey for position to place the fuel pump on the correct side. This is very convenient, especially when you have a vehicle in tow. In addition to the two filler necks, both necks accept the larger diameter, high-flow trucker's filler handle for faster refills.
The Excursion is a well-equipped motorhome for under $200,000; it even had an optional onboard central vacuum cleaner, which aided the cleanup chores. Actually, the 2004 Excursion we tested had a suggested manufacturer's retail price of $198,311, including just $3,311 of additional options and accessories onboard. It's fun to drive and never lacked for power — even when traveling west across the mountains towing a Suburban. It expands into one heck of a large apartment when parked, yet can easily be parked overnight with slideouts in for a few quick hours of rest. I would say the Excursion is a very elegant and functional motorhome for its price tag.
Manufacturer ... Fleetwood RV, P.O. Box 7638, Riverside, CA 92513; (800) 444-4905; www.fleetwoodrv.com
Model ... Excursion
Floor plan ... 39 L
Chassis ... Freightliner
Engine ... Cummins 350 horsepower at 2,000 rpm, 1,050 pound-feet torque @ 1,400 rpm
Transmission ... Allison World six-speed
Axle ratio ... 4.63 to 1
Tires ... Michelin 255/80R 22.5
Wheels ... 22.5 x 7.50 Alcoa
Wheelbase ... 252 inches
Brakes ... air
Suspension ... air
Alternator ... 130 amps
Batteries ... chassis — (2) 910 amps at 32 degrees; house — (4) 6-volt deep-cycle, 218 amps
Steering ... Douglas tilt/telescope steering column, power assisted
Inverter ... Xantrex Technology, 2,000-watt; 100-amp battery charger
Electrical service ... 50 amps
Auxiliary generator ... Onan 7.5-kilowatt Quiet diesel
Exterior length ... 39 feet 2 inches
Exterior width ... 102 inches
Interior height ... 6 feet 7 inches
Exterior height ... 12 feet 3 inches
Gross combination weight rating (GCWR) ... 37,910 pounds
Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) ... 27,910 pounds
Gross axle weight rating (GAWR) ... front — 10,410 pounds; rear — 17,500 pounds
Wet weight as tested ... front axle — 8,725 pounds; rear axle — 16,700 pounds; total — 25,425 pounds
Payload ... 2,485 pounds
Frame construction ... Power Platform
Insulation ... 1½-inch foam in walls, 4- to 6-inch molded foam in ceiling
Fresh water capacity ... 85 gallons
Holding tank capacities ... gray water — 50 gallons; black water — 50 gallons
Fuel capacity ... 90 gallons
Fuel requirements ... diesel
Propane capacity ... 30 gallons
Water heater ... 10-gallon Atwood
Water system ... demand, Shurflo pump
Heating system ... (2) Hydroflame units, (1) 20,000 Btus, (1) 25,000 Btus
Air conditioner ... (2) 13,500-Btu units; heat pump optional
Refrigerator ... Norcold 12-cubic-foot two-way (AC and LP gas)
Toilet ... SeaLand porcelain
Warranty ... chassis — 36 months/50,000 miles; coach — 12 months/12,000 miles
Base suggested retail price ... $195,000
Price as tested ... $198,311