National RV reintroduced this familiar coach model last year as a luxury diesel pusher, and it lives up to its paradise-style name.
By Jim Brightly, F358406, Technical Editor
National RV's 2005 Tropi-Cal motorhomeAlthough its name may evoke visions of a warm Baja beach with soft zephyrs stirring the palms, my wife, Saraine, and I took a Tropi-Cal motorhome in the opposite direction, north to Yellowstone National Park, with three passengers. A 2,700-mile trek from Mesa, Arizona, to Wyoming and the nation’s first national park, and then on to Las Vegas, Nevada, gave me an all-around experience in this coach. The trip included driving hundreds of miles on limited-access freeways, relatively flat and straight desert roads, and through the park itself. And, if you’ll allow me an easy pun: driving the Tropi-Cal in Yellowstone is a trip! But more about that later.
National RV Inc. has been manufacturing the Tropi-Cal since 1996, when it was introduced as a luxury gasoline-powered coach. In 2004 it was reintroduced as a diesel pusher. For 2005 the Tropi-Cal is available in seven floor plans, six with three slideouts and one with a double-slideout configuration (the T351). The 37-foot T370 floor plan that I reviewed sleeps five and seats five, with three seat belts on the sofa bed and one each at the two captains chairs.
As the miles accrued on the odometer of this motorhome, which was propelled by a 350-horsepower Caterpillar engine, fuel mileage improved. My first fueling stop produced a fuel economy figure of 5.5 mpg; the second, 6.8 mpg; the third, 7.2 mpg; then 8.1 mpg; and finally 9.2 mpg on the last fill-up. That gave the Tropi-Cal an overall average of 7.4 miles per gallon. When one considers the varying terrain over which we traveled, these are pretty good results for a 25,000-pound coach with five passengers and their gear aboard.
I must mention that the fuel tank had an unusually designed type of cap that I had not seen before. It required a special tool to remove. Since I didn’t have the tool, which normally is included with the packet of new owner materials, I used the tines on a set of needle-nosed pliers to unscrew and tighten the cap. Motorhomers who have the proper tool on board may appreciate the safety inherent in this special fuel cap.
The driver’s area is designed like a plane's cockpit, with controls and gauges mounted in a shallow arc around the tilting steering column. To use an ancient automotive cliché, everything falls readily to hand without stretching. At one's right knee is the 7-inch backup monitor with up-and-down camera controls, as well as a cup holder. Next to the cup holder is a small shelf for gum and other incidentals. Moving to the left, a driver will find the radio power switch on top of a vertical column of accessories that includes the dash heater/air conditioner controls; the radio (AM-FM-CD); a data information window; the ignition key; and an air conditioner vent.
Above the gauges is a double row of panels that provides information about the cruise control, turn signals, lights, and so forth. The driver also is supplied with readouts from a voltage meter, a tachometer, and a speedometer with odometer and fuel gauge. Information about oil pressure, engine temperature, rear brake air pressure, and front air pressure is supplied as well. The oil and temperature gauges provide information via colored lines rather than numbers.
Controls and gauges are mounted around the steering column of the Tropi-Cal motorhome.Now we’ll shift our eyes to the left slightly and — top to bottom — find controls for the washer-wipers, headlights, dash lights, and mirrors. In the third row down are rocker switches for the map light, windshield defroster fans, mirror defoggers, driver’s power sun visor, and passenger’s sun visor. The final row has controls for the engine brake, generator, engine block heater, emergency start boost, and air horns, as well as another air conditioner vent.
On a shelf next to the left armrest are the parking brake, shifter, and leveler controls (which are not automatic); spirit level readings (which were not correct in this coach); air suspension controls; and two 12-volt-DC power outlets. A small receptacle for magazines or maps is located in the side panel below the shelf.
By the way, we found that the dash air conditioning (and heater) was more than adequate to keep cockpit occupants comfortable, but during our trip outside temperatures sometimes reached the upper 90s and higher, and we needed to call the roof air-conditioning units into service to cool the remaining passengers.
The Tropi-Cal rides on a Freightliner XC Series chassis, which features the reliable and smooth Allison 3000 MH six-speed transmission; ABS air brakes (disc in front with drum in rear); and a drum-style, spring-applied, air-released parking brake on the rear axle. The XC frame is a combination straight- and raised-rail construction. Steering is hydraulically assisted with a 20.4:1 ratio and a 50-degree cut angle. Neway air suspension supports the front and rear of the chassis along with Bilstein shocks and a Sachs heavy-duty stabilizer.
With the Tropi-Cal's 350 horses of diesel power at the driver's feet, high mountain altitudes seem to lose their meaning. On the freeway, the cruise control maintained traffic speeds with ease. And even though it is 102 inches wide, the Tropi-Cal flowed around the curves of Yellowstone with aplomb. Although some of the passengers appeared to be nervous on a few of the park’s narrower, high-crowned roads, which in many spots lacked shoulders and guardrails, the coach’s stability kept me relaxed enough to drive through most of the tight corners.
The only time the coach’s width and length presented any kind of difficulty was when I backed into one of those extremely tight campsites in Yellowstone National Park. Because of the park’s popularity and beauty, camping space is at a premium, and sites are quite small. Even the campsite access roads are kept to a minimum width, which the coach's 50-degree steering wheel cut was able to overcome during back-in maneuvers. Although there were parking spaces at each site on the driver’s side for towed vehicles, there were no patios on the curb side, and not even enough room to open the awning. This kept us from deploying the powered patio awning with its remote control. (The entry door awning was not powered.)
Tropi-Cal motorhome interior: computer workstation, double stainless-steel sinkI later did learn that the patio awning’s remote control has an excellent range. During a photo session I was able to roll up the awning from about 50 yards away, so that I could shoot photos of the Tropi-Cal with and without the awning extended. The coach also had the optional mini awnings over the driver’s-side windows and curbside bedroom window.
It was a good thing the Tropi-Cal is equipped with an extra-long power cord, because the length was needed to reach the shore power in the park. It’s a detached 50-amp cord that connects to an external twist-lock receptacle on the left rear corner of the coach. Directly below the power receptacle is a long, narrow compartment — actually, there's one at each rear corner — where it's convenient to store the thick, heavy power cord. This is also where I kept my tool kit, which made it easy to reach, with no slideout overhead.
The rear compartment on the curb side is a little deeper than the other and is equipped with a shelf at mid-height. We stored all of our drinks and bottles in this one, which worked well for moving them inside as needed. Speaking of basement storage, since this coach registered nearly 3,000 pounds of cargo capacity, you can put this abundance of basement storage — including the center pass-through — to good use.
Storage compartment doors are equipped with dual-height gas supports. They initially stop just clear of the slides and can be raised higher for packing when the slideouts are retracted. In the center of the streetside basement storage units is an exterior shower, which proved very handy after I stepped in a muddy hole while positioning myself to photograph buffalo grazing in a wet meadow.
Although the coach sleeps five and accommodates five during travel, the three passengers who use the seat belts at the street-side sofa bed are subject to gazing out rather small windows on the curb side.
Corian countertop in Tropi-Cal bathroomSleeping arrangements are available for two on the sofa bed’s air mattress, and one on the bunk that can be made from the dinette. Two can occupy the queen bed in the rear bedroom. Unlike sofa beds with thin mattresses laid over bars instead of springs, the Tropi-Cal’s sofa bed is equipped with an under-mattress made of fabric and an attached over-mattress that can be inflated. Each night, to transform the sofa into a bed, we filled the over-mattress using the provided air pump. It was very comfortable for one, but when used by two people, one person tended to feel a bounce if the other rolled over. With more time in the coach and more experience with adjusting the air pressure, we may have eliminated this tendency.
Across from the sofa bed, between the galley and the navigator’s chair, is a computer workstation and a freestanding chair. The chair is a Euro recliner covered with OptimaLeather® (the same material that is used on the cockpit seats) and has a matching ottoman. It's extremely comfortable, especially in the reclining position while watching TV, and it can be positioned perfectly for working on a computer or looking out at the scenery. When the slideout is closed for travel, the chair must be moved back to its transport position, where it is clamped to the floor. Since this chair is not permanently affixed to the floor, it has no seat belt and is not suitable for use while the coach is under way.
For entertainment, our test coach had two televisions; a combination DVD/VCR (new for 2005); and a signal amplifier/separator. The televisions are both flat-screen models, with a 27-inch TV in the living area and a 20-inch unit in the bedroom.
Several excellent meals came out of the galley during our weeklong test. It was equipped with a three-burner stove top and an optional 12-cubic-foot double-door Dometic refrigerator with ice maker (an 8-cubic-foot double-door refrigerator and slide-out pantry are standard; a 10-cubic-foot unit and pantry also are available). We had more than enough room for the five-person test crew at the booth dinette.
The double stainless-steel sink in the galley is positioned at an angle in the front portion of the counter. It forms a slight arc, reminiscent of the curve of the cockpit area. For added convenience, our test coach had the optional swing-up Corian countertop extension at the left side of the sink.
Ample storage is available inside the Tropi-Cal; however, storage for clothing is contained primarily inside the bedroom. A wardrobe occupies more than half of the rear wall of the coach. Its two mirrored sliding doors are equipped with a complicated latch — similar to some luggage clasps — that will require some manual dexterity and familiarity for use. Although additional storage is available under the bed, the space is limited, and the mattress is somewhat heavy, so coach occupants probably will seldom raise it. A laundry hamper with a tilt-open door is adjacent to a corner cabinet that is plumbed for an optional washer-dryer.
Wall sconces and spotlights illuminate the Tropi-Cal bedroom.The bedroom is illuminated by complementing wall sconces and spotlights on either side of the bed, as well as a domed light in the center of the ceiling.
Throughout the bedroom, bathroom, and galley, all countertops and splashes are faced with Corian, and the drawers are equipped with ball-bearing sliders for easy and longtime use (they stay closed while traveling, however).
Our test unit included a split bath, with a toilet and lavatory on the curb side, and a combination tub/shower and lavatory on the other. This way, two people simultaneously can ready themselves for a day of hiking or strolling. The shower is good-sized, even for 6-foot-plus folk, and it is supplied with plenty of water pressure from the pump. An opaque skylight is domed upward for more headroom. We appreciated the convenience of having separate shower and toilet rooms.
The Tropi-Cal has three roof vents — one in the living area, one in the water closet, and one for the shower. Dual-zone furnaces and air-conditioning units keep the entire coach toasty or cool, with separate thermostats for the bedroom and living space.
The base suggested retail price of the Tropi-Cal T370 is $184,219. The as-tested price of our test motorhome came to $206,097 with the following options: 12-cubic-foot refrigerator with ice maker; Corian galley countertop extension; home theater entertainment package with DVD; manual entry door awning; manual living window and bedroom window awnings; and manual driver's-side sun shade. The as-tested price also included the Desert Diamond package, featuring "Barcelona" décor; tan full-body paint; four aluminum rims; chrome mirrors; and black awning hardware and rear ladder.
All in all, we enjoyed our time in the Tropi-Cal very much. This diesel pusher proved its mettle on the highways and byways, transporting its passengers with ease and comfort.
Manufacturer ... National RV Inc., 3411 N. Perris Blvd., Perris, CA 92571; (800) 322-6007; (951) 943-6007; fax: (951) 943-8638; www.nationalrv.com
Model ... Tropi-Cal
Floor plan ... T370
Chassis ... Freightliner XC Series
Engine ... Caterpillar 3126E turbocharged; 7.2-liter; 350 horsepower at 2,200 rpm; 860 pound-feet torque @ 1,440 rpm
Transmission ... Allison 3000 MH; six-speed automatic with 2 override gears
Axle ratio ... 4.63 to 1
Tires ... Michelin 225/80R 22.5 radials
Wheels ... steel, 10-lug
Wheelbase ... 228 inches
Brakes ... full air brakes with automatic slack adjusters and ABS; front — 15x4 disc; rear — 16.5x7 drum
Suspension ... four-bag air suspension; front — Neway; rear — ADL-17
Steering ... TRW TAS 55, hydraulic power, 50-degree angle
Alternator ... 130 amps, Delco Remy
Batteries ... chassis — (2) 12-volt, 1,900 cca; house — (4) 6-volt, 100 cca, 120-amp deep-cycle
Inverter/convertor ... Xantrex, 2,000 watts
Electrical service ... 50 amps
Auxiliary generator ... 7.5-kw Onan Quiet Diesel with auto start
Exterior length ... 37 feet 1 inch
Exterior width ... 102 inches
Exterior height ... 12 feet 1 inch
Interior height ... 6 feet 7.5 inches
Gross combination weight rating (GCWR) ... 37,410 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 — 8,520 pounds; rear — 16,400 pounds; total — 24,920 pounds
Payload ... 2,990 pounds
Frame construction ... steel
Insulation ... 2-inch Styrofoam EPS block foam
Fresh water capacity ... 95 gallons
Holding tank capacities ... gray water — 60 gallons; black water — 40 gallons
Fuel capacity ... 100 gallons
Fuel requirements ... diesel
Propane capacity ... 47.7 gallons
Water heater ... Atwood, 10-gallon
Water delivery system ... demand
Furnace ... Atwood, front — 20,000 Btus; rear — 20,000 Btus
Air conditioner ... front — 13,500 Btus; rear — 13,500 Btus, low-profile
Refrigerator ... Dometic four-door 12-cubic-foot refrigerator-freezer with ice maker, optional (8-cubic-foot standard)
Toilet ... Dometic SeaLand, porcelain
Warranty ... engine/transmission — 5 years/unlimited miles; chassis — 3 years/50,000 miles; manufacturer — 12 months/unlimited miles; structural — 5 years/unlimited miles
Base suggested retail price ... $184,219
Price as tested ... $206,097