Dynamax Corporation has expanded its popular ISATA model line by producing motorhomes on the beefy Ford F-Series chassis.
By Guy and Pamela Selbert
DeWayne Creighton, president of Dynamax Corporation of Elkhart, Indiana, had just completed a 24-hour shift painting a new ISATA Touring Sedan when we met him at the company's headquarters. We were there to pick up a prototype to review — the newer, bigger version of this coach.
It might seem strange to an uninitiated observer that a company executive would be found out in the manufacturing facility putting in long hours on a task he could have assigned to one of his many qualified employees. But to say that Mr. Creighton is detail-oriented would be a colossal understatement. He considers every minuscule aspect of each new design, then reconsiders it again and again. His motto could be "Make it as good as you can, and then make it a little better."
For example, the paint job consisted of remixing the paint color every three feet, which meant remasking the coach at three-foot intervals, applying darker color gradually from front to rear. Add to this a zebra-stripe motif in a slightly lighter color for the full length of the coach, which likewise darkens until it fades into the master color at the rear, and you have, as Guy commented, "a paint job just shy of the Sistine Chapel."
The first ISATA Touring Sedan that we tested, in 1999, was the ISATA C290 Sport Sedan, built on the Ford E-450 chassis. It was elegant, luxurious, and superbly finished. The new ISATA Touring Sedan we were there to test — the IF350 — is based on the Ford F-550 Series chassis, which gives the coach a more handsome and distinctive look than the customary Ford cutaway.
Beyond the fact that good looks are important at Dynamax, the goal of Mr. Creighton and his design team was to provide a midsized coach with a much more generous weight rating than is possible with the Ford E-450 cutaway. The F-550 Series chassis gives Dynamax the opportunity to build a larger (35-foot) and heavier coach that includes two slideouts. Also, the F-Series chassis is designed with the engine out front, providing a roomier cab area with more legroom.
The F-550 is powered by the Ford Triton V-10 engine. Because of increased engine compartment airflow in the F-Series, it is possible to push the 6.8-liter engine up to a hefty 362 horsepower at 4,750 rpm and 457 pound-feet of torque at 3,250 rpm. We achieved 65 miles per hour at approximately 3,000 rpm.
The power is funneled through a smooth-shifting "Torq-shift" five-speed automatic transmission to a 4:88-to-one differential. Ford has improved the V-10 with a three-valve head design that allows the engine to breathe significantly better. The energy is transferred to the road via a dual set of General LMT 400 225/70R 19.5 tires.
Interior of ISATA Touring Sedan F-SeriesFor suspension, Dynamax uses the standard Ford front twin-coil monobeam solid axle with a 5,600-pound capacity, but equips the rear with the company's exclusive new DynaRide full air-ride suspension system. The DynaRide suspension includes two nine-position-adjustable shocks that enable the coach owner to choose a softer or firmer ride, with minimal adjustment. We found the ride satisfactory, although it seemed to us that the suspension left the unit prone to a bit of a roll problem. After the test, company officials suggested that perhaps we would have preferred a firmer shock adjustment. Starting with the 2006 models, the DynaRide suspension system is standard on all ISATA E-Series and F-Series motorhomes.
With a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 19,000 pounds and gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 26,000 pounds — versus 14,050 pounds and 20,000 pounds, respectively, for the E-450 — the F-Series platform provides significantly more flexibility in capacity and towing.
Our trip to a certified scale with full water, fuel, and propane tanks — plus both of us on board — yielded a reading of 5,100 pounds for the front axle and 12,800 pounds for the rear, for a total of 17,900 pounds. That leaves 1,110 pounds for cargo.
We ran two tests for fuel economy and averaged them, because a portion of our driving time took place under windy conditions. We came up with a figure right at 10 miles per gallon.
Visibility from the Ford factory cab is excellent. The large windshield and side windows provide good views to the front and sides, while the twin remote-controlled and heated side mirrors give a broad look back. This is well complemented by a Kenwood KVT 717 AM-FM stereo with rearview screen. The rear-mounted color camera gives a good, wide-angle view to the rear and adds light-enhancing properties for night driving. The radio offers a variety of fine features, not the least of which is a touch-screen system for tuning. This allows the driver to adjust the radio at a glance, without long looks away from the road.
The ISATA also has a rear "sonar" backup alarm system that sounds when the vehicle is too close to an object. Although the rear view has no blind spots, this "sonar" is an excellent idea, as it can refocus the driver’s attention from a "clear shot" on one side to a potential problem on the other.
Cockpit of ISATA Touring Sedan F-SeriesAs for riding comfort, the coach is admirable. The F-Series cab offers generous legroom. And although most cab features — such as seating and convenience — are fine, one does have to adjust to the fact that the cab seats are lower than the house floor. We recommend adding a couple of well-placed grab handles to facilitate movement from the cab to the house and vice versa.
Beneath the beautiful paint job on this coach is a solid body. The side and roof panels are jig-made using 1½-inch-by-1½- inch hardened aluminum fitted with 1½--inch-thick solid foam insulation. The floor is constructed the same way, though the framing there is steel.
The assemblies are vacuum-bonded with industrial-strength glue to form a single unit. The floor is separated from the chassis frame with rubber isolators that effectively silence road noise and vibration. This solid construction method makes the ISATA extremely tight.
Interior walls are covered with fiberglass sheeting, and the ceiling is topped with padded fabric. The world outside is viewed via crank-out jalousie windows topped by hard valance treatments and fine day-night shades. Window area is ample, and visibility from inside the coach is good. When open, the windows provide sufficient ventilation, which can be markedly enhanced by activating one or more of the four Fan-Tastic Vent fans, which are located in the living area, galley, bathroom, and bedroom.
A cut-out step inside the coach entry door gives the door enough height so that passengers can avoid knocking their heads when exiting. The bottom exterior entry step is automatic.
Living area of ISATA Touring Sedan F-SeriesAs to basement storage, the ISATA is equipped with seven underbelly compartments, plus a clever "trunk" area molded into the rear cap. The compartments range in size from 3.9 cubic feet to 20.4 cubic feet, for a total of 82.4 cubic feet.
Outside storage is plentiful. However, access to the compartments under the slideout can be a bit tricky when the unit is in "camp mode," because these compartments do not extend along with the slideouts. The compartment doors swing up but are restrained by a cable to prevent them from bumping the underside of the slideout. Thus, the open door stands parallel with the ground, 32 inches above it. Taller individuals would need to crouch down to access these compartments. We believe side-opening doors would be a significant improvement.
An attractive A&E crank-out box awning covers the outside living area in camp. It provides excellent coverage in the open position. The area is complemented by an entertainment center replete with a fine Jensen stereo radio and CD player, an AC power source, a 12-volt power plug, a phone jack, and a TV antenna jack. A handy outside shower also is available. The ISATA is outfitted with an HWH hydraulic semi-automatic leveling system.
Overall, the exterior of the coach is exemplary. In the "fit and finish" category, one would have difficulty surpassing it. Joints maintain close, uniform spacing, and doors close tightly.
Inside the coach, as you stand on the sculpted Berber carpet, you see an impressive entertainment array. The Sony Dream Theater system includes a 22-inch LCD flat-screen TV fed by a DVD/CD player. The coach also has a Sirius Satellite Radio, and all the entertainment components are connected to a surround-sound system.
Bedroom of ISATA Touring Sedan F-SeriesThe bedroom is outfitted with a Sharp 15-inch LCD TV complemented by a Blaupunkt DVD player mounted in the cabinet across from the queen-size bed. A fully automatic, roof-mounted digital in-motion satellite receiver is available as an option.
Power for all of these accoutrements (and the other electrical items in the coach) is transferred from the shore via a 36-foot, fully detachable 50-amp cable. Or, they can be operated for the short term by a Heart 2,000-watt inverter that runs off of two Deka Seamate 660-amp house batteries, or, more long-term, by a 7-kilowatt Onan gasoline generator.
The midcoach bath is well appointed, with a shower topped by a skylight, and a small but serviceable vanity with excellent lighting. The Teche macerator toilet virtually liquefies material before sending it to the holding tank — good news for whoever cleans the tank. This type of commode makes it possible to empty the black water using nothing more powerful than a garden hose.
The bathroom also includes a large wardrobe with two shelves and a 4-foot-high space for hanging clothes. The Fan-Tastic Vent here serves well.
Light fixtures in the unit are plentiful and well placed. Most fixtures are the standard two-bulb fluorescent variety; spot lighting is handled by an array of reading lamps. Curiously, there are few remote light switches. Most of the lights are operated only by switches on the fixtures themselves.
The galley is small but well-appointed. A Corian-topped counter with a two-bowl sink (with covers) provides sufficient work space. It comes with a Wedgewood two-burner gas cooktop that rests below a Dometic microwave-convection oven.
The optional refrigerator in our test coach was a 10-cubic-foot Dometic two-way (120-volt and propane) unit. Two more nice features in the galley are a spice rack and a slideout pantry, the latter of which extends like a drawer. Measuring 21 inches wide and 4 inches deep and equipped with adjustable shelves, the pantry works well for storing canned goods.
Bathroom of ISATA Touring Sedan F-SeriesCabinet space — both under the sink and overhead — is plentiful. The only drawback we noted in the galley was that there was just one 120-volt outlet. We would have liked to see the galley equipped with at least two outlets on separate circuits, enabling occupants to use two appliances at once.
Flooring in the galley and bathroom is snap-together Armstrong-brand faux tile, which is serviceable, attractive, and practical. It has the elegant look of quarry tile but is less fragile.
The living area of the coach is fine and flexible. The elegant Flexsteel sofa bed is covered in Soft Touch-brand simulated leather. As a bed it is used with an air mattress; the pump stores in a closet.
The dinette across the way features the same Soft Touch covering and also can be converted to a bed. An extra utility table, stored in the wardrobe in the bathroom, can be fitted into floor sockets in the living area of the coach.
We liked how the living room carpet continues into the cockpit. The two captains’ chairs also are covered with Soft Touch simulated leather. Four netted cargo compartments are situated overhead in the cab.
We found it easy to get used to the luxury of an ISATA, as the coach speaks quietly of elegance and quality. We also like the admiring looks it attracts. Even a toll collector on the Indiana Turnpike at Elkhart, who daily sees a parade of fine coaches, complimented the "beautiful rig" as we passed through.
Mr. Creighton understood that there would always be a segment of the public with a more discriminating eye and a desire for a smaller, maneuverable unit. He set out several years ago to design a type C motorhome of uncompromising quality, to appeal to his upscale demographic.
The manufacturer's base suggested retail price of the ISATA IF350 we tested was $189,829. With the following options, its as-tested price came to $208,750: two 15,000-Btu rooftop air-conditioning units with heat pump and "chill grill"; outdoor entertainment system; rear sonar; stainless-steel appliance appearance package; backup monitor; cherry cabinetry; 2,000-watt Heart inverter; 15-inch LCD TV with DVD player in bedroom; 10-cubic-foot Dometic two-way refrigerator; two-vent rain sensor; Flexsteel sofa bed with air mattress; in-motion satellite dome with receiver.
With such excellent workmanship, innovation, and devotion to quality control, the folks at Dynamax have achieved success with the new ISATA Touring Sedan F-Series motorhome. As the broadcaster for the St. Louis Cardinals says, a home run is a "swing and a long one." We find it appropriate, then, to say that Dynamax also has a "swing and a long one" with this addition to the ISATA line.
Manufacturer ... Dynamax Corporation, 2745 Northland Drive, P.O. Box 1948, Elkhart, IN 46514; (888) 295-7859; (574) 262-3474; fax (574) 262-6476; www.dynamaxcorp.com
Model tested … ISATA Touring Sedan F-Series
Floor plan ... IF350
Chassis ... Ford F-550
Engine ... Triton V-10, 8-liter, 362 horsepower @ 4,750 rpm, 457 pound-feet torque @ 3,250 rpm
Transmission ... 5-speed automatic
Axle ratio ... 4:88:1
Tires ... General LMT 400 225/70R 19.5
Wheelbase ... 246 inches
Brakes ... 4-wheel ABS disc
Suspension ... Front — Ford monobeam (solid axle); rear — DynaRide Air Suspension
Alternator ... 115 amps
Batteries ... house — (2) Deka Seamate 660-amp AGM; chassis — (1) 72 amp-hour, 650 cca
Steering ... Ford power assist
Electrical service ... 50 amps
Auxiliary generator ... Onan 7-kilowatt, optional (5.5-km Onan, standard)
Inverter ... Heart 2,000-watt
Exterior width ... 101 inches
Exterior height ... 10 feet 9 inches
Interior height ... 6 feet 6 inches
Exterior length ... 35 feet 6 inches
Gross combination weight rating (GCWR) ... 26,000 pounds
Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) ... 19,000 pounds
Gross axle weight rating (GAWR) ... front — 5,600 pounds; rear — 13,400 pounds
Wet weight as tested (with driver and copilot on board) ... front — 5,100 pounds; rear — 12,800 pounds; total — 17,900 pounds
Payload ... 1,100 pounds
Frame construction ... 1½-inch-by-1½-inch hardened aluminum
Insulation ... 1½-inch solid foam
Fresh water capacity ... 46 gallons
Holding tank capacity ... black water, 40 gallons; gray water, 32 gallons
Fuel capacity ... 40 gallons
Fuel requirements ... gasoline
Water heater ... 6 gallons, LP gas
Water delivery system ... demand
Furnace ... 42,000-Btu, propane
Air conditioning ... (2) 15,000-Btu Duo-Therm low-profile units with heat pump and "chill grill"
Refrigerator ... 10-cubic-foot Dometic two-way, optional (Dometic 8-cubic-foot, standard)
Toilet ... Teche Macerator
Warranty ... chassis — 36 months or 36,000 miles; coach — 36 months or 36,000 miles
Base price ... $189,829
Price as tested ... $208,750