New Featherlite Advanced Systems Technology (FAST) delivers seamless use of systems onboard this top-of-the-line motor coach.
By Lazelle Jones
This luxurious home on wheels has a penthouse feel when its two street-side slideouts — the front one measuring almost 14 feet long and 30 inches deep — are extended.
Featherlite Luxury Coaches answers the call of individuals who seek the ultra-luxurious motorhome lifestyle, sometimes under demanding conditions. Motorsports personalities such as Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton, Richard Petty, Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Richard Childress, and Ray Everham, as well as golf wizard John Daly, use their Featherlite Vantare' coach conversions to serve as an outpost during high-pressure races or tournaments. They and other Vantare' clients expect functionality, livability, and dependability in their coaches. They also insist on simplicity when it comes to using the multitude of high-tech, computer-managed-and-controlled functions that lace these vehicles.
For model year 2008 Featherlite has addressed the latter need with the introduction of its patented Featherlite Advanced Systems Technology (FAST). This technology was developed jointly by Featherlite and Rockwell Automation. I recently had the opportunity to experience the FAST system on a new Vantare' Prevost coach conversion while exploring the coach's other features.
Late last October, I took delivery of a Featherlite Vantare’ conversion, built on the Prevost H3-45 bus shell, at Featherlite's Sanford, Florida, facility. I motored north to Atlanta, testing its prowess on the interstate and the back roads of Florida and Georgia, while also assessing its livability and functionality. And I indoctrinated myself on the operation of the FAST system.
With FAST, the plethora of systems that are controlled, coordinated, and monitored by computer in high-end coach conversions are simplified for the user. Sophisticated entertainment and communications equipment, state-of-the-art electrical energy management systems, climate control, lighting, and security are easily tailored to fit the needs of coach occupants.
The FAST touch screen displays images one at a time based on the user's selection and manages such functions as generator-inverter status and control, selection and setting of audiovisual components, and tank level monitoring.
The FAST Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) acts as the translator between all of these systems and the user. The PLC receives data from the coach systems, then translates it and communicates to the user via a touch-screen panel. The icons and graphics displayed on the touch screen are easily understandable, and the user simply touches the screen to make things happen. For example, the user selects an icon to open or shut the electric blinds, change temperatures in various zones inside the coach, or choose a program or source of a program and the television on which it will be displayed. The touch screen sends the signal to the PLC, which tells the pertinent systems what to do.
In addition, the multiple layers of redundancy programmed into FAST protect the coach from system non-use should FAST experience some sort of difficulty. If problems occur hundreds of miles from help, for example, a vacation or business schedule needn't be interrupted or scuttled because of a malfunction. Instantly the user can circumvent FAST and put the system(s) back in service. Thus, the user can wait until it is convenient to seek out service yet still have full use of the systems FAST is designed to control.
Here's an example of how FAST works. Should the coach be parked in an RV campground where only 30-amp or even 20-amp shore power is available, the owner touches the screen to activate it; selects “shore power”; and then chooses a 20-, 30-, or 50-amp connection. FAST performs all of the electrical switching functions required to support the electrical loads, without the coach operator ever knowing that various electrical system reconfigurations have taken place. With this scenario, the shore power is now fed through the inverter, and the difference in power required is gleaned from the house battery bank.
All electrical loads are fed through and managed by dual 110-volt electrical buses; each has its own 4,000-watt pure sine wave inverter that receives power from the house battery pack. Each inverter can power one 13,500-Btu Cruisair air conditioner, or two out of the total four air-conditioning units on this coach. When the system senses low voltage on the house batteries, the generator's auto-start function automatically lights off the 20-kilowatt diesel auxiliary generator, loads it, and recharges the battery pack. The gen set will then shut down automatically. These operations occur seamlessly, without input from the coach enthusiast.
The redundancy and backup associated with FAST are evidenced by the climate control and audiovisual systems. For example, even though the entire audiovisual and surround-sound theater systems can be controlled from the touch screen, should FAST experience some difficulty, the individual remote controls for the TV, DVD, VCR, and satellite dishes (there are two satellite systems) are automatically available. If the touch-screen climate control functions do not respond, the user simply accesses the conventional digital wall thermostats. If the interface between one or both of the inverters and FAST malfunctions, not to worry: switches can be manually rockered to operate all equipment and instantly restore electrical power. Featherlite officials are firmly committed to the concept that simplified, automated, user-friendly touch-screen controls can partner nicely with redundant backup means should the former somehow malfunction.
My personal adventure included driving a thousand miles and living in the coach for a week. That’s right; someone has to do it! With full water and full fuel, the coach weighed 35,720 pounds at a certified scale, which means it had a remaining cargo carrying capacity of 1,280 pounds. In terms of fuel economy, the coach averaged 6.3 mpg, giving it a driving range of approximately 1,500 miles on a full tank of fuel (230 gallons).
I could use a litany of flowery descriptions to characterize how the Featherlite drove and handled, but quite simply, it was “sweet." In Florida I navigated up the coast north of Ormond Beach to Jacksonville, with the wind blowing stiffly on shore. It was raining; oncoming traffic was constant; and many stretches along this two-lane road had no shoulders. But the Vantare’ did not wander. The H3-45 Prevost shell moved with precision and ease. I experienced no driver fatigue whatsoever.
The 515-horsepower Detroit Diesel engine was totally responsive, and with its standard Class IV hitch receiver and brake controller, this Featherlite was capable of towing another 20,000 pounds, which many NASCAR teams do with their Featherlite coaches. They tow haulers (large enclosed trailers) with personal full-size vehicles and all kinds of toys and gear inside to make life as a transient Cup driver or team owner convenient and pleasurable. For example, Richard Petty brings along a full-size Dodge Durango in his hauler to use at the track, plus three motorcycles and a golf cart.
As noted above, the Vantare's house air-conditioning system includes four Cruisair units, which are located in the basement. This makes the roof lines exceptionally clean and minimizes the drag or wind resistance. Two of the condensers (one for each midcoach A/C unit) are mounted on the roof, and because of their low profile, they offer little wind resistance as the coach moves forward. The condensers operate very efficiently in the open, cooler, clean air environment over the top of the coach. The other two condensers are situated in open, ventilated underbay areas.
The 20-kilowatt Power Tech auxiliary generator also is configured for maximum efficiency and quiet operation. Housed inside a quiet box and located midcoach on the street side, it was virtually inaudible when it was running. The generator exhaust has been channeled below the coach out to the rear of the unit.
As noted, this unit was equipped with two 4,000-watt Xantrex inverters, each capable of operating one air-conditioning unit off the house batteries (no generator or shore power), and I put this to the test. My first night out in the coach, just north of Daytona Beach, was hot and muggy, and I stayed in a campground without shore power. Plus, campground policy dictated quiet time, including no gen set operation, after 10:00 p.m. Well, I smugly enjoyed cool, refreshing air all night long from two of the four basement air-conditioning units. Others in the campground were not disturbed, for these units were powered via the inverters from the house batteries, and when the gen set did come online sometime during the night (auto start) to charge the batteries back up (and then shut down), the amount of sound made was negligible. The insulated "Quiet Box," the muffled exhaust out the back, and the quiet operation of the Power Tech diesel itself were responsible.
This particular floor plan is called the Destin. To begin with, both slides (the front measures 13.75 feet long by 30 inches deep; the rear measures 11 feet long by 24 inches deep) are located on the street side of the coach, which is excellent for those who love to spend time out on the curbside patio. The patio bays can be equipped with an assortment of appointments that lend themselves to the luxury coach lifestyle. A stainless-steel pull-out LP-gas grill with a quick disconnect; a 32-inch flat-screen television that articulates out for ease of viewing; a refrigerator/freezer, coffee makers, etc. — you name it and it can be done. Two remote-controlled, wind-sensing Girard patio awnings can be extended as desired, with a pitch adjustment that provides full management of changing shade requirements.
Because this unit is built on a Prevost H3-45 bus shell, the cockpit sits at a lower level than the living area above. The living area features a leather Euro recliner with footstool and a leather sofa that makes into an excellent sleeping quarter. The dinette includes a curved, leather bench-style seat with a motorized tabletop; at the touch of a button, the table moves out for use and back in when its service is not required. The tabletop came with a crackled glass finish that is backlit to accent the crackle effect. This crackled theme is continued on the panel that separates the galley from the sofa area and with the shower window (with shade) that divides the shower from the rear bedroom. Both of these are also backlit to accent the crackled-glass effect.
The galley includes a two-burner electric cooktop with a granite countertop and a double sink. The stainless-steel, 23.5 cubic-foot, side-by-side refrigerator-freezer with ice and cold water dispenser, plus an honest-to-gosh wine cellar, come as standard appointments. The wine cellar is housed behind a clear acrylic door with a crystal cabinet above for glassware. The cellar can hold eight of your favorite vintages. It also features interior lighting for effect.
The center-aisle bath includes a water closet with a sink on the curb side, plus a huge, elegant, residential-style shower with granite-dressed interior walls on the street side. Two electric pocket doors close off the bath from the front of the coach and from the rear stateroom.
A dressing zone in the very rear of the coach is cordoned off with a pocket door and contains a
second granite-topped sink, plus mirror-covered wardrobes and drawers.
The king-size bed is a true comfort zone, as I can attest. It articulates out and in with the slideout and faces a 42-inch flat-screen television. As noted, this coach came with two separate satellite systems and an audiovisual system package that will not leave anyone wanting. Aft of the island king bed is another electric pocket door, which, when opened, reveals a walk-in wardrobe like none other I have seen. This U-shaped space is filled with floor-to-ceiling wardrobes and mirror-covered drawers, making it possible to check out your appearance from every angle before heading out for that special event. Inside this wardrobe area is a second sink with a granite countertop for use by the stateroom occupants. Keep in mind, the floor at the rear of the coach is on the same plane as the floor throughout the rest of the coach (it’s a totally flat floor).
The manufacturer's base suggested retail price of my Featherlite test coach was $1,648,496. Its as-tested price came to $1,757,229 with the following options: entertainment bay with 32-inch LCD HDTV, 100-pound Norcold refrigerator-freezer, storage, and outside audio system; slideout electric window awnings; upgraded interior fabrics, leather, and upholstery; upgraded sinks and faucets; dinette chandelier; ceiling fan above bed; camera system for side views; buddy monitor for navigation system; stainless-steel hubcap upgrade; stainless-steel dock light bezels; stainless-steel license plate insert and cover; stainless-steel louvers on rear engine door; stainless-steel mudflap trim; stainless-steel Prevost letter inserts; granite shower with designer inserts; two-tone driver and passenger seats; designer galley splash guard, crackled glass; upgraded exterior paint design; fiber optic lighting for galley splash guard.
It takes Featherlite approximately four months to create a masterpiece such as this, and high-profile customers who depend on a luxury motor coach to facilitate their busy and demanding lifestyles are willing to wait the necessary time. However, Featherlite also creates a limited number of conversions that are immediately available, such as the Vantare’ I had the opportunity to evaluate. The company has showrooms in Cresco, Iowa; Mocksville, North Carolina; and Sanford, Florida, with a service network that laces the United States. This past January, FreedomRoads/Camping World was appointed the exclusive nationwide retailer of Featherlite Luxury Coaches. Sales and service of Featherlite coaches initially will be available at FreedomRoads/Camping World stores in San Diego, California; Statesville, North Carolina; Mesa, Arizona; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Sanford, Florida. More outlets will be added later.
Featherlite Luxury Coaches, 4441 Orange Blvd., Sanford, FL 32771; (888) 826-8273; www.fthrc.com
Featherlite Vantare' H3-45
Prevost H3-45 VIP
Detroit Diesel Series 60, 14-liter, 515 horsepower at 1800 rpm
Allison World, six-speed automatic
4:56 to 1
radials, 365/70R 22.5, Michelin
disc, air-operated with stability control
air suspension with 8 air bags
450-amp, 24-volt for house batteries; 140-amp, 24-volt for chassis batteries
house — (8) 4D Lifeline Concorde Mil-Spec AGM; chassis — (4) Group 31 lead acid
independent front steering with steering assist and stability control option
(2) Xantrex Sine Wave Plus, 4,000 watts
50-, 30-, and 15-amp connectivity
20-kw Power Tech with electronic controls and real-time communications
6 feet 11 inches
13 feet 5 inches
GROSS COMBINATION WEIGHT RATING (GCWR) – 74,500 pounds
GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT RATING (GVWR) – 54,500 pounds
GROSS AXLE WEIGHT RATING
front — 18,000 pounds
rear — 22,500 pounds
tag — 14,000 pounds
WET WEIGHT AS TESTED
front axle — 17,500 pounds
rear and tag axles — 35,720 pounds
total — 53,220 pounds
(weighed with full fresh water, fuel tanks)
PAYLOAD AS TESTED
reflective and conductive technologies, R-30-plus
FRESH WATER CAPACITY
HOLDING TANK CAPACITIES
black water — 81 gallons
gray water — 81 gallons
Aqua-Hot, 50,000 Btus
Aqua-Hot hydronic heat and 110-volt toe-kick heaters
Headhunter pump, tank level indicator, and toilet
(4) Cruisair split systems, 13,500 Btus each
Amana side by side, 23.5 cubic feet
Headhunter; no moving parts
1 year bumper to bumper, 5 year engine and drivetrain
BASE SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE
PRICE AS TESTED