An innovative floor plan — one of six — creates individual living zones.
By Lazelle Jones
The word "luxury" comes to mind when discussing the richly appointed Charleston, a diesel pusher crafted by Forest River Inc. When I was asked to test the Charleston 410FS, a floor plan with five — yes, five — slideouts, I quickly accepted the invitation. The following review details how and why I found the design of this motorhome remarkable in several respects.
The floor plan designation (410FS) indicates that the coach has an overall exterior length of 41 feet. The “FS” specifies that it has five slideouts. The Charleston is available in three-slideout and four-slideout versions as well, with six floor plans offered in all.
This particular floor plan — which includes three slides on the curb side and two on the street side — employs two different kinds of slideout mechanisms: hydraulic and electric cable-driven. The largest slide, behind the driver, houses a sleeper sofa and the full galley and is powered by a hydraulic mechanism. The other four slides use electric cable mechanisms. The street-side slideouts measure 175 inches long by 20 inches deep (front) and 74 inches long by 21 inches deep (rear). Each of the two front slideouts on the curb side measures 77 inches long and 21 inches deep. The rear curbside slide houses a long chest of drawers and a television and measures 74 inches by 20 inches. With all five slideouts extended, 315 square feet of interior living area is instantly created.
Forest River designers have been creative with the interior of the 410FS. Perhaps the most striking innovation is a floor-to-ceiling room divider that splits up the forward salon and the dining area. This structure, which stands perpendicular to the sidewalls, includes two 32-inch high-definition LCD televisions — one on each side. The forwardmost curbside slideout houses a sofa dressed in Ultraleather. The second curbside slideout, behind the structure, contains a freestanding dinette with individual upholstered chairs. This configuration provides two totally separate venues where different video program choices can be enjoyed simultaneously.
The third slide up front, on the street side, includes a sleeper sofa, also covered in Ultraleather.
Utilizing the Freightliner XC raised-rail chassis, Forest River designers have created an impressive basement storage facility. My choice of the words “storage facility” is intentional, for this area is much more than just a few compartments. Vertically hinged bay doors swing open from the middle, which means there is no vertical bar or structural member running down the middle where the two doors come together when closed. This arrangement provides unimpeded access to the interior of the storage bay, which measures 95 inches long by 116 inches wide by 19 inches high and yields a total of 121 cubic feet of storage space. Ease of access is augmented by an additional swing-open bay door immediately forward of the other two doors. With this configuration, such objects as bicycles or even a kayak can be stowed inside. The area also can be equipped with full-length glide-out trays that are accessible from both sides of the coach.
The 3-inch-thick steel floor structure incorporates 2-pound polystyrene foam insulation that is cut to fit and inserted in the grid pattern created by the welded tubular steel members. A single piece of seamless Structurwood covers the top of the floor, while Darco, an insulation product, dresses the underside. This effectively minimizes noises and vibrations that otherwise would migrate from the road below. The interior floor of my test coach featured ceramic tile and carpeting.
Ozite carpet lines the interior of the basement bay. The underside of the bay surface is protected with an undercoating that presents a final barrier against moisture and dirt from the road below and also helps to reduce noise and vibration.
The holding tank compartment is warmed via a duct that taps into the coach's forced-air heating delivery system, as well as by UltraHeat pads affixed directly to the tanks. The unit I reviewed was outfitted with a single 40,000-Btu LP-gas furnace, although the most current iteration of the Charleston utilizes twin 20,000-Btu furnaces.
Two roof air conditioners with heat pumps are centrally ducted in a ceiling plenum that distributes air to registers that line the unit from front to rear.
Another high-end feature found on the Charleston is the diesel auxiliary generator. The 8-kilowatt PowerTech unit is mounted on an electric motorized skid that moves in or out by activating a button on the dash. This configuration makes accessing the gen set for servicing a simple task.
The actual unloaded vehicle weight of my Charleston 410FS test coach was 28,068 pounds. Fuel economy recorded during my test drive was right at 8 mpg. The coach is powered by a 425-horsepower Cummins ISL 8.9-liter turbocharged diesel engine (standard equipment) that develops 1,200 pound-feet of torque, and it is capable of towing 10,000 pounds.
Navigating the back roads that lace the Elkhart, Indiana, hinterland, cruising at 70 mph out on the interstate, and doing some stop-and-go city driving, I found that the Charleston’s handling, road manners, and performance belie its size as a large luxury motor coach. The quietness of the ride, the responsiveness when accelerating, and the coach’s ability to stay straight ahead when applying emergency-type braking all factored into a pleasurable driving experience. The driver's side of the cockpit is surrounded by an elegant, sweeping instrumentation package that I found to be user-friendly. Oh, yes, did I mention how quiet this unit is as it goes down the road? The single-piece windshield yielded an expansive view of the world outside and also played into the driving equation.
The excellent ride and handling performance this coach exhibited is due in part to the Freightliner XC chassis' air-ride system. This system employs four large low-pressure air bags (11.5 inches front and 12.5 inches rear) that intercept and smooth out the bumps and undulations of the road. The suspension is assisted by Sachs shock absorbers and torsion bars. And, when a destination is reached, the automatic four-point Equalizer hydraulic leveling system can be used. Equalizer also provides the hydraulic system for the large galley/living room slideout mechanism.
The cabinetry throughout my test coach was called Autumn Cherry, one of three wood choices available (the others are Maple and Cinnamon Maple). Fascias with detailed inlay work adorn the perimeters of each slideout (floor to ceiling and across the top), bringing out the rich quality and depth of the woodwork. The interior décor palette that accompanies it is called Woodland Tan, one of five décor choices available.
The rear bedroom includes a 72-inch-by-80-inch king-size bed, backed by a residential-style wooden headboard. The bed articulates in and out with the street-side slideout (a queen bed is also available). Forest River has elected to use the Select Comfort Sleep Number bed, which permits each party to determine exactly how firm or soft his or her side of the bed will be. Individual hand controls immediately adjacent to each side of the bed allow adjustments to be made instantaneously.
Overhead cabinets line the inside of the slideout above the bed, and a window is built into each side slideout wall. Valances covered in sculptured fabric crown each window, including the large window above the chest of drawers in the curbside slideout. Day-night accordion shades enable the user to choose how much light to let in.
The chest of drawers features an elegant, low-maintenance solid-surface countertop with two huge pull-out drawers in the center and a trio of drawers on either side. Huge overhead cabinets sit directly above the chest of drawers.
Even more storage is available in a massive mirrored wardrobe/linen cabinet complex that stretches across the rear of the coach. Room has been made in this area for an optional stackable washer-dryer combo that sits behind louvered wood doors.
The curbside aisle, adjacent to the bathroom, provides an avenue for movement between the front of the coach and the rear bedroom. A hinged door sequesters the bedroom from this passageway. A sliding wood door provides access from the bedroom directly into the bathroom. A hinged door on the front of the bath area divides this area from the front of the coach. This very fluid configuration provides privacy as well as ease of movement. A window supplies daytime illumination in the aisleway when desired.
The centrally located bath is huge. It includes a large pie-shaped corner shower that features curved frosted glass panels and door. Ceramic tile dresses the floor. The lavatory counter, semicircular in shape, is topped with a solid-surface counter material and a matching solid-surface bowl. The rounded design of the lavy/cabinet/countertop facilitates movement in the bath area. A porcelain toilet and a large medicine cabinet complete the appointments.
The galley is a showpiece in its own right, made particularly spacious when the front street-side slideout is extended. A substantial solid-surface countertop that measures 29 inches by 75 inches is accompanied by splash panels made from the same material that reach 13 inches up the wall. This counter is made interesting by its nonlinear configuration. The aft end of the countertop incorporates a dogleg leading edge that extends to create an additional 10 inches in depth. Cabinets below the countertop follow the same pleasing flow, which converts directly into increased storage capacity. Two sizable roll-out drawers and an even larger third drawer (the latter for pots and pans) sit below the recessed three-burner LP-gas cooktop. The cooktop converts to additional counter space when its solid-surface cover is put in place. A stainless-steel, double-door residential refrigerator/freezer with ice maker divides the galley from the front living area.
The living area is visually uncomplicated as well as functional. When the two opposing slideouts housing the sofas are extended, the interior width of the coach expands to an impressive 11 feet. Occupants can enjoy the forward-facing LCD television from both sofas. Above the television and behind smoked-glass doors on this side of the floor-to-ceiling room divider are the audiovisual components, with a large cabinet fronted with double center-open pull doors below. Overhead cabinets line the walls above each sofa.
The as-tested price of the Charleston 410FS I reviewed was $258,174, which included these options: automatic digital satellite; battery slideout tray; remote power patio awning with wind sensor; protective paint mask; rear chrome mud flap; RV Sani-Con “no mess” termination valves; side-vision cameras; automatic generator start; exterior entertainment center with 32-inch LCD TV and AM/FM/CD/DVD player and speakers; chrome exterior side-view mirrors; passenger- side laptop console; six-way power pilot and copilot seats; 10-disc CD changer; home theater with surround sound; power sun visors; driver and passenger shades; 12-cubic-foot stainless-steel refrigerator with ice maker; full ceramic tile forward of bedroom; solid wood cabinetry; 72 x 80 king bed; Select Comfort mattresses with dual controls.
Laced with luxury appointments and creative functionality, the Charleston delivers a full complement of features that should impress buyers looking for a coach in this price range.
Forest River Inc., 1800 W. Hively Ave., Elkhart, IN 46517; (574) 522-1368, fax (574) 523-1438; www.forestriverinc.com
Freightliner XC raised rail
8.7-liter Cummins ISL, 425 horsepower @ 2,100 rpm, 1,200 pound-feet torque @ 1,300 rpm
Allison 3000 MH 6-speed
4.63 to 1
Michelin 275/80R22.5 XZE LRG
Neway air suspension
chassis — (2) 12-volt;
house — (4) 6-volt
TRW, 55-degree wheel cut
40 feet 11 inches (with ladder)
12 feet 5 inches (with satellite)
GROSS COMBINATION WEIGHT RATING (GCWR)
GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT RATING (GVWR)
GROSS AXLE WEIGHT RATING (GAWR)
front — 12,000 pounds;
rear —20,000 pounds
WET WEIGHT AS TESTED
front— 9,936 pounds;
rear axle — 18,132 pounds;
total — 28,068 pounds
PAYLOAD AS TESTED
2-pound-density polystyrene foam
FRESH WATER CAPACITY
HOLDING TANK CAPACITIES
black water — 44 gallons;
gray water — 60 gallons
10 gallons gas/electric
15,000-Btu front; 13,500-Btu rear
12 cubic feet, side-by-side
Porcelain, hand flush
coach — 1 year/12,000 miles; chassis – 3 years/50,000 miles; engine — 5 years/100,000 miles
BASE SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE
PRICE AS TESTED