In the tradition of Lewis & Clark, here’s an Expedition — a 36-foot diesel motorhome — for the rest of us.
By Bob Zagami
More than 200 years ago — 1804 to 1806, to be exact — Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, two United States Army soldiers, set out on their historic westward expedition to the Pacific coast and back in an effort to fully understand just what President Thomas Jefferson had acquired from France in the Louisiana Purchase. The agreement encompassed all or part of what would later become 14 states and two Canadian provinces. This area is frequented by modern-day RVers, some in their own version of an Expedition — motorhome, that is — created by Fleetwood RV. My, how times have changed!
Our journey with a 2011 Fleetwood Expedition took us up the Maine coast from Portland to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park at the height of fall foliage, with breathtaking color and scenic landscapes that could easily grace the pages of National Geographic.
The Expedition’s new 36M floor plan, with dual facing slideouts in the living room/kitchen area and in the bedroom suite, makes for a spacious motorhome that assures its occupants will not be tripping over each other. The dramatic kitchen galley along the street-side slide is complemented by a comfortable dinette and sofa on the curb side of the motorhome. The swiveling Ultraleather cockpit seats, with reclining back and slide controls, complete a well-thought-out space for entertainment and relaxation while on the road.
The new Fleetwood RV continues to impress many industry observers with a solid launch of each new product, and the Expedition did not disappoint us. The coach sits atop the proven Freightliner chassis, which features Fleetwood’s patented Power Bridge construction, and is driven by a more-than-adequate Cummins 360-horsepower ISB 6.7-liter diesel engine coupled with an Allison 3000 MH 6-speed transmission with electric shifter. The shifter is conveniently located on the driver’s-side panel, but I did get confused a few times, because the reverse button is in the front position and the drive button is in the rear position. If possible, I would like to see those two controls reversed on the panel to reflect what I think many drivers would consider a more normal placement. In time, I did become comfortable with the placement and stopped hitting the “D” button when I wanted to back up. (Company officials noted that the placement of these controls is an Allison, not a Fleetwood, design.)
The unit moves smoothly at highway speeds and has ample power to pull out and ahead of slower-moving trucks, leaving them a distant image in the excellent backup camera or mirror-mounted side-view cameras. The coach was equally maneuverable when navigated in tight spots, and we had no problem working our way through bumper-to-bumper traffic on the narrow streets of Bar Harbor among pedestrians and tour buses, the result of four cruise ships being in port that day. This motorhome proved very easy and comfortable to drive.
As the entry-level member of the Fleetwood diesel motorhome lineup, the Expedition would be an excellent full-time coach. The 36M feels much larger than its moderate size (36 feet 7.5 inches), thanks to its excellent layout and abundant storage, both inside and out. Optional features such as the stackable washer-dryer in the bedroom closet and the central vacuum system make your home-away-from-home quite livable if you are using it for touring vacations, long weekends, or as your primary residence.
In addition to the 36M, the 2011 Expedition also comes in a 38-foot full-wall-slide model with standard bunk beds.
Let’s go to the rear of the coach and work our way toward the driver’s seat for this review. The master bedroom suite is spacious, comfortable, and functional. Across the rear of the coach you will find a large, cedar-lined closet and the stackable washer-dryer units. This particular unit was equipped with a king-size bed. A dresser and a 22-inch Sony TV are housed in the street-side slideout facing the bed. As in many motorhomes, when occupants opt for the king-size bed, they give up nightstands. To many RVers, however, that is a more than acceptable trade-off for the larger sleeping accommodations.
Did we say sleep? Each occupant gets to select his or her own comfort level with the adjustable air mattress that was included as optional equipment in this motorhome.
Moving forward, we find a large garden shower on the street side of the coach and a private toilet and sink area curbside. The entire bathroom area and bedroom can be closed off from the front of the Expedition by drawing shut a pocket door. The shower is adequate in size. With a coach in this price range, I would like to see a single mixer valve for the shower instead of separate hot and cold faucets, as the latter can provide a few surprises while the user tries to regulate a comfortable temperature. This particular shower also did not allow for a total hands-free operation of the shower head, which was restricted by the loop holding the fixture.
The Expedition 36M is a great motorhome for entertaining guests. As noted earlier, the facing slideouts, housing the couch and dinette on the curb side and the long galley kitchen on the street side, open to cavernous proportions. It would be difficult to bump into each other when both slides are extended, even with several guests aboard.
A corner-mounted Sony 32-inch LCD HDTV at the rear of the kitchen is easily viewable by the cook and any occupants who may be watching from the couch or dinette. Some people who enjoy a much larger television may not prefer this configuration, but we found it to be just right and a good location. A Sony 5.1 Home Theater System with built-in AM/FM/DVD and surround-sound speakers provides theater-quality entertainment throughout the coach. If not on cable or satellite, the unit is equipped with a standard television antenna with a signal booster. However, you really have to search for the booster, which is placed at the rear of the cabinet over the driver’s head, and most people would have to step on the driver’s seat to reach it. Moving this switch forward and to the left wall would make it much more convenient, in my opinion. But this is a slight inconvenience when you consider the small amount of time most RVers spend using a traditional antenna system versus the availability of cable and the prewired satellite feature that allows you to upgrade your entertainment options.
The motorhome cook will appreciate the accommodations in the galley, which include a GE 1-cubic-foot convection-microwave oven, a three-burner high-output range with sealed burners, and even a traditional oven. My wife did point out that there was only one electrical outlet in the kitchen and that she would like to see at least one more, perhaps at the end of the counter near the television.
In the “little things that matter” category, the small shelf with cup holders behind the couch is a nice touch. I also would like to see similar cup holders added in the dinette tabletop. Illumination above the couch operates on a single switch, and the lights cannot be individually controlled. I’d like to see the same lighting setup used here as is implemented over the bed, where each person can control his or her own lighting requirements. Somebody watching television on the couch may not want a light on directly overhead, whereas his or her partner may want to read a book and would prefer an overhead light.
Our test unit also was outfitted with the optional 19-cubic-foot residential refrigerator, which further enhanced its livability. If we were going to spend more time on the road, I’m sure the optional central vacuum system would have received plenty of use. This truly was a home on wheels — with all the amenities of the home you leave behind when traveling.
Also impressive in the Expedition is the amount of storage space the engineers designed into the coach. There is very little wasted space here, especially in the bedroom and kitchen where you might not be able to use it all. (Interior storage capacity is 221 cubic feet, and exterior storage capacity equals 139 cubic feet.)
The cockpit was comfortable and well-designed with easily readable dials and controls. I liked the cup holder to the left of the driver. There are no cup holders on the small shelf and magazine rack up front. This unit could probably be enlarged, and then the shelf might be able to house a few cup holders also. The clarity and color of the backup and side-view cameras was outstanding, and the unit was placed right where the driver could quickly check it and get his or her eyes back on the road.
Many motorhomes have the automatic leveling controls within easy reach of the driver. Fleetwood has included them in a central electronics command center above the copilot. Personally, I liked the fact that they were placed with all of the controls for the two forward slideouts, as well as other switches. Putting all of the important controls in one location makes it convenient when you have stopped for the day.
The optional powered sun visors were a nice touch, both for handling stray sunlight during the day and when closing off the front windshield in the evening.
Although the frosty fall air kept us from spending much time outside, the coach was equipped with a great optional exterior entertainment center located at a convenient height for viewing movies or sporting events while enjoying the company of guests outside. The flush-mounted exterior system includes another Sony 32-inch LCD HDTV television and a splash-proof AM/FM/DVD sound system with speakers. Just above this area is the Dometic A&E WeatherPro power awning with wind sensor and remote control. A separate awning over the door area certainly comes in handy when encountering inclement weather.
Around the perimeter of the coach, you will find additional abundant pass-through storage space outfitted with interior lights and side-swinging bay doors. The nose of the coach houses a powerful 8-kilowatt Onan Quiet Diesel generator, with a remote-start switch, to power the 50-amp service when electrical hookups are not available.
The new Fleetwood RV has incorporated lean manufacturing techniques into its production environment, and this clearly shows in the form, fit, and function of the company’s new lineup of motorhomes. One example is weight. We like to weigh test coaches to validate the statistics published by the manufacturer, and, ideally, we try to find truck scales that can measure all four wheels separately and the left/right side weights. Those scales are few and far between these days, and you won’t find them in Maine. However, we did locate a CAT truck scale and were able to weigh the front and rear axles, with impressive results.
With full tanks of diesel fuel, propane, and water, the coach weighed in at 26,880 pounds against a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 32,400 pounds, leaving another 5,520 pounds for occupants and all their belongings. The front axle weighed in at 8,560 pounds against the manufacturer’s 12,400-pound rating, and the rear axle came in at 18,320 pounds against the rated 20,000 pounds allotted. This is excellent weight distribution, in my opinion. The coach can still pull another 10,000 pounds attached to the hitch and ball at the rear of the unit.
Our driving consisted mostly of the back roads and small towns of central Maine where we encountered lots of two-lane roads, traffic lights, and fellow motorists on a long holiday weekend, resulting in 8.8 mpg for the trip. We did fit in a long run on Interstate 95 that demonstrated the Expedition’s outstanding road manners mentioned earlier in the article.
With more highway miles, I believe this coach could easily deliver between 9 and 10 mpg, depending on driving habits. Thanks to its 100-gallon fuel tank, you will have plenty of trouble-free and enjoyable driving miles before you have to visit a fuel station again.
As the entry-level motorhome in Fleetwood’s new Type A diesel lineup, this is one impressive unit. With a base manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $219,443, the Expedition is certainly a worthy contender in its price range and could challenge more expensive coaches equipped with fewer amenities. Its as-tested price came to $227,605 with these options: rear rock guard; exterior entertainment center; stackable washer-dryer; residential refrigerator; clear front mask; window awning package; central vacuum system; power sun visors; keyless entry; king air mattress.
Fleetwood is back, and it’s apparent the company is setting new standards of quality as it journeys into the future. Let the exploration begin!
Fleetwood RV Inc., 1031 U.S. 224 E., Decatur, IN 46733; (800)-322-8216; http://www.fleetwoodrv.com/
2011 Fleetwood Expedition
Freightliner XCM Power Bridge Chassis
Cummins ISB 6.7-liter, 360 horsepower @ 2,400 rpm, 800 pound-feet torque @ 1,800 rpm
Allison 3000 MH 6-speed with electronic shifter
4.78 to 1
Goodyear G670RV 275/70
Accuride Acculite 22.5
front — Neway 12,400-pound;
rear — ARS 20,000-pound R-Series
Sachs, front and rear
Delco Remy 160-amp
chassis — Alliance 1131, Group 31, maintenance-free;
coach — (4) 6-volt deep cycle
2,000-watt pure sine wave with remote
Onan 8-kw Quiet Diesel
36 feet 7.5 inches
12 feet 10 inches with roof A/C
GROSS COMBINATION WEIGHT RATING (GCWR)
GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT RATING (GVWR)
GROSS AXLE WEIGHT RATING (GAWR)
front — 12,400 pounds;
rear — 20,000 pounds
(weighed with full water, propane, and fuel)
front — 8,560 pounds;
rear — 18,320 pounds;
total — 26,880 pounds
sleeping capacity — 5;
seating capacity — 8;
cargo — 7,462 pounds
house — aluminum; chassis/Power Bridge — steel
FRESH WATER CAPACITY
HOLDING TANK CAPACITIES
gray — 75 gallons;
black — 50 gallons
demand water pump with filter
dual furnaces — (1) 20,000-Btu, (1) 25,000-Btu
dual roof-mounted units, high-efficiency with solar panel
Dometic 12.2-cubic-foot residential-style four-door (standard);
19-cubic-foot residential refrigerator with two additional batteries and one additional inverter (optional)
porcelain with water saver
coach — 1 year/15,000 miles limited, 3 years/45,000 miles structural;
chassis — 3 years/50,000 miles (Freightliner)
BASE SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE
PRICE AS TESTED