Palm Breeze 32′

BETWEEN ENTRY-LEVEL- AND MID-LEVEL-PRICED CLASS A gas coaches lies a no-man’s land.
Metaphorically it’s like driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas; you pass from one to the
other, but you don’t often stop in the middle because there’s not much in between. However,
Gulf Stream has set up shop in that motorhome void by offering the Palm Breeze line of
coaches. “The Palm Breeze coaches are a step up from most entry-level gas coaches,” says
Scott Elliott, head of marketing at the Nappanee, Indiana-based Gulf Stream manufacturing
facility, “but they’re not up at that mid-level pricing range. As a result, they have
become very popular.” With a $67,270 base price, the 32-foot 7-inch Palm Breeze 8325 comes
with a host of standard features, including a large slideout, a hydraulic-jack leveling
system, an automatically retractable step, a well-equipped galley and much more. Add some
extras, like a microwave ($330), a 15,000-BTU air conditioner ($610), an awning ($650), an
AC generator ($2,040) and a few other items, and the as-tested price is $74,052, which
still represents a good value for a fully loaded Class A motorhome. Perhaps the most
noteworthy standard feature on the Palm Breeze is its large slideout. Located street-side
just aft of the driver’s seat, it contains a 66-inch sofa bed and a dinette. Extended or
not, the functional unit can be put to use either way. The sofa bed’s close proximity to
the two captain’s chairs at the helm and a comfortable barrel chair curbside is an ideal
arrangement for socializing. A nice feature of the Palm Breeze’s slideout — one that some
builders don’t even offer on their high-end products — is its full complement of overhead
cabinets. While it’s not uncommon to see small cabinets in a slideout room, seldom do they
have the height and depth of those in the Palm Breeze. In addition to the sleeping
accommodations provided by the sofa bed, the dinette converts to a small bed by simply
lowering the table to bench height and using the bench backrests as part of the mattress.
But it is best used for children; full-size adults will undoubtedly find their feet
dangling off the end. The primary sleeping accommodations, however, are at the rear of the
coach in private quarters. The way Gulf Stream has it laid out, the bedroom is a nice haven
from the rest of the coach. A plastic accordion curtain provides visual privacy when it’s
time to get away. Thanks to the side windows and an overhead hatch, you can have good cross
ventilation over the queen-size bed even with the privacy curtain closed. The bedroom has
adequate storage compartments, including two shirt closets. Additionally, there is a large
wardrobe just outside the bedroom. We found the bathroom layout not only functional, but
surprisingly comfortable for its size. The glass shower door provides more elegance than a
vinyl curtain and rod, and the linen closet is another nice touch. There is no lock on the
bathroom door, so if you’re camping with friends, that could prove interesting at times.
All Palm Breeze models come with a 60-gallon freshwater tank and two 50-gallon gray- and
black-water holding tanks, which combined allow a decent amount of dry-camping time, and
the tanks are insulated and heated for cold-weather use. The galley in the Palm Breeze is
rather conventional. It features a three-burner stove, an oven, a power-vent range hood, a
microwave and a double-door, two-way refrigerator. Rather than a pull-out pocket-door
pantry, Gulf Stream opted for a pantry closet that looks like it offers somewhat greater
volume. The company also chose to install double stainless-steel sinks, which are quite
handy for washing, rinsing and air-drying dishes, but eat up counterspace in this galley
configuration. Gulf Stream does an excellent job of interior design. Maple wood-finish
cabinets, some of which sport decorative glass and mirror inserts, are rich in appearance
and sturdy. Miniblinds and attractive window treatments further enhance the interior’s
appearance. In a practical gesture, Gulf Stream uses vinyl flooring in front of the galley
and down the hallway into the bathroom, but carpet elsewhere. This look carries on to the
coach’s exterior with its sleek graphics and aerodynamic fiberglass end caps. What is
hidden from view is where this motorhome really shines; Gulf Stream cuts no corners in the
construction of the Palm Breeze. For instance, the entire subfloor is made of all-steel
trusses, either steel I-beams or tubular steel, so there’s no wood framing to squeak,
buckle or rot. Even the storage compartments are galvanized steel. The floor of the Palm
Breeze has carpet with a high-density foam pad over 5/8-inch Structurwood, a highly durable
oriented-strand-board marine-grade decking. Gulf Stream installs this deck in a seamless
manner to eliminate squeaks and the possibility of moisture and cold, or heat, from
penetrating through the cracks. It then insulates the floor with loose fiberglass (about
1-inch thick) that is wrapped with a black polymer. Finally, the entire underbody is
undercoated. In the walls of the coach, Gulf Stream uses a welded-aluminum framework made
of 1×1-inch 12-gauge aluminum tubing. Between the studs goes 1-inch polystyrene insulation.
The exterior has a smooth and lustrous fiberglass skin over Mende board. The Mende board
backing is prelaminated to the fiberglass when Gulf Stream receives it, which costs a
little more money, but offers the advantage of being totally seamless. On the other side of
the studs, a lauan wallboard with decorative wall paneling is installed. To its credit,
Gulf Stream goes to the expense of using a vacuum-lamination assembly process. This system
ensures that the glue is evenly distributed and secures all components, not just on the
studs, which helps eliminate unsightly vertical lines, or telegraphing, that is sometimes
seen on side walls. Gulf Stream also uses vacuum-bonding on the roof. The skeletal
structure is a 1-1/2-inch tubular aluminum dome frame that ensures good water drainage.
Approximately 4-1/2 inches of polystyrene insulation goes in the middle, between layers of
vacuum-bonded lauan decking. The top exterior is finished in EPDM rubber over a lauan
backer. While the company prides itself in its construction techniques, its choice of
chassis is something of a miscue. The rig’s 16,640-pound wet weight leaves only 1,360
pounds of payload capacity before exceeding the chassis’ 18,000-pound gross vehicle weight
rating (gvwr). That divides out to 1,040 pounds of front-axle capacity and just 320 pounds
of rear-axle capacity. Owners will be OK up front, but trying to pack all the goods into a
coach with only 320 pounds of payload on the rear axle is virtually impossible. Gulf Stream
might be able to improve loading capabilities by redistributing some of the weight through
design changes, but the use of Ford’s 20,500-pound-rated chassis would certainly solve the
problem. The test coach is powered with a Ford 6.8-liter V-10 gasoline engine that produces
310 hp at 4,250 rpm and 425 lb-ft of torque at 3,250 rpm. Performance was impressive,
especially when going up a long 5 percent grade where we maintained 52 mph at 3,500 rpm in
second gear. On another occasion, we got caught in uphill traffic on a 6 percent grade that
forced us to slow. The best we could muster, after we had lost our momentum, was 43 mph,
which is still good performance for a 16,640-pound motorhome. In a series of 0- to 60-mph
acceleration runs, we timed the Palm Breeze at 20.1 seconds, which is fairly typical
performance for this size coach. It is quicker on the low end, as indicated in its
16.6-second 40- to 60-mph acceleration time. As long as drivers calculate their passing
carefully, they’ll have no problem. We took the Palm Breeze on a variety of roads, and it
handled them all quite well. In straight freeway traffic, the coach was mild-mannered and
tracked well, so we had no trouble staying in our lane. When meandering along curvy
mountain roads, it was equally well behaved and easy to control. We even took it off the
beaten path at times and were pleased at the way the suspension handled it. The Palm
Breeze’s performance did a lot to make the driver feel at ease, but so did the layout of
the cockpit. The adjustable captain’s chairs were extremely comfortable, even after
spending a few hours in them. The high backs, fold-down armrests and dense foam padding all
contributed to an enjoyable experience at the helm. The instrument cluster is well arranged
for quick and easy reading, and all vehicle controls of importance are within reach of the
driver’s seat. That includes the controls for the Dewald stabilizer jacks, which are
positioned to the lower left side of the tilt steering wheel and make for fast campsite
coach leveling. Also within easy reach, for both the driver and passenger, are folding
drink holders conveniently mounted on the coach’s side walls. We especially liked the
expansive view offered by the panoramic windshield and high side windows. The only downside
is that while it allows exceptional visibility out, it also permits a great deal of
sunlight in, and not all of it can be blocked from the driver’s view, especially when it
shines in from the side. But that’s what sunglasses are for, right? And at day’s end, when
you’ve positioned the motorhome so you can sit back in the coach with your favorite
beverage and look out the windshield at a gorgeous vista, any earlier discomfort pales in
significance. That gorgeous vista and its environs can be accessed via the new Palm Breeze,
comfortably and in style, without costing an arm and a leg. Thanks to Gulf Stream, now the
only no-man’s land you need to worry about is one you can afford to drive through. Gulf
Stream Coach Inc., P.O. Box 1005, Nappanee, Indiana 46550; (800) 289-8787, extension 3288
Article by: Randy Scott Photos by: Randy and Erik Scott

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