Motorhomes have evolved through countless incarnations and technical advancements over the years, a metamorphosis driven in large part by consumer tastes, economic issues and manufacturers trying to field a new or improved product each year. Nonetheless, many buyers can no longer afford or are willing to pay high prices for mega-built, over-accessorized coaches. More consumers are now looking for back-to-basics models that contain the essential performance and residential features needed for comfortable, efficient RVing without busting their wallets.
In response to public feedback requesting a motorhome that meets these expectations in form, function and price, a group of engineers at Thor Motor Coach of Elkhart, Ind., went back to their drawing boards in efforts to develop the ideal, economically feasible Class A from the ground up. The result is the new A.C.E. EVO 29.1.
“My engineering team had a special mission to create a value-packed, innovative motorhome with an entry-level price point that had not been de-contented or cheapened in the process,” Bill Fenech, the company’s president and CEO, explained in an interview. “My staff took what users claimed were the best things from Class A and Class C motorhomes and combined them into our new A.C.E. — Class A and C evolution rolled into one vehicle.”
We recently had the opportunity to field-test an A.C.E. EVO from Road Bear RV Rentals & Sales in Agoura Hills, Calif., to see just how well Thor Motor Coach had met its overall design and pricing objectives. If first impressions are any indicator, our test coach with its compact, streamlined profile shows that something quite different is afoot.
Externally, the A.C.E., which measures out at 29 feet 7 inches, still retains the appearance of a Class A, but borrows a bit of Class C DNA with its distinctive front eyebrow ridge above a downsized, one-piece windshield. Added to this is an eye-catching chrome grille that opens for easy access to the engine compartment, and an attractive basic graphics package over white, gelcoat fiberglass side walls (when full-body paint is not ordered). Altogether, the smart-looking coach with front and rear molded end caps, plus a rigid steel rear bumper, sets a new Class A standard in form as well as curb appeal.
Our test unit carried a suggested base retail price considerably lower than the average Class A at $88,853, but still contained a full complement of necessary amenities and self-containment features needed for long-term travel and livability. Even as an entry-level model, the A.C.E. still has many standard features including a 24-inch LCD TV with swing-out arm in the living area, a china toilet, outside shower and electric drop-down bunk that adds significantly to its residential utility.
Besides the basics, our motorhome with its front living/dinette area, midcoach galley, split bathroom/shower facility and rear bedroom with queen bed came with enough options to make life on the road even more pleasurable. The coach contained useful extras such as a 4.0-kW genset ($488) and a backup camera with monitor ($743) that helped boost the final suggested price to $91,927. You can also add hydraulic leveling jacks for $3,675 and full-body paint for $8,243.
Powertrain and Performance
Sliding into the A.C.E.’s well-padded captain’s chairs, we fired up the coach’s big Triton 6.8-l, 362-hp V-10 engine, dropped the five-speed TorqShift transmission’s shift lever into drive, and headed for a nearby freeway. The cockpit had the usual Class A roominess and feel about it, with the exception of a narrower, one-piece windshield. Surprisingly, this feature provided sufficient forward and peripheral views of our surroundings with no adverse effects, and proved to be an excellent departure from traditional Class A glass that often tends to let in much more heat and sunlight than one might want.
The coach is built on Ford’s robust and proven F53 gasoline chassis, and for the most part handled well throughout the majority of our test.
It is uncertain whether it was the chassis’ relatively shorter 190-inch wheelbase, its spring rates in relation to lighter coach weight or 19.5-inch wheels and tires, but hitting several unexpected bumps and dips in the freeway at 65 mph produced a pretty bumpy ride, which is fairly common with the Ford chassis. We also noted much more noise in the cockpit when traversing coarse highway surfaces that could be a result of not enough sound-deadening materials in the engine compartment.
Trying to read the dashboard’s black-backed gauge clusters also proved to be a challenge. I’m not sure if it was my tired, old eyes or something else, but I couldn’t see a thing for several seconds after glancing from the brightly lit outside to the darkened gauges inside, until my eyes somewhat adjusted. Even then, gauge readings were not all that easy to discern.
On a more positive note, the 7-ton unit plus passengers and cargo had no problems where raw power was concerned. Early timed acceleration runs were fairly representative for a vehicle of this size, as it turned in 0 to 60 mph runs averaging 19.1 seconds. Ample passing power was also noted, with 40 to 60 mph times averaging 9.7 seconds.
Pulling several grades in the 6 to 7 percent range didn’t slow us down much either, and we were able to maintain 50 to 65 mph under most circumstances, unless slowed down by traffic. Coming off the other side of these passes was made easier and safer using the powertrain’s tow/haul feature that downshifts the transmission with a mere tap on the brake pedal. For the most part, we were able to easily descend any given downgrade in the 7 percent range averaging 55 mph at 3,800 rpm in second gear without having to use our brakes.
At slower speeds through busy tourist towns, we easily made our way along city streets and through several parking lots, thanks mainly to the unit’s tight steering and good highway feedback. The coach was also capable of quick stops when unexpected traffic impediments popped up. Later in the day, we effortlessly navigated our way through the arcane interior confines of an RV park with no problems whatsoever.
Though the A.C.E. proved to be a very versatile, worthy performer under just about all circumstances, it still had the gasoline-powered chassis of the traditional Class A, and the overall weight that goes with it. As such, we were not surprised that we averaged 7.1 mpg for our trip.
Some of the biggest news regarding the A.C.E. is its uncomplicated yet well sorted out interior arrangement, with residential amenities that are friendly to humans as well as to pets. The A.C.E. is almost like the Swiss army knife of motorhomes, offering a collection of popular, user-preferred standards along with a few other things unique to an entry-level Class A.
The unit’s floorplan is not new to the industry, nor is its metal-framed, thermo-bonded fiberglass side wall coachwork. However, it does combine most of the necessary motorhome elements for two adults plus several guests in less than 30 feet. No raffish or kitschy interior adornments can be found here. Instead, every feature is simple, well thought out, and conveniently placed for optimum usability.
You could almost say that the engineers have left no space unused in this freshened-up layout. A classic example of this is the twin-dish kibble station that slides out drawer-like from beneath the shower stall.
Décor within the motorhome is the company’s Mink collection, which includes cherry wood cabinetry, brushed nickel hardware and tile-patterned vinyl flooring in varying shades of brown. Counter surfaces in the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom areas are hard surface composites using a lightly flecked pattern, while window coverings consist of tan, pleated nightshades. As intended, the interior décor is very basic, but also subtly stylish, and intended to endure lots of abuse without showing it.
After a day of roaming rural byways and suburban streets, we finally put in for the evening at a full-service RV park. Since the afternoon was warm, we flipped on the ducted air conditioning, popped out the kitchen/living room slide and settled in.
A compact, compartmentalized kitchen and booth dinette are located streetside in the unit’s lone slideout, which measures about 8.5 feet long by 2 feet deep. During our stay, we found the dinette made an ideal place to kick back and relax, and also a handy location for parking our laptop and other miscellaneous items (a dash-mounted, slideout computer tray is also available in the cockpit).
Putting dinner together the first evening, we found the streetside kitchen’s immediate proximity to the dinette made getting meals from the stovetop to the table convenient. Even though diminutive in size, the kitchen includes lots of cupboards and drawers within arm’s length and a handy pullout pantry for canned goods and such.
Making things even more comfy, the dinette’s scratch-resistant, vinyl-covered seat pads plus those of the 60-inch-long curbside convertible sofa had received an extra padding option ($45) that was well worth the money. Whether dining, spread out on the couch reading a book or catching a program on the amidships-mounted, 24-inch LCD TV, the forward living area proved to be quite comfortable and residential.
Thor takes pride in its extra-wide entryway that also houses an added assortment of handily placed storage bins. One such cranny, called a “mud room,” is situated in the side of the stairwell, and is helpful for stowing wet, dirty items. Another is a drawer built beneath a step, and can be used as a small toolbox. Topping things at the head of the stairs is a tall, shallow closet for storing a broom and a couple of hanging jackets.
Stepping up and into the coach is aided further by a convenient exterior grab handle for extra support and safety. What is slightly incongruous, though, is there is no similar support device on the way out.
Bathing in the 35-inch by 22-inch shower stall worked out well, with premium, brushed nickel shower fixtures, 84 inches of head space and a “micro anti-bacterial” shower curtain that kept water on the inside of the stall where it belonged.
At night after busy days in the outdoors, we snuggled up in the rear, 60-inch by 74-inch queen bed. We appreciated the fixed queen that gave us refreshing sleep, while the room also contained overhead and side cabinets with side drawers for stowing clothing and other accessories. Walking space around the bed was pretty tight because of the compact floorplan.
Those who wish to take along additional passengers will appreciate the A.C.E.’s additional sleeping options. Key among these is a 50-inch by 73-inch electrically actuated drop-down bed above the cockpit, which replicates overhead sleepers found in many Class C’s. If more space is needed, the sofa folds out into a nice platform of 40 by 60 inches, and the dinette can even be converted to a tidy, 38-inch by 60-inch berth.
Loading our test unit before departing, we made full use of its cavernous rear pass-through storage compartment by tossing in a heap of stuff: large folding chairs, a couple of coolers, tool boxes, and a jumble of other outdoor gear. We never did come close to filling up this spacious 8-foot-wide area, which is accessible from both sides of the unit via large doors, and has a generous 85 cubic feet of storage capacity. We also used the smaller street and curbside compartments for other items such as firewood.
Because of the chassis’ 16,000-pound gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr), and 14,400-pound wet weight including water and LP-gas, users are left with a comparatively modest cargo capacity of 1,560 pounds (not including passengers). With two adults, and maybe a few kids and a pet onboard, the coach’s maximum cargo capacity would more than likely be in the 1,000-pound range.
Some might suggest that Thor Motor Coach’s A.C.E. EVO 29.1 Class A is the same old sixes and sevens, just done another way. In our estimation, this would not be an accurate assessment.
Thor’s A.C.E. concept succeeds in combining the best of what a Class A coach can offer, with a few Class C features thrown in for good measure. The melding of these two engineering traditions ultimately results in a back-to-basics, affordable and very usable motorhome that should have more than above average
2011 THOR A.C.E. EVO 29.1
Large rear pass-through storage bay with 85 cubic feet of space. Dedicated exterior compartment can accept more than four batteries, depending on size. Pet-friendly items including a retractable kibble station, scratch-resistant vinyl floor covering, curbside front window for exterior viewing. Easy access to front engine area through hinged grille plates.
Cockpit area a bit noisier than most when vehicle is under acceleration and when traversing rough highway surfaces. Black dash backing made reading gauges difficult under brighter sunlight conditions. No grab handle available when exiting coach.
fuel economy: 7.1 mpg
0-60 mph: 19.1 sec
40-60 mph: 9.7 sec
model: Ford F53
engine: Triton 6.8-L V-10
sae hp: 362 hp @ 4,750 rpm
torque: 457 lb-ft @ 3,250 rpm
transmission: 5-speed TorqShift with Tow-Haul
axle ratio: 4.88:1
brakes, f/r: disc/disc with abs
suspension, f/r: tapered multi-leaf
fuel cap: 80 gal
warranty: 3 yrs/36,000 miles
ext length: 29′ 7″
ext width: 8′ 3″
ext height: 11′ 11″
int width: 8′ 0″
int height: 7′ 0″
construction: steel/aluminum framing, fiberglass skin with Thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) roof, polystyrene block foam insulation
freshwater cap: 50 gal
black-water cap: 29 gal
gray-water cap: 44 gal
water-heater cap: 6 gal
lp-gas cap: 20 gal
air conditioner: 13,500 btu
furnace: 35,000 btu
refrigerator: 6 cu ft
converter: 55 amp
battery (3): 1 12-volt chassis,
2 12-volt coach
ac generator: 4.0 kw
base msrp: $88,853
msrp as tested: $91,927
warranty: 1 yr/15,000 miles
(water and heater, fuel, lp-gas tanks full; no supplies or passengers)
front axle: 5,920 lbs
rear axle: 8,520 lbs
total: 14,440 lbs
gawr, f/r: 6,500/11,000 lbs
gvwr/gcwr: 16,000/26,000 lbs
roccc: 1,560 lbs
(deduct weight of passengers for net cargo capacity)
gawr: gross axle weight rating
gvwr: gross vehicle weight rating
gcwr: gross combination weight rating
roccc: realistic occupant and cargo carrying capacity (full water, no passengers)
Thor Motor Coach