Road Test: Sportsmobile RB50 4WD
October 22, 2010
Filed under Motorhome Reviews
While most motorhomes are like luxurious rolling living rooms, a Sportsmobile is completely different. With this 4WD Class B, the trip is definitely an adventure.
Although the company will build its product to order on a GM, Ford or Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis, 4WD is not available on the GM chassis. The Sprinter chassis uses its own factory-delivered 4WD system.
Interestingly, Sportsmobile’s proprietary 4WD system used in the Ford motorhomes is considered so well-built that a number of law enforcement and government agencies needing a van-based 4WD unit are regular customers.
Right up front we need to be clear that this RV is not for those on tight budgets and it’s tough to pin down a price on a typical Sportsmobile. That’s because every one is custom-built. The one we tested here is stickered at around $100,000 because it has just about every option in the book, although we’re sure a determined shopper could find something else to add to the list.
At that price, why choose a 4WD Class B? Because it’s easy to drive, can be parked almost anywhere and can tow a boat or other toys. And this is a motorhome that can take you anywhere.
The standard Regular Body (RB) 50 4WD motorhome we tested included the signature Sportsmobile Penthouse fold-down-roof hardtop ($5,432) with fabric side walls. In travel mode the top offers a low profile and is aerodynamic for reduced wind resistance. In camp, the roof lifts easily with the assistance of the optional electric top feature ($1,094) to provide 6 feet 8 inches of interior headroom.
Other optional features, such as the utilitarian Trojan front and rear bumpers ($2,158 and $2,523), Warn M12000 winch ($1,198), Hella fog lamps ($236) and Bushwacker flares ($412) certainly helped to increase the RV’s adventure image. The winch and lamps would be worth every penny when needed.
After loading the motorhome with our gear, an easy task because of the many storage cubbyholes built in, we headed up the highway for the brief high-speed part of our jaunt into the Sierra Nevada east of Fresno, Calif.
The motorhome’s 6.0-l turbodiesel engine easily pushed the Sportsmobile up the grades with power to spare. The optional BFGoodrich tires on 17-inch custom rims ($2,485) howled a little, but that’s expected from an aggressive tire design. Those gnarly tires would be welcome friends when the paved highway turned to dirt Forest Service roads leading to those choice secret campgrounds. We encountered a little bit of bump steer on irregular road surfaces, but nothing obnoxious. The custom front leaf-spring suspension is firm, but not stiff.
The optional two-tone Ultrasuede captain’s chairs (a $307 exchange and we think worth it for long trips) made the ride as comfortable as desired for a 4WD heavy hauler. A full complement of Ford’s comfort and convenience options, plus a darn good stereo, helped the miles roll by easily.
Off the pavement is where the Sportsmobile’s real “adventure” becomes apparent. The floor-mounted 4WD shifter is readily accessible and easy to use. The van offers surprising rough-road agility limited only by the driver’s enthusiasm for travel in really tough spots.
Our campsite at Whiskers Campground, above Bass Lake, was easy to access and provided peace and quiet in beautiful Sierra Nevada surroundings.There’s no getting around the fact that making comfortable use of a smaller motorhome like this one takes some practice and patience. By judicious use of duffle bags and packing no more than needed, and shuffling things back and forth as needed during meals or sleep time, we found the Sportsmobile comfortable and cozy. A 5-gallon water jug kept us in freshwater, and augmented the motorhome’s 16-gallon onboard supply. Our large ice chest helped supplement the refrigerator.
This motorhome featured a 2.7-cubic-foot, all-electric refrigerator and a microwave oven as the built-in galley appliances. A small LP-gas tank plumbed to quick-disconnect fittings made it possible to run a portable LP-gas stove, and the company also supplied a small portable butane-fired stove. A combined solar panel, inverter and AGM 4D battery setup powered the electric appliances in this vehicle when off the grid, but personally, we would opt for a traditional LP-gas-based system for such a vehicle.
The Espar Airtronic diesel-fueled furnace ($2,674) worked great and operated quietly, and the “flat plate” water heater ($862) used a heat exchanger with the engine coolant to provide hot shower or washing water. That meant the engine needed to be running, or recently running, to heat the water properly, and that could be a problem for some users. LP-gas-fueled appliances are also available, of course.
This motorhome is well set up for those RVers who like to cook outside. The Class B includes a foldaway cabinet/work shelf/storage unit on the side door that supports a portable stove and some kitchen utensils or supplies. We used this setup every day, and the awning placement means it’s also a rainy-weather facility. The sink’s gray water drains into an 8.5-gallon tank. An optional quick-release shower hose ($280) fitting was in the rear storage compartment so bathing took place outside at the aft end of this motorhome. Such fitting placement is entirely up to the customer and can be located elsewhere in the coach if desired. There’s no bathroom in this model, however a Porta Potti stored in its own special garage is included.
We especially value a good nights’ sleep when camping, and this motorhome delivered. We slept on the penthouse-level bed that measures about 44 inches by 72 inches. The bed is 53 inches up from the floor so some climbing using the kitchen counter is needed. Once there, we zipped open the large surrounding vinyl windows to expose the bug screens and enjoyed marvelous flow-through ventilation. Privacy flaps are standard equipment inside.
We’re both full-size adults, and we found the nicely padded platform a comfortable place for a sound night’s sleep. Users can choose to sleep on the lower fold-down sofa bed and rear padded platform combination as well.
A small motorhome like this Class B certainly isn’t for everyone. The high cost/compact size conundrum doesn’t fit many people. But if a 4WD motorhome that screams “adventure” and is capable of taking you almost anywhere and keeping you comfortable in camp sounds like your idea of fun, the Sportsmobile may be for you.