The Luxurious 2012 Fleetwood Bounder 35K
October 31, 2011
Filed under Motorhome Reviews
Quick! Someone tell Fleetwood’s President John Draheim that they’re sending Bounders down the luxury coach assembly line! So went the comments as we surveyed the 2012 Bounder. Clad in a handsome, new full-body paint scheme (with a choice of three more), and looking more like a Fleetwood Discovery clone, the Bounder promises a new direction for the iconic front-gas ’Roo coach.
As gasoline-engine motorhome sales continue to “fuel”buyer interest in a convalescing economy, manufacturers are capitalizing on that interest by migrating features and amenities from larger, more expensive diesel coaches into their best-selling gas lines. The results are stellar and after more than 41,000 Bounders built since its debut in 1985, the new Bounder represents the culmination of owner feedback and manufacturer redesign of a true iconic coach.
Underneath that striking full-body paint you’ll find generous lighted exterior saddle bag storage compartments behind insulated aluminum side-hinged doors. One large undivided driver-side storage compartment is integrated into the 30-inch-deep by 16-foot-wide cabin slide room, eliminating noggin’ knockin’ trips under the slide when retrieving gear. The rear pass-through compartment is capable of handling ladders, fishing rods and skis but a lack of simple tie downs in the slick rotomolded compartments allows unwanted cargo shift if not fully packed. A set of nonskid, hose-off compartment mats would be a welcome convenience, even if offered as an option. With more than 10,000 miles already clocked on this test coach, it was reassuring to see that the compartment weatherseals successfully stopped dust and water infiltration, giving the compartment drains little to do.
The lighted utility compartment is fully enclosed and protected from road debris. Inside, it houses the 50-amp service cord (equipped with the $560 optional Neutral Loss Protection), manual dump controls and hose connections all within easy reach. An exterior shower hose for cleanups is also provided. Cold weather campers will appreciate the heated holding tank compartments (standard equipment) with winterizing valves and drains, and the whole-coach water filter, which is also protected from debris and cold temps.
Engine and transmission servicing needs on the Ford chassis are readily accessible behind the locking drop-down hood panel that has space to stow the long-handled windshield squeegee you will need to buy for the Bounder’s enormous panoramic one-piece front glass. With fluids checked and the hood locked, a sharp eye might even detect the optional ($1,225) Diamond-Shield protective paint mask.
Decatur, We Have A Problem
We were pleasantly surprised by the optional ($1,932) exterior entertainment center with a 32-inch flat-screen Sony TV and Pioneer stereo combo. It’s the first outside entertainment center to debut on any of Fleetwood’s Class A gas coaches. From the comments we received about it while camped at beautiful Flying Flags RV Resort and Campground in Buellton, Calif., the outside TV setup should become a popular option.
And while we’re talking about the Bounder’s AV system, we hope Fleetwood will focus more effort in simplifying the interior TV AV system. With the optional ($1,148) auto-locating satellite dish, the optional ($1,267) 32-inch LCD TV in the cockpit, the optional ($553) Blu-ray home theater system, inputs for the roof TV antenna and the resort’s cable system, we found it frustrating to send the correct signal source to the TV. We called NASA for help, but they didn’t pick up, so maybe a simple “cheat sheet” is needed. A closer look revealed that the Blu-ray player, which is located in the overhead cockpit cabinet, is very difficult to reach and operate without having to stand on the engine doghouse or driver’s seat. We’d like to see the AV system relocated away from the driver’s position to a lower, more sensible and accessible location.
Family Room Plan
This floorplan immediately caught our eye, leading off with a forward galley and dinette behind the cockpit and the main seating area aft of the dinette. While most floorplans combine both seating and dining areas around the perimeter of an open cabin, Fleetwood has created two distinct areas with the use of its new expanding Transformer Sofa serving as a room divider. Families and couples will find this arrangement appealing as activities can continue at the standard drop-table-style facing dinette or the optional ($1,358) jackknife cushion dinette, while conversations, a movie or a good book can be enjoyed from this very comfortable sofa.
Releasing the hidden sofa latch extends the end of the sofa into the room creating a full L-shaped sofa with additional seating. It also creates a unique and intimate family room feel, which is centered around the wall-mounted 40-inch Sony LCD TV and optional ($315) 5,200-Btu heating fireplace. The impression of a cozy study is further enhanced by the optional ($490) MCD Innovations day and night shades and the decorative wood-trimmed glass panel above the TV that is back-lit and dimmable for added ambiance. But true to Bounder’s functional heritage, whenever maximum floor space is needed again, simply retract the sofa.
The galley is well equipped for any occasion with a solid-surface counter and a deep twin-basin sink with a residential-style pull-out faucet. Countertop space is enlarged by using the twin sink basin covers but would benefit more from a surprisingly absent fold-up countertop extension next to the sink and entry. A convection microwave handles warm-ups and baking chores assisted by the standard three-burner cooktop or select the optional ($217) cooktop and gas oven combo for the holiday turkey. The 12-cubic-foot, four-door refrigerator with icemaker, adjustable shelves and crispers, should have no trouble handling anything and everything you need for a memorable trip. A convenient integral sliding door lock between the upper and lower doors makes it easy to check and a snap to secure before departure.
The versatile pull-out pantry with fixed and adjustable shelves will also hold enough menu items for your extended trips with additional fully carpeted storage cabinets and full extension drawers in the galley module. We discovered one feature often requested by owners: designers have relocated the galley lighting and water pump switch panel array behind the sink base cabinet doors. While it certainly eliminates interrupting the galley décor with several utilitarian rocker switches and plates, we’ll leave it to you to decide how convenient it is to repeatedly open a cabinet door to hit a switch.
Bed and Bath
The half-bath features a roomy design that allows for a water-saving porcelain commode and full-size sink with wraparound wall and medicine chest storage. Often overlooked, a linen cabinet above the toilet has been included, eliminating bulky linen storage in the lav cabinet. Equipped with a furnace duct, powered roof vent and both accent and task lighting, this handsome wood-trimmed half-bath would be at home in any diesel-pusher.
The bedroom is a relaxing private suite wrapped in more of the Bounder’s handsome woodwork offering a comfortable 60-inch by 80-inch queen bed in the curbside slide. Matching eyeglass nightstands, each with a 120-volt AC outlet and overhead reading lamps, provide a restful alternative to watching the 32-inch flat-screen TV mounted in the wardrobe module, opposite the bed. A six-drawer dresser and upper cabinet that holds the TV’s DVD player is flanked by a 55-inch-tall wardrobe and a second wardrobe cabinet that is designed to house the optional ($1,638) washer/dryer unit. Additional linen or wardrobe space is provided in the bathroom where a pull-out hanging rod is built into the rear wall linen closet, providing additional storage versatility.
The full-width rear-wall bath includes a porcelain VacuFlush commode and a large domed skylight shower providing up to 81 inches of usable headroom. A handy shower bench of comfortable proportions is provided in its 30-inch by 39-inch footprint — no more “telephone booth” showers. It’s even roomy enough to wash a big dog.
The cockpit is everything you’d expect for a coach of this type and size. Ford’s sweep-style instrument panel readouts are clear and unobstructed day or night. Kudos to the Fleetwood designers for the excellent stand-up dash pod that holds the rearview monitor (with sound). The monitor provides a clear view and visibility is aided by the large exterior side mirrors that house turn-signal-activated side-view cameras. Swiveling cockpit Ultraleather captain’s chairs with manual adjustments provide two thumbs up for comfort and support. A retractable footrest in the copilot’s seat allows feet-up comfort when not using the clever pull-out laptop computer shelf and storage drawer built into the dash. There’s also a 120-volt AC outlet near the floor that provides accessory power. Chassis controls and coach function switches and capacity levels are grouped together in the center stack with room for aftermarket additions. The doghouse cup holder and storage tray routinely interfered with average-size drivers swinging their feet around to exit the seat — hopefully relocating a redesigned unit to hold larger items like glasses, CDs and cellphones is in the works.
Along for the Ride
Our trip up the coast purposely included travel on a variety of road surfaces at multiple speeds. While the Ford leaf-spring, solid front axle chassis offered its version of a smooth, predictable and controlled ride on asphalt, it also transmitted its complaints about jointed concrete traffic lanes, truck-worn and cracked from big-rig weight making a hands-free cockpit phone call challenging. Front- and rear-stabilizer bars minimized body roll from side winds and larger vehicles passing and opposing. The V-10 Triton, as we have reported on other occasions, enjoys its power and torque at higher revs but unfortunately freely shares it with those in this cockpit. Accelerating onto the freeway eliminated conversation or music until reaching cruising speed and then things quieted when settling into a 2,400 rpm, 65 mph gait. Additional noise-suppressing material under the cockpit and doghouse would go a long way in containing the Triton’s excitement when climbing hills or under hard acceleration.
Downhill control was reassuring, even with a moderate side wind, engaging the tow/haul feature to assist service braking with engine compression braking. A 6 percent downhill grade speed of 40 mph was held in check at 2,800 rpm in fourth gear with only occasional service brake application. The steepest 7 percent downhill grade added an additional 1,000 rpm in fourth gear to comfortably yet safely maintain 50 mph. Conversely, a 5 percent uphill grade at 45 mph required third gear at 3,600 rpm, limiting conversation again. Fleetwood reps told us that a doghouse redesign is currently being considered and we hope that it becomes a priority in keeping with the list of other pleasing upgrades that the Bounder line is enjoying.
It was immediately apparent that Fleetwood is serious about cloning this gasser in the image of its luxury diesel brethren. New features, upgraded décor, brand-name components, handsome full-body paint schemes, a heightened response to customer feedback and attention to detail have pushed the Bounder to an interesting new level in the gas coach segment. Bounder’s lifelong functionality remains under its brand-new suit, and with some additional fine-tuning, there’s no reason to settle for less in a gas coach whether as a weekender or full-timer.
Our thanks to the staff of Flying Flags RV Resort and Campground for their assistance and photo locations for this test.
fuel economy: 6.5 mpg
0-60 mph: 25.6 sec
40-60 mph: 11.7 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 with TorqShift, overdrive and Tow/Haul
axle ratio: 5.38:1
brakes, f/r: disc with ABS
suspension, f/r: I-beam, multi-leaf
spring w/stabilizer bar, multi-leaf
spring with stabilizer bar
fuel cap: 80 gal
warranty: 3 yrs/36,000 miles
ext length: 36′ 3″
ext width: 8′ 6″
ext height (with A/C): 12′ 10″
int width: 8′
int height: 7′
construction: interlocked aluminum framing, bonded fiberglass skin, TPO roof, polystyrene insulation in side walls and radius roof structure
freshwater cap: 85 gal
black-water cap: 42 gal
gray-water cap: 58 gal
water-heater cap: 10 gal
lp-gas cap: 20 gal
air conditioner (2): 13.5k btu
furnace: 34k btu
refrigerator: 12 cu ft
inverter/charger: 1,200 watts/70 amps
battery (3): 1 12-volt chassis,
2 6-volt coach
ac generator: 5.5 kw
base msrp: $135,660
msrp as tested: $144,235
warranty: 1 yr/15,000 miles
(water and heater, fuel, lp-gas tanks full; no supplies or passengers)
front axle: 7,120 lbs
rear axle: 12,900 lbs
total: 20,020 lbs
gawr, f/r: 8,000/15,000 lbs
gvwr/gcwr: 22,000/26,000 lbs
ROCCC: 1,980 lbs
gawr: gross axle weight rating
gvwr: gross vehicle weight rating
gcwr: gross combination weight rating
roccc: REALISTIC Occupant & cargo carrying capacity (Full water, no passengers)
For more information:
Flying Flags RV Resort and Campground