This New Quad-Slide Diesel Pusher from Forest River Offers High-End Amenities and Room for Entertaining
For many of us, the end goal in a lifetime of RV experience is a diesel pusher. When it comes to long-distance travel, the appeal of one of these coaches is hard to ignore; rolling effortlessly down the highway with an unobstructed view of the world around you, the comforts of home and luxury appointments close at hand. There’s a reason why professional musicians tour this way – because the spaciousness, convenience and tranquility of a diesel pusher is unmatched by any other form of travel.
Like any RV purchase, there are varying levels of splendor depending on your budget, needs and personal preferences. As an RV manufacturer, determining what customers really want from a luxury diesel pusher and what they’re willing to do without at a certain price point is an unenviable task, but one that Forest River has executed with finesse in its new 43-foot Charleston 430FK diesel pusher.
Built on a Freightliner XC chassis with an 8.9-liter, 450-hp Cummins and an Allison 3000 six-speed automatic transmission, it’s got the goods from a mechanical standpoint. It looks the part, too, resplendent in one of four available full-body paint schemes (Cinnamon Glaze pictured). And once you step foot into the living area with the slideouts deployed, you’ll be hard pressed to tell the difference between the Charleston’s interior, and one of a coach costing much more. Porcelain tile flooring, cherry cabinets, genuine Corian countertops and Ultraleather furniture tell you that no expenses were spared here. Naturally, we were eager to settle into the comfy Flexsteel pilot and co-pilot seats and embark on a full test to see how well Forest River delivers big pusher luxury for a price well south of $400,000.
Like most coaches in this class, the Charleston features side-hinged luggage doors, cavernous pass-through storage, and slide-out storage trays to make loading/unloading easier. The area easily accommodated the trappings for four people with room to spare – but checking the other compartments in the coach, we were pleasantly surprised to find that everything has been designed for easy access – from the 10 kW Cummins Onan genset that slides out of the nose, to the four 6-volt house batteries on a slide-out tray in the rear. Moreover, we noted that Forest River made a concerted effort to make maintenance easy; the transmission and diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) reservoirs are located within their own exterior compartments, and the plumbing and electrical systems have been laid out in a logical, intuitive manner.
On the road, the Freightliner’s 55-degree wheel cut makes maneuvering through residential streets a no-stress affair, and with the expansive one-piece front windshield and side-view cameras, visibility is no concern, either. We headed east on U.S. Highway 101 toward California’s Conejo Grade, a long, 6 percenter that will put any coach or big rig to the test. At full throttle in fourth gear, the big Cummins managed to keep speed at 52 mph, which is perfectly acceptable for a coach of this size.
On Interstate 210, we were reminded once again about a diesel pusher’s highway manners in general. Approaching the desert oasis of Palm Springs, Calif., side winds were nearly ever present, yet the big pusher seemed as stable as a house on a concrete foundation. And with the engine mounted some 40 feet behind us, about the only thing we heard was the whoosh of passing air, interrupted only by the occasional squeak or rattle from the cabinets and/or furniture – a common trait in most homes on wheels. Not so common was the racket created by the entry door, which screeched like an enraged squirrel when the headwinds picked up – but we’re sure this is something that could be remedied with a few adjustments at the dealership.
Even though it was an afternoon before the weekend, we didn’t anticipate much traffic, and looked forward to smooth sailing all the way to our destination at Outdoor Resort Palm Springs (which is actually located in nearby Cathedral City, Calif.). But this is Southern California, and of course, we were dead wrong. By Pasadena, traffic was reduced to stop and go, which could have been a stressful situation. But we soon recomposed ourselves when we found that the coach’s air brakes were excellent – and the standard two-stage engine brake made short stops effortless. In the first mode, the brake simply slows the coach down – but in the second, more aggressive stage, it slows the coach as if the brake pedal were firmly applied. Very comforting, indeed.
We rolled into our destination and were greeted by a well-manicured golf course and sweeping mountain vistas. Outdoor Resort is a gated RV community with RV sites for sale or rent, full hookups with 50-amp service and amenities such as 27 holes of golf, 14 lighted tennis courts, eight swimming pools, a fitness center and more. Our hosts were kind enough to provide us with a site that backed up to the golf course, and soon we were hooked up and ready to enjoy the evening.
One of the paradoxes of the RV industry is that, the larger and more luxurious the coach, the less room it has for its occupants. While an $80,000 Class C might have room to accommodate six or more, the majority of diesel pushers are designed for two, possibly four occupants total. While the Charleston is similarly designed, its living area and galley are perfectly suited for entertaining substantially larger groups. The galley has an abundance of counter space, and if you need more, a pullout counter/drawer extension creates a U-shape workspace large enough for two chefs to enjoy. Also unlike many luxury coaches, this one actually has a three-burner gas stove, which is accompanied by a large Whirlpool convection microwave that takes the place of a traditional oven. At the other end of the galley is a large double stainless sink, and on the curb slide, a stainless steel residential Whirlpool refrigerator that operates on inverter power when you’re not plugged in. After preparing several meals, we found very little fault with the galley; about the only things on our wish list were a pantry and more storage space down low for heavier items and/or a trash can.
For years, whenever you wanted to watch a movie, it meant everyone had to swivel their heads to the front of the coach, and look up at the cockpit-mounted TV that cracked you in the head every time you got into, or stepped out of, the driver’s seat. Thankfully, those days are largely behind us – but it still seems like many floorplans struggle with a logical, comfortable place to put a large flat-screen TV where everyone can see it. The 430FK, on the other hand, essentially features what can be described as a mini living room, with an expandable sectional sofa that faces a 50-inch LED flat-screen over an electric fireplace. It’s not only a cozy place for four or more, the TV can be seen comfortably from the curbside recliner, two-place extendable dinette, or the swiveling cockpit seats. By our count, entertaining eight to 10 comfortably shouldn’t be a problem.
In fact, you could probably entertain several more outside, courtesy the one-touch power awning and outdoor entertainment system mounted in the side wall and protected by a separate door. The system works fine, except it seems small for a coach of this size – and the lack of exterior lighting doesn’t make for a festive outdoor experience. Full-length LED lighting along the awning would be a very welcome addition here.
While rear bath models with a mid-coach half bath are more convenient for multiple users, the 430FK’s large bath, with its Jack-and-Jill arrangement, works well enough. There’s an entry door off the short hallway that allows access from the living area, as well as a pocket door off the bedroom. Just make sure to lock both doors once inside to avoid any awkward encounters. We found the area to be very roomy, with plenty of countertop space and adequate storage for towels and such. The neo-angle shower looks great and is wide, but not very deep; I’m 6-feet 1 inch and 190 pounds and had to be economical with my movements. Also, while the tankless water heater provides endless hot water, we found that mixer valve caused the temperature to fluctuate too quickly for us to adjust.
The bathroom area in our test coach featured a stacked washer/dryer in its own cabinet, a great convenience on the road. But we learned the hard way that you have to make sure to always close the cabinet doors before you pull in the bedroom slide. The streetside bedroom slideout also incorporates the bathroom wall, so while the lav and washer/dryer cabinet move in/out with the slide, the other components in the room remain fixed. No problem in and of itself, but when you’re stowing the slide, you’re standing in the hallway and can’t see into the bathroom to make sure everything’s out of the way. As I brought the slide back in, I was startled by a sharp cracking sound, and immediately stopped the slide to see what was wrong. Earlier in the day, I had opened the washer/dryer cabinet doors, and as I brought the slide in, the right door interfered with the toilet overhead cabinet, and was subsequently relieved of its hinges. A factory-applied warning label inside the slide control panel would have been helpful, but in lieu of this, I’d recommend you make your own.
Big is the name of the game in a luxury motorcoach, and like many on the market today, the Charleston comes standard with a 72-by-80-inch king bed. Equipped with a Sleep Number air mattress, it’s an extraordinarily comfortable place to sleep – but the extra width of the bed means walk-around space is compromised. In my opinion, a queen size bed would be more appropriate here, but that’s a matter of personal preference. A large, cedar-lined closet is located along the rear wall, while a chest of drawers with overhead cabinets and a 32-inch LED TV is located in the opposing curbside slide.
Two extra guests can sleep in a tri-fold pullout bed in the sectional sofa, but not very conveniently. A recent trend in the RV industry is to supply an air mattress instead of a regular mattress in the pullout bed; we’re guessing the reason behind this is that it’s more comfortable than the standard thin mattress used in conventional couch beds. Perhaps, but unfolding a bed, then unrolling a mattress, plugging it in and blowing it up with a loud air pump isn’t an ideal scenario, particularly if those in the bedroom are already asleep. Putting the bed away in the morning also takes a lot longer, and of course, you’ve got the normal air bed issues to contend with, like excessive bouncing when your partner turns over, and little air leaks that appear over time.
Overall, however, there was very little to complain about. In fact, the only other recommendation we would make is to replace the inexpensive cable-operated slide mechanisms with more robust hydraulic units, at least in the large, heavy dinette slide. Here, the mechanism seemed to labor excessively to bring the slide back in, which was cause for consternation, as cables have a tendency to stretch, even break over time.
As we drove home, our eyes shielded from the sun by the excellent power shades, our initial impression of the Charleston 430FK was unchanged – this big pusher offers great bang for the buck – and probably more than you would expect.