As owners of a Class A motorhome, we enjoy our full-size coach; however, as the years go by, we look ahead to a time when a larger RV may no longer meet our travel needs. When thinking about coaches that might be more suitable, we’ve come to the conclusion that a smaller Class C might eventually be a better fit.
Born Free Motorcoach of Humboldt, Iowa, manufactures an extensive line of such motorhomes, which contain many of the same upscale amenities and architectural elements found on larger units. Built to order by the 41-year-old, privately held company and sold directly to customers, Class C motorhomes such as its new 22-foot, rear-side kitchen model are excellent possibilities for shorter-range trips and carefree touring. With a compact, non-slideout floorplan built on a robust Ford E-350 van cutaway chassis, this coach allows easy access to a wide range of locations without leaving residential necessities behind.
Born Free coaches are noted for their sturdy construction, and our test unit bore this out. Key structural features include improved aerodynamics; a strengthened outer shell of molded, gel-coat fiberglass; wood-framed walls; 2-inch tubular steel roll bars; and an insulated marine-grade plywood floorboard. Fiberglass bodies have been further fortified with leading edge adhesives, added steel segments at critical junctures, and the use of “low emissivity foam and foil” insulation that is reported to deliver higher R-ratings.
The 22-foot Born Free rear-kitchen model has a base price of $87,995, and is equipped with many standard, contemporary features such as a microwave/convection oven, three-burner stovetop with smoked-glass cover, solid surface countertops and brushed nickel fixtures. The test rig also sported a few options that provided a more complete residential package, boosting its suggested retail price to $98,785.
These “must-have” items, in our opinion, include a 13,500 Btu roof air conditioner ($3,200), manual patio awning ($985) and solid oak wood cabinetry ($1,050).
If you don’t happen to own a woody car or a truck to carry you and a few friends to the beach, an even better alternative might be a Class C motorhome like Born Free’s 22-footer. With this scenario in mind, we took a trip to Santa Barbara County’s Jalama Beach near Point Conception, where we spent several relaxing days really getting to know the new motorhome.
We began our field test in the flatlands of southern Ventura County, where the rig’s strong performance capabilities soon came to the fore. With 305 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque on tap, the unit exhibits loads of get-up-and-go that can be felt in the seat of the pants.
With a modest amount of pedal as we entered northbound U.S. Highway 101, we seamlessly accelerated into the fast-moving stream of traffic without any noticeable dip in the engine’s power curve. In fact, the unit exhibited plenty of oomph throughout the trip, and had no trouble maintaining speeds of 65 mph on level as well as hilly terrain.
We came upon several steep grades throughout the test, and the coach pushed on up without hesitation. In fact, the unit handles more like a pickup or van than a motorhome, which makes it a lot of fun to drive.
On one 7-percent incline, in particular, the coach maintained 65 mph at 3,500 rpm in third gear (driver only, full water and gas tank, no camping gear). Later, when loaded with an additional passenger and all of our gear, the unit was still able to pull the same grade at 60 mph at 3,000 rpm in third gear.
The only thing we noticed regarding highway handling was that the driver really had to pay close attention to the driving or the coach tended to drift a little. In our opinion, this inclination is mainly attributable to the rig’s shorter wheelbase and driver attentiveness, rather than anything else.
Getting to Jalama Beach is an odyssey unto itself, and requires a capable vehicle with enough power and agility to handle the area’s narrow, winding roadways. The 22-footer’s shorter 158-inch wheelbase, Ford chassis with 6.8-l V-10 engine and wet weight of only 10,580 pounds all gave us a tangible performance edge in traveling through the remote area. The chassis was also capable of hauling a generous 1,920 pounds of added passengers, cargo and provisions before exceeding its gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr) of 12,500 pounds.
The last leg of the trip consisted of two-lane country roads, an arduous trek to say the least. In some spots, the highway is limited to one-lane detours. Despite the hilly topography, we easily picked our way through obstacles such as minor rock slides, puddles left from a previous rainstorm and sharp curves with steep approaches. In all instances, the rig was surefooted, with positive steering feedback to the driver at all times.
On several occasions during the test, we encountered downgrades that were much easier and safer to descend because of the motorhome’s substantial engine compression hold back. It also saved on using the brakes. On one 6- to 7-percent stretch, the vehicle was easily held to 60 mph at 2,900 rpm in third gear.
The morning of our return home, we were awakened by the sound of rain on the roof of the coach. We quickly tossed our folding chairs into the cargo hold and headed out. During the 15 miles back to California Highway 1, we encountered torrential rains. The rig handled marvelously despite impaired visibility, streams of water coursing across the road and small mudflows.
Once back to a drier and flatter area before the test ended, we ran a few acceleration tests to get a better idea of just what the Born Free was truly capable of. To our surprise, the laden coach averaged 0 to 60 mph in 14.6 seconds, with 40 to 60 mph intervals of 7.7 seconds.
Our Born Free test coach had an inviting, L-shaped galley located in the curbside/rear corner of the floorplan, with an enclosed toilet/shower room in the opposing streetside corner. A compact living/dining area is found mid-coach, and is furnished with a streetside convertible sofa and curbside nook with a pull-up tabletop. This layout proved quite convenient during our trip, as it placed the kitchen and bathroom facilities more or less out of the main traffic pattern when entering the unit’s mid-coach, curbside door.
Interior dÃ©cor treatments are done in cozy earth tones, and are stylish as well as functional. These include easily cleanable, patterned beige vinyl floor covering throughout; Ozite-style, sound-absorbing fabric on walls and ceiling; darkly flecked, solid surface countertops; and warmly hued, solid oak cabinetry. Other fine touches are represented by fully adjustable, Flexsteel Ultraleather driver/co-pilot captain’s chairs, a third lounging seat curbside for an extra passenger and the 48-inch-wide sofa bed.
Backing into our campsite and setting up the exceptionally maneuverable 22-footer was effortless. We then whisked out folding chairs from the modestly proportioned streetside storage compartment and kicked back for several days of surf and sun.
The sea air whet our appetites, so we retreated to the coach’s rear kitchen to begin dinner. Besides everything at our fingertips in the tidy L-shaped space, the kitchen window afforded an excellent view of the beach area below. With more than 14 square feet of usable counter surface, a three-burner gas stovetop and a microwave/convection oven to heat up our meals, we had the cooking end of things wrapped up in no time at all.
Once dinner was ready, we positioned two adjacent captain’s chairs near the curbside 29-inch-by-20-inch, pull-up table, and ate in relative comfort. The table also provided a useful platform later on for using our laptop and drawing up test notes.
We knew there wouldn’t be any cable TV service at our remote campsite so we packed a few DVDs for our evening entertainment. Using the optional DVD player and 19-inch LCD flat-screen TV with adjustable swing-out arm ($725), we were able to easily view and enjoy movies while reclining on the sofa and the mid-coach captain’s chair.
Both sleeping fixtures in this model presented challenges, as neither one comfortably accommodated two average size adults. The convertible sofa was OK at best for sleeping one person, but lacked a smooth enough, seamless surface that could handle two. Consequently, my wife opted for the (optional) upper, 85-by-63-inch cabover bunk with 4-inch-thick foam mattress pad, while I was left with the sofa.
The cabover bed worked out well, though an additional person up there would have been a little claustrophobic. The only other concern here was having to climb up and down a portable ladder to gain access.
Use of the combination shower and toilet enclosure was convenient, though the floor space again was modest. Oddly, a separate wash stand is located streetside – outside the bathroom area. It all worked well.
The vinyl-curtained shower offered enough room for a good scrub-up, and allowed plenty of headspace for taller bathers at 74 inches. Another nice touch is a standard-size china toilet, with 15 inches of foot space in front for ease of use.
Interior and exterior cargo cabinets and compartments on the Born Free are proportionate with its shorter 22-foot length. Despite this, engineers have made good use of every available nook and cranny for storing a variety of items. The mid-coach living area has three overhead cabinets with swing-up doors for smaller stuff, and a ceiling-to-floor, 14-inch-wide by 22-inch-deep closet is located aft of the curbside entry door for hanging clothes and larger luggage items.
This 22-foot floorplan has three modest exterior storage compartments of varying dimensions. As noted previously, the primary streetside bay is large enough to house several portable folding chairs and other essentials such as leveling blocks, while two smaller spaces at the rear and curbside will hold incidental accessories such as tool boxes, hoses and power cords.
Born Free’s 22-foot rear kitchen model may be short in length, but it should appeal to many seeking a powerful, downsized coach that’s easy to drive. Endowed with basic amenities for self-contained travel, this compact motorcoach will make an excellent daytripper or weekender, as well as a first-rate touring vehicle.
2010 Born Free 22′
Performs like a car or pickup. Exterior compartment doors use cam locks that require a round, burglar alarm type key to lock and unlock. Rear kitchen floorplan dishes up most features of a full-size coach in a pint-size package. Great unit for short hops and even longer trips.
Two adults sleeping side-by-side in either bed area might be difficult. Exterior compartments must always be locked when not in use, or they sometimes hang open. Vinyl shower curtain can be a little clingy.
Fuel economy: 8.8 mpg
Acceleration: 0-60 mph: 7.7 sec 40-60 mph: 14.6 sec
model: Ford E-350
Engine: 6.8-L Ford V-10
sae hp: 305 hp @ 4,250
rpm torque: 420 lb-ft @ 3,250
rpm transmission: 5-spd
automatic axle ratio: 4.10:1
brakes, f/r: disc/disc w/ABS
suspension, f/r: coil spring/leaf spring
fuel cap: 40 gal
warranty: 3 yrs/36,000 miles
ext length: 22′ 10″
ext width: 7′ 11″
ext height w/AC: 9′ 10″
int width: 7′ 5″
int height: 6′ 4″
construction: wood/tube steel framing; fiberglass skin and roof; fiberglass, foam and foil insulation
freshwater cap: 24.5 gal
black-water cap: 21 gal
gray-water cap: 29 gal
water-heater cap: 6 gal
lp-gas cap: 19.5 gal
air conditioner: 13,500 btu w/5,600 Btu
heat strip furnace: 30,000 btu
refrigerator: 7 cu-ft
amp battery (3): 1 12-volt chassis, 2 12-volt
coach ac generator: 3.6 kw
msrp as tested: $98,785
warranty: 3 yrs/36,000 miles limited (lifetime limited fiberglass body)
(water and heater, fuel, lp-gas tanks full; no supplies or passengers)
front axle: 3,580 lbs rear axle: 7,000 lbs total: 10,580 lbs
gawr, f/r: 5,000/8,500 lbs
gvwr/gcwr: 12,500/18,500 lbs
Roccc: 1,920 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)
Born Free Motorcoach 800-247-1835, www.bornfreemotorcoach.com.