Avion Vans joins the luxury Class B market with factory-direct Sprinter-based conversions
Those with creative ideas are often lauded for their ability to think outside the box. But in the case of motorhome design, quite the opposite is true. A new motorhome essentially begins its life as a box, and it’s the designer’s job to think about life inside it. When given the freedom of a large floorplan and multiple slideouts, the sky is the limit; the real challenge comes in the form of a small space, where the dimensions are inflexible and the options are few. It’s the world of the Class B van conversion, and it’s one of the hottest, most competitive segments in the RV industry today.
Once dominated by humble family campers equipped with little more than a minimalist kitchen and a small bed, today’s Class B market is decidedly high-end. Younger, adventurous buyers expect more – and the current variety of van platforms, combined with European-inspired design (and equipment in some cases) have led to the $100,000-plus Class B. Certainly, there are lower-priced options, but the sleek lines and gleaming three-point star of the diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz Sprinter are especially alluring. The Sprinter-based Class B has quickly become a popular weekend wanderer that can double as a family vehicle. And many manufacturers have taken notice of the demand for such motorhomes.
One of the latest is The RV Factory. Based out of Wakarusa, Indiana, The RV Factory is a factory-direct manufacturer launched last year by NeXus RV partners and RV industry veterans Dave Middleton, Brian Shea and Claude Donati. The company’s 50,000-square-foot facility manufacturers the iconic Weekend Warrior toy-hauler trailer and recently revived another brand name from the past: the Avion, and its premier product, the Avion Azur Class B.
Limited as all manufacturers are to a van’s exterior appearance and interior dimensions, the key to differentiating a product like the Azur from others on the market is to offer features and benefits that others don’t. Aside from the manufacturer’s pledge to work with its customers to provide some degree of personalization, the key feature of the Azur 24KBX floorplan is a rear seating area that converts into an RV king-size bed. To test the effectiveness and overall livability of this new floorplan, we took delivery of a demo model from the company’s showroom in Temecula, California, and embarked on a journey into California’s Mojave Desert for some sightseeing and overnight stays in dispersed public (read: dry) campgrounds.
Many Class B vans we’ve tested struggle with exterior storage – after all, a van by its very nature is interior storage – so generally there are no exterior compartments to work with, nor can any sizable ones be added. This often results in some interesting arrangements at the back of the van, most of which are far from ideal. The Azur, however, makes useful storage space underneath the rear bed, which is accessed through the rear cargo doors. It’s not a huge amount, but it had room enough for our chairs, barbecue, a bin for the freshwater hose/coax cable and a rolled-up exterior mat. There are access doors for the plumbing, which is a thoughtful and welcome feature, and also a storage tube underneath the rear of the van for the sewer hose.
Storage is of little concern inside the Azur. The unit has an abundance of glossy white overhead cabinets throughout, which fit nicely and seemed well-made. There is even a space large enough for a trash can underneath the galley sink, and a good-sized wardrobe amidships that accommodates hanging clothes. The Sprinter’s cockpit also has storage space for items like maps above the visors, and there are cup holders and cubbies for loose items atop the dash. A high-gloss Anigra wood-grain applique package on the center console attempts to break up the sea of gray plastic, though it looks a bit out of place. Another addition was the optional Pioneer stereo head unit with a 6.5-inch LCD touch screen and rearview camera input ($1,895). Operating this stereo while driving takes some acclimating since the controls are on the complex side.
Overall performance of the Sprinter platform can be a bit polarizing; although many swear by the popular marque, I found the cockpit seats to be somewhat flat, and it took some time to get comfortable with the steering feel, especially when confronted with moderate to strong side winds on California’s Highway 14 through the Mojave Desert, and while being passed by large trucks on the highway. The test unit was also equipped with the base 2.1-liter four-cylinder diesel. If you’re not in a rush, you can probably live with the performance – and the motorhome will certainly handle most roads – but given the choice, the six-cylinder engine is more efficient, and there’s not that much of a fuel-economy sacrifice. Fuel economy was recorded at 18.2 mpg during our test, which is good, but the last similarly equipped six-cylinder diesel Sprinter we tested logged 16.95 mpg. That’s a difference of just 1.25 mpg, making the bigger engine a better option.
Once at our destination, we fired up the available 2.5-kW generator ($3,220), switched on the air conditioning and deployed the full-size power awning with remote while waiting for the sun to go down. We kept cool while preparing a simple meal in the compact galley, which is equipped with a solid-surface countertop, a two-burner stove with a glass cover (which we discovered interfered with the vent hood when open) and a black acrylic sink with cover. And although the added countertop space afforded by the covers helped with food prep, there’s no denying it was tight, but that’s to be expected in a Class B motorhome. On the curbside of the galley is a small microwave and 3.1-cubic-foot refrigerator equipped with what is basically a freezer shelf – good enough for ice trays or frozen personal pizzas, but not much else.
For those times when you want to use the Azur as an RV, the 24KBX is equipped with a table just behind the cockpit that is within reach of the second-row chairs. Swiveling the cockpit seats rearward to make a dining/entertainment space takes some effort because the Sprinter seats require numerous backrest and fore/aft adjustments to get them to rotate. The single-post table could use a little more work in preventing a wobble and its oval shape offers additional surface area, but does occupy quite a bit of the interior space. The two-tone second-row seats, however, are well-padded, supportive and very comfortable, and the Samsung 19-inch TV on an articulating arm was easily viewable from inside, or even outside through the sliding door.
Without the benefit of a slideout, the hallway space, like in most Class B’s, is inherently narrow, requiring passersby to turn sideways in order to scoot through. And the wet bath is small, so using the toilet or taking a shower is a little tricky. The corner sink is small and requires moving the showerhead from wall to basin in order to wash up – or leaving it at the sink and turning around to operate the faucets behind you. But making concessions to reap the benefits of an easy-to-handle motorhome is always in order when trying to fit all the amenities into the naturally limited space of a Class B shell.
Where the 24KBX does go big is the aforementioned rear RV king bed. Normally, the space is partially occupied by opposing jackknife seats with seat belts, which brings this floorplan’s seating capacity to six. Avion also supplies another, smaller table to place between the seats for snacking or a game of cards, and another 19-inch TV. Half of the bed’s platform encroaches on the space, and two long, heavy cushions must be stowed on top of it, compromising comfort a bit.
To convert the area for sleeping, the seats are folded down to join at the middle, and the lower section of the bed platform is pulled into place. The bed in the test unit routinely stuck halfway through deployment and required a sharp tug to get it to move; using roller guides would likely ease the operation. Once in place, the long cushions are set into position to make up the rest of the mattress, after which you are left with a firm, comfortable bed.
Uniquely installed rear window “pods” increase the width of the space so taller people could sleep sideways if more room was desired. The pods make the area feel lighter and roomier, and there may be some bumping into the pleated shades and climbing over each other in order to use the bathroom, but the space is used more efficiently in this configuration. Sleeping lengthwise also works just fine.
The Azur’s interior design is clean and functional, with brown wood-grain vinyl flooring and soft-touch vinyl paneling on the walls and ceiling. There is an abundance of overhead LED lighting with logically placed switches – and an LED lighting strip above the streetside second row adds ambiance. Pleated cloth shades and a fabric windshield curtain on an aluminum rail provide privacy, but could be a little thicker to aid in blocking out light.
All things considered, the Avion 24KBX is a good first effort from The RV Factory, and we expect the product will only get better. With customer input during the build process, the end result will likely be a clean, comfortable RV that can double as a second vehicle when needed – and that’s always been the true appeal of a Class B motorhome.
The RV Factory | 844-284-6678 | www.avionvans.com