The RV evaluation system I followed was to rate how an RV compared to what features were most important. As always, Karen’s and my ideas of what we want out of our new home may be different than yours. For the sake of thoroughness I feel the need to throw in a little of the reasoning I’ve followed in the past which may have already been stated in earlier blog posts. This will be a series of posts. Feel free to pass these up if you are not into RV shopping.
In short, the system I use takes into account the score I give each trailer based off what is important to us. And then the suggested retail price, or as close as I can get to it, is considered. In many cases I was able to locate a factory order sheet with pricing. Obviously, a trailer that is relatively expensive might contain more attractive goodies. But the price blows it out of contention, or in better words, each of those points earned are expensive. The final step in the evaluation became dividing the points a trailer earned by the retail price which equals what I called a value score. Hopefully this resulted in a final list of trailers with our most desired features at the least retail price. Here are our final four:
Ranked #1 – The 2019 Vanleigh Vilano 320GK.
Tied for #2 – The 2019 Keystone Montana with Legacy Package 3120RL
Tied for #2 – The 2019 Keystone Montana without the Legacy Package 3120RL
Ranked #3 – The 2019 Forest River Cedar Creek Hathaway 34IK
Ranked #4 – The 2019 Grand Design Solitude 310GK
What all four trailers have in common is all are nearly the same 35′ rear living room plan. But, if you peel back the skin there are differences to consider.
There were 15 categories I used to evaluate trailers. Not to repeat previous posts, but I believe its important to note each category was assigned a weighted average (points) based on what is most important to us. For example, insulation is a 5 and the exterior is a 3 in importance to us. I have a written criteria, some of which is subjective, whereby a trailer can receive 1 to 5 points based of it’s features in that category. For example, if a trailer rates a 3 in the insulation category then its total points in that category is 20 (5×3). Or if it rates a 4 in the exterior category then its total point in that category is 12 (3×4). Hope that makes since.
And so it begins. I’ll now summarize what the Vanleigh Vilano offers within the 15 categories. Sorry, I don’t plan to compare it against our other top trailers in extreme detail, other than to maybe drive home major differences. Bear with me for all of this. Many questions someone might have could be answered once I get through all the categories.
- A couple years ago when I thought about which company offered the most factory options to me it was clearly DRV or custom builders like New Horizons. All of which are outside our budget if bought new and therefore taken off our list. DRV was known for modifying cabinetry at the factory based on what the customer wants and New Horizons builds them from the ground up to your specifications within any given floor plan. Karen and I have consistently been drawn to the newer versions of trailers. I can defend that position but will spare you the extra reading…
- Some companies have options available that are not published. In its price point, Vanleigh exceeds everyone I know of in this category. Back in 2016 and again this year I contacted a factory sale representative for the unpublished options.
- An option that is close to a deal-breaker if not available is a second outside awning over the living room windows. I’ve been convinced by others the second awning shades the trailer windows and thereby helps with air conditioning. One thing that counted against other trailers for us was having a slide under any awning which is common in floor plans like the front living room. The 320GK (GK stands for grand kitchen) can have the second awning. Another deal breaker for us was if a trailer did not have an RV gas/electric fridge option. More on that later in the appliance category.
- I’ll warn everyone if you start adding all the options available in the 16,000 pound gross weight class 320GK you might as well buy the next price point up which is the Vanleigh Beacon. Or if you start optioning out a Cedar Creek Hathaway you might as well consider going to the Cedar Creek Champaign edition.
- But having options is a good thing. When selected in moderation they can make the difference.
- Here are the unpublished options for the Vilano. You can get 8000 pound axles, disc brakes, H rated tires, Goodyear tires, slide toppers, aluminum awning covers, CPAP stand, induction stove top. That’s a heck of a list when you consider what the Vilano comes with as a standard and the published options.
- Here’s a big one. I continue to read when people go back to the factory for repairs they are able to have cabinet changes such as adding shelving. You can also get installation of any option the trailer did not have if you happened to buy it off a dealership’s lot.
- They also offer four different trim finishes in varying degrees of gloss finish.
- I’m seriously thinking if we order a trailer to skip the generator ready option because I want extra space in that compartment by eliminating an inside box on the trailer. The National Sales Manager does not think skipping it will hurt resale.
- I’ve joined or monitored owners group forums for many of the trailers we looked at. I constantly read where someone thinks, to include me, that a certain manufacturer should change one thing or another. Well they can put the best of the best on their trailers but it’s been proven most people will not pay for it. I believe Vanleigh has done an extremely good job of balancing the price with what’s important in features. And frankly, I wonder if they are able to take advantage of material discounts through their relationship with Tiffin Motorhomes?
Service: A top priority in our search.
- I can tell you with absolutely little chance of being wrong that Vanleigh and Grand Design offer excellent service after sale in their price points. Just read the forums and join the Facebook groups and you will find I’m right. The Montana owners forum is second to none, with thousands of owners who will answer questions.
- Here are a couple examples for the Vilano about customer service. I sent an email to their customer service email on a Sunday afternoon stating I had questions about their product. Three hours later the National Sales Manager emailed me back and said send all my questions to him, he will answer all of them. Once during Thanksgiving day a customer had an issue and sent in a customer service email. They received a phone call that day and by the next morning all the repairs were scheduled. I’m in awe when day after day I see someone post a problem on the Vilano Facebook owners group page about an issue. If it’s not answered and resolved by a fellow owner, it’s common to see factory support people chime into the conversation. They even publish direct dial phone numbers to important contacts at the factory.
- As we are going to be full-timers I don’t put much weight on the dealership we end up buying from that we will also use the same dealer for repairs. I plan on keeping a list of first year repairs and taking the trailer back to the factory when in the area. I’ve read how it’s common that warranty repairs can be handled by mobile repair people as well. Factory repairs, according to every comment I’ve read are outstanding with zero exception.
- For those that know motorhomes then you know Tiffin Motorhomes. I have to add a comment here that’s important. Bob Tiffin, during an interview says you have to build a quality unit at a fair price to stay in business. Leigh is his grandson and Van is his son. Hence the name Vanleigh. Both started the fifth wheel side of the family. They are still a family owned business. Not being managed by the restrictions that can come with a huge corporation is an advantage. Not that long ago Jayco would talk about that when they were family owned prior to their buyout by Thor. And I still don’t know what to think about a couple guys that started Keystone (way back in the 1990’s :)) and created the Montana, then left to start Grand Design, selling that off a few years later to Winnebago. The Tiffin family has been building RV since 1972 if that’s important.
- All the service after the sales can fly out the window if a company does not stay in business (think Lifestyles RV who remade the fabulous Carriage RV brand when they went out of business.) Lifestyles lost their financial backing and closed down a short time later as well. Bob Tiffin is a co-owner in Vanleigh.
- I once got a look at a fifth wheel RV sales chart. It’s common knowledge the Montana is the number one brand for sales, with trailer #100,000 coming out of the factory last year. Montana is the undisputed champion for sales and for good reason. In 2016 the Vilano was listed as having sold 239 units. The top three were rounded out with Heartland’s top selling Bighorn, the Montana and Grand Design. Cedar Creek placed fourth if the chart is correct. At the time I looked at the chart Vanleigh had something around one brand, the Vilano, and two floor plans. Fast forward to their 2019 trailer offerings and they are now three brands with multiple floor plans. And still keeping up on their customer service!
- Maybe in a small way I’m thinking Vanleigh being built in northern Mississippi (two hours east of Memphis Tennessee) is an advantage. Compared to like 80 percent of the other RVs being built in Elkhart Indiana. Perhaps they don’t have to compete for labor like everyone else? Because we all know the quality of these trailers can be only as good as those that build them. I’ve not been on a factory tour at Vanleigh but have read more than once the place is run like everyone is family with workers stopping on the line during a tour to answer questions. I’m hoping their surge in trailer orders in 2017 is caught up and the pace for building is reasonable.
I’ll squeeze in one more category of the 15 before I end this for now.
- This category was dear to me because I recently replaced all the appliances in my home and had looked at a lot of brands in doing so.
- Call me crazy, but I downloaded every owners manual for every appliance used in the 2018/2019 Vilano. Read all of them and wrote down the specific model numbers.
- People say all the trailer brands pretty much use the same appliances, furnaces, air conditioners, water heaters and much more. When it comes to appliances, and to a degree electronics, that might not necessary be the case. Especially if you bother to look at the specific models within a brand.
- At the time of this writing, the Vilano appliance and electronics are mostly one brand which is Furrion. The standard convection microwave does vent to the outside of the trailer and the model they used is more costly than the Maytag I just put in my house.
- You got to love the two piece combo Furrion stove top and oven that came out last year and is used in about every competitors brand at this price point. It’s self igniting so there is no need to light the pilot.
- I should add if you go with a residential fridge then they use Samsung. Nothing wrong with that brand for sure. Their gas electric RV option is the four door Dometic brand. Personally I don’t know if it has any advantage over the Norcold four door. The one used in the Vilano has a built in ice maker. I’m not sure having a water line in a slide is necessary the best idea, but at least there is a water shut-off valve for the ice maker in the utility bay should there be a water leak or a need to winterize the ice maker. We are going with a gas electric because a residential fridge requires at least four batteries, extensive solar or longer generator hours when boondocking.
I want to end this for the night. But have to mention something about price point and the fact you are going to pay a little more for a Vilano when compared to a Montana Legacy Edition. Right now there are three 2018 Vilano 320GKs prices at $59,000 on rvtrader.com without the second outside awning and with a residential fridge. In rough numbers, I’ve seen the 2019 Montana – non Legacy version going for about $53,000 at a big discount dealership. You would need to add about $6,000 more for the Legacy package. And I’m expecting the 2019 Vilano, decked out the way we want, to end up costing maybe $7,500 more than the Montana we would have bought. So is the Vilano technically in the Montana price point? Maybe not. The Vilano might better be compared to something like the Jayco Pinnacle for price. I think when I’m done with this novel outlining why we are going with the Vilano 320GK you will see it’s worth the premium. Bear with me because some of the final categories I’ll be writing about are among the most important reasons.
Hope I’m adding enough details that are not specific to the Vilano to make this interesting and give the reader something to think about. I’ve got some not so good and average points to make about the Vilano as well. To be continued…