Mercedes, maker of the massive Sprinter delivery van, and Airstream, maker of all those shiny aluminum trailers for the last 80-something years, have collaborated on this, the Airstream Interstate. Take a Sprinter, drive it to Airstream, and this is what comes out the other end of the factory.
As you might guess, the Airstream Interstate is truly a wondrous wheeled conveyance. It is relatively easy to drive for an object that is 24.5 feet long. It has space, amenities, sumptuous leather-like seating surfaces, and, as-tested, it has two -- count 'em, two -- TV sets. You will be the envy of every Good Sam you meet at the mobile-home park's coin-op washer-dryer.
What Is It Like To Drive?
The Interstate is a wonderful rolling home even in today's world of wonderful rolling homes. It's a lot smaller than those city bus-sized units you see with the lion and lioness mural on the back panel. Yet a tall (6-foot-2) person can easily walk around in it without banging a noggin on anything. And the Interstate is about 100 times easier to maneuver in city driving and in parking lots than a trailer. Despite being, as we said, 24 and a half feet long and over 9 feet high with the air conditioner and TV antenna on the roof, it's still not at all hard to drive around town. We took seven middle-schoolers to a birthday party, and everyone was delighted (except the one motion sickness-susceptible kid, who almost hurled).
So where did we take the Airstream Interstate on our high-class glamping adventure? Up Highway 1? Out to the desert? Up into the mighty Sierra Nevada? Well, ya see, we were a little busy at work, and while we had lots of plans to go on a big adventure, we wound up glamping … this is embarrassing … in the driveway. At least there was Wi-Fi and electricity from the house.
But we got a sense of what this rig would be like to live in for a while. The TVs were nice and there's Blu-ray up front. There's a screw-in TV cable jack, so you can watch 800 channels of really awful television wherever you go.
When it's time to turn in, the sleeping area in the back folded flat from two love seats and a couch. The sleeping surface was a little firm, but that was OK. There's an exhaust fan in the roof, and when you click it on and crank open some vent windows in back, the thing stays relatively cool -- no need for the AC until the outside air temp really heats up.
The power and fuel systems all worked about as easily as you could expect. We more or less figured them out after a quick 15-minute walkthrough at Airstream Los Angeles. We only had to call the Airstream guy twice with questions (how do you turn off the Kenwood audio/nav and where is the post that holds up the table?) He was polite and helpful each time.
When parked, you can plug the whole thing into a regular 120-volt wall outlet or into a mobile-home park's power jack and not drain your auxiliary battery. If you're way out in the desert with no wall jacks nearby, there's an onboard generator that fires up with the push of a button from inside the camper, and -- voila! -- you can run the rooftop air conditioner or watch TV no matter where you are.
The flat, square table top stows forward of the galley, while the post to mount it on (it turned out) was stowed under a pillow in one of the many overhead cupboards. You can screw in the table in the back or in the front. The front passenger's seat swivels around for socializing if you put the table up front. With our laptop plugged into the 120-volt outlet inside the camper, we sat through an entire computer-training session (remotely) inside the Interstate and charged the laptop battery the whole time.
We put the timing equipment in it and got a 0-60 of 19.8 seconds. Yes, that is the slowest thing we've ever tested, but this is a motor home, remember. How fast could your house go? It doesn't feel that slow from behind the wheel and in passing on the freeway it's not dangerously lollygagging. The 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 also has enough torque to tow up to 6,400 pounds.
Do I Want It?
We'd have designed our version of the test rig a little differently if it were up to us. The main point of perplexity on the particular configuration that we had -- one of 11 different layouts available -- was this: Why are there four seats for travel but sleeping arrangements for only two? Where are those other two people supposed to sleep? Are they hitchhikers you pick up and drop off somewhere? The two captain's chairs forward of the galley and head and aft of the two front seats are comfy and versatile, they swivel around for socializing in the Shady Rest and they're nice for riding in. But if you were, say, a family of four, where would little Skippy and Muffin sleep? In a tent outside? This makes no sense. Even our old 1979 Volkswagen Westfalia camper van could sleep five, with a cot that stretched above the front seats to sleep a kid or two, making even that ancient camping pop-top death trap suitable for a more or less normal family. Why not either eliminate the two extra captain's chairs and use the space for a racquetball court or figure out a way to fold the extra seats flat into beds?
You can, of course, order a different configuration of Interstate in the Twin Dual Wardrobe or Large Dual Wardrobe configuration, which eliminates the two middle seats. But ours was the Lounge EXT setup with four seats and sleeping for two. All configurations accommodate no more than two when the lights go out. There's got to be a way to add two bunks in there -- even kids' bunks -- somewhere among the 11 layouts on two chassis lengths. As it is, we'd say to get the Lounge Dual Wardrobe or Twin Dual Wardrobe configuration without the extra seats.
There were a few other things we'd have designed differently:
- We would have liked more and bigger screen windows.
- Something in the back squeaked ferociously whenever the camper was in motion; we never figured out what it was despite sending several observers back there while underway. That kind of thing would drive you insane before you reached the state line.
- Outside rearview mirrors were great -- inside, there was a video screen where the rearview mirror usually goes. This electronic inside mirror takes a little adjusting, especially if you're wearing sunglasses while driving then looking in the “mirror.”
- The Interstate's windshield has defroster wires wiggling all through it. These were distracting, like looking out of a holding cell or bird cage.
- The sliding side door takes a really good slam to close completely. When you do slam it hard enough to close, all the little vent windows flex outward like the camper's exploding a little.
- Those vent windows are also small, awkward and time-consuming to open.
- The Kenwood stereo is a pain to operate.
- And finally, someone had maybe added power steering fluid or engine oil (likely the latter) without using a funnel so I could smell that stuff sizzling off for a little while. Either that or there was a fluid leak somewhere.
But overall, despite that list of fix-it items above, this is a good unit. When you put two enormous corporate entities like Mercedes and Airstream together, you will get a pretty good product. This one is fairly complex, like a family-sized aircraft carrier, so there are a few things that could stand some sorting out. But, overall, you'll be happy with it.
A big drawback for most buyers is the price: Our rig was around $153,000. This is obviously aimed at a very specific buyer. Those who balk at the cost can probably buy a beat-up, used mobile home on a Chevy or Ford full-sized van chassis for a lot less -- like a tenth or a hundredth the price, depending on how old and beat-up you go. We're more in the latter demographic.
2015 Airstream Interstate Price and Specifications
Base Price: $153,000
Powertrain: 3.0-liter, 188-hp, 325-lb-ft turbodiesel V6; five-speed automatic
Curb Weight: 9,087 lb (expressed in UBW or Usual Body Weight)
0-60: 19.8 seconds (AW) (not a typo)
Fuel Economy: 18-plus mpg (mfr)
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