Interstate Grand Tour

The Interstate Grand Tour: Bigger On The Inside

Airstream’s Interstate motorhome has been a best-seller for Airstream (and leads the industry in the category of diesel Class B’s)—so why mess with success?

Well, since Airstream began the second generation Interstate, known as the Interstate 3500, it has really been more of a “touring coach” than an RV. Although sought-after by occasional campers, tailgaters, and people who want all the comforts of home on a road-trip, many owners are likely to book a high-end hotel room at the end of the day.

Nothing wrong with that, but if you wanted a more traditional Class B RV for two people, the Interstate might not have appealed. The floorplan was as much about seating space as anything else. Some versions seated nine people, which was great for large families but used up a lot of space.

The new Grand Tour floorplan of the Interstate is a big improvement for those who want more of a traditional RV. Bigger kitchen with a microwave drawer, double the fridge/freezer space, much more storage, permanent beds, a nice little desk, and many other small pleasantries make it really usable for those who want to spend their nights cozily tucked in to their own bedsheets.

… and cook their own food, because the kitchen is much more functional for preparing meals — and carry a lot of gear for outdoor activities (because the storage space is astonishing for a Class B motorhome).

Interstate at Navajo National Monument

Meanwhile, there’s no compromise on features. The Interstate Grand Tour retains the styling, handling, performance, and (numerous) safety features of the regular Grand Tour. The quiet diesel engine leaps forward from a standing start, albeit with a bit of turbo lag, and the handling is so forgiving that virtually anyone can drive it with confidence. It’s still every bit a Mercedes, and still stealthy enough (with no flashy graphics or swoopy stripes) that the casual observer might not realize it’s an RV.

The overly-complicated in-dash head unit remains, alas. With that unit Kenwood has proven once again that trying to do too many things at once is not a good idea. Radio, satellite radio, navigation, MP3 player, iPod integration, phone integration, USB, Bluetooth, Wifi, and other features result in a ridiculously complex user interface—with touch screen and a series of tiny impossible-to-read buttons—that is frankly too much hassle to bother with. Most people will likely just stick with the Nav function and try to ignore the rest.

Our only other gripe was the loud propane generator. We didn’t want to fire the generator up unless we really needed it. But when the temperature in Phoenix hit 111 degrees F, we ran the generator while driving so that the roof air conditioner could augment the dash air, and the combination dealt with the heat quite handily.

The Interstate Grand Tour makes a fine base camp. On a recent trial we found that just one massive overhead bin would swallow two fully loaded backpacks with tent, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads; two folding chairs; a daypack; two pairs of boots; a camera bag, and still have leftover space for a few small things. That left about seven more drawers, bins, and cabinets for the rest of our personal stuff, not counting the extensive kitchen storage.

Interstate Grand Tour

The bathroom is about the same as the regular Interstate, which means if you’re a large person you should probably try it on for size before you commit to taking showers in there. The standard twin beds are very comfortable, and bolsters are provided to allow conversion to a single king-size bed. The one-person desk, accessed by swiveling the driver’s seat 180 degrees, is surprisingly usable, with conveniently located USB and inverter outlets.

There’s really just one tradeoff for all the interior improvements: less seating. The Grand Tour seats only two, with no option for a belted third seat anywhere. Got guests? Tell them to bring their own wheels and tent, and follow along as you motor down the freeway getting an honest 18 MPG.

This is obviously a limitation for families, but that’s not who Airstream is aiming to serve with this product. With a starting price above $150,000, well-to-do empty nesters with itchy feet are probably going to be the core of the market, and frankly, they’re darned lucky people if they land an Interstate Grand Tour in their driveway.

-By Rich Luhr