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High-Tech RVs Hit the Highway

Category: RV News
Source: MSN
Publish Date: Friday, June 29, 2007
Summary: The latest models feature all the gadgets and creature comforts of home.

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By Doug Newcomb, special to MSN

When most people think of RVs, what usually comes to mind is an elderly retired couple cruising in a massive motor home and backing up traffic for miles on a scenic stretch of two-lane highway. But according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), the fastest-growing demographic in RV ownership is between the ages of 18 and 34, while baby boomers are also taking them on the road in record numbers. "You've got a whole new generation of RV owners," reports Lysa Christopher, an editor at Xtreme RV Magazine, "and because of this, RV manufacturers have gotten a lot more sophisticated in what they offer." This younger, more active demo is also driving sales of "sport utility" RVs that incorporate mini-garages for motorcycles, ATVs, personal watercraft and all manner of outdoor toys.

Sound Off: High-tech RVs: Too cool, or too much?

The new breed of RV owners also wants to bring along their tech toys as well as their creature comforts. "As far as what you can get inside an RV these days, you're limited only by your imagination," says Kevin Broom, a spokesman for the RVIA. "Whatever you can get in your home, you can get in your RV." This includes not only conventional home technology such as flat-panel displays, HD satellite TV, surround-sound systems and Internet access, but also amenities such as fireplaces, saunas and central-vacuum systems. In other words, you can enjoy all the comfort and convenience of home on wheels.

Drive-in Movies

Ah, the great outdoors in the summer: hanging beside the campfire with friends, under a starry night sky, watching Robin Williams in the movie RV on a large HDTV display. That's right. Some RVs even have their own drive-in theaters. Travel Supreme's 2008 Select Limited, for example, features a 26-inch LCD that slides out of one side of the vehicle's exterior and is nestled next to a DVD player and speaker system with a subwoofer. And if the bugs begin to bite—or neighbors in the RV park start to complain—you can take your movie-watching inside to a 42-inch high-definition 1080-pixel LCD set that's hooked up to a DIRECTV HD satellite receiver (and with four-way distribution to send hi-def to the 26-inch set outside, as well as a 32-inch LCD in the bedroom and another 26-inch LCD in the front of the coach). An HD-DVD player, Denon 5.1 surround-sound receiver and in-ceiling speakers are also on board, and a programmed universal remote controls it all. Of course, there's also a microwave for the popcorn, so you don't have to worry about burning the Jiffy Pop over a campfire.

Staying Connected

These days a laptop is as much a required piece of gear for any modern-day RV road warrior as a good map—or make that a GPS navigation system, since many RVs now come with those, too. While many RV parks offer DSL, cable hookups and Wi-Fi, for an Internet connection anywhere you roam, companies such as MotoSAT, iNetVu and Magellan provide the hardware for satellite Internet service. You can even bundle it with satellite TV service (though not the other way around), but satellite Internet is rather expensive, starting at about $5,000 for the equipment, with service fees of approximately $60 a month on top of that. For those who must work from the road and need a place away from the many distractions of RV life—napping, playing, more napping—some rigs offer fold-out computer work stations.

Toy Haulers

Of course, RVing is more about playing (and napping) than working, and that's why one of the fastest-growing segments in the industry is sport-utility RVs. Also known as toy haulers, they feature a separate compartment in the back that can accommodate all manner of wheeled and water toys, as well as storage for gear—helmets, life jackets, tools, spare tires and parts. Some SURVs also come with hydraulic lifts that take the hassle out of storing your stuff after a long day of play. Newmar's All-Star Cycle Hauler even comes with what the RV industry terms "slides"—sections that pop out at the push of a button—on each side to accommodate a pair of his and hers cycles. Some RVs also have garages big enough for a small car so that drivers can easily get around once they set up camp. "It's basically a space in the back where you can park, say, a MINI Cooper," says the RVIA's Broom.

The Great Indoors

With some of the comforts of modern, high-tech RVs, some owners may never want to leave the campsite—or even the vehicle. If it's cold out and you don't feel like lighting a fire, you can stoke up the fireplace in yourKZ Sportsmen fifth-wheel trailer. And if that doesn't take the chill off, step into your dry sauna, offered in some DoubleTree RVs, in both one- and two-person versions. RVs can even be outfitted with a library complete with shelves that tilt backward so the books don't slide off when you're motoring down the highway. Many new models also have washers and dryers so that there's no downtime at the local laundromat, and some sport central-vacuum systems to suck up any dirt that gets tracked in.

You Can Take It With You

Modern RVs prove that you can take it with you when you go—for a price, of course. Xtreme RV's Christopher says it's not unusual for RVers to spend $100,000 to pimp their rides with some of these amenities. While many high-tech features come standard these days on top-of-the-line machines, it's also possible to add almost anything you want. And many of the most sought-after bells and whistles from the high-end models are starting to trickle down to the more modestly priced models, Christopher notes. "There are entry-level vehicles with great features that are a third of the cost," she says.

"And to many people, RVing is still less expensive than buying plane tickets and paying for hotel rooms," she reasons.

But if you do buy one and take it on the back roads and byways, please pull over to let the rest of us pass.

Doug Newcomb, who lives in Hood River, Ore., has been a contributing editor at Sound & Vision magazine since 2000. He also has covered mobile electronics since 1988, as editor of Car Audio and Electronics, Car Stereo Review and other car audio magazines. He also has written on the subject for Rolling Stone, Men's Journal and Playboy.

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