2016 Forest River FR3 30DS
This RV Lifestyle Magazine Road Test feature appeared in Volume 44, Number 3.
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Cruising in Style!
The RV Lifestyle Road Test Team had the opportunity to cruise the highways and byways of the Niagara Escarpment in a 2016 Forest River FR3 – an affordable class A motorhome that has become a real hit among RV enthusiasts.
The FR3 crossover motorhome combines the best features, family friendly livability and affordability of an easy to drive Class C motorhome with the space, convenience and styling of a Class A. Forest River, one of the largest RV manufacturing groups in North America, has a unique approach to the FR3 project – you can pick any colour you like, as long as it is grey, and the coach comes fully-equipped with all of the equipment that you need for your RV adventures. About the only choice you have to make in the FR3 line is the overall length of the vehicle – three models are available – the 25DS, 28DS, and 30DS. All three models have dual slide-out sections – the major difference is the interior space devoted to the bedroom, livingroom and galley areas, and the overall length of the vehicles – the 25DS is 26’10” on a 158” wheelbase; the 28DS is 29’10” on a 190” wheelbase, and the 30DS is 31’10” on the 190” wheelbase.
If you have not experienced the ride of a compact class A motorhome, you really should take the time to visit a local dealer for a test drive. With a peppy 6.8 L three valve Triton V-10 commercial quality gas engine and a full array of driver assist features – power steering, 4-wheel anti-lock power disc brakes, automatic transmission, cruise control, and tilt steering, this category of motorhome is a refreshingly agile and pleasant driving experience compared to larger coaches, and it handles with ease on winding country roads. The 5 Speed Torqshift automatic transmission with overdrive and Tow/Haul mode is smooth and quiet. Many RV enthusiasts enjoy touring with a “toad” – a smaller vehicle that is better suited for side-trips once you reach your destination. The FR3 comes with a standard 5,000-pound capacity hitch with 500-pound maximum tongue weight, and the unit has a 7-pin plug. The engine produces 362 HP and 457-pound feet of torque, more than enough to tow a car or SUV behind the motorhome.
This chassis features the Ford Chassis Information System, which is a great convenience for your navigator, but a bit of a distraction for the driver. Please keep your hands on the steering wheel and your eyes on the road while the vehicle is in motion.
We were very impressed with the overall smoothness of the ride, thanks to the very well designed suspension – there are heavy duty multi-leaf springs with a heavy duty track bar in front, and a heavy-duty multi-leaf spring rear suspension. Tuned Bilstein shocks are ideally suited for a vehicle of this size.
Night driving is a pleasure thanks to the halogen automotive headlights with LED halo accent rings and the Hella fog lights really come in handy in nasty weather, and when you arrive at your campsite after dark.
A quick survey of FR3 owners indicates that fuel efficiency varies from about 7 mpg (US) to 10 mpg (US), or 23 – 33 l/100km. Some drivers report results up to 12 mpg (19.6 l/100km) depending on the fuel used – the ethanol mixtures that are common in many parts of North America produce lower emissions but deliver lower fuel efficiency. With an 80-gallon fuel tank that gives you a comfortable cruising range from about 500 to 700 miles, depending on road conditions, cruising speed, and your driving style.
The FR3 motorhomes are built on Ford’s 18,000-pound capacity F53 chassis, which has proven to be an excellent platform in terms of handling and overall ride quality. The frame is a single-channel ladder design that is engineered for modern motorhome applications. The chassis has a truss configuration that facilitates a flush-floor interior – a major advantage usually seen only in larger models. The floor is constructed with 1.5” tubular steel and 1.5” marine grade laminated wood.
The Forest River FR3 units carry a three-year, 36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper chassis warranty, and the powertrain is covered by a five-year 60,000-mile limited warranty.
Forest River uses a “Smart-Structure Truss System” for added chassis strength and durability. The FR3 radius aluminum truss frame roof is referred to as a “full walk-on” design, indicating that the construction is strong enough to withstand the weight of an adult at any point on the roof. The curved engineering has an aluminum A frame structure that ranges from a 3” truss at the sides to a 6” at the centre, and the roof is covered with Alpha Super Flex roof material that is 50% lighter than the conventional EPDM roofing material, with a traction grip surface that won’t become chalky like other roof materials. The Alpha product is puncture and tear resistant, and provides protection against mold, algae and fungus. There is a rear ladder to provide easy access to the roof for regular inspections, but with a 12-year limited warranty, it is unlikely that you will have any worries with this roof coating.
The FR3 sidewalls use a 1.75” vacuum bonded construction that features a 1.5” tubular aluminum frame and high density block foam insulation. The 3” laminated seamless floor is comprised of 1.5” laminated wood decking over 1.5” tubular trusses.
The fiberglass exterior of the motorhome is smooth and strong, with large tinted safety glass windows for a spectacular view from inside the unit, and a sleek exterior surface. The side hinged fiberglass front grille provides easy access for basic engine maintenance tasks. The front cap has aerodynamic integrated marker lights and a one-piece radius windshield that reduces your blind spot – keep in mind that this vehicle has a backup and side view camera system that utilizes 40 megapixel cameras to give you a superb view of surrounding traffic.
The FR3 promises to hold its dashing good looks for a long time, thanks to the colour infused marine-grade gel coat fiberglass sidewalls. The decals and paint are protected from UV rays, and Forest River uses the same composite gel coaton the front, rear, and side walls so that any fading that will inevitably occur over the years should be consistent on all sides of the coach.
IN THE CAMPGROUND
Access to the interior of the coach is very easy thanks to the powered triple entry step and 32” wide side door with a large grab handle for safety. The entry steps have rubber treads for all-weather safety.
Just inside the door you will find the switch to activate the 16’ electric power awning – you will really like the integrated LED light strip. The FR3 also features slide-out awning toppers that keep rain, snow, and leaves away from the slide-out joints.
The FR3 has plenty of exterior storage for a vehicle of this size, and we were very impressed with the seamless Rotocast exterior storage boxes that incorporate one-way drains so you can rinse out the compartments after a long trip. There is a “Super Storage” passthrough compartment with 112 cu. Ft capacity – ideal for camping equipment, bikes, and a wide range of gear. If you order the optional exterior entertainment centre your campsite patio will be the centre of attraction on “game day”. If you prefer to keep it simple, there is a 110v patio outlet where you can plug in your portable entertainment. The standard Onan 4.0 KW Generator is rubber mounted, decreasing the amount of vibration throughout the coach. It is obvious that the Forest River engineers have gone camping – the generator is NOT located under the bedroom, so you don’t have to worry about noise, vibration, or exhaust fumes while dry camping.
The exterior hookup compartments are designed for easy access and ultimate convenience. The plumbing compartment includes easy access to the black and grey water tank valves, the city water hookup, fresh water tank filling port, and the outside shower. A 12V “bay light” is a very welcome touch. The exterior electrical compartment
houses the Progressive Dynamics 70 amp Power Converter/Charger, which features a “Built-in Charge Wizard” to supply four types of power – switching automatically between “Boost Mode”, “Normal Mode”, “Trickle Charge” and “Desulfation Mode”. The power converter also provides reverse battery protection, electronic current limiting, high and low line voltage protection. This state-of-the-art power converter delivers filtered DC power to all 12 Volt lighting and appliance circuits, for safe and reliable service. With a variable speed intelligent cooling fan and automatic thermal shutdown, this is definitely not your grandfather’s power converter!
The FR3 is one of the new breed of class A motorhomes that features a front bunk over the driver and navigator seats to expand your sleeping capacity. This is a serious bunk bed – capable of accommodating a 350 pound adult. Unlike many power overhead front bunk systems, this design uses strong magnets at the corners of the bunk to hold the bed in the stored position – eliminating rattles that are common to other systems.
The entrance area is where you will find access to several key RV components, including the battery disconnect, outside step switch, and awning control. Many RVs have outside entrance grab bars – the FR3 has an inside handle mounted to the sidewall.
We really like the closet integrated into the entrance area – use this for a broom, some basic tools, and a raincoat and you will wonder why every manufacturer doesn’t include this feature!
While some motorhomes present an obstacle course for drivers entering the cockpit area, the FR3’s flat floor has nothing to trip over… no steps, no lips, no moldings.
There is more technology than meets the eye in the FR3 galley, with a full complement of cooking appliances including a deluxe microwave oven, a three-burner high output stove and oven, and an 8 cu. ft. gas/electric refrigerator. Storage space is very well planned and outfitted within the shaker style cherry hardwood cabinets. The drawers in the kitchen base cabinet glide effortlessly and lock securely for travel. We liked the satin nickel residential quality hardware, and the deep stainless steel double bowl kitchen sink – the high rise brushed nickel faucet gives you lots of room for cooking and miscellaneous chores.
Just above the galley, the 15,000 BTU roof air conditioner offers a “Quick Cool” feature that really works to dispel the summer heat.
We liked the quality and the fit and finish of the Dehco Trekk Distressed Wood Plank Linoleum flooring, which is essentially maintenance free and ideal for use in the galley and dinette area.
This coach has been designed for the entertainment needs of millennials – the galley features a Furrion Theater System with AM/FM/CD/DVD/BT. The 32” HD LED TV with flip up hidden storage is the perfect size for watching your favourite programs during dinner. There is an AUX port and Optical Audio In so you can enjoy your portable music and entertainment library from your iPad.
RV SYSTEMS CONVENIENCE CENTRE
With a full array of electronic sensors monitoring the various RV systems, the FR3 puts technology at your fingertips thanks to the RV systems convenience centre. On this panel you will find your slide-out controls, your readouts for tanks and batteries, the water pump switch, the water heater ignition switch, and the generator start/stop switch and hour meter. Our test unit had an Arctic Pack heated holding tank system – the switch was conveniently located in with the other RV system controls.
The FR3 has a very efficient floor plan with a dinette and livingroom slideout section opposite the galley. The wraparound dinette features comfortable booth style seating with storage compartments, and it transforms in seconds into a bed.
The deep seated Hide-a-Bed sofa is very comfortable – during the day you can extend the dual foot rests, and at night you can open the sofa bed to enjoy a good night’s sleep on the traditional mattress.
Storage compartments above the sofa and dinette are easily accessed and lighting in the slide is very well placed.
If there are any compromises to create a compact motorhome with lots of entertainment and dining space, these are found in the master bedroom. With a true residential king-size bed there is not much space to move around the mattress… but there is a full wardrobe wall with his and hers closets at the foot of the bed, and the mattress is supremely comfortable – it is a three-foam sandwich that comes with décor blended bedspread and pillows. The decorative hardwood slide-out fascia and matching décor headboard are nice touches.
During the day, the bedroom is quite bright thanks to a large rear window; at night the accent and reading lights are well placed, as is the bedside 110v outlet. You can order the optional LED TV to fit into the wardrobe wall.
IN THE BATHROOM
The washroom facilities in the FR3 are well planned and relatively spacious for a vehicle of this size. We were very impressed with the 30” x 36” shower stall, larger than most units in this category, the water saver shower head with shut-off control, and the residential style foot flush toilet – not one of the low profile models so often found in an RV. The anti-microbial one-piece sliding shower door should be easy to maintain in an RV environment. The Plexi-Glass skylight over the shower brightens the washroom, and the 14” x 14” roof vent helps clear the room of steam after a shower. The vehicle is pre-wired for an optional power ceiling vent.
The bathroom vanity is compact, and the stainless steel sink is an excellent choice. There is adequate storage under the sink and the corner medicine cabinet with mirror is convenient.
There are only a few options that you may want to add to the very well-equipped FR3. These include automatic hydraulic leveling jacks with dashboard control, a lockable exterior entertainment centre with 24” LED TV and dual Bluetooth capable outdoor speakers in the side wall, and a 24” LED TV in the bedroom.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
At a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of just $97,995 (in 2016) this class A motorhome is a great value. Smooth, quiet, and a pleasure to drive, it is the ideal size for long or short trips, with all the standard features you need to make the most of your RV vacations.