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TL Test
Trooper & Futura 21'
 To commemorate 35 years of building travel trailers and simultaneously ring in a new millennium, Coachmen RV debuted a line of recreational vehicles called Futura 2000. The 2100CB road test Futura was primarily set apart from its cousins in the company product lineup by its more aerodynamic body style. A molded ABS body-cladding trim material with rounded corners and flowing lines along the trailer's lower section, as well as on the entire front- and rear-end caps of some models, give the Futura its individual look. Coachmen's intent by including several 7-foot-wide models for the first time is to make these trailers light enough to be towed by SUVs rated in the 5,000-pound range.

It seemed only logical, then, to match the Futura 21-footer to an Isuzu Trooper Limited, with a 5,000-pound tow rating and an as-tested price of $35,277. The Trooper's marketing slogan is "Go farther," which is indicative of the vehicle's rugged design. But throw into the mix a Futura 2100CB with nearly all the comforts of home, and the "Go farther" slogan suddenly takes on a whole new meaning.

The 2100CB is the smallest model in the new Futura line, which consists of five 7-foot and six 8-foot (wide) models ranging from 21 feet 11 inches to 31 feet 4 inches in length. With a base price of $12,600, it lives up to its good-value billing. For that price you get a livable RV with all the basics, including sleeping accommodations for four. The test model sported several additional amenities and upgrades that elevated its standard of living considerably. They included Coachmen's 35th Anniversary Package ($1,708) consisting of a 13,500-BTU air conditioner and a 15-foot awning; a microwave ($315), LP-gas oven ($119), a one-piece tub enclosure ($126) in lieu of the standard vinyl-coated wallboard unit, a compact AM/FM/CD stereo ($315), stabilizer jacks ($217) and a few other items. With options, the as-tested price is bumped to $16,365.

The Futura 2100CB has a 3,548-pound base weight, but with filled fluids and void of supplies, it weighed in at 4,331 pounds, which is well within its 5,920-pound gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr). However, given the Trooper's 5,000-pound tow rating, owners can only add 669 pounds of gear and supplies. If you want to utilize the extra 920 pounds the trailer is capable of carrying, you will need a tow vehicle rated for 6,000 pounds or more.

We packed carefully, leaving nonessentials at home, so as not to exceed the Trooper's towing capacity. With the Trooper's 44 cubic feet of rear cargo space, we were able to stow some camping gear aboard that didn't fit in the trailer. And if you don't need the rear seat for passengers, the 60/40-split seat back can be lowered to expand the Trooper's cargo area to 85 cubic feet.

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Trailer Livability
We were impressed with the Futura's frugal use of every inch of available space in as practical a manner as possible. With a finished interior width of only 82 inches, space is indeed at a premium. To create an uncramped atmosphere, the designers used the entire width of the trailer's front section for a large U-shaped dinette with a 38x38-inch freestanding table. Both sides have a 25x18-inch screened window to provide good cross ventilation and allow adequate natural light in. And if you add the optional 47x18-inch front window ($161) like that in the test trailer, the feeling is that of a bright conservatory.

Lower the table and lay out the cushions and the dinette quickly and easily converts to a 61x82-inch bed that we found very inviting and comfortable at day's end. The windows are equipped with miniblinds for privacy and an overhead cabinet spans the front of the trailer and offers the convenience of individual reading lights on its underside. Mounted between the lights is the optional GE Spacemaker AM/FM/CD stereo. This compact little unit also houses a clock, a timer and a 40-watt light.

Streetside, aft of the dinette, is the galley, which has the luxury of a double stainless-steel sink, but its size limits countertop space considerably. Aside from narrow strips on either side of the range, the only usable countertop of any size is a small section between the sink and the dinette seat. Fortunately, the dinette table is within relatively easy reach. The galley is equipped with a three-burner range, microwave and useful storage locations. Coachmen did an admirable job of utilizing space generally wasted by devising a U-shaped drawer with a narrow center and long sides to fit the contour of the sink.

Directly across from the galley and within easy reach is the refrigerator and pantry. Atop the refrigerator there's a shelf for a television that can be viewed from the dinette seats. We appreciated that the pantry offered adjustable shelves so that it can be tailored to fit specific storage needs. We also liked the fact that everything associated with the galley was in close proximity because we prefer to save our walking for the outdoors.

The remainder of the trailer can be closed off visually by pulling an accordion-like privacy curtain. Curbside at the rear is a comfortable 48x74-inch bed, but it's hard to make up because it's almost fully surrounded by walls, making it necessary to climb on the bed while tucking in sheets and blankets. There are windows at the side and rear, the latter serving as an emergency exit, that allow plenty of ambient light to enter. We found that the windows, combined with a ceiling hatch, can be opened to create a pleasant cross-flow of air even when the privacy curtains are pulled.

Storage space in the bedroom consists of a deep overhead cabinet at the head of the bed and a small hanging locker in the corner at the bed's foot where we stashed our shirts and blouses. There is also plenty of storage space beneath the bed, accessible from a door in the bed's base. The only problem is that there are no dividers or bulkheads in the compartment, therefore items placed inside have a tendency to slide to the other end where they cannot be reached from the door. Fortunately, there is an outside door to this compartment that improves access.

Streetside, across from the bed, are a taller hanging locker (49x19x13 inches) and a vanity. The vanity is equipped with a mirrored medicine cabinet where the regular assortment of small toiletries can be placed. Below is a small plastic sink and countertop with a storage cabinet underneath. We liked the idea of having the vanity area separate from the enclosed shower and toilet because it still allows one to use the sink should the other facilities be occupied.

The bathroom, adjacent to the vanity, houses the toilet and a 75x25x33-inch one-piece plastic shower stall with convenient molded-in shelves for soap and shampoo. In use, the bathroom was functional and had enough overall space for the job, but the door fell free at the top hinge because the mounting screws were too small. While an easy problem to repair, we'd prefer to see a better matchup of such simple components at the factory.

Although the 20,000-BTU furnace took the chill out of brisk nights and early mornings, the distribution of heat was not consistent, with more warm air flowing in front. A quick check of the vents revealed a disconnected hose. Since it was difficult to reach, it stayed that way until the test trailer went back to the manufacturer.

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Trooper Comfort, Convenience
Four-door SUVs, large and small, are popular as hot cakes today, and the Trooper is right up there with the best of the import crowd. This rig has seats that take care of full-size adults with reasonable comfort, excellent visibility out the windows and down at the gauges, easy entry and egress due to well-planned door openings and a full range of powered convenience items. Its sound-deadening elements keep the interior as quiet as a driver could reasonably want, even under full throttle, and a firm but compliant suspension helps isolate those annoying road shocks and jarring freeway sections.

The Trooper comes in three trim levels: S, LS and Limited. We tested the Limited, which represents top of the line interior and exterior enhancements. Inside is a plush leather interior with elegant wood trim accents that create a luxurious environment that helped make the trip to and from the campground pure enjoyment. Driver and passenger seats have power adjustments -- eight-way for the driver and four-way for the passenger -- so they can be dialed in to suit many individual preferences. And the seats have heaters, which brings the comfort level up when the outside temperature is low.

This cozy environment is made complete with a high quality sound system. In addition to the normal AM/FM/cassette stereo, there is an in-dash six-disc CD changer, so you don't have to leave your favorite tunes at home. Two more exceptionally nice features on the test vehicle were a power moonroof and an overhead information center that provides a graphic compass heading and digital readouts of outside temperature and barometric pressure. All the extras upped the $28,650 base price of the Trooper approximately $6,600.

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On the Road
Trooper has become a household name among SUV enthusiasts because Isuzu has spent the last 15 years promoting and refining it, and the refinements carry over into 2000. New this year is the addition of a transmission feature that Isuzu calls Intelligent Grade Sensing.

It's designed to prevent the transmission from gear-hunting when going up and down steep grades, and it's especially helpful when towing. To safely control downhill speed, the system stays in a lower gear, while uphill climbs are improved by preventing the transmission from shifting into a higher gear that can't sustain the desired speed. The system worked flawlessly with the Futura in tow.

Another nice feature found on the 4WD Trooper with automatic transmission is Torque On Demand (TOD). Isuzu teamed up with Borg-Warner to design this system, which is a variation of full-time 4WD. An electronic control unit (ECU) monitors front- and rear-wheel speed, throttle position and brake application and then automatically adjusts how much torque is delivered to the front wheels for optimum traction at all times, under all conditions. Isuzu says the system is especially useful for take-off performance on slippery surfaces and that it improves stability at high speed and when cornering. All Isuzu 4WDs also come with a limited-slip rear differential.

Power for the Trooper is provided by an all-aluminum 3.5-liter V-6 with a dual overhead camshaft that generates 215 hp and 230 lb-ft of torque. It's the only engine offered on the Trooper. Although the V-6 is adequate, a V-8 option would be popular among towing enthusiasts.

With the trailer in tow, acceleration runs of 0-60 mph took 22.6 seconds and passing maneuvers of 40-60 mph took 14.5 seconds, which indicates that you will want to merge and pass with well-thought-out care and timing. Hill climbs are par for a smaller V-6 rig; we slowed on a 6-percent grade to about 45 mph in second gear, manually shifted down.

We used a weight-distributing hitch to manage the trailer hitch weight. So equipped, the Trooper/Coachmen combination worked well together. There was no tendency to sway or bounce and the ride always felt controlled.

New Trooper buyers shouldn't have to worry about repairs for some time. Isuzu recently showed its confidence in its vehicles' reliability by extending the factory warranty to 10 years or 120,000 miles, whichever comes first.

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The Futura 21-footer represents an attempt to build smaller, lighter trailers to attract a new segment of the market. Coachmen doesn't appear to be cutting corners when it comes to construction materials, and it uses a vacuum-lamination process to assemble the structures. The 21-footer starts with a 1-inch tubular cage made of aircraft-grade aluminum to frame the walls, floor and ceiling. Polystyrene insulation is used throughout, smooth fiberglass over lauan sheathes the exterior and decorative lauan covers the interior walls and ceiling. The floor is vinyl over lauan, and the underbelly is Tru-Grit laminated to lauan for protection from the elements.

The lightweight ABS body trim pieces that give Futuras their distinctive look are said to be very durable and color permeated to disguise scratches and simplify minor repairs. The crowned roof is covered with EPDM rubber over a lauan plywood deck.

The holding tank compartments are enclosed and heated, which is a nice touch for a lower-priced small trailer. Interior cabinetry is made of real hardwood frames with an oak finish on the doors and all drawers have metal drawer glides for long-term durability. Screws are used to mount the cabinets to electro-galvanized steel backing plates in the side walls. Another nice touch is that added insulation is placed around the refrigerator to help it operate more efficiently.

While the materials are high quality, we noticed a few additional areas where assembly quality control appeared to need further attention. The adhesive holding the paneling to the inside of one of the storage compartments had worked loose leaving the panel flapping free, and the ABS lower-body trim treatment was coming loose on one of the trailer's sides and both ends. These trim pieces were secured with double-sided tape, instead of screws or other fasteners, which was already letting loose when the trailer was first delivered to our office, so its long-term durability is questionable. We found a sharp exposed screw tip in the galley cabinetry that could present a problem and a glue stain on the interior wall in the dinette area -- none of which indicated inferior materials, but rather, a little sloppiness in the construction process. Most, if not all of these problems, can be easily rectified with more attention to detail.

The Trooper Limited is a feature-laden vehicle that will be appreciated by family RVers, whether towing or not. It's a competitively outfitted SUV that fares well for those shopping in this price range. As for the Coachmen Futura 21-footer, it's a solid value that will be even better with some fine tuning on the assembly line, and this well-designed trailer won't break your bank account or your SUV's drivetrain.

By Randy Scott

Photos: Randy Scott

Coachmen Recreational Vehicle Company, P.O. Box 30, Middlebury, Indiana 46540; (219) 825-5821

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TL Test
Trailer Livability
Trooper Comfort, Convenience
On the Road

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