For us a trip to Tauranga usually involves dropping in to see various colleagues in the RV industry to catch up on new products and innovations. In early August (prior to Level 3) we rang Nick Blair at BOP RV in Katikati. Nick and his father John have, for nearly 10 years, specialised in the importation of the Keystone Cougar fifth-wheel RVs from the manufacturer in Goshen, Indiana, USA. A few of those years just casually before establishing BOP RV Ltd in 2013. They are now the New Zealand agents for Grand Design RV and Keystone Cougar RV brands. Initially importing around 8–10 units a year, today they are selling up to 40 units a year, with models mixed across the whole range, from the smaller 7.9 metre Cougar 3500kg WOF-sized unit to the 10.5 metre Cougar on a COF at 4860kg.

Many regular visitors to Auckland and Mystery Creek motorhome shows over the last eight years will recognise Nick and John and the fifth-wheel RVs they sell. They will of course be at the NZMCA Motorhome Caravan & Leisure show at Mystery Creek in Hamilton, due to take place from September 18–20 but as we go to print those dates may be delayed till later in the year depending on the prevalent Covid-19 Level – keep abreast of any changes on our Facebook page.

Nick and John’s business was formerly situated on the main Katikati to Tauranga Road, but their workshop and RV yard is now on their property in the hills behind Katikati, and you need to make an appointment to see them there. What a beautiful spot to visit it was too, with stunning views over the hills to the water, some doggie company for Caspar, and a surprising number of fifth-wheelers plus a 2020 Imagine 9700mm caravan still being unpacked and set up from shipping, but it wasn’t ready for us that day.

We caught up with Nick initially then went over to look at a Cougar fifth-wheel unit that was nearly ready to be collected by its owner.  Official model name is the Keystone Cougar 23MLS fifth-wheel. Its total length is 7.9 metres, though you carry 20 per cent of that over the back of your vehicle with the hitch connection. Read more information about tow vehicles and how the hitch works in the links box below.

It feels like a very substantial unit when you stand beside it or walk around the nose and along the sides looking at the two slide-outs. Underneath there are sturdy stays all around with wood bases, and I later find out this is one of the new features – a four-point auto self-levelling system. Park up, get out and place the wooden pieces below the stays, push the button and down they come to automatically level the vehicle – nice. Lots of external storage with a full-width space (entry from both sides) under the living-area storage This area is even heated, as is all the pipework and floors in the living and storage areas. Services and in-house technology are housed in this area as well, Battery and related services are separate in a front nose storage pod.

The entry steps and door, on the right rear (driver’s) side, are substantial as well. After stepping inside, the space ahead and to the right of you takes your breath away. Wow, this is some living space that’s for sure. The full-width kitchen bench is fitted with twin stainless steel sinks, a chef’s head faucet to play with and has a downright sexy under-bench. A full-sized four-burner hob with separate grill/oven, overhead microwave, rangehood, lots of under-bench storage as well as overhead. Again, wow, you can’t argue with the size of what is on offer here, and there’s a big fridge with separate freezer set into the slide-out wall to the right – what more do you need.

Oh I know, a nice massage to end the day. Well you could have knocked me over with a feather when Nick said this model had upgraded automatic, LED-lit, reclining, heated, massage theatre chairs, positioned perfectly in the slide-out looking directly at the 40” Smart TV above the dinette. Both the Rock and I sat back in these for a heated massage of our buttocks, so unexpected.

The dinette area converts to a bed for guests. Nick showed me the iN-Command® Pro Series Gen. 3 with Global Connect system, using his phone to control heating, lights, power, TV, all sorts from within and afar if both devices are hooked into Wi-Fi at the same time.  So much smart technology appearing in RVs now; it is expanding our RV living experience that is for sure.

Stepping up into a mini hallway the sliding door reveals a bathroom, with good-sized vanity, and big shower unit with glass sliding doors. It is almost like a shub with a seat and built-in shelves. There is a near-full-height storage cupboard in the right corner with shelves within. The pedestal toilet has electric flush and is on a big black tank, so made for freedom camping.

The bedroom at the rear is spacious for what is essentially a caravan. The island bed has cupboard storage on each side and above, and USB charging and power on both sides of the bedhead as well. The three-door mirrored wardrobe will make many jealous – check out the pull-out draw boxes below – I’ve had less wardrobe space in some houses over the years. This is the second area that is in a slide-out to achieve the fabulous storage, and access to it along this side of the bed. One large window in this room, all the fittings are in the wall for TV and other connections.

The living space in a fifth-wheel RV just can’t be argued with, especially one with slide-outs to expand space. The space is still perfectly useable when not extended, say for shorter journeys, but when you’re parked up for a few days, or living for weeks, months or even years on the road, these units offer real mini-apartment-sized living with domestic features and spaces to feel at home with. At first the internal colourings and pelmet fabrics were a little standard ‘American’ styled, but that has changed significantly as you will see in these photos.

Purchasers can choose their model and decide on the options they want. In this case those chosen included the theatre seats as well as wiring suitable for the use of Lithium batteries – supply and installation of actual batteries and solar equipment is handled in New Zealand post-arrival, while essential wiring up of systems, setting up for aerials (Wi-Fi in this case) are all set for the customer to upgrade at their will by the team at BOP RV. Something like choosing Lithium is important, because the power management systems, chargers, etc. all need to be compatible from the source, something to remember in all cases.

These units are not for the casual user; they are for those who go and stay away, sometimes for months at a time. They’re also popular for those building new houses and living on-site, or when adding additional living to their property, or moving onto a section and establishing a new way of living on the land. You can achieve that comfortably in this unit, and it is easier to tow than a similar sized caravan. 
If you step over the 3500kg mark you will get even more living space and it will seriously change how you view your mobile home living options if you’re one of these types of people. Food for thought perhaps. Check out the links boxes to go to BOP RV website, or to read other relevant content listed here, video content from the viewing, and see Nick and John on site if you attend the Hamilton Mystery Creek show.

Tech Specs

2020 Keystone Cougar 23MLS

$115,000 4-berth model

Dimensions (mm)

  • L 7900, H 3400, Internal height 2000 average. Tow length Ute + Cougar = 12 metres, slide-outs measure – living 2500mm long x  900mm deep wardrobe slide is 1300mm long x 400mm deep
  • GVM 3499kg, tare 3160kg, payload 339kg, hitch weight 605kg

Features and technology

  • Power awning, iN-Command® Pro Series Gen. 3 with Global Connect, Standard level up Ground Control 3.0 electric 4-point auto self-levelling system, Theatre seat IPO tri-fold heated-massage and LED lights, Foil-wrapped seamless galley and lavatory counter tops

Trailer All EXCLUSIVE brand

  • EXCLUSIVE Road Armor™ pin box – rubberised torsion compound absorbs motion and vibration caused by road shock; the Road Armor™ suspension also equalises axle load to dampen shock and vibration. 90° plus MaxTurn Technology™ frame and hitch design for greater manoeuvrability. Hitch Vision for faster and easier hook-up. Self-adjusting brakes, reversing lights and wired up ready for customers camera preference. 2” accessory hitch receiver with 300lb capacity
  • Slide-outs – one in bedroom for wardrobe expansion, one in living area for seating and fridge both Tru-Fit Slide construction, a more durable slide room design that minimises functional motor and structural stress, resists leaking.

Self-containment

  • Water: fresh 230L, grey 230L, electric flush, pedestal toilet with 115L black waste tank, separate shower, vanity in bathroom.
  • Kitchen: twin stainless steel sinks
  • 226L fridge-freezer
  • 22L gas/electric water heater 12,000 BTU rapid recovery
  • Heating: 35,000 BTU gas furnace and 15,000 BTU air conditioner – with in-floor heat ducting,
  • 12V heat pads, racetrack A/C ducting
  • Furion range and 22” oven with glass cooktop cover, 4-burner gas hob
  • Pre-wired 4G LTE and Wi-Fi prep – Cougar OTG solar/inverter prep

USA manufacturer Keystone  |  Owner Thor Industries

The Keystone Company has been producing fifth-wheel RVs since 1996. Thor Industries bought Keystone in 2001, and the Keystone brand is the largest manufacturer of fifth-wheelers in North America.

Thor Industries are based in Elkhart, Indiana, and own Airstream, Heartland RV, Jayco Inc, Thor Motor Coach, Venture RV, Redwood RV, Starcraft RV, KZ RV, Keystone RV, Highland Ridge RV, Entegra Coach, DRV Luxury Suites, Crossroads RV, Cruiser RV, and the Erwin Hymer Group in Germany, previously the biggest RV manufacturer in Europe. Thor Industries are the biggest RV manufacturer in the world, with $7.86 billion in revenue in 2019. Thor Industries have been in business for over 40 years, and has 25 years RV manufacturing experience. They take the RV market seriously, and have award-winning reputations for RV manufacturing worldwide.

Construction

  • Double insulated laminated rear wall – Cougar uses this combined rolled fibreglass and a second layer of styrene insulation in their design, giving the best insulation for the RV in their opinion. The slide-out floors are also insulated with Astro-Foil a product that has air pockets for insulation aimed at keeping warm air in and cold air out. Even the Gooseneck and bulkhead divider is insulated fibreglass, and a foam gasket sealed pin box moderates the upper deck temperature. The whole underbelly and the floor is sealed with Coroplast, has a layer of Astro-Foil insulation beneath the fibreglass insulation above the tanks. There is even a heat duct running adjacent to the water lines, to spread heat around the tanks, waterlines and gate valves to keep them from freezing. Though if water did freeze, the specialised PEX plumbing figures and fittings can expand up to three times their diameter. No wonder you see these sorts of fifth-wheelers in the Alaskan gold and jade mining industry; they are certainly built to handle extreme temperatures.
  • Astro-foil-insulated slide floors and underbelly
  • Reflective foil-insulated painted fibreglass front cap with HitchVision™ and LED lights.
  • Heat-deflecting white, laminated sidewalls with 5-sided aluminium superstructure
  • 95mm walkable roof decking, with ladder access on the rear
  • Forced-air heated and enclosed underbelly
  • 12V heat pads on holding tanks, heated and enclosed dump valves, heated and enclosed convenience centre, dual attic vents for ventilationpolystyrene.
  • Acrylic capped ABS side skirts and rear bumper, high impact GRP scratch-resistant sidewalls. Double-glazed acrylic windows with fitted blinds and fly screens.