Shooting the Breeze!
A day spent photographing and reviewing Tiffin’s new Allegro Breeze just wasn’t long enough…
by Richard Robertson.
The Australian RV market is almost devoid of A-class motorhomes despite their obvious appeal. Big, flash and often extremely expensive they are the epitome of motorhoming aspiration to many people. When the general public thinks motorhome they invariably picture one of these machines.
There are a variety of reasons why big A-class motorhomes are no longer locally manufactured, ranging from cost through to their size being unsuitable for many Australian caravan parks and campsites. However, the concept remains highly desirable – witness the number of bespoke coach conversions – and if the right balance of price and size present themselves there is sure to be a small but viable market. Enter the Tiffin Allegro Breeze.
Tiffin is a well regarded US manufacturer that only makes A-class motorhomes. From what I can make out from my own American travels, Tiffin sits above the larger, mainstream manufacturers in terms of quality and desirability. Gold-Coast based MJR Autocentre now has the exclusive distribution rights to Tiffin Motorhomes in Australia and proprietor Murray Robertson – there’s a good name – is now a regular at Tiffin’s factory in Red Bay, Alabama.
Tiffin manufactures about 300 A-class motorhomes per year and it appears the company is small enough to respond to outsiders like “Crazy Australians” and their requests for an Australian-adaptable model. I say “adaptable” because Australian-bound motorhomes are still built left-hand drive. It seems considerable numbers at a time are required to warrant right-hand drive production, but Tiffin does provide some of the componentry for the body conversion in addition to various engineering tweaks.
MJR Autocentre started out many years ago as an automotive compliancing business and is well placed to complete the mechanical and structural conversion once the vehicles land in Australia. Murray started Tiffin Motorhomes Australia as a separate business to help establish the brand’s local identity, although it operates from his current premises. In a prefect world there will always be one or two Allegro Breezes on hand for inspection, but in reality it depends on the vagaries of shipping timetables as well as Tiffin USA’s production schedule. If you want to drop by and check one out it’s best to call ahead!
In America, A-class motorhomes are sub-divided in two groups: gas (petrol) and diesel. Gas A-classes are front-engined and ride almost exclusively on a Ford F53 Super Duty motorhome chassis. They’re powered by a front-mounted 6.8 L V10 engine that drives through a 5-speed auto gearbox; ride on steel spring suspension and are the budget end of the market. Diesel A-classes are almost always rear engined – they’re know as ‘diesel pushers’ – usually have a 6-speed Allison automatic transmission and ride on air suspension. A number of off-the-shelf chassis/engine packages are available to motorhome manufactures, I believe, and they represent the top end of the market. As an aside, you can easily pick a gas A-class as it has a grill at the front for the radiator.
The Allegro Breeze 32 is billed as the smallest diesel pusher in America and is a relatively recent addition to the Tiffin range, commencing production in 2012. It’s actually 33 ft 1 in (10.1 m) long and has a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of 10,660 kg, meaning you need a medium rigid (MR) driver’s licence. Its tare weight of 8660 kg provides a payload of 2000 kg, depending on options, plus it has a 3500 kg towing capacity.
Tiffin is unusual – perhaps unique – in that it manufactures its own A-class chassis. They call it a PowerGlide™ chassis and it appears to be tough as nails. The chassis rails are bolted together using huck bolts: specialised fasteners from the trucking industry that look like bolts but work more like rivets. Tightened to 27,000 lbs pressure, they never need checking or tightening once installed and cannot be removed except by cutting out. It’s a system more durable than welding and should ensure a long and trouble-free chassis life. Power comes from a 6.4-litre V8 Navistar MaxxForce 7 turbo-diesel engine producing 179 kW @ 2600 rpm and 840 Nm @ 1400 rpm. It drives through a 6-speed Allison automatic and the whole package rides on air suspension, with levelling valves in each corner (3 is the industry standard). Interestingly, the same engine is rebadged by Ford as a PowerStroke V8 and fitted to its big F-Series pick-ups. With a design life of 500,000 miles (800,000 km) chances are you won’t wear it out…
In the US, new Allegro Breezes have independent front suspension with disc brakes, but for the moment Australian-spec models use the earlier rigid-beam front axle with drum brakes. It seems there are technical issues adapting the independent front end to right-hand drive that Murray and his team are still working on, but after having driven the review vehicle I can honestly say it lacks nothing in ride quality or braking performance.
Having travelled extensively in America in motorhomes from the three major manufacturers – Fleetwood, Winnebago and Thor – I was keen to inspect and drive a Tiffin. Prior to this review my only American A-class driving experience was last September in a near-new Thor Windsport 34J Bunkhouse. Being a front-engined ‘gasser’ it couldn’t have been more different, technically, and those differences translated into an equally different driving experience.
The Tiffin’s front seat occupants are well catered for with deep, comfortable Flexsteel captain’s chairs that feature electric adjustment over a range of functions. There’s plenty of storage too, with cupboards above the windscreen and side windows for both front seat occupants, along with personal fans and window shades and blinds.
The driving position is genuinely commanding and the four-spoke steering wheel is nicely sized and provides a range of tilt – but no reach – adjustment. Front and side vision is excellent despite fairly thick A-pillars and the large side mirrors provide a good field of view. In the centre console a colour screen displays the reversing camera view when you drive, as well as the view from side cameras whenever you activate their respective indicators. It’s a good system but requires looking inside when about to change lanes or turn and is best used as support to the side mirrors. The centre console also houses the cab’s ventilation controls and a good sound system, plus the expected cup holders for that touring coffee…
Driving is a simple affair, requiring nothing more than starting the engine and selecting D from the touch-pad transmission selector (R and N are your other options), releasing the air-operated hand brake and moving majestically away. Okay, you have to ensure the auto-levelling jacks are retracted and that there’s adequate air pressure for the suspension and brakes, but it really is all very easy. And enjoyable.
I only spent a short time behind the wheel, but it took me straight back to my coach driving days. The combination of smooth riding air suspension and the muted growl of an engine 10 m behind reminded me of why a diesel pusher is the most desirable heavy vehicle driving configuration. Engine response was good from the fairly long-throw accelerator and the Allison-auto shifted almost imperceptibly. Body role seemed well contained and manoeuvrability was good, while braking was almost too good, with strong initial response from the pedal that took a bit of getting used to. I was out for the day with sales manager Alex Rees-Hyde and it was only after my drive session I discovered the test vehicle’s rigid front axle/drum brake combination. As I said earlier, in no way did it seem to diminish either the ride quality or stopping power, both of which were impressive. In fact a major part of the steering and ride quality can be attributed to the rigid front axle being removed and placed on a computer-controlled jig that adjusts it with millimetre accuracy to suit our left-hand cambered roads; such is Murray’s obsession with getting every detail right.
Spics and Specs
Because Tiffin builds its own chassis it’s able to configure them specifically. For example, the 265-litre fuel tank has fillers on both sides of the vehicle. I should also mention that along with full air suspension comes full air brakes, while an exhaust brake works in conjunction with the Allison automatic. The Allegro Breeze rides on 265/70R 19.5 tyres and has a 5.13 m wheelbase. It has a maximum height of 3.4 m, is 2.49 m wide and carries 265-litres of fresh water, 190-litres of grey, 115-litres of black and has a 23-litre hot water system. LPG capacity is 18 kg in 2 x 9 kg cylinders. Automatic hydraulic levelling jacks are a standard inclusion, as is hydraulic operation for the slide-outs (with manual override).
Australian-spec Allegro Breezes come with pretty much all the bells and whistles, including plenty of power – and I’m not just talking engine output. On the roof are 3 x 200 W solar panels that feed into 4 x 6-volt 216 AH house batteries (432 AH 12-volt equivalent), while in the nose is a 5 kVA Onan diesel remote-start generator that feeds from the fuel tank. A 4000 W sine-wave inverter is also included and all internal 240 V power points are connected to it. It’s an impressive package that essentially guarantees power independence wherever you travel. I was surprised, however, by the absence of a Webasto-or-similar diesel-fired heating system, but having so much electrical power on tap and two roof mounted reverse cycle air-conditioners explains the omission. One other notable inclusion is satellite TV, so you’ll never lack for entertainment wherever you travel.
Tiffin follows traditional/conventional American motorhome construction techniques by using aluminium frame construction with foam core insulation and fibreglass outer wall panelling, plus fibreglass end-caps front and rear and a one-piece fibreglass roof. Full body paint is also standard and this not only looks good, it helps protect the fibreglass body work. The Allegro Breeze has two slideouts: one for the kitchen and a three-seat sofa bed, on the kerb side, and one opposite it for the large U-shaped dinette. Impressively, the slide-outs are seamless one-piece fibreglass units made by Tiffin, which makes them air and water-tight.
For a vehicle this size the windows seem relatively small and basic, being simple sliding units with a separate fly screen. This is standard American design stuff that reflects the tendency of such vehicles to be closed-up and run with air conditioning whenever parked up, while the occupants watch TV or a movie. Bear in mind most Americans with an A-class tow a vehicle for sightseeing at their destinations, thereby using the motorhome very much just as a home base. The massive one-piece windscreen is the exception to the smaller window rule and the view through it can only be described as panoramic. In case you’re wondering, windscreen replacements are available in Australia for around $1500 plus $500 installation – and of course freight charges to wherever you might happen to be. Speaking of replacements, the warranty is three years on engine and driveline, one year on the body and ten years on wall delamination. Naturally, appliances carry their own manufacturer’s warranties.
The Allegro Breeze comes with a swag of external lockers, the central two of which provide through-storage for longer items. While there’s no single, large boot or locker for oversized items, I’m sure most owners will find the external storage set up more than generous. A remote-controlled Thule electric awning is fitted, but it still requires the legs to be manually lowered and positioned. Given the size and weight of the awning that could be a bit of a struggle, especially if it’s windy. Unfortunately, Australian vehicle width restrictions prevent the fitting of a fully electric awning as you’d expect on such a motorhome.
Engine access via the lift-up rear door is limited to the massive radiator and items for daily checks like oil and other fluid levels. There is, I'm told, good engine access from below, while any major engine work requires access through the floor of the bedroom, beneath the bed. The Onan generator is positioned between the chassis rails at the very front of the vehicle and is reached via a lift-up hatch beneath the windscreen. It’s a good position as it keeps as much sound as possible from the living area and bedroom, while in the event of an accident its protected by a hefty cross member in front. Reaching the roof for things like cleaning the solar panels is straightforward thanks to a two-piece ladder, the lower section of which stores in a luggage bin to prevent unwanted roof walkers!
The Allegro Breeze seats and sleeps six, should you ever need to carry and accommodate so many. The opposing slide-outs at the front of the vehicle provide a spacious living area when extended yet still provide sufficient room to “access all areas” when retracted.
Vehicle entry is via a door ahead of the front kerb-side wheel, as is common with diesel pushers. This is the preferred arrangement in America and perhaps it’s to maximise under-floor storage space. Gas powered A-classes, by comparison, have their door mounted somewhere aft of the front axle, due to the engine being ahead of it. The problem with the bus-style door location is it means the front passenger seat is slightly rear set and requires a board to be inserted above the stair well for safety, as well as to stop feet dangling in mid air. To its credit Tiffin has located the passenger seat as close in line with the driver’s seat as possible and you very quickly adapt to the stair situation. I did, and also found there was enough floor space available to make using the insert board optional.
Once inside you pass between the two huge, comfortable captains’ chairs and move into the open plan living area. The U-shaped lounge/dinette is to your left and the three-seater sofa bed is to your right. Aft of the sofa bed is the main kitchen area, which forms something of an L-shape and terminates at the bathroom wall. Opposite it is the two-door fridge/freezer and pantry units, between the lounge/dinette and shower cubicle. The end of the kitchen effectively marks the end of the public area of the Allegro Breeze. From there you move down the aisle through the split bathroom (shower on the left, toilet and vanity on the right) and into the bedroom, with its queen island bed. There are two opaque glass sliding doors that provide various combinations of privacy; one at the bedroom that still allows bathroom access for those up front and the other at the kitchen, which provides the bedroom occupants with a private ensuite.
Decor is distinctly American, with solid-wood fronted drawers and cupboards throughout. It looks a little dated to our Euro-accustomed eyes, but the test vehicle’s combination of light timber finish and cream coloured Halo Leatherette upholstery certainly lightened up the interior. Other decor combinations are available if you order a vehicle from scratch and Murray is experimenting with a glass splash-back in the kitchen, but the penalty for that is a delivery wait of somewhere around seven to nine months, on average. Overall cabinetry quality looks on-par with the other American brands and Murray said all the manufacturers seem to use the same fixtures and fittings.
LEDs are used throughout and the ceiling is absolutely dotted with flush-mounted lights, but it’s a pity there’s no dimming control. There are plenty of double 240 V power points, which as mentioned earlier are all connected to the inverter so you can run mains powered devices any where, any time. I was pleased to see there are also strategically placed USB charging outlets, though none by the dinette.
The twin roof-mounted reverse-cycle Dometic air conditioners deliver their cooled or heated air via ducted ceiling outlets and that can be zoned to a degree to allow, for instance, the front unit to run at night and provide the rear bedroom with air. Each airconditioner has separate domestic-style wall mounted controls, again typical of US motorhomes. It’s worth noting you can start the generator while driving and run the aircon units to cool or heat as you go, which is handy when approaching an overnight stop or simply in extreme weather conditions.
The whole thing with an A-class – and particularly one with opposing slide-outs – is you’re buying living room. That is, room to move without breathing in every time you pass each other by, room to move when you invite friends over, and room to ensure sufficient personal space that months on the road won’t feel like a custodial sentence.
In its public areas the Allegro Breeze delivers well in this regard. There’s a genuine feeling of spaciousness and you can easily kick back and enjoy each other’s company and/or the company of friends, feeling more like you’re in a holiday apartment than a motorhome. A large screen Smart TV sits in the centre of the top of the windscreen and is easily viewed from all seats. It’s connected to a Blu-Ray home theatre surround sound system as well as the satellite system, so you can enjoy some cosy nights in with a bottle of wine and a good movie. There are plenty of overhead cupboards, while the space beneath the sofa bed and lounge can be accessed for additional storage if required.
Dining and Cooking Room
The dining table is a height adjustable unit I forget to properly check out, but it’s mounted on what appears to be a very sturdy single pole. I’m not sure the table is quite big enough to provide dining room for the U-shaped dinette’s overall seating capacity, or that you would sit close enough to it without stretching forward a bit. But table size is a small matter easily rectified.
Of course, to dine you need food and perhaps the first thing people say when they see the Allegro Breeze’s kitchen is, “It’s got no oven or grill”. That’s true, but what it does have is a large, all-singing all-baking convention microwave that grills, steams, crisps, jet defrosts and can even cook. It also runs off the inverter and is available any time. There’s a three-burner gas cook top, a range hood, and a very useful twin-bowl stainless steel sink with flick mixer tap. The rangehood is above the gas cooktop – no surprises there – and the microwave is above the rangehood. That is surprising because so many Australian designed motorhome have their microwaves somewhere up near the ceiling, maximising space efficiency – and inconvenience.
The benchtop looks like Corian but apparently isn’t, having the same smooth, moulded look and easy cleaning capabilities. It includes a pair of inserts that conceal the sinks and could also be used a chopping boards. Speaking of the benchtop, it’s an unusual shape because of the kitchen’s semi-L-shape. You stand at about a 45º angle to the side wall of the vehicle when standing at the sink, facing into the aft corner of the kitchen/sofa bed slide-out. If it sounds odd don’t worry, it provides a very deep work area and makes good use of available space. There’s good drawer and cupboard space and it’s worth pointing out that all drawers have strong metal runners and some are surprisingly deep/long, but you'll need to provide your own cutlery tray. The actual drawer construction looks a little basic, using what appears to be simple plywood for the sides and base, but again this is the standard US construction method as seen in all the American motorhomes I've driven.
A two-door Waeco 215-litre compressor fridge sits across from the kitchen work area, in the space between the U-shaped lounge and bathroom. To the right of it are two cupboard doors; the top one being a simple storage space with a single shelf, while the bottom one is a slide-out pantry unit.
Bathroom, Bed and Behind
Given how spacious the front of the Allegro Breeze is it’s easy to forget the vehicle is ‘only' 10.1 m long. The bathroom and bedroom are comparatively compact, especially as neither is located in a slide-out. The bathroom sits between the kitchen and bedroom and is split, with the shower on the left of the aisle and the toilet cubicle on the right as you head towards the bedroom.
The shower is a decent size and requires a small step-up to enter, but once inside there’s good head room even for taller people thanks to a clear-but-sealed acrylic dome in place of the usual fan hatch. This is another American design trend built on the premise of having the air conditioning running whenever you're stopped for the night. The cubicle itself is a moulded one-piece fibreglass unit that includes a full width shelf and even a small seat that's surprisingly convenient. What's less convenient is the typically American-style separate hot and cold water taps for the shower, rather than a more convenient flick mixer, and the absence of anywhere to store soap, shampoo, etc, without it falling to the floor when the vehicle moves.
When you open the door to the ‘little room’ across from the shower you're confronted by an unusual sight: a corner toilet that appears to be set way too low. I'm not sure what the reasoning is for its low stance, but in practice it doesn't feel too short. The corner hand basin is set ‘flush’ – no pun intended – into a piece of benchtop that matches the kitchen’s, while above it is a corner mirrored shaving cabinet. There's plenty of additional storage above and below the hand basin and this little room also gets a small opening window, although again no roof hatch.
The bedroom has a queen island bed running north-south, with decent walk-around room on both sides. There are side windows but not one behind, which is good as it means you can comfortably sit up against the padded head board and read or watch TV. Speaking of TV, the bedroom’s is ceiling mounted and swings down into view when required. Don’t forget there’s satellite TV as well as Blu-Ray for DVDs, so the bedroom TV might get quite a work out. You can also operate the rear airconditioner from the bedside control unit.
The bed lifts on gas struts and the rear half is available for bulky storage, while the front half is home to four forward-facing drawers you can use when the bed’s down. There’s a mirrored double wardrobe and five drawers on the back of the bathroom cubicle’s wall, plus cupboards above the bedhead. Finally, small bedside tables have a double USB charging outlet and three drawers beneath them, plus a slim mirrored wardrobe above. If you run out of storage in this motorhome you’re doing something terribly wrong…
What I Think
It’s difficult not to be impressed by the Tiffin Allegro Breeze 32. Murray and his team have done an excellent job of the right-hand drive conversion and integration of Australian-sourced appliances and systems, to the extent it looks and feels like a factory-fresh motorhome. They have a special relationship with the Tiffin factory team and an obsession with detail, and it shows in the finished product.
On the road the Allegro Breeze is a delight. It provides an outstanding driving experience that rewards occupants with a luxurious ride, ample performance and near whisper-quiet operation. Yes, there are the expected body and interior noises, but overall it’s a highly refined and desirable package.
I also think it’s good value. When you consider the depth of mechanical engineering, component quality and ability, and the remarkably comprehensive standard equipment list, it stacks up very well. Far from being an over-priced import the Tiffin Allegro Breeze 32 is almost something of a bargain. Only the falling Australian dollar could delay or derail plans to establish the Tiffin brand in Australia and fingers crossed that doesn’t happen. If you’re in the market for a big motorhome be sure to drop by the showroom for a chat with Murray and Alex and to check it out. There’s nothing quite like shooting the breeze…
- Sheer appeal!
- Living space
- Storage – inside and out
- Comfort – driving and camping
- Quality RHD conversion
- Chassis/drive train quality
- Extensive standard equipment
- Few options
- Awning compromise
- Shower fittings/storage
- Decor won’t suit everyone
- Special order delivery time