Exposing MaBel

Since we’re temporarily stationary visiting relatives here in hot, hazy Oshawa (for nearly 2 weeks now but who’s counting…), it’s probably time to share some thoughts on our RV – MaBel – now that she’s been our full-time home for exactly 3 months.  As noted in the ‘About Us’ section, MaBel is a 2016 Unity Leisure Van, with a 3L V6 turbo diesel Mercedes Benz engine.  But instead of giving a rundown on all the basic specs and features (which you can check out at leisurevans.com), we’ll just highlight some of the options and modifications that we chose and/or made for anyone interested in a future purchase.

So as a summary statement, we couldn’t be happier with this unit.  It’s been a terrific home and mode of transport for our small family of 3.  Is it perfect?  Not quite.  The galley could use a bit more counter space and there’s a couple of other small inconveniences but overall, it comes pretty close to perfection for us.  First of all, the size (25 feet) makes her easy to maneuver in and out of cities and tight spaces without any difficulties.  She doesn’t quite fit into a standard parking spot but we don’t need that much extra room to get in most places.  In our opinion, a Class B (B+) is the ideal RV size and anything bigger is unwanted and unnecessary space.  Sure, most people have larger units, particularly for full-time travel, but they also have extra costs (especially fuel) and have to be far more discerning in terms of route-planning to ensure their behemoth rig will fit at the next stop as well as having all the necessary hookups.  In our case, we just roll in without a schedule and figure things out on the fly.  We park, get it level, hit the slide-out, open the awning, set up the chairs, then crack open a cold one.  Set up usually takes less than 5 minutes.

So what are MaBel’s best features?  In no particular order, here’s our favourite options: 2 – 100 watt solar panels and 1200 watt inverter.  If you’ve been reading our blog, you know all about our aversion to noisy generators.  [MaBel is equipped with one but we almost never use it.]  Instead, we rely on the solar panels recharging our dual 6 volt deep cycle batteries and then use appliances that draw less than 1000 watts.

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As long as we have reasonably sunny days, we can power all our systems indefinitely.  We initially considered adding some extra solar panels but it hasn’t been necessary.  We’d have a problem if we were dry-camping (no hookups) without moving for more than 3 days in the rain but we could always charge the batteries with the damned propane generator, if we had to.  The solar panels and inverter package is a purchase option but should be a standard feature for anyone wanting to enjoy the quiet outdoors.

Next would be the Truma Aqua-Go on-demand water heater.  The Truma is a fantastic feature for 2 reasons: 1) it provides almost instant (within 30 seconds) hot water and 2) it saves space by not requiring a large hot water tank.

With the on-demand system, you don’t have to wait the standard 30+ minutes for the water to heat up, with a limited supply.  Instead, you can jump in the shower or clean a sink full of dishes at a spur of the moment.  Typically that means that Mama Bear decides to have a long, relaxing shower after dinner while Papa Bear gets to do the dishes…

The bed.  If you go to the Leisure Vans website, you’ll see there’s 4 models, each with several different floor plans, mainly based around different bed configurations.  In our case, we selected the Corner Bed model because of the overall extra interior space it provides for The Bear.  Amusingly, when we toured the factory in Winkler, several people on the tour said (loudly), ‘Oh, I’d never own a corner bed – too small.’  The CB certainly isn’t a spacious king-sized bed by any stretch but it’s enough for us and roomier than our old VW Westfalia bed.  The best thing is having an always-ready bed without having to fold down, set up or swing things out in order to go to sleep.  But yes, it takes at least 10 minutes to remove all the freaking pillows…

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Another great feature is the pull-out pantry.  It’s standard in all the Unity models but it’s worth a look since the website video only demonstrates an empty one being pulled out.  This monster holds a ton of stuff and is particularly fun to show off to people when they come in for a visit.

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As far as entertainment goes, MaBel comes with a 28 inch swing-out LCD TV, which is pretty standard.  She’s also equipped with an omni-directional antenna that has been surprising good at picking up digital signals.  For instance, here in Oshawa, we receive 14 digital channels of free HD TV.  Not bad.  But for more remote locations, we added our own Sony Blu-Ray player and thanks to our friend, Doc Brown, we have about a thousand movies and HBO TV series on a 2 terabyte hard drive (that plugs into the Blu-Ray) for our viewing pleasure.  Good for rainy days.

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A couple of other modifications we made were putting shelves in both hanging closets to significantly increase storage space as well as installing an easy-to-remove felt curtain behind the cab to provide some privacy without pulling the front curtains (thanks Danielle for your sewing assistance).  It also helps insulate the rear coach from sunlight coming through the windshield.

Lastly, we’ll mention something that’s often associated to the lousy part of owning an RV – dumping the waste.  We purchased the optional macerator.  Perhaps more than any other optional feature, the macerator is the most coveted.

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In a nutshell, the macerator chews up all the solids from the black (sewage) and grey (sink and shower) holding tanks, then powers out the now-liquid waste through a one inch hose.  This compares to most RVs which rely on gravity and a three inch hose to drain away their poop, pee and bath water.  Having watched many of these unsightly operations play out at dump stations, we couldn’t be happier with our set up.  We can dump out, fill our fresh water tank and be on our way while a standard RV is still struggling to attach their fowl-smelling fire hose.

There’s loads of other great features that we could go on about: the separate shower enclosure, the Fantastic Fans with rain sensors, the Italian cabinetry with soft-close cupboards, the large and very efficient fridge-freezer, the dinette which quickly converts to a second bed (used by The Bear), but all those details are available on the Leisure Vans website.   So check it out, order one, get in the groove…

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