A Deluxe Apartment On The Move

2011 Airstream Avenue – Click above for high-res image gallery

This is the time of year when you can't help but realize that you've been tucked away in an office while the desk calendar has been the only one getting a workout. It's time to look at a map and pack a bag. Coincidentally, my friend Tom had the same thing in mind. He's about to have his first baby, doing work on his first home, and he's getting a look in his eye that suggests it's time for a breather. For me, the open road is always calling and, when a friend is ready to join in, it means the stars have aligned for a road trip.

Those two little words create all kinds of questions, the first of which centers upon what type of vehicle to use. We're both 30, so we'd like a little luxury but... we're both 30, so we'd like a little adventure too. Thankfully, a brief call from Airstream put my name on the keys of a 2011 Avenue slumbering in a Los Angeles parking lot.

Continue reading Review: 2011 Airstream Avenue...

Photos copyright ©2011 Jeff Glucker / AOL

From the outside, the large Chevrolet Bowtie in the center of the grille is familiar, but the rest of the sleek, silver Avenue lends our chariot an immediately upscale appearance. The roof is taller, the paintwork seems to have an extra layer of depth and the tinted windows give off an air of cooler-than-the-next-guy motoring. The dolled-up Express van that Tom and I are staring at appears to be a suitable home on wheels from the outside. It may not have the iconic aluminum cigar look associated with Airstream's travel trailers, but the Avenue still manages to come off as stylish.

Grabbing our bags and heading inside, we're greeted by an interior that rivals Manhattan's finest broom-closet sized studios. The front driving space is standard Chevy Express, with the exception of a rear camera display mounted over the rear-view mirror, but the Avenue is packed with storage space and amenities just behind those front thrones. It's enough living space that I suspect I'll be charged first and last month's rent when returning the Avenue.

2011 Airstream Avenue side view2011 Airstream Avenue front view2011 Airstream Avenue rear view

A second pair of captain's chairs sits behind the driver and front-passenger seats. They're easily accessible from the driving area or via a pair of wide-opening passenger-side doors. Moving backwards from that opening and turning left, we find a kitchen sink, dual-burner stove, refrigerator, combination toilet-shower and a three- to four-passenger couch (your results may vary) at the very rear of the Avenue. It's more than enough for two guys embarking on a weekend trek up the California coast.

Despite the opulent interior, the Airstream Avenue is still missing something. It doesn't have a navigation system, which is surprising considering it's a built-for-wandering machine that costs a heady $98,000. Despite that lack of satellite-guidance, Tom and I point the Bowtie emblem north and head out from our Huntington Beach starting point. Our final destination will be Pismo Beach, but we're currently separated by 212 miles, LA traffic and the tail-end of record levels of SoCal rainfall.

2011 Airstream Avenue interior2011 Airstream Avenue front seats2011 Airstream Avenue rear view camera display2011 Airstream Avenue instrument panel

Scrambling down the 405, we're easing our way in between $150,000 Mercedes-Benz CL coupes and $150 1975 Datsun pickups. Welcome to Los Angeles. Our crawl through the City of Angels is moving as expected and eventually we make our way north of the city, merging on to the 101. The pace quickens but so does the rain. Under the hood sits General Motors' 6.0-liter Vortec V8 engine, which makes 323 horsepower and 373 pound-feet of torque, and helps push the 8,075-pound apartment towards our coastal destination.

We've got a long way to go before that point, however, and I'm currently possessed of white-knuckle focus. The Avenue is tackling the rain-soaked 101 far better than I could have imagined. It wears new 245/75R16 Bridgestones and a set of fresh wipers. The Airstream is not the source of my Casper-colored knuckles; it's the action going on around me. When the first drops of water fall from the sky and reach the California landscape, our fellow drivers devolve into misguided motoring hell. Tom and I crest a patch of highway traveling in the left lane, only to see a BMW decide to merge back onto the highway from the left shoulder. Did I mention it's pouring and I'm driving an unfamiliar 8,075-pound vehicle? My rain-slicked Puma lays hard into the brake pedal and waits for the familiar pulse of ABS, but it never arrives. Instead, the Avenue merely scrubs the speed in a shockingly smooth manner. Tom breathes a sigh of relief, and with my stomach occupying the same space as my heart, my middle finger has never shone quite so brightly.

2011 Airstream Avenue engine

The BMW now in our rearview monitor, we press on down the 101. Tom proposes stopping in Santa Barbara for dinner. I bring up the idea of sleeping in Santa Barbara and washing away my nerves. His silent nod of approval confirms our new plans – Pismo Beach can wait. Parking spaces are not turning up, however, as everyone has already decided they are in for the evening, so I put in a call to a good friend who went to college in the area. His friend owns a winery/tasting room and that facility has a parking lot... home, sweet temporary home.

After a burger and some beers, it's time to retreat to our retreat. Flipping his shotgun seat around to face the one behind him, Tom is able to sort out a makeshift bed. Being the captain of this trip, I turned my attention to a wall-mounted switch. Holding it down, the leather rear sofa seating area folds down into a comfortable leather sleeping area. Doors locked, Tom snoring and all the shades pulled, we settle in for the evening. Well... all the shades except the rear one that I forget to install, meaning the light from the parking lot wakes me up every hour.

2011 Airstream Avenue rear seats2011 Airstream Avenue couch2011 Airstream Avenue bed2011 Airstream Avenue cooking area

It didn't matter, though, because we need to get moving the next day sooner rather than later. The light from the lamp in the parking lot slowly becomes less invasive, but only because the sun is getting ready for another lap across the sky. It's time to wake up, pop the six-speed automatic into 'D' and find our way to Pismo Beach. I trade my bed for the driver's seat and Tom turns his chair-bed into a real one.

The weather decides to play nice for the rest of the trip. The downpour we experienced a day earlier gives way to sunny skies and empty roads, and the journey to our KOA Campground cabin in Pismo Beach is over before Tom wakes up from a power nap. The cabin serves as the perfect headquarter accompaniment to our roving Airstream. Inside we find a full kitchen, two bedrooms and a full-size bathroom. The only thing missing is a grille, which means it's time to pile back into the Avenue and venture into town. Fifteen minutes and a freak dash of sleet later, we are leaving San Louis Obispo to return to our Pismo Beach base camp.

2011 Airstream Avenue interior2011 Airstream Avenue interior2011 Airstream Avenue bathroom2011 Airstream Avenue storage area

Once officially settled in, I dive headfirst into the refrigerator. Our other (previously unmentioned) traveling companions included eight 22-ounce beers from a variety of breweries, maple-bourbon steak tips, au gratin potatoes, soaking mushrooms and a $40 cowboy steak substantial enough to spar in the heavyweight class.

The Avenue provides suitable space for us to dine thanks to a post and table top that mounts centrally between the quartet of captain's chairs. We dine and drink while chatting about the things that weigh heavy on the minds of 30-year-old men. That gets old fast, so we decide to hook up my PlayStation 3 to the 19-inch flat-screen mounted above the two front seats (since we had parked under a tree, it wasn't receiving a signal from the roof-mounted satellite receiver anyway). Video games and craft beer consumption continue throughout the evening until Tom retires to our KOA cabin and I hit the bed button again.

2011 Airstream Avenue, rear 3/4 view

Rear shade in place, I sleep undisturbed, and upon waking am well-rested enough for our return drive to Orange County. The earlier rain kept many people at home, which means California's highways are unusually empty. The Airstream Avenue hums down the sun-soaked highway while Tom and I sing along to the iPod plugged into the auxiliary input. Our weekend road trip is nearing a close.

It may have been a quick getaway, but the Airstream was the perfect traveling companion. We sipped an average of 12.2 miles per gallon out of the 31-gallon tank. The Avenue handled like one would expect from a top-heavy, 8,075-pound van, yet the engine and brakes were well suited to the application. Inside, the Avenue suffers from the squeaks and rattles found in any large recreational vehicle, yet the level of fit and finish is still top notch. Drawers and cabinets remained clamped, our precious cold cargo didn't slide around and the overall level of interior noise proved to be on par with any other well-built motorhome. Tom's bed may have been larger in the KOA cabin, but my bed was much nicer.

The 2011 Airstream Avenue is a well-equipped studio apartment on wheels. While it's not really suited for parties numbering greater than two, it's an excellent way for a pair of friends or a couple to get away for the weekend without leaving their home at home.

Photos copyright ©2011 Jeff Glucker / AOL

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'll take mine in a child molester trim.
        • 3 Years Ago
        You clearly haven't heard of the bangbus
        • 3 Years Ago
        Yeah, that sounds about right. If that was an attempt at self-deprecating humor, you failed.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I thought that it was a known fact that those people drive big vans with tinted windows.
      • 3 Years Ago
      12.2 is pretty good. We averaged around 11 in a E350 based "BT Cruiser" class C (no cabover, 5.4) on a trip to Oregon in Summer 08. On one flat segment we saw 13. Gas was 4.00+ most of the trip. I was pretty damn happy to be getting over 10mpg in a rolling house.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Yeah, I thought 12.2 was pretty good as well.
        • 3 Years Ago
        A diesel should be the only available engine for these vans meant to travel long distances. What a disservice to your customers to even offer the gas engine, in my opinion. As if depreciation isn't bad enough for these Class C type recreation vans - something happens with OPEC or general oil supply - wouldn't it be nice to have the option to run biodiesel and continue having the option to use your investment for it's intended purpose - the open road and stress relief?

        GM might have had the chance to benefit from a lot of the goodwill the Sprinter receives - if they hadn't canceled the 4.5L Duramax:


        As it is, for a "weekender" type of getaway vehicle - I would strongly stick with a Sprinter or get my hands on a VW Westfalia and have a TDI engine swap performed.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Nice for a cross country road trip.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Waah this one is a complete home for 2. Ideal for those who love to live on the move. Now people need not worry about travel and reservations, they just need to move on. Its a cool design.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Ummm.. The sprinter looks 100 times better than this thing. MUCH more Luxurious.

      See http://www.airstream.com/products/2011-fleet/touring-coaches/interstate/interstate-gallery.html
        • 3 Years Ago
        100 times better? I'd say 10,000 times better. That is actually a great looking RV!

        This Chevy van looks like crap from the outside, the GM vans aren't good at all.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Look at the dashboard layout vs the Sprinter. What's with the steering wheel angle ?!
      • 3 Years Ago
      @Jeff Glucker and AB...

      I'm surpirsed there was no mentioning of the engine, such as hp #s, torque, and how it performed and sounded during the road trip. Doesn't that stuff matter for a vehicle like this and for a review like this? Anyways, i do appreciate that you posted the # of ratios the auto slushbox tranny has.
      • 3 Years Ago
      This is pretty cool.
      • 3 Years Ago
      @ Jeff Glucker
      Wow, I've never seen the author comment so much on their own post. Nice to see you guys go back and see what we're saying.

      However, $98K and no navigation, that's nuts! At least throw in a windshield mount one!

      Best Comment @esoterica
      "an immediately upscale appearance" - You must have posted pictures of the wrong vehicle.

        • 3 Years Ago
        I like to engage in conversation on some of the topics we cover.

        (Also, you folks are VERY good at catching any errors - haha)

        Yes, it's disappointing that the Avenue doesn't have a GPS system. We resorted to using our smartphones and pre-printed Google Maps directions...
        • 3 Years Ago
        you know what I really do not get the missing Navi system, or the low rent dash and stero system, this harchens back to the day when putting out this type of shoddy product was ok for the american buyer, I dont understand wht this company would not step up its game and make this thing a hell of alot more appealing, im not convinced not am I sold on this item, that said I and a few other are in the market for one. OH Well have to look else were and spread the word.
      • 3 Years Ago
      "When the first drops of water fall from the sky and reach the California landscape, our fellow drivers devolve into misguided motoring hell."

      so true, a little rain and the freeway becomes absolute chaos, like when you 1st drive into the sun and everyone slams on the breaks, as if the photons are pushing them back.
      • 3 Years Ago
      While a part of me thinks this is cool and could make traveling with kids a bit easier, for the nearly $100k price plus the horrible fuel economy I think I'd rather make the trip in a new Mercedes E350 cabrio and just stay in a hotel or rent a cabin... and still have tens of thousands of dollars left over. Not to mention that the driving part of the trip would be more enjoyable. Heck, or just tow a pop-up trailer behind a minivan that could serve as a better daily driver the rest of the time.

      I suppose if I were retired and had a lot of time for road trips it would make more sense to keep my stuff packed in the van/RV if I used it a lot. Otherwise, why buy one of these?
      • 3 Years Ago
      "When the first drops of water fall from the sky and reach the California landscape, our fellow drivers devolve into misguided motoring hell. "

      As a Canadian that has visited the region several times, I can say that one of the most terrifying experiences of my life was driving the 405 in moderate rain. Winter driving around here is child's play in comparison.
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