Montana 3820FK fifth-wheel by Keystone Montana 3820FK fifth-wheel by Keystone

RV builders have breathed new life into the camping experience for the 2016 model year by pushing the envelope, so to speak, in developing an array of 2016 motorized and towable RVs to fit virtually every conceivable lifestyle option.

“I think most consumers today are looking for more value, more innovation, more technology,” said Jason Gill, product manager for the Montana Division of Keystone RV Co., the northern Indiana-based unit of Thor Industries Inc. that has positioned the Montana nameplate as one of the marquee North American brand names over the past 15 years.

True to form, Gill last year quarterbacked a Keystone team that created a unique Montana rear-den model. So, for the 2016 model year, he steered his crew in yet another direction “” literally “” by developing a Montana 3820 FK front-kitchen fifth-wheel in which the traditional mid-coach galley was moved into the front cabin and a unique front windshield was added, all of which explains why the five-slide, 40-foot Montana 3820 FK caught the RVBusiness team’s eye and earned this unique Montana model the status of “RVBusiness 2016 RV of the Year.”

“Front kitchens in fifth-wheels aren’t in themselves a revolutionary concept,” stated RVB Editor Bruce Hampson, who oversees the Top 50 review process at key trade shows. “The former Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. offered one years ago, as did Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. in its now-discontinued Infinity line. Keystone, however, appears to have gotten it right, with the entire floorplan flowing easily from the windshield through to the unique pivot-hinge bathroom door allowing easier access through the rear hallway.”

Montana 3820 FK interior Montana 3820 FK interior

As a result, the Montana, which will be featured in an “RVBusiness 2016 RV of the Year” TV show produced by “Rollin’ On TV” airing in February through a network of 32 million U.S. households, edged out four other finalists that drew high praise from Hampson’s RVB team. Those finalists, also featured in the half-hour TV show sponsored by Airxcel, Dicor Corp., Cummins/Onan and Thetford Corp., include:

“¢ Forest River Inc.’s Vengeance fifth-wheel, specifically the division’s 43-foot 40D12 model with a larger, 12-foot-wide side patio providing access not only to the kitchen but, through a separate door, to a rear half-bath. Also nearby is an entertainment system, fireplace and TV.

“¢ Grand Design RV Co.’s Momentum fifth-wheel, a 376TH mid-galley ramp trailer with an unusual small rear garage “” a tightly designed “shed” built under an elevated rear bedroom capable of transporting a motorcycle with shelving above for helmets and accessories.

“¢ Leisure Travel Vans’ Unity U24FX Flex Class C, a “B-plus” motorhome from the Triple E Recreational Vehicles brand that’s mounted on a Sprinter cutaway chassis and, as part of its unique space-saving “Leisure Lounge System,” is equipped with a Murphy bed and a rear ottoman doubling as a desktop.

“¢ Thor Motor Coach’s Gemini/Compass Class C, one of the first Class C motorhomes on Ford’s new-to-the-U.S.-Transit van, a diminutive “Recreational Utility Vehicle” (RUV) with interiors co-designed by a European firm specializing in high-end yachts.

Looking at Keystone’s front-kitchen Montana from the manufacturer’s standpoint, meanwhile, Keystone’s Gill said reconfiguring a fifth-wheel to the extent that Keystone has with its Montana 3820 FK was no easy task.

“It was difficult, making sure that we had enough space in the bulkhead for storage and seating plus large appliances like the refrigerator,” Gill told RVB. “We actually built a mockup of the front end in the plant and literally built all the pieces into it – aluminum tube walls, wallboards, fitting everything to make sure we had it all set before prototyping the unit.”

By moving the Montana’s galley forward and designing a kitchen that includes a plush wraparound-booth dinette, buffet cabinets in a curbside slideout and a unique automotive-style windshield with electric shade inset into the front cap, Keystone gave the main cabin with its traditionally high ceiling completely over to an airy living room with theater seating and hide-a-bed sofas in opposing slides. Behind the bathroom, with its unique pivot-hinge door for easy maneuvering through the side hall, is the master bedroom of this $85,000 towable.

Gill, understandably, feels this new model, part of a Montana lineup that posted a retail sales growth of about 14% over the past year after a 2015 upgrade, can’t help but extend his division’s reputation as a leader in higher-end fifth-wheels.

“We recently shipped our 90,000th Montana, which is fantastic, over the 15 years that the brand has been out,” said Gill, pointing out that surveyed Montana club members had indicated an interest in both front windshields and front kitchens. “That’s more than many companies have even built fifth-wheels in the market today. This certainly is a flagship with large volume to this day.

“And it’s been well received by dealers,” he added. “From the time that we unveiled it at Open House (in September) to showing it again at Louisville with a new full-body paint scheme that we recently introduced, more dealers are finding out how dynamic this floorplan really is. From the kitchen area, being able to sit up front and look outside while having coffee, to the very accommodating living area with opposing slides and plenty of seating, to the rear bedroom “” it hit everything.”

NOTE: The “RVBusiness 2016 RV of the Year” TV show will also spotlight the selection of “Rollin’ On TV’s 2016 Truck Camper of the Year Award,” which goes to a Little Guy Cirrus — a non-slide, hard-side short bed truck camper with an opening front window, heated floors and seamless aluminum roof. The Cirrus is built by partners Little Guy Worldwide, Massillon, Ohio, and Pleasant Valley Trailers, Sugarcreek, Ohio.