A pickup truck with a silver Airstream trailer behind it is quintessential Americana. That’s as true today as it was 50 years ago, except now the experience can be ridiculously comfortable with a 2018 Ford F-150 diesel and a downright futuristic Airstream Basecamp trailer.
(Full disclosure: Ford loaned me the F-150 diesel and Airstream’s PR outfit set up the trailer loan, both were delivered on the respective company’s dimes.)
Longevity, efficiency and pulling power make diesel engines ideally suited for duty in trucks. But in the U.S., we’re only recently starting to see Rudolf Diesel’s workhorse in the most common half-ton pickups.
Ram has been doing it for a few years with the 1500 EcoDiesel and Chevy will have a 3.0-liter diesel option for the 1500 Silverado soon too, but 2018 will be the first model year a diesel version of the hot-selling Ford F-150 will exist.
Meanwhile, Airstream has been making camper trailers for almost as long as people have been getting around in pickups. But its new $36,900 Basecamp is an extremely modern execution of the company’s classic chrome caterpillar design.
The truck and trailer are as perfectly matched as flannel shirts and fire pits. All you need to add is a reason to hitch one to the other and head out in search of family-friendly adventure.
“We’re going camping!”
Three words that fly out of my daughter’s mouth with a level of excitement assigned to someone who doesn’t know:
A) Sleeping in a tent is uncomfortable
B) Bugs gather in the woods, in large numbers
And C) campground bathrooms either involve wiping your ass with a leaf or hoping you can hold your breath for as long as it takes you to poop. Because Porta-Potties smell.
Still, she’s excited because we’re going camping with a group of other families from her pre-school. And the smile on her face means I actually, this time, won’t duck out of parenting duty for some lame invented excuse.
That doesn’t mean I need to sleep in a tent, though. I’m a Very Famous Automotive Journalist that commands an audience of tens. After a few pitches and messages, I can add two things to the calendar spot that already reads “Camping!”: One is Airstream’s sleek bite-sized hauler called the Basecamp. The other is Ford’s new Power Stroke packing F-150.
Now I too am excited for “camping.” And you get to read all about it.
Pauma Valley, California is home to snaking valleys, high temperatures and a number of Indian reservations. One is a slice of land occupied by the La Jolla Band of the Luiseño Indians, and it’s where our creek-side temporary home awaits. Before we get there, I need to pretend I know how to tow. I’ve done it before, but usually with a three-quarter or one-ton rig that houses a high-displacement diesel-swilling torque monster under its hood. The precious cargo? It’s likely to be a crap-can race car.
This time it’s different. The Airstream Basecamp I’m pulling is a sleek, stylish studio apartment on wheels that lists for almost 40 grand and I’ll soon discover that it’s the exotic car of the travel trailer set.
Some of that exotic nature might be a bit on the Lotus side too, as the aluminum-bodied beauty tips the scales at just 2,585 pounds. Which is light for what it is; the “apartment” descriptor was no hyperbole. We’ll get to what’s inside the thing soon.
Regardless, if you were to add in enough gear to cover the maximum carrying capacity you’d find a Basecamp clocking in at no more than 3,500 pounds. That means the shiny red Ford I’m backing into position shouldn’t break a sweat–this model is rated to pull more than 9,000 pounds.
Even with my lack of serious towing experience, I’m not breaking a sweat either. The rear-view camera includes a dashed line that shows you exactly where the hitch is heading. With the help of no one but the electronic gizmos on board, I can make short work of the process of joining truck to trailer.
Once underway, it’s clear that we’re dealing with a pickup that Ford should market as Super Duty Junior. The 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 churns out a claimed 250 horsepower and 444 lb-ft of torque and it shares that power through Ford’s ten-speed automatic gearbox.
The same folks who engineer the Earth-spinning 6.7-liter Power Stroke engines used in F-250 and up trucks also worked on this mighty mini mill. And as such, strength and durability are a big part of the value proposition.
Ford fitted its 3.0-liter Power Stroke with a viscously coupled mechanical fan so you won’t have to worry about any electrified cooling issues. Utilitarian XL and XLT trims of this truck can be rated to tow 11,400 pounds, though those are only meant for commercial fleet use.
Regular customers who might use the truck for daily driving can start with the Lariat trim, which is what you’re looking at here. More luxurious variants exist, but even this Lariat is pretty well appointed. And I don’t even have to qualify that with “for a pickup truck.”
While the Lariat won’t bristle the whiskers of the finest oil men in Texas, they stick to their King Ranch and Platinums, it’s far nicer than your average truck. Supremely comfortable leather seats envelope my American-grade rear end, and any passengers in the second row need not worry about legroom. It’s bountiful. Much like the noise booming from the optional B&O high-end audio system, and the sun shining in from the roof-spanning glass over our heads. The front thrones are heated and cooled.
The armrest is large enough to serve as a changing table for fat babies. And the entire cabin works very hard to have you forgetting that you’re driving a full-size truck and towing a half-size trailer.
While a two-wheel drive diesel Lariat F-150 starts at about $45,000, a heavily optioned Platinum trim luxury version is close to $70,000. A four-door four-wheel drive Lariat with the helpful hitch camera is about $60,000.
The two hour journey from Orange County to our camping destination was completely stress free. Heading uphill, the truck never stuttered or felt at a loss for power. On downhill sections, I tell the gearbox that I don’t want it shifting higher than fifth or sixth and it holds its engine speed in a smooth manner while the brakes aren’t being overworked.
The sleek shape of the Basecamp nearly gives me a decent rearward view as well. Now all I need is an RV parking coach. After three or four (maybe five) attempts at readjusting my angle, the Basecamp had finally become our base camp.
While the inside of the Ford is nice, its interior appointments are like kids’ toys compared what’s inside the Airstream. A set of long couches face each other and run along the back half of the interior. In the middle you’ll find a full height shower that’s also a full bathroom.
Move forward from there and you’re in the galley space that’s home to a fridge, two-burner stove, sink, and microwave. Finally, the massive panoramic window that looks like cool robot sunglasses on the outside provides a wonderful view of your surrounds from the inside. Were you to take this Basecamp to the great parks all across this country, you could wake up to spectacular imagery while you heat up your coffee.
We arrive a bit later than everyone else. Their tents are scattered throughout our reserved site, so the Basecamp rolls in and allows everyone to eyeball the folks who brought $110,000 worth of “camping gear” to a place where everyone else is taking shelter in little nylon huts.
This is where the Airstream takes on the air of an exotic car. With a high-end sports car or luxury machine, you pull in stares like a rolling black hole. Even if you drive by someone who doesn’t care about cars like we do, their head will still turn and their eyes will take an imprint of the vehicular wonder that roared across their path. This Basecamp does that too, and it’s remarkable.
Have you ever stayed in a hotel room that felt a bit too fancy for you? That’s how I felt inside the Basecamp, and I think that’s part of the appeal.
A full-size shower and toilet are like cheat codes for camping. There’s even an attachment to take your shower outside if you want to develop a closer relationship with the nature all around you. Once dry, you can grab food from the fridge, fire the stove and cook some eggs, and then sit around until it’s late enough in the day that people won’t be questioning your alcohol intake. Before lunch.
People wander over to ask questions, take photos, or just give the Airstream a closer examination. It’s slightly unnerving yet extremely curious. Were this a $40,000 sedan or crossover, no one would bat an eye. But in the smaller end of the travel trailer world, $40,000 is a colossal amount of money. Compared to a tent, even a fancy one, the thing is pretty much a spaceship.
Inside and out, however, the finishing touches on the Basecamp are as high-end as what you’d find on Airstream’s own 30-footers. It’s a downright lovely place to spend a weekend.
It’s not perfect though. You already know how much it costs, but you should also know that you can’t use all of its features if you camp somewhere that doesn’t have a place to hook into power. The lights? They work just fine. The stove? That runs off the propane stored in the nose, as does the heating system if you need that.
But the fridge, microwave and fancy roof-mounted air conditioning will not be coming along for the camping party. Now, any seasoned traveler probably already knows this and is shouting “You dummy! Of course it’s only the 12-volt stuff that works when you’re not hooked up!”
I am a dummy. You’re right. But it’s still a frustrating thing to figure out once you’re already stabilized and parked. Still, at least there’s an optional solar power kit to keep all of the 12 volt bits charged and rocking along. That also includes a number of USB outlets so you can power up your devices should you desire. (Let’s be honest, even when camping we still need them to take photos or videos even when we’re in a place with no signal.)
Now because this is a smaller trailer, you’re not going to wake up to a clean and tidy scene you might recognize from the Basecamp brochure. The above photos are a bit more accurate. This is post breakfast and pre-post-breakfast cleanup. You can only store so much stuff, but if you actually bought and owned one of these, I imagine you’d get really good at making proper use of the many storage cubbies hidden throughout.
The final downside of the Basecamp is the bedding area itself. The size is great, as my wife and our nearly three-year-old daughter fit relatively well. But there was zero comfort to be found as the padding is fine for a butt but bad for a back.
You’d need to add some egg crate foam or even throw an air mattress on top of it (which would store well in the under seat space) to really make it livable for multiple nights. If you could solve that, then the Basecamp is a winner.
Regardless, having a bathroom you don’t have to sneak past snakes and bears to use is truly a luxurious amenity in the middle of a cold camping night. Others are shuffling miserably to a Porta-Potty that’s located up a hill and is probably currently occupied by the local midnight bug sex cult waiting for its next victim, after all. My Basecamp bathroom, meanwhile, is well lit, has toilet paper, and it’s private. You know what, the Basecamp is actually much better than any exotic car in that regard.
It continues to cause smiles even as the trip winds to a close. Other families are waking up and realizing with pained facial expressions that they have a lot of extra crap to pack up. For us it’s a matter of putting away our chairs, bagging up any trash, and then backing the F-150 back into place to once again be leader of this vehicular pack of two.
As good as the Airstream was, the Ford deserves a bit more love here. While you can find an EcoBoost powered F-150 with a slightly higher tow rating (when properly equipped) it won’t match the fuel economy I saw. I never dipped below 20 miles per gallon, and in fact I was a bit over 21 mpg while comfortably cruising at the highway speed limit. Maybe even five over at times. Maybe ten over once, just to see what it felt like.
It felt great. Just like the weekend itself, which was spent camping above the dirt, and did I mention, our own private bathroom?