Elegance and innovation embody this stylish home on wheels, which features numerous customer-driven design elements.
By Lazelle Jones
A leader among luxury motor coach builders is based in what might be a surprising location to some: not a mainstream, high-tech venue, but a small town in northeastern Oklahoma.
The company in question is Newell Coach Corporation of Miami, Oklahoma. Last summer I visited Newell headquarters to pick up one of the company’s new P2000i motorhomes for a test outing. During my visit I asked Karl Blade, Newell president and owner since 1979, how his company so often sets the pace for the entire custom coach industry.
As we chatted, I learned that communication is key to the company’s success. Newell maintains a direct dialogue with its clients. Owners are intimately involved in the design and construction process, providing real-time feedback concerning their preferences, critiques, etc. Buyers let Newell know what they want, and Newell responds.
The benefits of this relationship are further compounded by the continuity in Newell’s ownership and the fact that it employs a pool of talented and tenured craftspeople, engineers, and designers “” some of whom have worked at the company since 1967 and the days of founder L.K. Newell.
During an epic 40-year period that has seen endless consolidations, mergers, takeovers, closures, and start-ups in the industry, Newell has remained a “Rock of Gibraltar.” This goes a long way in helping to explain what I have found each time I have visited Newell and reviewed a coach over the last 10 years. And it underscores what I found during my most current review of the 2006 Newell P2000i.
The P2000i is a coach that sets the current standards against which to measure other coach efforts. In fact, I had to get picky to come up with a list of critique items, but I did (most are personal preference items), and they will be noted.
To head in the right direction, let’s begin by listing the major innovations and enhancements Newell has implemented since my last visit, some four years ago. These improvements include a new suspension system; a diesel engine with higher horsepower and torque; a 10-speed transmission; a new roofline; redesigned front and rear caps; frameless windows; a floor plan that incorporates a rear stateroom with a Murphy bed; and a weight-saving, completely enclosed, transverse-mounted 15-kw PowerTech diesel generator, which was recently introduced.
The heart and soul of the P2000i, which is built on Newell’s own chassis, is the C15 Caterpillar engine and a ZF 10-speed transmission. The C15 diesel (heart) develops 625 horsepower and yields 2,050 pound-feet of torque. It capably powers this coach, which has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 59,580 pounds, and can also tow another 20,000 pounds.
Turning to European and German technology, Newell has joined the C15 with a ZF AS-Tronic 10-speed transmission (soul), whose mettle has been tested and proven in luxury-class European transit coaches such as Setra, Neoplan, and VanHool. The ZF is electronically controlled through a computer that makes this transmission behave like an automatic transmission, even though the AS-Tronic has a mechanical clutch. The computer determines the gear that is needed for the driving scenario immediately at hand. The computer then electronically actuates the clutch (there is neither a clutch pedal nor a torque converter) and shifts into the gear that is required. This activity is transparent to the driver, who reads on the push-button display (as with most motorhome automatic transmissions) the number of the gear that has been selected.
Unless the driver has manually selected first gear, the coach starts in second gear. Under normal conditions, the computer will select every other gear as the coach accelerates, shifting from second to fourth, to sixth, and so on until “” if sufficient speed is attained “” 10th gear is reached. What occurs is an amazing and instantaneous set of evolutions. At every point in the operation of the coach, the computer is reading load, speed, engine rpm, and throttle position, selecting the optimal gear for the situation. The driver can sense the shifting between gears, but nothing is required of him or her. People who have dealt with sophisticated heavy equipment seem to prefer this feel. However, Newell does not stop there.
For those who prefer the feel of a traditional torque-converter-type transmission, an Allison is offered as an option: the next-generation Allison 4000MH transmission. When this option is selected, the engine used is also a C15, but it is rated lower, at 600 horsepower and 1,850 pound-feet of torque.
I checked out fuel economy using the onboard SilverLeaf Electronics computer. Under steady-state highway operation, fuel consumption on the unit reviewed was calculated at 4.9 mpg. However, Karl Blade noted that even when towing a vehicle at 70 mph, on longer runs he experiences between 5 and 6 mpg, and earlier this summer he achieved 7 mpg while returning from Chicago (at 65 mph, without a towable). With its 208-gallon fuel tank, the P2000i is capable of going upward of 1,000 miles between fuel stops.
The actual weights I gathered for this coach (total, front axle, drive axle, tag axle) were 53,900 pounds, 17,700 pounds, 22,460 pounds, and 13,740 pounds, respectively. These figures were attained with a full fresh-water tank (145 gallons) and 185 gallons in the 208-gallon fuel tank. What remained was an amazing 5,680 pounds of cargo and passenger carrying capacity.
I found the driving and handling characteristics of the P2000i to be nothing less than excellent. I have never experienced a quieter or smoother ride. It was hard to believe that this 102-inch-wide unit was 45 feet long and came with four slideouts. Suffice it to say that this luxury behemoth, with its C15 Caterpillar engine, has power to spare.
Touch-button functions on steering wheel of Newell P2000iEven with such a massive luxury coach, drivers will be disarmed by the uncomplicated instrumentation and the friendly configuration of the P2000i’s controls. I really like the SmartWheel, which permits the driver to control several functions by touching buttons on the face of the steering wheel. The “KIS” method (keep it simple) has been strictly enforced.
As part of the front cap redesign (more about that later), a new high-style European exterior mirror system made in Spain by a company called Arcol has been added as a customer-choice alternative to traditional North-American-style bus mirrors. With the mirrors mounted at the top outside corners of the windshield, the visual presentation is almost that of looking a little like E.T. (remember the lovable, extraterrestrial movie character?). They are chic and dramatic in their appearance, with a large, flat mirror crowned by a smaller fish-eye-type adjustable mirror that looks down at the hidden areas alongside the coach. I did find that when the curbside mirror was adjusted to my needs, the view through the top fish-eye part was somewhat obstructed by the edge of the 42-inch plasma television that sits above the dash. Already, Newell has responded by relocating the fish-eye to the underside of the large, flat mirror.
With the large one-piece windshield and high-mount mirrors, Newell designers also recommend mounting the 42-inch plasma screen on the side of the living area in the curbside slideout or using a smaller high-definition LCD television if the client prefers a front-mounted screen.
I did notice that the driver controls the dash-wide electric shade, which does not permit the passenger to tailor the other side of the windshield to his or her shade needs. Two individual power-adjustable screens can be specified if preferred, although Newell suggests the one-piece shade because a two-piece version requires wire guides to be mounted vertically down the center area of the windshield.
Excellence in ride can be directly attributed to the suspension system Newell uses. In every sense of the word, it truly is a “system.” Components are built with precision specifically for each coach by a German company known as ZF Friedrichshafen AG, often referred to in North America simply as ZF. ZF is the leading supplier of sophisticated suspension systems for luxury intercity European coaches.
As supplied to Newell, the ZF suspension system includes the independent front suspension (IFS), air bags for all three axles (eight total), wide-base drive axle suspension, an active steering tag axle, specially calibrated shock absorbers, the steering box (and all associated linkage), and the disc air brakes found on each wheel. All of these components are received together as a package for each coach and assembled as such.
Special mention needs to be made of the active steering tag axle. Through the use of hydraulic pressure and a sophisticated valve system, once the front wheels reach 5 degrees of turn, the wheels on the tag axle begin to turn as well (up to 23 degrees), in direct proportion to the amount of turn the front wheels are experiencing. The maximum front wheel cut is 54 degrees. I took this unit into a large parking lot and experienced for myself how quickly and in what a tight circle (360 degrees) the P2000i turns. With the steering tag, the turning radius of a 45-foot Newell is reduced from 44 feet to 37 feet. Now that’s impressive!
Newell P2000i interiorNewell has offered quad slides (four slideouts) on its coaches for the past several years. As a result, clients have been requesting a greater number of front door, bus-style coaches. In fact, I was told that the mix of units built is now about 50-50 side entry versus front entry. It’s immediately apparent why the front entry has become so attractive, for it permits Newell designers to install two exceptionally large slideouts on the curb side of the unit. The slideouts, built by Valid Manufacturing, are suspended in the coach sidewalls by very large linear ball bearings and are powered by small electric motors. Pneumatic seals, which automatically inflate in both the extended and retracted positions, surround each slide to create an airtight seal. When inflated, these seals, together with the solidly attached linear bearings, add rigidity to the sidewalls when the coach is motoring down the road.
The P2000i features four 13,500-Btu roof-mounted air conditioners with heat pumps that deliver temperature-controlled air to four different zones. However, when I walked around the outside of the coach I could not see the rooftop units because of the way the exterior rooflines are configured. Newell has achieved this by creating a faux rooftop cassette box on the streetside of the unit, which matches the Girard patio awning cassette on the curbside, to disguise the roof air-conditioning units. Talk about being creative.
Newell has taken advantage of the rear bedroom’s two slideouts to create an unusual daytime salon area. Designed and integrated into the curbside slideout in this area is a Murphy bed that is completely concealed except when it’s time to fold it down and use it. During the day, the coach offers a second, comfortable sitting room in this area, affording exceptional privacy. The bed includes a comfortable memory-foam mattress that is 66 inches wide (a queen-size plus), the identical size and mattress type as Newell’s fixed-bed alternative. Besides providing additional daytime living space, this arrangement also creates an unobstructed passageway to the coach-wide rear bath when the Murphy bed is folded back into the wall of the slideout. Another plus with the Murphy bed floor plan that will interest some if not all motorhomers is that by having clear access to the rear bath, a half-bath midway in the coach “” a common feature of Newell rear-bath floor plans “” is not necessary. This means that more floor space can be dedicated to livability and living area.
Newell P2000i bedroomThe most recent iteration (the 2006 model) of the Newell Coach features the total redesign of the front cap, executed with the services of design/engineering experts at Porsche Design. This completes the redesign of the exterior that began when the rear cap and roof were redone two years ago. The new front cap includes a single-piece windshield (no center post/greater visibility), which further enhances what already was an uncluttered front exterior presentation. The headlights are now stacked, incorporating the latest high-performance Xenon gas-discharge technology normally found only on luxury high-performance automobiles.
Also new since my last visit, Newell now features all flush-mounted frameless windows. The tinted dual-pane glass simply blends in with the exterior skin (there are no exterior window frames anywhere on the coach). It looks clean and totally finished, with the beauty of the exterior full-body paint visually uncompromised by the presence of window frames.
This coach is all electric. Vehicle Systems’ Aqua-Hot heating system warms the coach and produces domestic hot water. It also can be utilized to preheat the C15 engine and can use engine heat (over-the-road) to warm the coach. The air conditioning operated extremely efficiently; however, I would have preferred the latitude of being able to use a front roof air-conditioning unit to cool the rear bedroom. This was not possible with the unit reviewed. Each of the four comfort zones had a specific roof AC unit dedicated to accommodate that zone. However, Newell officials explained that if a customer prefers otherwise, it can be designed into a coach.
Newell P2000i living areaIt goes without saying that the elegance exhibited in a Newell interior is unsurpassed. These creations rival even the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Newell elects to use only the finest fabrics, surfaces, and materials that can be found as company officials search the world for new ones. The circular, granite-dressed stairway that sweeps passengers up into the center of this coach underscores Newell’s dedication to elegance. The push-button air-operated entry door, with its digital combination lock and Executive Entry Step, which folds out to assist in gaining entrance, are standard features on this coach. The one item I noted is the slow speed at which the step folds out when it’s actuated by the opening of the door. Users will want to make sure that the extend cycle on the step has been fully completed (especially when exiting the coach), or they might step out and down too soon.
Newell Coach is in an enviable position, one that any company in any industry would instantly embrace for itself, if given the opportunity. It currently has a year-and-a-half backlog of coach orders. In response to this, Newell increased production three years ago from 36 units a year to 40, and they are now carefully adding production space and personnel to reach 44 units a year.
I talked with Karl Blade about how this has been done to ensure that the Newell reputation of excellence is not compromised. He explained that this increase has been conducted slowly, carefully, and with great thought. The first increase from 36 units up to 40 was achieved by phasing in a work week that consists of four 10-hour days. This change was met with great enthusiasm by the employees and proved to be a great morale booster; in addition, the time saved by reducing the number of times production is shut down each week immediately yielded gains in production with the existing labor force.
The second phase (increasing production from 40 to 44 units), currently under way, is a much slower process, Karl said. It has included hiring additional employees via an interview process that is both extensive and intensive, with multiple interviews of each candidate being conducted before the selection is made. In addition, the size of the plant and its facilities are being increased.
The manufacturer’s base suggested retail price of the 2006 P2000i is $925,000. The price of the unit I tested came to $1,178,800 and included the following options, among others: Euro-style high-mount rearview mirrors; air-powered front entry door; Kiri leather recliner in the living area; computer desk station and chair; special patterned solid-surface countertops; Villa curved convertible sofa bed; side-mount generator in double hush box; Joey Bed slide-out floors in storage bays; VORAD collision warning system; WasteMaster power holding tank drain system; and GPS navigation system with driver and copilot screens.
The luxurious 2006-model P2000i impressed me with its beauty and functionality. It also provided me with a firsthand look at how Newell Coach Corporation remains committed to its customers through technology and innovation.
Manufacturer … Newell Coach Corporation, P.O. Box 511, Miami, OK 74355; (888) 363-9355, (918) 542-3344; fax: (918) 542-2028; sales e-mail: [email protected]; service e-mail: [email protected]; www.newellcoach.com
Model tested … P2000i Z/625
Floor plan … Custom 4-slide, Murphy bed
Chassis … Newell custom
Engine … Caterpillar C15 15.2-liter, 625 horsepower @ 2,100 rpm, 2,050 pound-feet torque @ 1,200 rpm
Transmission ... ZF AS-Tronic 10-speed (Allison optional)
Axle ratio ... 3.54:1
Tires … Michelin XZA-2 315/80R 22.5 load range L
Wheelbase … 308 inches
Brakes … air disc 6-channel ABS
Suspension … Steer axle “” ZF independent; drive axle “” ZF wide base; tag axle “” ZF active steer
Alternator … 12-volt, 400 amps
Batteries … house “” (6) 8D AGM sealed with PulseTech automatic equalization; chassis “” (2) 8D AGM sealed with PulseTech automatic equalization
Steering … ZF
Electrical service … 50-amp with SurgeGuard automatic protection
Auxiliary generator … PowerTech 20-kilowatt
Inverter … Xantrex Prosine 3000 pure sine wave
Exterior width … 102 inches
Exterior height … 13 feet 3 inches (including roof air conditioners)
Interior height … 7 feet 5 inches
Exterior length … 45 feet
Gross combination weight rating (GCWR) … 79,580 pounds
Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) … 59,580 pounds
Gross axle weight rating (GAWR) … front “” 18,180 pounds; rear “” 26,400 pounds; tag “” 15,000 pounds
Wet weight as tested … front “” 17,700 pounds; rear “” 22,460 pounds; tag “” 13,740 pounds; total “” 53,900 pounds
Payload … 5,680 pounds
Frame construction … aluminum
Insulation … sprayed polyurethane foam
Fresh water capacity … 145 gallons
Holding tank capacity ... black and gray combined (single tank), 145 gallons
Fuel capacity … 208 gallons
Fuel requirements … diesel
Water heater … Aqua-Hot, continuous
Water delivery system … primary “” Headhunter high-capacity 120-volt marine-style demand pump; backup “” 12-volt RV-style demand pump
Furnace ... Aqua-Hot hydronic
Air conditioning … (4) Coleman 13,500-Btu roof-mounted
Refrigerator … SubZero 700
Toilet … Microflush
Warranty … coach and chassis “” 2 years/unlimited miles
Base price … $925,000
Price as tested … $1,178,800