Filled with thoughtful innovations, this gas-powered model combines the best qualities of Type A and Type C motorhomes.
By Bob Zagami
As the economy continues to regain its foothold, consumer interest in smaller yet still feature-filled motorhomes has been stirred. Thor Motor Coach has addressed this trend with an evolutionary motorhome that combines the best of Type A and Type C RVs — the A.C.E.
The A.C.E., which debuted with the 2011 model, has many of the features RVers love about a Type A unit, such as drivability, plentiful storage space, and large living quarters. On the other hand, many RVers like Type C motorhomes because they are usually smaller, easier to maneuver, and offer an overhead bunk. The A.C.E. combines all of these features, and a lot more. In fact, the name “A.C.E.” is actually Thor’s acronym for “Class A and Class C Evolution.”
The A.C.E. could dramatically change the perception some people might have about a smaller motorhome. This model has attracted considerable attention, as RVers see what Thor Motor Coach has engineered into 30 feet of pure enjoyment.
More than once during a summer test outing in the 2012 A.C.E., my wife asked me why I was driving this motorhome as though it were my SUV. I answered, “Because I can!” When you can do a U-turn in a Starbucks parking lot without coming close to hitting anything, people notice.
The A.C.E. is available in three floor plans for 2012, two of them 29 feet 7 inches long, including the 29.1, which was my test unit, and a third that measures 30 feet 10 inches. It is offered in three interior decors and two exterior full body paint choices, the latter in addition to standard exterior graphics. Considerable thought went into the design of this coach in an attempt to think outside that proverbial box and to incorporate RVer-friendly features not previously included in a motorhome.
The A.C.E. was easy to drive, easy to park, and drew a great deal of attention when we pulled into the KOA Kampgrounds where we stayed at on our journey. I nicknamed it “the little bus that roared”! The motorhome’s sleek, aerodynamic design is different, as well as functional.
At the top of the windshield, Thor Motor Coach engineers built in a small overhang that acts like a giant visor and helps to keep heat out of the motorhome. It did take a few stops at red lights for me to remember to allow enough room so that I could see the traffic lights overhead. The overhang limits upward vision slightly, but it’s a great trade-off as compared with the standard windshield found in most motorhomes. Let’s face it; how often are you looking up versus looking straight ahead, especially when you are driving?
Another masterful feat of the Thor Motor Coach design team is the cavernous amount of storage space, which makes this 30-foot motorhome feel like a 40-foot model. No cavity was left empty, inside or outside, and it was amazing to see my wife find new places to store things.
Let’s start our tour outside, at the rear of the coach. One of my favorite features on any motorhome is a rear fuel fill that makes it possible to fill up the coach from any available pump. Just below the A.C.E.’s fuel fill is a steel bumper that is not a repository for the sewer hose — it actually does what a bumper is supposed to do: protect occupants. Moving forward, you will find a vast (8-foot-wide) pass-through storage compartment with a large access door on each side of the motorhome. This space can be used for chairs, tables, golf clubs, and even bicycles or a small scooter. To create such a large amount of storage space, Thor Motor Coach engineers elevated the interior sleeping area at the rear of the coach, adding a small step up into the bedroom.
Although the A.C.E. is a low-profile motorhome, several additional storage compartments line both sides of the coach exterior. The larger ones are all on the curb side of the motorhome, part of what Thor Motor Coach calls its Camp-Sense design. Camp-Sense places the cargo compartment on the camp side of the coach and the utility compartments on the street side. The compartment at the front of the motorhome on the passenger side includes a D-ring for securing dog leashes. Called Pet-Link, this integrated exterior tie-down system provides a great way to give canines some freedom to roam outside the coach while still being close to their owners, but restrained so that they do not bother neighboring campers.
At the rear of the coach on the driver’s side is another example of creative engineering. A large compartment just in front of the rear wheels contains the water hookups and an outside shower. This area — dubbed Camper’s Corner — provides enough room to leave the sewer hose connected and stored away instead of being stowed in the rear bumper. The A.C.E. features a detachable power cord that can be stored in any compartment, eliminating any contortions required to stuff the cord into a small storage space.
Heat-producing and noise-producing appliances, such as the furnace and water heater, are strategically located on the street side in an area that Thor refers to as the Camp-Zone, away from the camp side where children and pets typically linger.
At the front of the unit, wide-opening grille doors allow convenient access to the engine area. This configuration actually makes it easy to add windshield wiper fluid, check the oil, and inspect the battery. If you are not mechanically inclined, don’t worry; the technicians who work on your motorhome will appreciate this compartment. Behind the grille doors resides the Ford Triton 6.8-liter V-10 gas engine.
A wider than normal entry door awaits, but don’t climb the steps just yet. Thor Motor Coach engineers have a few more surprises in store before you explore the inside of the A.C.E.
The first entry step hides a drawer that lends itself to stowing dog leashes, flashlights, and plastic bags to clean up the campsite before hitting the road. A lid on the top step opens, and we utilized the area below it for storing the various tools we took with us on the trip. This was very convenient if you were outside or inside and needed a hammer or pliers.
To the right of the stairs is a hidden compartment that Thor calls the Motorhome Mud Room, which we utilized to store several bags and boxes of items purchased on our trip. This space also makes a great place to store dirty shoes or boots to help keep the motorhome clean. As I mentioned, extra space abounds in this coach.
To the left, as you ascend the stairs, you will find a coat-and-broom closet along with a panel of convenience switches for the lights, awning, and stairs. And we still haven’t been inside the motorhome yet!
Let’s go to the rear and work our way forward. As noted earlier, there is one small step up into the compact bedroom area. It is tight quarters but very comfortable, and more storage is available beneath the queen-size bed. The fuse panel is located on the bed frame, and it is a challenging position should you need to reset a breaker. Given all the storage space in this motorhome, I would have preferred to see this important panel in a more convenient location.
Shirt closets are positioned on either side of the bed, and cabinets hang above the headboard. Two nightstands with drawers flank the bed for a very handy arrangement.
A sliding door separates the bedroom from the split bath. The curbside shower features a curved rod that extends the curtain outward, making it easier to move around under the water. Under the shower is a very clever built-in dog feeding area known as the Kibble Station. The two FDA-approved bowls fit into a drawer and can be removed if you don’t have pets. This arrangement keeps the bowls out of the way during meal preparation in the kitchen area.
On the street side of the A.C.E. are the sink and toilet, sequestered behind a standard door. This area offers plenty of counter space for toiletries and overhead storage in an abundance of cabinets. Even more storage is available under the sink behind closed doors and in a couple of shelves under the counter. Also to be appreciated is the height of the toilet, which sits atop a framed box.
Toward the front of the coach, just to the left of the entryway, stands a large, double-door refrigerator with a storage drawer underneath it and a cabinet above. Across from the entrance is a compact L-shaped kitchen area, complete with a slide-out pantry, a three-burner high-output gas cooktop with oven, a microwave oven, and an oversized bowl sink with a single-lever gooseneck faucet. A large skydome provides natural daylight in this area.
The living room area incorporates a curbside sofa and a street-side booth dinette behind the driver. I became comfortable using the dinette for my mobile office while working during this trip. A 24-inch LCD television is conveniently located above the closet at the entrance, making it viewable from the sofa, dinette, and captains chairs when the latter are swiveled around to become part of the expanded living room area.
The single slideout in this coach contains the booth dinette, pantry, stove, and microwave oven.
Above the cockpit area is a clever fold-down sleeping bunk that appears to be part of the ceiling when in the stored position. A keyed electric switch lowers the bunk to provide additional sleeping capacity, similar to that found in a typical Type C motorhome. Company officials note that, unlike other Type A motorhomes that offer a drop-down bunk in the cab area, the A.C.E.’s cockpit is fully functional with it up or down. Around this overhead location are several storage areas with netting, and more of them are exposed when the bed is lowered.
With the bed in its storage position, a great conversation mirror is visible above the pilot’s seat. The large mirror allows the driver to communicate with passengers when traveling or to check the interior when it is time to depart to make sure passengers are seated and ready to go. I predict that this feature will soon appear in competitors’ motorhome models, because it is so practical — you’ll wonder why we haven’t seen something like it before.
In front of the copilot is a fold-out computer desk/work station in the dash that is equipped with 12-volt and 110-volt electrical connections.
Finally, one last creature feature. The passenger side has an additional floor-level window that helps to eliminate a blind spot at the front of the coach. It also provides a viewing window for pets inside the motorhome and makes it easy for pet owners to keep an eye on their dogs when they are tied up outside using the D-ring.
We drove the A.C.E. extensively on blistering hot days and usually had the onboard generator running to power the air conditioner. This was a gas generator, so operating it impacted our fuel economy. The Onan 4.0-kw generator uses about a half-gallon of gas per hour, and we put 60 hours on the generator, or approximately 30 gallons of gas. When I deducted this from my total gas used on the trip, we averaged 8.4 miles per gallon.
On a certified CAT scale, the A.C.E. weighed 6,320 pounds on the front axle and 9,180 pounds on the rear axle, for a combined weight of 15,500 pounds on a coach with full water, propane, gas, two adults, and their vacation gear.
The A.C.E. 29.1 carries a base suggested retail price of $88,853. Our test unit contained the following options for a total as-tested price of $102,000: back-up monitor; side-vision cameras; 13-inch LCD TV with DVD in bedroom; 4-kilowatt Onan generator, 15,000-Btu air-conditioning unit; hydraulic leveling jacks; second auxiliary battery; Fan-Tastic fan in bathroom; rear ladder; exterior full-body paint.
The A.C.E. is a very likeable motorhome. Veteran RVers wanting to downsize will appreciate the quality and engineering that have been built in. Newcomers looking to buy their first motorhome will not be disappointed with this investment. Families in the market for a Type C are certainly going to want to look at the A.C.E. as a great substitute if they have not yet considered a Type A motorhome.
This coach comes up Aces, or at least a single A.C.E. It truly was the little bus that roared!
V-10, 6.8-liter; 362 horsepower @ 4,750 rpm, 457 lb.-ft @ 3,250 rpm
5-speed TorqShift automatic with Tow-Haul
disc/disc with ABS
power with hydroboost
chassis — (1) 12-volt; house — (1) 12-volt standard, second optional
30-amp with detachable power cord
Onan Microquiet 4.0 (4,000 kilowatts) gas, optional
29 feet 7 inches
11 feet, 11 inches (with roof A/C)
GROSS COMBINATION WEIGHT RATING (GCWR)
GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT RATING (GVWR)
GROSS AXLE WEIGHT RATING (GAWR)
front — 6,500 pounds;
rear — 11,000 pounds
(weighed with full water, propane, fuel, two passengers, and extended vacation gear)
front axle — 6,320 pounds;
rear axle — 9,180 pounds;
total — 15,500 pounds
OCCUPANT & CARGO CARRYING CAPACITY (OCCC)
1,200 to 1,500 pounds
Full welded tubular aluminum roof and sidewall cage construction along with fully welded tubular-steel floor system
FRESH WATER CAPACITY
HOLDING TANK CAPACITIES
gray water — 44 gallons;
black water — 29 gallons
6-gallon gas with DSI (direct-spark ignition), mounted below floor
35,000-Btu furnace, mounted below floor
15,000-Btu roof air-conditioner, optional (13,500-Btu, standard)
double-door, 6 cubic feet
coach — 12-month/12-mile, 24-month/24,000-mile structural;
chassis — 36-month/36,000-mile
BASE SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE
PRICE AS TESTED