not just for trailer park boys
2019 Airstream Classic Review: The Old-School Camper Gets Smart
This story is part of our Summer Gear Guide issue, covering everything from cold brew to grill hacks to the perfect outdoor projector. For the full list of stories, click here.
Airstream’s flagship model, the Classic, has been newly outfitted for 2019 with “smart technology,” giving users the ability to remotely control the climate, awning and lights, and monitor propane, water and battery levels via an app on a smartphone or tablet. This type of connected tech is increasingly prevalent in new cars and homes, but now, it’s been neatly integrated into an Airstream travel trailer here for the first time. It proved unobtrusive and useful during a weekend camping in sunbaked California wine country.
The Good: Airstream’s new Smart Control Technology is a handy, clever addition for a 2019 trailer, provided you have a bit of tech savvy. The finishes are all high quality, and both the oven and stove proved useful. The 19 windows bathe the interior in light, and the panoramic ones in the bedroom make for stunning views (if you know where to park). And the iconic exterior design remains largely unchanged; like a Richard Neutra or Frank Lloyd Wright mid-century home, these trailers exude a sense of timelessness.
Who It’s For: Someone who loves and needs the newest, top-of-the line toy with all the comforts of home. This trailer is has it all and does it all; it could easily be lived in for months out of the year.
Watch Out For: My experience with the trailer was a stationary loan, meaning I didn’t tow it to the nicely-appointed resort where I tested it. However, towing the 30-foot Classic requires a vehicle with at least 10,000 lbs of towing capacity–meaning an SUV probably won’t cut it. Time to buy that heavy-duty pickup you’ve been eyeing.
Alternatives: The handful of other travel trailers of this size certainly undercut Airstream in price, but the finishes and build quality are not quite as nice. Additionally, no others have smart technology. Similar (but much cheaper) build-outs include the Arctic Fox Silver Edition 32A and the Winnebago Minnie Plus 31-footer.
Review: There are several ways to experience Airstream life. You could tow something like the 22-foot Sport across the West, adventuring through the red rocks of Sedona and pinescapes of Telluride for some wilderness camping. You could hitch the tiny-home inspired Nest to your crossover for a weekend trip, winding to a perch somewhere on the California coast.
However, to really understand the lure of an Airstream — to know why the iconic trailer has spawned coffee table books and Pinterest dream boards, or cultivated online fan hives with nearly 1 million posts like Air Forum, or the Wally Byam Caravan Club, that boasts 8,000 members “living the Airstream Dream” — I recommend a weekend in the Classic.
I experienced the latest Airstream in all its luxurious, fully-connected glory by testing it at Cava Robles RV Resort in Paso Robles, California, a high-end take on typical trailer camping with wi-fi and hookups for the trailer at the site, along with a view of the oak tree-dotted Salinas River Valley from the back window.
Airstream CEO Bob Wheeler has said he was inspired to build this connected Airstream after buying a Tesla. It’s a lofty comparison, but it holds water; the interface of Airstream’s app notably echoes the look of Tesla’s screen, for example. And as in a Tesla, smart technology is integrated into the Airstream with a certain ease. It’s less “look at what my vehicle can do” and more “this is how a vehicle should function in 2019.”
In Paso Robles, the technology seemed to fade from mind once I settled in: The Sonos music system played my favorite albums on shuffle, the climate control was set adjusted, and the lighting was just right. I didn’t use the Airstream app again until the next day, when I was 15 minutes from returning while on a bike ride and used the app to set the A/C remotely. It was rather nice to return home in the hot sun of the afternoon and avoid a sweltering, stale trailer.
To take the smart technology to the extreme, I connected to the Airstream’s Internet, streamed the NBA playoffs from an app on my Android tablet, then, I screen-shared with the TV in the Airstream’s front lounge area and had the game on while cooking. There’s a certain irony to visiting a campground only to enjoy similar comforts as my living room…but there’s also a certain appeal.
Still, the best parts of camping are often the simplest ones, and Airstream seems to keep that in mind even when rolling out new tech. About 80 percent of my app usage was to control the lights and climate, and those systems worked without a hitch. (Data-heavy tasks like video streaming will certainly require a large bit of patience for customers.) For now, the trailer includes a year of free data. After that, Airstream owners can pay $25 a month on a case-by-case basis, or pay $360 a year for unlimited data. If tech is not your thing, the trailer can of course still be controlled the old-fashioned way, using switches; however, you’ll then never know the joy of laying in bed and turning off the one light you left on in the galley.
The Classic’s appeal stretches beyond the tech. The sharp, modern kitchen proved comfortable and efficient, bringing a certain joy to camp cooking. The stove top seared up some al pastor nicely, and the oven evenly browned a pair of homemade pizzas. The bathroom is spacious, and has luxuries like heated floors and towel rack. And the beds are nestled into the rounded rear of the trailer, and flanked by windows to give fresh air and unobstructed views.
The potential seems limitless, now that smart tech has come to trailers. Could you wire this whole Airstream to be powered by Alexa or Google Home? Could you program various voice-controlled scenes and settings with smart lighting? Set up a smart lock or Ring camera at your trailer door? Eventually, yes — and some ambitious Airstreamers are already cobbling it together.
Verdict: It was only a matter of time before the Internet of things seeped into the great outdoors, and Airstream has handled this initial foray with care. The new technology, thankfully, is not another failed experiment to make something “smart.” It’s well-thought out and intuitive. Sure, it’s indulgent more than it is vital, but so what? There’s a certain pleasure to lighting a campfire outside the trailer while the sun sets, and being able to indulge in the sudden whim to hear Vampire Weekend. Is it necessary? No. But an Airstream Classic isn’t about necessity. It’s about luxury.
What Others Are Saying:
• “Arguably, the tech upgrade is overdue. Anyone dropping $152,000 on a vehicle in the 21st-century likely expects to be able to keep tabs on it remotely; to check the level of the propane tank while in town getting groceries, or kick on the air-conditioning in advance when returning from a long day in the great outdoors.”
— KYLE STOCK, Bloomberg
• “This is all in addition to the Classic’s already impressive interior that resembles a cross between a brand new studio apartment and a small yacht.”
— ROBERTO BALDWIN, Engadget
2019 Airstream Classic 30RB Twin
Length: 31 feet, 3 inches
Base Weight (with LP and batteries): 7,788 pounds
Fresh Water Capacity: 54 gallons
Sleeping Capacity: 5 people
Windows and Skylights: 19
Airstream provided this product for review.
Hot takes and in-depth reviews on noteworthy, relevant and interesting products. Read the Story