Having the 4-wheel drive upgrade in a Roadtrek Class B RV is more about getting off-road than off-roading. We often have people ask about the advantages and disadvantages of having a 4×4 Class B RV.
Off-Road vs. Off-Roading
First, you have to understand the difference between “going off-road” and “going off-roading.” We both have owned and driven Jeep Wranglers for years. We have been in some real off-roading situations, with travel over rocks and logs, through deep water and slimy mudholes. We have been in forests, off-roading parks, and the Silver Lake Sand Dunes (a favorite spot for 4x4s of all types in West Michigan).
Driving “off-road,” on the other hand, can be as simple as taking a two-track forest road. Those can be a little rough and narrow, but generally, the obstacles will be extra sandy sections or spots with water over the road (and the mud that comes with it). In those cases, the issue tends to be a need for traction rather than ground clearance.
Not all vans are created equal
Second, keep in mind that not all Class Bs are created equal. Some companies — such as Sportsmobile — pride themselves on having specific models of 4×4 vans to help you do more serious off-roading. Those models have higher ground clearance and the manufacturers build them to be sturdier so the RV components can take more of a beating from being off the pavement. The trade-off is that off-road vans generally don’t have as many things — or in some cases anything — slung underneath. That means you lose storage cabinets, holding tanks, etc.
Another option would be to take your stock vehicle and work through a company to retrofit it for off-roading. That’s what companies like Boulder OffRoad Vans do. Still, that means you have an RV designed for on-road use being outfitted to not get stuck while off road, but the internal components aren’t any beefier than when you started. (I don’t have personal experience with either Sportsmobile or Boulder Offroad, I just offer those as examples of companies that may do what you’re looking for.)
Traction vs. Clearance
We have a 2008 Roadtrek 190 Popular 4×4. The previous owner bought it from the factory with the Quigley 4-wheel-drive option. What we have discovered is that unless you buy a vehicle specifically built for off-roading, having 4-wheel-drive on a Class B RV is more about improved traction than anything. It provides a few more inches of clearance, but it’s not for any serious off-roading.
That’s because the most prominent issue for taking RVs off road involves clearance top and bottom. Gaining a couple of inches when the original design is a known driveway scraper isn’t enough to suddenly go rock climbing. On the other hand, our van is nearly 9 feet tall. That height, although lower than many other RVs, still makes it tricky to avoid low-hanging tree branches. While ground clearance is less of an issue for many purpose-built adventure vehicles, you still have to beware height and width restrictions when going off-road.
So why have 4×4?
Despite the van’s shortfalls for off-roading, we appreciate the extra traction 4-wheel-drive has afforded us in sand, mud, ice, and snow on our treks. Sometimes, it has given us the peace of mind to head down a forest road in northern Michigan to reach a favorite boondocking spot.
And traction isn’t always about you and your vehicle. Sometimes, it’s about protecting the environment you’re driving through. As long-time Jeep owners, Jessi and I have followed the Tread Lightly philosophy. The basic concept is that you should do no harm while enjoying the great outdoors in your 4×4. That’s why we will sometimes engage 4-wheel-drive for additional traction even when we don’t believe we would get stuck. Instead, it’s ensuring that we don’t end up spinning the rear wheels as we maneuver around. Spinning your wheels means digging up the ground you’re traveling over, which is damage that can easily be and should be avoided.
There are some additional expenses due to the maintenance of the 4×4 system. And it will lower your miles per gallon a bit. But overall, we think that’s all negligible, especially since our gas mileage seems comparable to what we’ve seen on rear-wheel-drive Roadtrek models.
Here’s a 2-minute video of driving our Roadtrek on a forest road in northern Michigan, complete with mudhole and sandy spots:
4×4 Class B: Yay or Nay?
So, is it worth having the 4×4 option on a class B RV? That depends on where you’re traveling and the type of camping you like to do. We prefer to find an isolated spot well off the beaten path to set up camp. That sometimes means having to travel some sketchy “roads” through forests or other types of wilderness. Activating 4-wheel-drive in questionable situations has made us feel more secure when we head off the beaten path. (Don’t forget, just because you can get into an area for camping when it’s a beautiful day doesn’t mean the road out will be anything like the road in if it starts raining.)
But don’t overthink the real focus of 4×4 on most Class B RVs, which is traction rather than off-roading. If you’re looking for an off-roading adventure mobile, consider investing in a Class B specially made to do that. Or find a way to tow a Jeep. If nothing else, the Jeep wins because you can take the doors off and remove the top for some true adventure drives!