We had our first Class A (LOL - as we did not buy our Last RV First!) a nice used T28 Bounder. Got in at a low price, to see if we both liked that RV thing...
After 4 years, we decided that we would do extended travel in retirement and planned to by a unit a year before we retired, to work out any kinks and make it our coach. We started to do what the others have suggested. Learning, and deciding what was important to us. We made a spread sheet of Must Have's and Nice to Have's. With a 1 (if it had it, 1 point) up to 5 points (If it had it, and either of us felt it was very important. Like i wanted side radiator, so 5 pts. DW wanted large galley so 5 pts.) We used this when looking over rigs. In casual looking, or internet looking, we'd just do grade it together. On any serious coach we were looking at, we did our own grading, then merged them.)
After kicking tires, and doing shows, talking to owners along the way, checking reviews, etc. We came down to a short list of three manufacturers, and one two three modles within them. For example, we both like less 'bling', so in the Country Coach line our list included Allures, Intrigue and Magna's. With the target coach being Intrigue. Allures had all of the mechancial, and good quality, and in certain model years they could be optioned to blur the lines with the Intrigue line. So, you need to not only know the model lines, but sometimes the model years too.
A few opinions on things that were important to us. Which may mean nothing to you, as you both may have different 'wants' - and that is OK, as it is you$$!
>Do the math on power to weight ratios. In general, buy the biggest engine option you can get in the coaches you are looking for. For us, this was ISL and above, with ISM being preferred. Or CAT C12 or above. The C9 is the same size as the ISL, but I had read too many problems related to the engine. Those may not be fair, and they may have sorted out, as this was research from 3 to 4 years ago. If you do get a 34-36' size coach, the ISC is a solid well thought of coach, as is the CAT C7, in the smaller coaches, the power to weight ratio should do you well. In doing this calc, consider the toad weight in this calc.
>Tag (we were looking at the 38-42' range). Not just for extra stability while driving, but also as they really bump up CCC, also add a another set of brake for stopping of these big heavy coaches. Another plus, is that they drive wheels are usually set further forward, which then enhances your turning radius. We wanted lifting tags. You do lose one basement storage space, so 40'+ is nicer, but 38" Tag's do exist, if someone has a hard stop at under 40'.
>Air auto leveling
>IFS front end
>CCC (our coach has just under 12K lbs of CCC)
>On Chassis, the Alpine and Country Coaches have their own chassis, both respected. The Alpine Peak chassis is sometimes called the BMW of coaches for handling, though some people had a problem with getting used to their hydrualics(SP?) brakes vs normal Air Brakes in most DP's. Most Alpine onwers I talked with, were very happy with their rigs, and liked the brakes. The Country Coach Dynomax chassis, was a bit softer thein I liked. So I factored Road Kings and Super Steers Motion Control Units in my coach choice planning, if it ended up being a CC, which it did
! The Monaco line has the Roadmaster chassis, with the mid to highend models having 8 air bags up. The Roadmaster S chassis with I think 10 bags, is also considered to be one of the better handling chassis. Both Spartan and Freightliner provide chassis to many manufacturers, including Newmar, Tiffen, Fleetwood, Rexhall, etc. they both make chassis at different price points, so you need to do you homework. I recall that the Spartan Mountain Master and K2 chassis are well thought of. Spartan did have some problems with ball joints of some chassis, but most owners do not feel this is enough to outweight the good things on this chassis. I'm a bit rusty on Freightliners, but I think the XC IFS chassis was well thought of too.
>Basement storage? Pass thru or not? (Usually raise rail vs non raise rail chassis's determine the size and kind of storage.) Slide outs, slide outs that go to either side?
Inside Items to Consider:
>Layout match what is important to you two
>Can you get to things with the slides closed? Maybe not everything, but the important items like the head, the fridge, etc. If you can't open a dresser drawer, well darn - but with slides, that is part of it.
>On slides. How many? Full side super slide (Rexhall is an example), or 2, 3, 4 and now even 5 slides?
>Is the galley in a slide? (more moving mechanicals, and loss of upper cabinet space)
>Is the passenger front side a slide? Could it impact your usage at a smaller camp site. Many times, the awning location on passenger side slides are not as adjustable.
>Repeat on basement access. Is the storage in the slide and move with it? Or not, and then have access concerns under the slide?
>King vs Queen?
>Quality of cabinet construction, and material choices and fixtures in general.
I'll stop here, but reading and researching and kicking tires, you can come up with the lists of items that you both want to check out.
My last opinion on coaches. We went with used for two reasons: 1) More bang for the buck on purchase price 2) We wante to get pre heavy smog changes to the Diesel. We gave higher points to pre 2006 engines (remember we started our looking about 3-4 years ago, and bought about 2 1/2 years ago). That was before DEF was part of the factors too.
In general, we picked our budget range, we retained a contigency fund to do baseline catch up maintenance on any coach (Anything that was not documented as changed, we took care of at the start. Like belts, hoses, thermostats, etc.). We were looking for a foundation to build on for the future, a coach we felt we would own for 10 years minimum. So we went with the highest quality coach we could buy within our budget range, and we dropped years to remain within budget range. That worked well for us. Others like newer, and less quality built coaches, as they felt newer is better. Two different ways of looking at the purchase of a coach. It was easy for us, as we looked at 10-12 year old high quality coaches compared to the same age middle quality coaches. The better quality coaches just looked soo much better, as the quality of materials lasted. And, the higher quality coaches wood working and construction, resulted in less rattles and squeaks from usage.
Very best of luck on your serach, have fun,