MOTOR MATTERS ROLLING HOMES BY JEFF JOHNSTON
Downsizing is a big deal in today’s Recreational Vehicle industry. The new Winnebago Via is one answer to the “What’s right for today’s RVer?” question.
Smaller size, improved aerodynamics and a known fuel-efficient chassis are elements that make up a downsized motorhome that delivers comfortable driving performance and fuel-efficient operation. These features come together in the Via. (www.gowinnebago.com).
Winnebago builds the Via on a version of the highly popular Dodge Sprinter van chassis built by Mercedes. Sprinter-based Class B van motorhomes and Class C “mini” motorhomes are all the rage because of their fuel economy (compared to any equivalent-sized gas-powered product), plus their overall chassis quality. Winnebago goes one step beyond the Class C rigs built on cutaway chassis, with the van cab front end and chassis mated to the coach body, and uses a stripped rails Sprinter as the basis for the Via.
The chassis is powered by a Mercedes V-6 turbodiesel engine backed by a five-speed automatic transmission. The combination is tried and proven worldwide as the Sprinter van is sold in many other countries.
It’s a given that a Sprinter-based coach will be somewhat small due to the chassis’ 11,030-pound Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. Our road-test unit was the model 25Q that measured a hair over 25 feet long and included two small slideouts for its forward sofa/bed and aft end master bedroom.
Four-wheel disc brakes mean assured, confident stopping power is standard, and its truck-like suspension gives the coach a firm — though not at all harsh — ride. In fact, the Via is one of the best-handling motorhomes we’ve enjoyed driving in a long time. Part of it could be its compact overall size and relatively light weight and it could also be the chassis’ generally well-tuned components.
Its diesel is surprisingly responsive and launches the coach from a stop with enthusiasm.
Extra-steep hills in the 6-percent range haul it down a bit, but it’s still fast enough to avoid holding traffic back.
Headwinds don’t affect it much, possibly due to the rig’s aerodynamic front end, and other climactic wind conditions are also minimally intrusive to a smooth, comfortable ride. Its steering is precise and delivers good road feel and that’s very welcome on some of the more challenging, twisty and narrow roads encountered near the Oregon coast.
Our test coach averaged about 13 miles per gallon on multi-surface roads and modest mountain grades. A freeway run netted as much as 14.5 mpg — and that could likely be improved upon with more conservative driving.
Though it’s smallish in stature the Via isn’t short on build quality or features. All-aluminum and steel framing make up the superstructure and smooth fiberglass skin receives deluxe graphics or optional full-body paint.
Inside, the coach features laminate surfaces and modern curved-face cabinets. From the vinyl ceiling to the ultra-leather furniture the Via includes top-quality materials throughout.
This isn’t a cheap coach by any means. Downsized doesn’t mean lower price, as the rig we drove was stickered at $141,866 “nicely equipped” with a few options including aluminum wheels, Sirius satellite radio, full body paint, a river door, an A/C heat pump and water purifier, among others.
Even as buyers choose smaller motorhomes they need to learn to live with less as befits a downsized coach.
There’s less space inside for spread-out living, so users must adjust to packing lighter and thinking smaller.
Multi-use spaces like the forward-cab seats that lift and turn around to add extra lounge seating when in camped mode, help get the most use out of less square feet. The aft bedroom includes a comfortable bed, but there’s not much else back there and walkaround space is slim. Likewise, the bath is fully outfitted yet compact and the galley’s two-burner stove and smallish counter and round bowl sink are best suited to modest-size meals.
At the same time, the Winnebago designers have packed in all the amenities a user would want including electronic entertainment hardware and full self-containment accommodations.
Today’s RV manufacturers are facing more emphasis on smaller coaches. The Via is a good look at what’s available now. — Jeff Johnston, Motor Matters
Copyright, AutoWriters Associates Inc., 2011