Winnebago Industries' new Type B motorhome addresses RVers' needs for comfort, fuel economy, and performance in a smaller package.
By Bob Zagami
From the moment I was given the assignment to review the Era motorhome — Winnebago Industries' new full-featured Type B built on the Dodge Sprinter chassis — I eagerly awaited word about the availability of a test unit. The wait ended this past September when my wife and I took delivery of an Era from Campers Inn in Merrimack, New Hampshire, and drove to Hershey, Pennsylvania, for the 40th Annual Pennsylvania RV & Camping Show.
Timing is everything, as the saying goes. In the current economic climate, which is influencing consumers' purchasing decisions with regard to a number of products, the Era by Winnebago Industries is likely to meet the needs of RV newcomers and veterans alike who desire a smaller motorhome.
In my view, this coach should attract several distinctly different RV customers. First, I see the Era as an excellent RV for folks who want to step out of a large motorhome and downsize. While it is certainly not a full-timer's coach, the Era might appeal to those RVers who may be ready to slow down and not travel as much, but still want to do so in style and in a high-quality product.
Another interesting market for this type of motorhome could be those first-time buyers who are ready to purchase an RV now rather than save up for a higher-priced coach. A large number of young professionals and hard-working tradesmen and tradeswomen will enjoy using the Era to join up with other young families at the Saturday morning soccer game or tailgate with their adult friends at the Sunday afternoon football game.
The Era also will work for families traveling with young children, even if they decide to stay in hotels once they are done driving for the day. The coach comes with a standard seven-pin trailer connection and can tow 5,000 pounds. It could easily tow a folding camping trailer or other lightweight trailer, and the two RVs could house the entire family once a campground is reached.
A great deal has been written about the drivability of the Dodge Sprinter chassis, which is perfectly matched to the 3-liter Mercedes-Benz CDI 6-cylinder, 154-horsepower, turbo-diesel engine and five-speed automatic tip-shift transmission. Indulge me as I add my name to the list of believers in this combination that drives around town like an SUV and motors down the highway like a high-performance sports car.
The Era is simply a great RV to drive; in fact, one could argue that it handles just like a luxurious Mercedes-Benz automobile and costs only a few dollars more to bring the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom along. How great is that? This coach will easily become a second "car" in many homes when folks realize the benefits of owning a dual-purpose vehicle that allows them to run their errands around town, drive back and forth to work, then take off for weekends and extended vacations, RV-style.
A number of coach manufacturers build on the Sprinter platform now, but Winnebago Industries was the first company to introduce a motorhome on this chassis when it launched the Winnebago View and Itasca Navion Type C motorhomes in 2005. Testimony to the company's engineering expertise was the impressive mileage we achieved while on our way to Pennsylvania. This new unit had just 1,590 miles on it when we picked it up for our test. Not wanting to meet any state troopers along the way, I drove at the speed limit to see what kind of fuel economy it was capable of delivering. We averaged between 17 and 18 miles per gallon on the way down to Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, health problems forced us to leave for home earlier than expected, and we were unable to measure mileage on the return trip.
Looks And Livability
Our test model was the 170XL, which included the interior Limited Package that comes with Ultraleather-covered furniture and a bold graphics package. The striking exterior graphics, which flow smoothly across its well-defined lines, present a subtle elegance.
The well-appointed cockpit is quite comfortable. The Ultraleather seats are equipped with armrests, adjustable lumbar supports, and headrests. They slide, swivel, and recline easily, depending on whether you are entertaining or just want to take a quick nap before dinner.
You won’t have to yell when talking with your copilot in this cab, for it is well-insulated and very quiet. The ratchet-fitting cup holders provide a safe and secure environment that won’t spill your favorite beverage.
A small point, but something that experienced RVers will note, concerns the cockpit windows. The windows in this area (side and windshield) came with optional pleated window blinds that slide along a horizontal track-mounted system to close off the front of the coach for privacy. We did have some challenges with the magnet attachment system at the center of the windshield and wound up using a wire wrap to keep the blinds closed at night. I’m sure a small adjustment somewhere would have resolved this issue. The same shade mechanism on the driver’s door did rattle on occasion, but again, a simple outward adjustment would have alleviated this noise. Despite these issues, it was an incredibly well-thought-out system that was designed into the interior landscape for easy use when deploying in the evening or retracting in the morning.
Listening to your favorite songs or podcasts will be easy with the iPod/MP3 input on the optional Sirius Satellite Radio, which comes with a six-month paid subscription and also features AM/FM stereo, CD player, and remote control operations.
Four captain’s chairs at the front of the 170XL can be swiveled around a removable table that stows away during travel. This table also can be placed adjacent to the sofa at the rear of the unit for added flexibility. Equipped with the power option, the rear sofa easily converts to a queen-size bed when it is time to call it a day.
Once again, you quickly notice the little touches for which Winnebago Industries is known, including the effective use of space and options that just seem to fit perfectly. For example, for storage purposes, the table support leg is positioned just inside the sliding passenger-side door, and the table itself slides into a slot and holder area to the left of the rear sofa. It isn’t just a holder, though; you can only put the table in one way, and it fits snugly once you get it in position. Once stowed, the table does not rattle when the coach is driving down the road.
Midship on the curb side is a tight but fully functional bathroom with a curved shower curtain behind angled doors that can be left open for added maneuverability in this area.
Across from the bathroom is a compact galley kitchen setup that features a solid-surface countertop with a built-in stainless-steel sink. The sink is outfitted with a nifty fold-down faucet, which enables the glass-topped cover to be closed while traveling. Also in the countertop is a two-burner range with another glass cover that provides more work area when preparing meals. Just under the counter is the microwave oven and refrigerator-freezer. I would like to see Winnebago Industries offer a convection-microwave in this type of unit for easier meal preparation and flexibility.
Interior space was ample for a vehicle of this size, and owners likely will use all of it, because there is no outside storage. The under-bed area, which is accessible via the two barn doors in the rear of the motorhome, makes an excellent area for stowing items in plastic bins that fit the space.
We really appreciated the Era's tremendous amount of interior lighting, which was well-configured. We could mix and match options to place illumination exactly where we needed it, when we needed it. The under-cabinet lighting that flooded the cooking area with outstanding brilliance was especially appreciated by my wife when preparing meals. (Lest you think I did nothing on this trip, my cooking is limited to the grill outside; the kitchen is her space.)
Interior entertainment was provided by a 15-inch LCD television and stereo system that included another AM/FM radio and CD/DVD player. The stereo components were attached to the side of the bathroom walls facing the rear sofa area; the television was mounted forward, just past the galley, on a pivot bracket that allowed excellent viewing from the galley or the sofa, whether you wanted to watch a favorite program or cozy up with a good movie. If somebody is working in the kitchen area, however, visibility is reduced. So, if you really like to watch a lot of television while RVing, I would recommend packing another flat-panel television that you can hook up outside.
Exiting the coach to take a look around the exterior was easy through the sliding side door. However, we did encounter something here that Winnebago Industries may want to address on future models. All windows, except in the cab area, come with roll-up shades. If you try to exit the coach with the shade down — and, yes, we did — the shade will get caught up on the interior side wall, where it will bunch up and could become damaged. This may be a good place for another pleated shade system, such as the one in the cockpit.
The compartment housing the 30-amp electrical cord is secured with a plastic latch. Given the amount of use this compartment will get, we would like to see a metal locking mechanism here. We knocked the plastic parts out a couple of times during our trip, and if the parts had gotten lost, we would have had to tape the compartment closed until we found replacement parts.
Outside hookups are all conveniently located, and the compartment doors do have metal latches and a hook to hold them up while setting up camp or breaking down. The Era comes with a macerator pump and a 12-foot sewer hose. The hose itself did not have a fitting at the end. The dealer checked other Eras on the lot, and it appears that this is the way Winnebago Industries ships them. With this setup, you must stay with the activation switch in the storage compartment to make sure you shut the pump off after emptying the tanks, which would leave the hose unattended in the sewer drain. This could lead to a spill from the black and gray water tanks on the ground around the sewer. A regular hose fitting would allow the hose to be secured in an appropriate manner at the sewer connection. (Of course, the owner could attach such a fitting.)
Our test coach had a base price of $91,466, with options totaling $5,040, for a total retail price of $96,506. Options included a 2.5-kilowatt Onan Microlite generator, a patio awning, a water purifier, Sirius satellite radio, an A/C heat pump, a six-gallon water heater, and an Ultraleather electric sofa bed.
Last, a word about my road warrior wife. We celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary earlier this year, and she has never driven a motorhome — never wanted to. Also, she doesn’t like to drive at night, in the rain, or near 18-wheelers. The reason I mention this is that I developed severe back problems during the Hershey RV show and could not walk, never mind drive. While I lay prone on the floor of the motorhome, buffeted by pillows, my wife jumped in and drove all the way to Boston and straight to the hospital emergency room. Along the way it grew dark and started to rain, and the roads filled with 18-wheelers! In these challenging conditions, my wife learned how to drive her first motorhome. She admitted that the Era handled just like a car, and she was not at all intimidated. However, now that I am fully recovered, I think she’s going to settle back into the copilot seat on our next product evaluation road trip.
Winnebago Industries Inc., 605 W. Crystal Lake Road, Forest City, IA 50436; (641) 585-3535; www.winnebagoind.com
2009 Winnebago Era
3-liter Mercedes-Benz CDI 6-cylinder turbo-diesel; 154 horsepower @ 3,400 rpm; 280 pound-feet torque @ 1,200-2,400 rpm
5-speed automatic tip-shift transmission
3.92 to 1
TIRES AND WHEELS
steel-belted radial, all-season; 16-inch-by-6.5-inch stylized aluminum wheels
4-wheel ABS with skid control
front — independent front suspension with transverse monoleaf spring and stabilizer; rear — leaf spring with stabilizer bar
chassis — (1) 12-volt
house — (1) Group 31
not available (does have a 45-amp converter; TV and theater system run via 12-volt power)
2.5-kilowatt Cummins Onan Microlite (optional)
24 feet 1 inch
6 feet 4 inches
6 feet 3 inches
9 feet 7 inche
GROSS COMBINATION WEIGHT RATING (GCWR)
GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT RATING (GVWR)
GROSS AXLE WEIGHT RATING (GAWR)
front — 3,389 pounds;
rear — 4,490 pounds
UNLOADED VEHICLE WEIGHT (UVW)
(company-provided; includes factory options and full fuel and propane tanks, but no water)
OCCUPANT AND CARGO CARRYING CAPACITY (OCCC)
FRESH WATER CAPACITY
HOLDING TANK CAPACITIES
gray water — 22 gallons;
black water — 10 gallons
On-demand; permanent magnet motor with diaphragm
Aqua Magic V with foot pedal and sprayer
chassis — 36 months/36,000 miles;
house — 12 months/15,000 miles
BASE SUGGESTED RETAIL PRICE
PRICE AS TESTED