Over the last several years, the RV industry has been hammered. Big players like Fleetwood, Winnebago, Lance, and Coleman have taken gigantic hits, and in some cases have had to reorganize completely, cutting production and staff by half. And with the economy just beginning to pull out of a long nosedive, fuel prices continuing their creep ever upward, and lending institutions still being very careful about "leisure" loans, the future doesn't look like it'll get too bright any time soon. Still, there are signs that the industry can and will respond to this new playing field, the most obvious change being the size of motorhomes.
Traditional Class A motorhomes (the largest, typically shoebox-shaped motorhomes) use a commercial-grade frame, usually running a big-block gas engine that can average anywhere from 4 to 8 mpg. Naturally, motorhomes with Cummins, Power Stroke, or Duramax diesel engines get better mileage, but also run at a premium, depending on the packaging, and become quite pricey. As a result, smaller, more efficient motorhomes have become more popular over the past several years. As you might expect, the smaller van-chassis Class C motorhomes, typically based off an elongated van frame, also were on an upswing, but very few were equipped with a turbodiesel.
In 2004 Mercedes-Benz introduced its new Sprinter van chassis, originally designed to take the place of the aging full-size Dodge Ram vans (Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler were still together back then), equipped with a powerful, sophisticated 3.0-liter V-6 Mercedes turbodiesel, now rated at 188 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. And in the five years since its intro, just about every major RV maker has developed a new product for it.
We recently had a chance to take one of the more popular F50 (the 1-ton chassis) Winnebago models out on the road. We put the Via 25Q through cold-weather testing, and what we found was surprising. From behind the wheel, it's almost unnerving how small the vehicle drives, making it feel more like a Suburban or Expedition EL.