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.

Nothing in the cab area indicates you're not driving a normal full-size van, aside from the fact that there's much more front glass area than in any full-size pickup or large SUV. All the gauges and center dash layout are well constructed and thought out, with A/C controls, nav system, and transmission shifter within easy reach. Our Via 25Q came equipped with an optional driver-side sliding door (not inexpensive at $1400, but worth every penny), which made for easy access and convenience, especially when pulling into fuel stations for fill-ups. Likewise, the more aerodynamic shape of the vehicle, clearly designed to help with fuel economy, is also an attention-getter, as we discussed the Via's visual assets with just about everyone who was fueling up at the same time.

Inside the living area of the Via, there is plenty of headroom with 6.5 feet of clearance. In addition, our model's layout offered two separate slideouts (one in the front living area, the other in the bedroom) that practically double the interior volume. The couch and bed area slide out less than 2 feet, but the extra interior room it provides is impressive, especially with more than two people inside. Other amenities include a queen-size bed, full bathroom with shower, a two-burner stove, a long and large refrigerator with freezer, and two LCD TVs (one in the bedroom, one in the living room).

We especially like the European-style cabinetry and furniture design, which no doubt explains the premium pricing (more details below). Of special note, the Via's front seats have the capability to raise and lower and swivel 180 degrees for lounge-chair seating in the motorhome, as well as comfortable driver and passenger seating during the trip. But if you don't get the seats perfectly reset into their proper position, the engine will not start without the blasting of a hugely annoying alarm bell that won't stop until you fix the positioning.

During our snow camping excursion in the eastern Sierras, our 20,000-BTU furnace (and thermostat) kept us cozy each night as temperatures dipped into the low 20s, while our electrically blanketed water tank also stayed warm. Our 25Q also had a 3200-watt Cummins Onan diesel generator to keep power going while parked at the main lodge of the local ski area.

As far as fuel economy, our run from Santa Barbara to Mammoth Lakes, California, was about 370 miles, and we did the entire trip on a single tank of fuel. According to our vehicle's trip computer, we averaged 16.8 mpg at an average speed of 58 mph. Those mpg numbers may not sound impressive, but they're just about double the next closest motorhome mpg numbers we've ever seen.

Some hefty elevation changes on the drive up moved us from about 100 feet above sea level to close to 7000 at our snowed-in campsite. The V-6 turbodiesel delivered dramatic and impressive fuel economy numbers on the trip home, running downhill from the mountaintops back to Los Angeles. In that instance, we got over 21 mpg, which we helped by being gentle on the throttle. Even with the more aerodynamic shape of the Via, there is still plenty of flat-faced siding to make for an exciting ride if you encounter sidewinds or fast-moving big-rigs. With a 26-gallon fuel tank, the Via has an impressive range of over 400 miles; remember, though, the generator taps fuel from the main diesel tank, so you have to factor that in as well. The furnace is powered by propane (LP).

Beyond the driving ease and fuel economy, another feature we liked was the IntelliSense communication center, which allowed us to check tank levels, battery charge, and choose the mode of power for the appliances. We appreciate having as much information about fluid and power levels as possible, especially in an environment that can go bad quickly.

Also, our Via was equipped with a rear- and side-mounted camera system that offered night vision for easier and safer lane changes and back-country night driving. The option is about $5000, but you'd be surprised how quickly you begin to rely on it. Look for it to make it to more large pickups and SUV in the years to come. Pricing for our Via 25Q model is a bit on the high side, with a base of $130,000, exclusive of $12,000 in options. The saving grace for a vehicle like this at a larger dealership nowadays is that you're likely to be treated like royalty and not have to pay anywhere near full cost.

In fact, this 2010 model was sale priced for $118,000. And our guess is the dealership would've been willing to negotiate from there.


Winnebago Via 25Q
POWERTRAIN
Drivetrain layout Front engine
Airbags NA
Engine type 60-deg turbodiesel V-6
Valve gear DOHC, 4-valves/cyl
Fuel induction High-pressure, direct inj
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 188 @ 3800
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 325 @ 1400
Transmission type 5-speed automatic
Axle ratio 4.18:1
Final drive ratio 2.92:1
Rpm @ 60 mph 1650
Recommended fuel ULS diesel #2
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase 170.0 in
Length 307.8 in
Width 90.0 in
Height 129.2 in
Ground clearance 7.2 in
Base curb weight 9020 lb
Payload capacity 2010 lb
GVWR 11,030 lb
GCW 15,250 lb
CAPACITIES
Towing capacity 4500 lb
Fuel capacity 26.4 gal
Freshwater 30.0 gal
Hot water 6.0 gal
Holding tanks, black/grey 36/36 gal
Propane tank 13.0 gal
CHASSIS
Frame construction Ladder frame
Suspension, f/r Struts, coil springs,
anti-roll bar/live axle, leaf springs
Brakes, f/r Vented disc/disc, ABS
Wheels 6.5 x 16-in, steel
Tires 245/75R16
PERFORMANCE
EPA fuel economy (city/hwy) NA
As tested fuel economy (city/hwy) 14/20 mpg
PRICING/WARRANTIES
Base price $130,000
Options $12,955
Price as tested $142,955
Basic warranty 12-month/15,000-mile
Structure warranty 36-month/36,000-mile
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