Exclusive Test: Winnebago Via 25′

2310445_winnebago_via_ext_2.jpgWhen Winnebago introduced the first Sprinter-based Class C in 2004, it created a whole new buzz in the industry. And now
the venerable motorhome maker from Forest City, Iowa, is stirring up the industry once
again with a brand spanking new Class A, the Via, that undoubtedly will be the most innovative motorized product of
this decade.

 

The diminutive and sleek 25-foot-5-inch body is mated to an F-50 Sprinter
chassis that’s a true Class A rail, not just its Class C counterpart with the cab lopped off. The coach’s
European-style stature is the result of painstaking proprietary bodywork on the part of
Winnebago’s product and design team – a process that was launched quietly in 2006. When the
smoke cleared, the Via took on unique lines that cater to advanced aerodynamics and appeal
to the green mindset.

 

Powered by a 154-hp Mercedes-Benz 3.0-liter turbo-diesel six-cylinder
engine, the Via is not only nimble to handle, but also exhibits plenty of get-up-and-go
under all driving conditions. We verified that during our exclusive road test in Iowa,
where we got the very first chance to live aboard the Via and put the new motorhome through
its paces under actual road-trip conditions.

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As one enters the coach, the curvy walls and
cabinets become instant eye candy. The cabinetry is imported from Italy, where the styling
experts and craftspeople from Tecnoform specialize in weight reduction and quality
components.

 

The most radical curve starts at the entryway and continues to form the kitchen
galley along the curbside wall. Built into the extremely lightweight, albeit solid-looking,
galley counter is a single round sink and recessed double-burner cook-top. The counter-tops
in the rig, including the one in the bathroom, weigh only 14 pounds. Folding glass covers
for both these fixtures provide additional counter-space that’s otherwise limited. Within
the galley structure is a folding cabinet door that provides unexpected access below the
sink and fairly deep drawers. The cabinet above the galley offers some space to store
supplies and a place to hook up the satellite receiver and other audio components.

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Living
in the Via does require acceptance of certain appliance limitations so that other
components, such as roof air-conditioning, an AC generator and holding tanks – items that
are commonly not found on European coaches – can be incorporated within gvwr parameters.
Fortunately, Winnebago was able to design the above amenities into the Via, including the
roof air, 3.2 kW diesel AC generator, large holding tanks, a 5,000-pound-rated hitch
receiver and a crank-up satellite dish with positioning controls. And in keeping with the
company’s trademark central command center, a new monitor panel has been designed that uses
flat glass and touch controls. The information is provided on an LED screen, including
battery condition in actual numerals. These controls are placed above the refrigerator.

 

Out
back, the bedroom configuration exudes creativity. The plan revolves around two large twin
beds that flank a center drawer structure, and steps up from floor level. The steps provide
easy access to thick mattresses, which are exceptionally comfortable. If desired, users can
convert the entire back section into a huge bed – somewhere between a queen and California
king size, but closer to the latter. Two aluminum braces can be positioned between the twin
structures, and the bolsters are used to fill in the gaps. Sleepers then place their heads
toward the side walls.

 2310445_winnebago_via_cab_bed_closed.jpg

A secondary sleeping area is created by pulling down the bed above
the driver’s compartment chairs. To engage, the seat backs are reclined enough to clear the
spring-loaded platform that hinges down from the ceiling. This bed is 49 inches wide and
graced with another thick mattress. Access is fairly easy since the platform comes down
waist-high from the floor.

 

When the front bed is deployed, curtains on three sides are
positioned automatically so that they cover the cab-over windows (front and sides). That’s a
system that’s been used in Europe for a long time. In reality, two adults can snuggle up on
this bed and be comfortable enough to get a good night’s sleep. Six-footers will fit
nicely; taller people may have to assume a slight fetal position.
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Sometime this fall, a
second floor-plan for the Via will roll off the assembly line. It has a queen bed on the
driver’s side, in front of a rear bathroom.

 

On the road, the Via is a pleasure to drive. The chassis is relatively compliant,
taking concrete expansion joints and other rough surfaces in stride. Inside, the coach is
almost silent – free of rattles and squeaks. The coach glides through windy conditions and
is stable when passed by large trucks. Lane changes are firm, and there’s limited body
roll.

 

The Mercedes diesel six-banger propels the coach effortlessly; we had to concentrate
on our right foot in order to keep from exceeding the 65 mph speed limit. Eventually we
just gave up and used the cruise control. Nevertheless, we managed to control our speed
long enough to register fuel economy. At 65 mph the Via got 14.5 mpg, which was pretty much
in line with the readout in the dash (from the onboard computer). Winnebago engineers have
seen as high as 15.9 mpg and I think mileage will improve as the engine breaks in a little.

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Our test coach was the first and only one produced, and that said, as a prototype it was
pretty impressive. Once a few expected minor bugs are worked out and the design and
production teams sign off on the final product, Winnebago will surely have another winner
in its lineup of quality motorhomes. It’s somewhat pricey at $139,745 (with options), but
it’s certainly classy – and was well worth the wait.

 

To read the full text of this
story, see the October 2009 issue of MotorHome magazine.
 

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