Itasca Suncruiser 35′

WHEN WINNEBAGO INDUSTRIES INTRODUCED ITS 2000 ITASCA SUNCRUISER, the company was proud to
announce that this coach “is one of the most user-friendly motorhomes in the market today.”
After all, a coach with a base price of $96,587 and a retail sticker that tops six digits
with all the goodies installed should have something to brag about. This claim was
reinforced in depth during our road test of a Suncruiser 35U model, which features
slideouts in both the living room and bedroom areas. What the company has achieved with its
redesign on this basement-style widebody model is one of the most thoroughly usable coaches
we’ve ever had the occasion of reviewing. While the retail sticker puts this high-end
gasser near the entry-level price point of lower-cost diesel pushers, the reward you get
for this kind of investment may be one of the nicest gas-powered motorhomes in the industry
today, with a long list of standard equipment that’s usually optional in similar-size
coaches. Features like the new residential-style air-conditioning system, HWH hydraulic
leveling jacks and a 5-kW AC generator, along with a few optional amenities (a Sony
rearview video system, a patio awning and a 130-watt inverter) boosted the final retail
price to $101,550. Moving aboard the Suncruiser for a road trip is efficiently accomplished
due to its easily accessible and generous basement storage bays, which can hold more than
88 cubic feet of cargo. Furthermore, the unit’s 2,820-pound payload capacity will allow
users to pack a literal ton of travel gear and other treasures, both inside and out, before
exceeding its 20,500-pound gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr). Clambering around the coach
for our first walk-through, we noticed several features that really grabbed our attention,
as well as approval. First of all, the air-conditioner modules on the rooftop have been
ditched in favor of a below-floor, centrally located system called TrueAir. Not only does
this setup impart a more streamlined profile to the roof and eliminate exterior
air-conditioning condensation, but it also provides optimal cooling effectiveness in all
interior zones, which we experienced first-hand. We were also taken with the interior quiet
under both cooling and heating cycles, although the furnace was a little more noticeable
during nighttime operation. Interior decor treatments are smart-looking and
“usable-stylish” without being overblown or glitzy. The test coach featured Winnebago’s
tasteful Castleton decor package: upholstery and other cloth coverings in shades of soft
beige with dusty-rose overtones. Light sage-green carpeting predominates throughout the
coach except in the bathroom and galley. In the galley, easily cleaned wood-grain vinyl is
employed as a floor covering that can admirably suffer the many insults of everyday use.
Patterned vinyl is also laid down in the bathroom. Most of the motorhome’s windows are dual
thermal-pane panels, which are designed to contribute significantly to internal climate
control. Window coverings throughout are pleated cloth day/night varieties with one-touch
handles for uncomplicated, over-the-shoulder adjustments. Accessing the motorhome’s main
curbside door — once we figured out how to operate its glitchy door-latch mechanism — or
its additional streetside driver’s entrance is made most convenient as well as decidedly
safer by the installation of prominent vertical assist handles, which can be used
intuitively while entering or exiting the coach. These unassuming devices may seem like
insignificant features in themselves, but they are representative of a plethora of
thoughtful convenience and safety appointments that have been included on this line. During
our test outing, the Suncruiser was an exceptional home base from which to explore a number
of popular West Coast destinations. After tramping around lakeside trails on our first day,
we found the expansive living and dining area of the coach to be super for relaxing,
refueling our growling stomachs and catching up on some reading. Roominess in this zone is
provided by a 30-inch-deep front slideout room, which houses both a 76-inch sofa bed and a
dinette that makes up for sleeping, should the need arise. Besides the sofa, a curbside
swivel recliner makes this area an ideal location for watching movies or listening to the
AM/FM stereo after a hard day in the fresh air. Operating the 25-inch television and VCR,
which are ensconced in forward overhead cabinets, we languorously whiled away several
evenings watching favorite videos that we’d brought from home. The Suncruiser also contains
a complete midcoach galley with a stylishly angled main counter cabinet as its centerpiece.
Appointments here include a large overhead microwave, a stovetop with fold-down work top
and a conventional oven. With appliances like these, it was easy to create meals of
considerable depth and complexity. Furthermore, there is plenty of overhead and undersink
cabinet space and another favorite must-have: a very handy pull-out pantry for storing
food, smaller utensils and other sundries. With dual stainless-steel sinks, solid counter
surfaces, including sink and stove covers, and a combined usable work space of
approximately 14 square feet, we lacked nothing during our trip when it came to fixing
meals as tasty as we those we prepare at home. And not to be overlooked, the streetside
dinette alcove provides enjoyment of one’s culinary labors in relative comfort and
contentment. In enough space for four adults, the two of us had plenty of room to heap the
commodious 42×30-inch table with delicacies and ply ourselves with a repast fit for
royalty. Another high point of this model is its spacious rear-bedroom slideout that
includes the 45x68x24-inch wardrobe closet. Combined with a streetside bathroom that opens
into this area, the rear of the coach transforms into a bountiful bedroom suite, complete
with a vanity table that can double as a small office desk. The 60×80-inch queen-size bed
in this model is situated side-to-side, which allows considerable floor space for dressing
and bed-making. Our stay aboard this motorhome was even more civilized and enjoyable
because of the ability to shower and clean up in its roomy bathroom. Besides abundant “wing
room” in the 24×39-inch shower with its 79-inch stand-up height, the facility also contains
a washstand, which, at 34 inches, is an excellent height for effortless shaving and make-up
artistry. Trekking along winding rural backroads proved to be an excellent course for
testing the Suncruiser. Even with its 17,680-pound wet weight, the coach has plenty of pep,
as well as very good balance and handling. One road, for example, had narrow shoulders or
none, occasional potholes, frequent tight turns and several one-lane bridges. Surprisingly,
this serpentine trace proved to be little challenge for the easily maneuvered coach. Even
though this byway was probably designed for horse-and-buggy or Model-T traffic, the big
Suncruiser crawled along the narrow road with adequate clearance and the surefootedness and
predictability to keep even the most skittish of drivers from getting anxious. Despite the
Saturn dinghy in tow, the coach accelerates admirably from stoplights and likewise when
entering freeway onramps. Sorting things out in zippy and often hectic highway traffic, one
is reminded again and again of the motorhome’s nimble and positive steering, due
predominantly to its brutish Ford Super Duty chassis componentry and 81-inch front tread
width. The Suncruiser’s road manners were especially appreciated when we ran into gusting
30- to 50-mph winds. Despite the pummeling we took, along with navigating a narrow tunnel
and encroaching 18-wheelers, we maintained our lane position with minimal heartburn. Also
contributing to the motorhome’s substantial performance is a 275-hp Triton V-10 engine,
which doles out 410 lb-ft of torque without breaking a sweat. With this type of knockout
punch, we had no problems pulling steep inclines, such as a 6 percent grade, with the
dinghy in tow at 49 mph and 4,500 rpm in second gear. We clicked off several 0-60
acceleration dashes averaging 29.06 seconds with 40-60 increments of 17 seconds. Although
power and acceleration are vital performance factors, the whoa side of things is likewise
significant. Notwithstanding the rear weight of the Saturn, we noted engine compression
holdback on a 7 percent downhill grade of 51 mph at 4,500 rpm in second gear. A significant
factor in overall pilot/navigator driving comfort is the special attention that Winnebago
has devoted to creating an ergonomically efficient and user-friendly cab environment.
There’s an expansive forward view of the highway through the coach’s massive wraparound
windshield, which also grants excellent peripheral views. Both forward captain’s chairs
cradle passengers in noticeable comfort, which does not diminish as the time and miles
pass. Furthermore, the driver’s seat has a six-way power assist for readjusting one’s
bustle with the flick of a switch when a given position becomes tiring. Both forward
captain’s chairs cradle passengers in noticeable comfort, which does not diminish as the
time and miles pass. Furthermore, the driver’s seat has a six-way power assist for
readjusting one’s bustle with the flick of a switch when a given position becomes tiring.
Even when accelerating, we found the noise-damping qualities built into the cab allowed a
quieter interior than some of the other gas motorhomes we have recently encountered.
Combined with a sweeping dash platform that has been deftly sculpted and appointed with
easily readable gauges and electronics, such as a Sony rearview monitor with audio, we
discovered that operating the Suncruiser over a diverse and thoroughly challenging test
route was a real pleasure. About the only issue that arose for comment relative to engine
performance is its insatiable appetite for hydrocarbons, which resulted in fuel consumption
averaging 5.6 mpg. Considering the motorhome’s 17,680-pound wet weight, plus 3,375 pounds
for the Saturn, it seems that this is a trade-off which must be accepted in a gas-powered
motorhome of this size. Beginning with the coach’s subfloor and main floor, an assortment
of aluminum and steel frame material is used. Lower support outriggers and substructure
components are welded to Ford’s chassis using a laser alignment system, which assures that
everything is square. Above deck, the coach’s entire forward-cab structure is framed in
steel tube and C-channel for added strength. Subfloor storage compartments and holding
tanks are heated and insulated with polystyrene block foam. The upper 1-1/8-inch floorboard
is a composite of plywood backed by more polystyrene. Side-wall assemblies are
pressure-rolled and thermally bonded for both strength and flexibility. Materials utilized
here include an exterior skin of lauan-backed fiberglass sheet, which is reinforced with an
aluminum framework. Polystyrene insulation fills inner wall cavities; decorative lauan
paneling serves as interior-facing wall surfaces. Slideout mechanisms used in the
Suncruiser are provided by HWH and employ hydraulic-actuated rams to move room modules in
and out. Interior floor surfaces around the slides have been built to give the impression
of flat-floor technology, which renders little or no deviation between main floor and
slideout-room surfaces. Topping things off is a curved 3-1/4-inch-thick roof that is capped
by a single sheet of fiberglass. The roof assembly is supported from within by more welded
aluminum tube and entirely filled with polystyrene insulation, minus space for
air-conditioning ductwork. Facing inward is a fabric-upholstered ceiling for improved
interior sound damping. As a final element in tying everything together, the side walls are
interlocked with the roof joints. This provides added strength and substantial load-bearing
potential. Itasca’s Suncruiser 35U is a well-thought-out coach for all seasons that can be
enjoyed by all types of users. With a dynamite floorplan, robust and easily maneuverable
chassis and decor elements befitting its high-end price tag, there is really nothing
conceivable that hasn’t been added to this motorhome in the way of quality appointments and
optional equipment. For long-term living, extensive road trips or just a weekend at a
special event, the Suncruiser should satisfy even the most demanding needs. Winnebago
Industries, P.O. Box 152, Forest City, Iowa 50436; (800) 643-4892, extension 3. Article by:
Chuck & Teresa Campbell Photos by: Chuck & Teresa Campbell

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