Journey 36′

GETTING INTO A DIESEL-PUSHER MOTORHOME without breaking the bank or hocking one’s soul
seems to be a high priority these days. Most of the motorhome manufacturers are jumping
into the fray and offering “affordable” diesel coaches, including Winnebago with its
introduction of the 2000 Journey. Built on a Freightliner XC chassis with a 275-hp Cummins
ISB engine, the Journey takes a number of styling hints from bus-type motorhomes, but with
a retail sticker of $137,467 (with all the bells and whistles), it’s nowhere near the price
of its high-line brethren. Winnebago combines many of the components necessary to appeal to
the diesel-pusher crowd, including a front-entry door, a bus-style front end and a shiny
fiberglass exterior, and has added a number of proprietary enhancements to come up with a
reasonably priced coach that’s a huge step up from entry level. There are only three models
in the Journey line, including one 34-footer and two 36-footers, and all are fitted with a
front slideout room using Winnebago’s StoreMore hydraulic system. With the StoreMore
system, the company is able to incorporate a bank of overhead cabinets inside and generous
exterior storage compartments that are readily accessible, even when the slideout is
extended. After spending enough time in the Journey to travel more than 2,000 miles and
recreate in a variety of camping environments, we found the model 36L floorplan to be
executed so well that at times we forgot to open the galley/couch-equipped slideout. While
there’s a tremendous amount of room with the slideout extended, the travel position
presented no real encroachment on interior spaciousness, physical or visual. As a matter of
fact, the only evidence that it’s even there is the narrow wall behind the driver’s seat
and a small portion of the galley counter that extends into the aisle. The components that
make up the floorplan in the 36L work extremely well within the confines of this coach,
especially with the absence of the center entry door. A dinette (table and chairs optional)
with an adjacent lounge chair and pull-out table round out the living-area accouterments,
with a walk-through bathroom and bedroom following aft. Those who are enamored with large
bath areas will be in heaven living in this coach. With the toilet-enclosure door open,
almost half the floorplan space is devoted to what becomes a private bedroom/bathroom
suite. The space allocated here almost seems wasteful, until you use the facilities.
Moments later, you’ll be praising Winnebago for allowing you to become spoiled. A corner
glass-walled shower with skylight provides wonderful elbowroom for almost any size
individual, while the adjacent sink is complemented by plenty of nearby counter and cabinet
space. The large linen closet next to the sink can also be converted easily to a
washer/dryer compartment. Across from the shower is the Taj Mahal of bathrooms. While the
china toilet is offset to accommodate plumbing design, there’s still more room than anyone
could possibly need. But, we got a real chuckle during our first encounter when we found
ourselves sitting in this huge room with the paper holder jabbing us in the ribs. With all
that available space, the installers mounted the paper holder right next to the toilet,
restricting the movement of the user. Obviously, an owner can easily relocate the paper
holder anywhere on the scads of unused wall space. The rear bedroom is pretty much standard
fare with a comfortable queen-size bed, flanking closets and nightstands. A 13-inch
television is mounted in the curbside corner and is tied into the optional VCR and
satellite-dish controls up front. Since people lying in bed have a straight shot to the
cabinets above the driver and passenger seats, the VCR and satellite-dish receivers can be
controlled by remote from the bedroom. The left-side overhead is reserved for the owner’s
satellite receiver and will accommodate most late-model units; the older, larger RCA
receivers will not fit. Included with the antenna/cable/receiver controls is an optional
130-watt inverter. This provides enough power to run the front or rear television and the
VCR or satellite receiver, but the 120-volt AC receptacle mounted in the dedicated cabinet
is not energized unless the motorhome is plugged into campsite power or the 120-volt AC
generator is running. Hopefully this is just a simple oversight, since many owners will
want to take advantage of the inverter when camped in primitive areas. The compartment is
wired for easy satellite-receiver installation, and a manual-crank dish is optional. A
digital elevation sensor is built in for easy dish pointing. Lounging and cooking in the
front half of the coach is very enlightening. Obviously the 20-inch-deep slideout opens up
the area tremendously, while the couch, lounge chair and driver’s compartment high-backs
provide plenty of seating for owners who like to entertain guests. The dinette seats four
adults without squeezing, but the lounge chair is somewhat of an anomaly for a coach so
well thought out. It’s very comfortable, but it cannot be reclined fully without physically
moving it toward the center of the room. Otherwise, the back crashes into the day/night
shades, posing the potential for damage. The chair is bolted to the floor with a bracket
and wing nut and can be moved when needed, but it’s too bulky to bother with. It would make
more sense to offer a wall-hugger-type chair that requires little space in the rear for
reclining. Actually, most of the industry fails to recognize the need for this type of
chair and would do well to consider the desires of serious couch potatoes. Drivers of
bus-style motorhomes usually enjoy a commanding view of the road, and anyone piloting the
Journey is no exception. Supportive captain’s chairs put the driver in a very ergonomic
position in relation to the dashboard with controls that are easily reachable. Other than
the buttons for the high-quality AM/FM/CD stereo, the switches are user-friendly. Most
people will love the view of the road provided by the large windshields and side windows
except during periods of low sun. A pull-down shade helps deflect the rays on the side
windows, but the front sun shades are rather skimpy and can only be moved into strategic
positions (while driving) by those graced with gorilla-length arms. Of course, a co-pilot
may accommodate the driver if he/she is willing to leave the comfort of the passenger chair
with its optional footrest. A step-well cover provides extra footroom and safety. Other
than the occasional fight with the sun, driving the Journey — even for long stints — was
pure pleasure. We’d like to see the addition of a tray, somewhere near the drink holders,
to accommodate our junk-food habit while driving. Overall, we’d be remiss not to mention
Winnebago’s effort to be more in tune with real-world users. Integrated into this coach are
a number of items that clearly show the company is listening to its buyers; items like the
OnePlace information system, which provides a single location for monitoring holding-tank,
water and LP-gas levels and battery condition. Also included are the AC generator/water
pump/water heater controls, the panel for the PowerLine Energy Management System, the
furnace/air-conditioner thermostat and a solar charging light. The PowerLine unit allows
operating the AC appliances within the 30-amp service limit without unscheduled
interruptions. Winnebago also redesigned its cabinet handles, making them larger and easier
to grab without pinching one’s fingers. Newly designed 12-volt DC paddle switches are very
stylish and much easier to use. The company continues its quest to build user-friendly
coaches with generous outside storage compartments fitted with single-point latches and
struts to hold the doors open. Inside two of the compartments, on the left side, are neatly
arranged hookup points. One houses the electrical cord and city water connection, plus a
number of controls for filling the water and winterizing. A gravity water fill, which is a
nice and useful touch, is also provided on the right side of the coach. Another compartment
provides access to the dump valve, which is serviced by only 3-inch pipes. The larger pipe
(normal is 1-1/2 inches) allows better cleaning of the gray-water tank because the contents
can flow out much faster, but users will have to read the labels to prevent surprises. A
holding-tank flushing device hookup is standard, as is a 1-1/2-inch water-tank drain. On
the passenger side, one compartment has a built-in stereo with speakers, TV connections and
a slide-out table. The idea is to have an outside entertainment center under the awning.
Unless the owner is hearing-impaired, it would be wise to upgrade the stereo option. The
quality of the less-expensive stereo is a throwback to the four-transistor radio days. And
while we’re nitpicking, we have to make a comment about the entry-door seal and locks. No
doubt the door is tight when closed; there’s no air leaking here, which is a real plus. But
even Houdini would have trouble getting in and out. The deadbolt key is difficult to use
since the lock is too close to the entry assist handle, and it’s virtually impossible to
turn the key needed to lock or unlock the door handle. Once this key is forced to unlock
the handle, it took two hands to pull the door open. Fortunately, the door seemed to loosen
up after repeated uses and eventually could be opened from the inside without using one’s
butt as a battering ram. On the positive side, the same key is used to work the locks in
the door handle, the compartment latches and the fill doors. The Journey is built on
Freightliner’s XC-series chassis, powered by a Cummins ISB 5.9-liter, 275-hp diesel that’s
linked to an Allison MT-643 four-speed automatic transmission with lock-up. Ride quality is
enhanced by a Neway air suspension with Bilstein tuned shock absorbers and Michelin
235/80R22.5 XRV tires. Initially, we were puzzled by the somewhat harsh ride, although we
were thrilled by the maneuverability afforded by the 50-degree wheel cut. As it turned out,
the tires were inflated to the pressure molded on the sidewalls that is required for the
tires to carry their maximum load. Most dealers crank up the pressure automatically,
figuring the actual weight of the coach is close or even over its gross vehicle weight
rating (gvwr). In this case, the motorhome weighed considerably less than its gvwr and,
thus, the tires only needed to be inflated to 75-80 psi, rather than the 100 psi molded on
the sidewalls. The difference in ride quality was dramatic. Information on proper inflation
— as it relates to loading — is available from the tire manufacturer. In this case, it
was provided by Michelin in its Recreational Vehicle Tire Guide, which was supplied by
Winnebago. The 275-hp Cummins provided a good margin of performance under most conditions
and was able to move the mass, with a Suzuki Grand Vitara being towed at highway speeds
with little effort (see accompanying article). Climbing a 6 percent grade with the Suzuki
in back slowed the motorhome to 40 mph (2,750 rpm) by the time we reached the summit;
that’s livable, considering the size of the engine. Strong head winds pulled the mileage
down to 7.65 mpg at worst, but when conditions improved, the Journey turned in almost 10
mpg pulling the Suzuki. Stopping and downhill-speed control are provided by very efficient
air-drum brakes all around and a Jacobs exhaust brake. Winnebago is unique in that it
relies heavily on computer-aided design and manufacturing systems and the coaches are built
on an automotive-style assembly line. The majority of the parts used in its motorhomes are
proprietary and built right on the premises. The company hangs its hat on an exclusive
Super Structure manufacturing process that uses steel, aluminum and lightweight composites.
Additionally, a welded cab structure with a steel floor is mounted to the chassis and
provides a foundation for the seat belts and seats, as well as additional crash protection.
The windshield is bonded directly into the steel cab structure in similar fashion to the
automotive industry’s process. Laminated side walls, using smooth high-gloss fiberglass as
its exterior component and foam sheet insulation within, are connected to the roof with
interlocking joints. A one-piece smooth fiberglass sheet is used on the roof, which
exhibits very clean lines since the area is not infiltrated by air-conditioners. Winnebago
employs a residential-style central air-conditioning system called TrueAir, which is
installed in the basement. A one-piece smooth fiberglass cap is fitted to the rear of the
coach. The result is a very clean exterior presentation, with trim lines and handsome
graphics. For those looking to make a modest financial investment in a diesel pusher, the
Journey is a good choice. As is the case with almost all first-year models, there are a few
bumps to smooth out, but, in this instance, the minor flaws can be easily rectified.
Winnebago’s confidence in its quality control is evident by the 12-month/15,000-mile
warranty that’s enhanced by a 36-month/36,000-mile structure warranty and a 10-year
protection plan (parts and labor) for the roof. Also, buyers receive a one-year roadside
assistance plan and are assured that needed parts under warranty will be air-shipped from
the factory within 24 hours. Winnebago Industries Inc., P.O. Box 152, Forest City, Iowa
50436; (800) 643-4892, extension 3. Article by: Bob Livingston Exterior photo by: Bob
Livingston Interior photos by: Jeff Johnston

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