Ultimate Freedom 38'

October 1, 2000
Filed under Motorhome Reviews

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AS MORE COMPANIES JUMP INTO THE HIGH-END Class A motorhome market, it becomes increasingly
difficult to make a product stand out from the competition. Winnebago addressed the
“distinct image” problem by building its new top-of-the-line Ultimate Freedom coach with
solid, sensible design and no-nonsense features that come together in a well-executed
product. The Ultimate Freedom makes its mark with quiet quality. Based on the Spartan
chassis with a powerful 350-hp Cummins ISC 8.3L engine, an Allison MD-3066 transmission,
independent front suspension, full air brakes and air suspension, the coach drives and
handles with the best of its kindred. The test coach, the 38-foot model 38KD that’s priced
at $248,819 (manufacturer’s suggested retail), has the Atlantis green-on-green graphics
package and bright white exterior details, which present a darn handsome motorhome. The
exterior is clean with crisp details and contemporary lines. Cosmetically, the coach almost
seems to be missing something for those who have been around motorhomes for a while, and
it’s not something we’re sad to see disappear. Gone are the traditional roof
air-conditioner housings, making the coach look very clean up top. Winnebago’s exclusive
TrueAir residential-style air-conditioning system uses two compressors and cooling units
mounted below the floor with wall and ceiling ducts to direct the cool air throughout the
coach. Inside, the Ultimate Freedom sports the usual array of top-notch furniture, woodwork
and appointments. The motorhome’s Scarborough sea-green decor color scheme and Salem cherry
woodwork create a rich, pleasant interior ambiance. The extra-light upholstery and
wallboard materials offset the effect of the dark woodwork, which can sometimes make a
coach feel smaller inside. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. And the interior is
mostly subtle and understated, with enough trim to make it interesting, but not enough to
push it across into the gaudy zone. From the forward lounge, back into the galley and on to
the walk-through bath and island-queen bedroom, the coach exudes the kind of class that
can’t be built in at the factory simply by including certain components. It takes a
combination of good taste, hardware and competent assembly to equal class. In this new
Winnebago, the decor-and-hardware design package comes together in a solid, satisfying way.
In addition to its classy features, the test coach sported a comfortable 3,720-pound
payload capacity before exceeding its 31,000-pound gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr). That
should be quite enough payload, even for a full-timer. Slideout in place, air springs
dumped and leveling jacks down, the Ultimate Freedom becomes a rock-steady compact
home-away-from-home. Storage space is not compromised by the presence of the 11-foot 7-inch
slideout room. Inside, there’s a full brace of nice-size overhead cabinets in the slideout,
and outside, Winnebago’s Store More system features full-size storage bays integral with
the slideout. When the slideout is set for camping, the storage compartments move with the
mechanism, leaving the doors flush with the exterior wall. That’s handy for easy,
strain-free access. Elsewhere outside, the coach has large carpet-lined storage bays and
all of its fluid service points arranged in one compartment just ahead of the streetside
rear-wheel well. The presence of a hand-cleaner dispenser and an external shower head make
it easy to clean up after a waste-dumping job. Convenient and abundant storage access
should be no surprise in a coach like this. In this price range, you rightfully expect the
motorhome to function smoothly all around, and plenty of storage is one aspect of easy
coach livability. In general, we found no shortage of spaces to put our
can’t-live-without-it stuff. It’s funny how we’ve come to accept and anticipate a slideout
room as virtually standard equipment today. The Ultimate Freedom’s slideout operates
smoothly and provides that wide-open front-lounge area that once was a novelty, but today
is par for the course. As usual, we fully enjoyed the living area, even with its very
light-tone upholstery that’s prone to easy soiling during day-to-day use. The overhead
television is easily viewed by lounge-area occupants, but is hard to see for those seated
in the forward buckets. We were a bit surprised by the relatively small kitchen
counterspace when both the stove and sink are uncovered for use. Fortunately, there’s a
large galley storage unit just aft of the kitchen, and it includes a big Corian countertop
that works great for meal preparation. The free-standing dinette opposite was a great place
to relax with a cold beverage and a good dinner after a long day. When we had the luxury of
shore power, the coach worked flawlessly, and when the standard power inverter was called
on for use while under battery power, it, too, gave us quiet and efficient 120 volts AC.
When more power was needed, the 120-volt AC generator was fired up. As its name suggests,
the Onan Quiet Diesel generator, located up front in the nose, is among the quietest
auxiliary generators we’ve used, be it gas or diesel. Once fired up, it purrs smoothly and
provides stable, consistent power delivery. All these and other coach systems are
controlled by the Winnebago monitor panel, located on the aisle-side end of the galley
storage unit. We enjoyed having the auxiliary generator switch, the fluid-tank systems
monitors, the solar-panel monitor, the water-heater and water-pump switches and other
controls conveniently grouped in one area. There’s no snipe hunt taking place to locate a
system control. Out back, the master bedroom/bathroom suite made us feel right at home. The
usual features we look for — adequate aisle space around the bed, bedroom storage, a
comfortable mattress — were all there and functioned well. Hanging-clothes space is
adequate, but the heavy mirrored sliding doors made closet access a bit of a chore. Part of
the bathroom wardrobe was occupied by the optional washer/dryer ($1,330). If losing some
storage space is worth the convenience of not going to a coin laundry, this could be an
accessory worth considering. Adjacent to the bathroom sink, there’s a big countertop with
tons of room for sorting toiletries. Combined with the huge vanity mirror that conceals a
storage cabinet, lots of area illumination and other storage close by, there’s a definite
residential feel about the bath. Like the rest of the coach, it’s that homey touch that
increases the motorhome’s comfort level all around. Drive time in the Ultimate Freedom was
definitely a mixed bag. On the upside, the coach delivered a smooth, effortless driving
experience with excellent directional stability and a smooth, civilized ride. The Spartan
independent front suspension did what it should and helped make the drive even better.
Braking is powerful and secure, as expected for a high-grade air-brake system. Kudos to the
Spartan chassis engineers for producing such a fine product, and to Winnebago for
integrating the Spartan components into the chassis whole. Likewise, the dashboard design,
visibility and such are first-rate, as expected in a coach of this caliber. The essentially
monotone dash, trim switch and instrument array are pleasing to the eye and work well.
However, travel hours were far less than comfortable for the driver because the slideout
room’s front wall placement limited adjustment of the driver’s seat position, limiting
legroom to the point where any normal-size or tall driver could have problems. This test
coach was fitted with a stereo system subwoofer under the dash, and it ate up some left-leg
stretch-out space, which didn’t help matters. We understand the subwoofer has since been
moved to a new spot to allow more legroom. Finally, the shoulder-harness retraction
mechanism is built into the Villa seat, and the spring is far too strong. The strap keeps
snugging back across the occupant’s collarbone and shoulder in an extremely annoying way.
Several different-size staffers tried these seats, and all agreed they would like to see
some improvement, although the seats themselves are plush and supportive. Driving comfort
aside, the coach was right up there with its peers in the performance arena. None of these
motorhomes are barn burners off the line, but that’s not what they’re made for. They’re
built to cruise, and that’s what they do best. Once up to speed with the turbocharger
spooled up and boosting, the coach is surprisingly fleet of foot. During a hill climb, it
managed to maintain about 44 mph on a 6 percent grade, and that’s not bad for a coach this
heavy. Fuel economy is about as expected. Winnebago uses a truss-frame-type structure as
the basis for the Ultimate Freedom. This structure, in which bridge-type steel framing
replaces the traditional C-channel frame member through the center of the coach, is said to
provide great strength while making room for large pass-through storage compartments. Laid
over the steel subframe is a vacuum-laminated floor assembly of 5/16-inch Structurwood or
3/4-inch plywood — depending on the floor covering in the area — over 3/4-inch
polystyrene with a 1/8-inch lauan underlayment. Below the floor framing, the storage
compartments use a lauan plywood core laminated to aluminum to create a smooth,
moisture-resistant structure. Up top, the roof is seamless fiberglass over a lauan
underlayment that rests on a formed polystyrene insulation structure. Aluminum framing is
used around the perimeter, and aluminum rafters are mounted flush with the roof assembly’s
lower surface. Inside, a lauan headliner is dressed with padded fabric ceiling cover. The
walls are framed in aluminum, insulated with polystyrene, and include a steel-sheet
reinforcing backer placed to provide mounting support for cabinets and the like. The
exterior skin is smooth fiberglass on a lauan backer, and the interior is decorative lauan
with a variety of finishes. Winnebago’s Ultimate Freedom presents an appealing package for
motorhomers looking for a high-end product. Personally, I’d swap out the front seats
immediately, but the rest of the coach is a well-done assemblage of the parts and pieces an
upscale buyer would want in such a motorhome. It’s a nice addition to the higher-end
motorhome market. Winnebago Industries, P.O. Box 152, Forest City, Iowa 50436; (800)
643-4893, ext. 3 Article by: Jeff Johnston Photos by: Jeff Johnston

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