The New Winnebago Fuse Class C burns diesel and sparks imagination
The word “fuse” carries a variety of connotations. To most, it is something in an electrical circuit that prevents overloads. To some, it can recall something dangerous, like the time your childhood friend applied the hot end of a match to the business end of a firecracker, and the surprise of the moment was captured on his young face in a flash of burning black powder. But it can also conjure fonder memories, like fireworks shows (presented in a responsible manner, of course) a party (Let’s light this fuse!) or in the case of Winnebago’s latest small Class C, years of memorable trips with friends and family.
A new RV consumer is emerging — one that is looking for something small, well-crafted and nicely equipped, not to mention efficient and practical. He/she wants something that’s easy to drive, but doesn’t want to sacrifice the comforts of home. Up until fairly recently, the RV industry has struggled with these concepts, as for decades its bread and butter was the traditional motorhome — well-equipped and comfortable, but not much fun to drive, park or maneuver in tight areas. It has required a rethink of what constitutes a modern motorhome, and the reboot has taken some time, but this new Fuse gives us reason to believe that the future of RVing looks very bright, indeed.
Available in two floorplans (23T shown), the Fuse is built on the excellent Ford Transit chassis powered by the inline five-cylinder Power Stroke diesel engine and six-speed automatic transmission. It scores high in the “fun-to-drive” quotient with great power, fantastic chassis dynamics and a smooth ride — yet it’s priced significantly lower than similar motorhomes built on the long-standing Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis. It’s comfortable, too, with supportive seats, a logical dashboard layout and outstanding visibility. We also absolutely loved the rearview camera display that takes the place of a traditional rearview mirror. What a great idea! Our eyes are already trained from years of driving to look up — not down — when we want to see what’s behind us, so it just makes sense. The display is large, has great resolution and is always on, so you can see what’s behind you, even in low-light conditions.
To put this new motorhome through its paces, we packed up our gear and family members, and headed off for dry camping on the bank of the upper Kern River, located in the Sierra Nevada and San Joaquin Valley regions of California. It should be noted that this road is not one for squeamish drivers — it’s winding, narrow in parts and undulates almost continuously. But the Fuse felt more like a van than an RV — we simply shifted the transmission to manual mode and felt fully in control as we rounded the many corners en route to our destination. Gusting winds generated by the thermals of the desert floor gave us no pause for concern, as the motorhome’s low center of gravity made it easy to hold our lane.
We arrived at our site about an hour after sundown in pitch darkness, but thankfully we were familiar enough with the site to amble down a steep dirt road to our little piece of paradise. Excitement was momentarily quelled as we heard a scraping sound, and later realized that we had bent a power step bracket on a rock that was covered in dirt. The Fuse’s low ride height is great for on-road handling, but not so much for rugged campsites —so use caution when seeking out-of-the-way campsites.
Undeterred, we found a level spot and began to unpack the Fuse’s curbside rear compartment, which was large enough to handle four folding chairs, a small barbecue grill, two folding tables and other necessities. The compartment is stepped, carpeted and is lighted, and should have enough space for most families’ gear with careful packing. We also liked the side-opening door, but wish it were equipped with a catch or strut, as it sometimes flapped in the breeze as we unloaded. What we couldn’t fit here — namely a large outdoor carpet and a broom — easily fit on the other side in a long, narrow compartment.
Winnebago is big on flexible seating/sleeping options, and it seems like it’s always experimenting with new ideas. In the Fuse, a streetside sofa with two belted positions teams up with the curbside dinette to form a somewhat unusual sleeping/eating/socializing combo. Normally, the dinette has a bench only on one side; the other side of the table butts up against the back of the front passenger seat. At meal time, this seat is rotated around to face the dinette, but since it is in the cockpit and is therefore lower than the opposing dinette bench, Winnebago supplies a booster seat, if you will, that puts you on eye level with the other diners. A fourth diner can be accommodated if the sliding couch is moved closer to the end of the table. It’s not ideal, but it works — and is a small price to pay for the overall functionality of the living area.
At bedtime, the couch is slid all the way across the aisle to meet the dinette table, which is then lowered into place at the same level as the seating to make the beginnings of a spare bed. It’s a pretty easy process; the table simply unhooks from the wall, then the support leg folds in half and the table is lowered. Where we had some problems was configuring the bed itself; once all the seat backs and cushions were positioned onto the platform, there was still some leftover space. Perhaps there is another cushion that should go here but wasn’t included the test unit. We made due by placing folded towels in the gap, and otherwise the bed was fine for our two guests.
Happily, this is about the only flaw we could find in the Fuse. To start with, the interior design is beautiful, drawing high marks from young and old, male and female. The Spark color palette is made up of light shades of gray, cream and brown and gold, giving the living space an upscale feel. The vinyl floor resembles the worn planks of a beach house, and the gray Glazed Driftwood cabinetry ties the space together. In the living area, the cabinets feature smoothly sliding doors adorned with a sort of cracked gold-leaf finish that is unique and breaks up the gray to great effect.
The kitchen countertop is dominated by a large, single-bowl stainless-steel sink with cover and an industrial-looking stainless-steel faucet that looks like it was borrowed from a professional kitchen. The juxtaposition of worn woods and bright finishes really works here, the finishing touch being a genuine glass-tile backsplash behind the three-burner Suburban stove. There is no oven (it’s optional), but its absence does make room for lots of storage. A large, tall cabinet underneath the sink can accommodate a small trash can, and there are three narrow but deep drawers in the middle, plus three wide, deep drawers directly underneath the cooktop. The microwave above is not a convection model (nor is one offered in this floorplan) and the MaxxFan roof vent in the living area kept the area free of smoke and cooking odors while preparing food on the cooktop.
Just inside the entry door to the left is the refrigerator, which at first we thought was a little odd, but then later realized was brilliant. For one thing, it allows you and your guests to simply open the entry door, reach inside and open the refrigerator. There’s no need to even step all the way inside, as the fridge door opens toward you, placing cold drinks in the door within immediate reach. Second, it keeps the hallway free of obstruction. Winnebago could have put the fridge across from the stove, but that would make the area very cramped when the door was opened. Below the fridge is a huge drawer, which, considering the proximity of cold drinks above, was a great place to keep chips, cookies and bread. Immediately to the left of the fridge is a small pantry with slide-out drawers and another deep, narrow drawer beneath it. Near the entry steps are logically placed controls for the awning, power disconnect, etc., and at chest height, switches for the porch light and interior lighting.
The next day, the Fuse was transformed into command central for our younger family members that camped around us in tents. The power awning provided welcome shade, although it definitely turned out to be a head-knocker as the day wore on. When fully deployed, it hangs low to keep the sun out, which is a good thing — but we would recommend covering the exposed edges with pieces of brightly-colored pool noodle to mitigate head trauma. Our group found it amusing, and proceeded to take bets on who would conk their head next.
As the days wore on, the living area turned out to be a welcome oasis from the afternoon heat. A 32-inch LED TV is located front and center above the cockpit, with large, deep storage cabinets on either side. The TV swings out to reveal a Jensen AM/FM stereo/DVD player with a USB port, Bluetooth connectivity and controls for both indoor and outdoor speakers, which were surprisingly good. Our younger users made good use of the system, streaming music from their phones on rotation (mostly hip hop, unfortunately), playing Microsoft Xbox and watching movies. Initially, we were concerned about the mounting of the TV, as it was opened and closed at least a dozen times each day and we worried that inexperienced hands might cause it to break — but the TV is attached to a steel frame, so there’s no need to touch its housing when opening/closing.
As you work your way to the rear of the motorhome, you’ll find Winnebago’s well-conceived OnePlace system that, as its name would imply, keeps all the relevant controls/monitors in one location. These include switches for the water pump and LP-gas/120-volt AC water heater, start/stop buttons for the LP-gas generator and tank/battery levels. Above this in the test unit was the charge controller for the optional Zamp Solar system that kept the two 12-volt house batteries fully charged for the duration of our trip.
Compact motorhomes divvy up the rear bedroom/bath areas with varying degrees of success, often placing a small bed in the corner butted up against the bathroom exterior wall. The Fuse solves this problem simply and effectively by locating a queen-size bed in a curbside slideout. When deployed, the slideout makes for a cozy bedroom with adequate walk-around space and corner cubbies on either side with lights, blue-illuminated USB ports and enough space for water bottles, phones, etc. The bed was very comfortable and the 24-inch LED television was in the perfect position for easy viewing. Because the slideout is relatively small, the bisected mattress must first be stacked on itself before the room can be retracted, but this doesn’t require much effort.
Even with the slideout in the travel position, there is still plenty of room to access items stowed on the bed, or to visit the spacious bathroom. Though not fancy, this area is very functional with a surprisingly large corner sink, elegant residential-style faucet and plastic shower enclosure with a spring-loaded, sliding door. The toilet is also plastic, and wiggled somewhat disconcertingly when occupied due to the way it was mounted, but this is a cost-saving measure that could easily be rectified if desired. Beneath the sink is a large storage cabinet, and above, a medicine cabinet and mirror. The only room for improvement here was the vent fan, which was small and required that the cover first be pushed open (not cranked like traditional vents) before turning on the fan. If your guests don’t know this, the vent can be easily damaged.
If you’re the type of person that only drives a motorhome the typical four to six times a year, the Fuse may not be for you. But if you like to take frequent weekend trips as well as cross-country journeys with your small family, you really can’t do much better. The Fuse makes the journey as enjoyable as the destination.
Winnebago Industries | 641-585-3535 | www.winnebagoind.com