You really can have it all in a small motorhome
The more you think about our changing world, with its crowded cities, highways and vacation hot spots, the more the European model for a motorhome begins to make sense. They’re designed for narrow roads, all-weather conditions and small families who are used to living in homes that would be considered cramped by North American standards. Adapting to this new model hasn’t been easy for an industry that made its billions catering to an aging baby boomer market; the RV industry has shown us that it can build anything, but getting it right has proven to be more of a challenge.
Winnebago Industries is no stranger to the small-motorhome market, with successful Class B models like the entry-level Travato and luxurious Era. But in our view, the company’s new Paseo 48P is the one that best demonstrates the company’s willingness to listen to its customers and skillfully respond to their requests. The Paseo is not only elegant and modern looking, it makes tremendous use of space inside and incorporates clever features and thoughtful touches that make it worthy of its $114,998 base price tag.
All motorhomes require some form of compromise, but Class B models in particular tend to remind one at almost every turn that they are living in a van, and usually not in a manner most of us would appreciate. They often seem cramped, with many of the features feeling more like afterthought than forethought. With the Paseo, Winnebago started with a clean slate, designing the living space around the specific curves of the Ford Transit van’s interior.
Starting at the rear, the Paseo uses Winnebago’s Flex Bed system which, like many similar motorhomes, is essentially a table that can convert to a bed. That sounds simple enough, but somehow, many other competitive products on the market either tend to overthink it, or don’t think much about it at all. The Flex Bed system in the Paseo gets it right. In dining mode, the table is large enough to seat four comfortably, and though it is supported by a single post, it feels very stable. The bench seats, while still upright, have enough padding to make them comfortable, and unlike other small Winnebago models we’ve tested that used smooth vinyl cushions that made us slip and slouch, these cushions are textured and stay put. We also appreciated that there are four belted seating positions, so you can take five friends (or two more couples) with you on a daytrip to the beach, for example, which the Paseo would be perfect for, as long as overall weight is monitored.
Converting to a bed is likely similar to any other motorhome you’ve ever been in; pull the table from its post, stow the post (which fits nicely behind the bed in one of the rear cargo door pockets), lower the tabletop into place on the ledges beneath the seat cushions, then position the two seats/seatbacks to form a bed. At first, we thought it odd that the table was not as long as the cushions, thereby leaving one end of the bed unsupported – until we found an extension in the wardrobe closet. Put that in place next to the table before placing the cushions, and you’re in business. We did wonder, however, why Winnebago didn’t just make the table another foot longer, which would eliminate the need for an extension.
Once the bed is set up and you are lying in an east/west position, there is adequate room for those up to about 6 feet 2 inches tall, but anyone taller than that will have to sleep with their knees slightly bent. The bed is comfortable, however, even considering the four segments that comprise the makeshift mattress. There is also a 19-inch Jensen 12-volt DC flat-screen television on a sturdy mount that can swivel away from the wall for optimal viewing when sitting on the curbside of the dinette, or while lying in bed with your feet at the streetside.
Above the TV in a storage cubby is a Jensen stereo/DVD player that does its thing through two decent speakers mounted in the curbside overhead cabinet. The stereo system also allows you to route music to two outdoor speakers, a feature that is somewhat rare in Class B motorhomes. The overhead cabinets on either side of the dinette/bed area are narrow as you might expect, but have a good amount of storage space and look/feel very well-made.
Calling the Paseo a “van conversion” would be an understatement that borders on criminal. Thoughtful details are everywhere, from the day/night shades on every window (pull down for day, pull up for night) to the screens built into the rear cargo and side sliding doorways that allow bug-free al fresco dining wherever you please. And the lighting is some of the best we’ve experienced in any motorhome, let alone a Class B. Instead of the usual single LED overhead lights placed throughout, the Paseo uses LED tube lighting that can be used in high or low settings – plus there is ambient/mood lighting as well. Perfect light temperature lends a cozy feeling to the interior, instead of that of a hospital or laboratory.
Many Class B manufacturers market their products to people who want to “live off the grid” and go where larger RVs can’t go, but too often, the product doesn’t completely fulfill that promise. Here again, it’s obvious that Winnebago’s engineers put considerable thought into the mindset of potential buyers. For example, the 6-cubic-foot, compressor-driven Nova Kool refrigerator is from the marine industry, so it operates only on 12-volt DC or 120-volt AC, but not LP-gas. The benefit here is twofold: For one, it won’t burn up your LP-gas on an extended stay; but perhaps more importantly, it cools down in a fraction of the time (it got cold enough in our testing to put food into within an hour). And with a combination of the optional 100-watt solar system ($805) and two deep-cycle AGM batteries, there’s no need to worry about the fridge running out of cold, either. However, a single 100-watt panel is a bare minimum for this type of power setup, and adding another 100-watt panel for 200 watts total would make for a more robust and functional system. Mounted above the refrigerator is a High Pointe convection microwave designed to handle both reheating and baking.
Another issue Class B builders have to contend with is providing an effective HVAC system. The air conditioning, having to cope only with cooling a small box, was never a factor, but heat was another story. The combination of inadequate insulation in some early models and a nonducted furnace placed wherever it would fit resulted in maddening temperature fluctuations and a lot of noise as the furnace continually cycled on and off throughout the night. By contrast, the Paseo is fitted with insulation at the Winnebago factory, and the heating system is the excellent Truma Combi. You’ll note the absence of the word “furnace” because the Combi not only heats the interior, but also the water – and it does so in virtual silence. The Combi makes no more noise when it cycles on/off than a desktop computer fan, and it keeps the interior at a nice, even temperature. As noted, the Combi also heats the motorhome’s water supply, and it operates on LP-gas, 120-volt AC or a combination of both, which ordinary furnaces can’t do. The only limitation is the amount of hot water (2.6 gallons), but the recovery is fairly fast. If you have not experienced this heating system, don’t consider purchasing another small motorhome until you do. It’s that good.
As you might expect, the kitchen is small, but well-executed – elegant, even – with its genuine Corian countertop. Both the stainless-steel sink and two-burner Dometic stove have tinted-glass covers, the former employing a folding chrome faucet. With the stove cover closed, there is adequate room to place a cutting board and prep meals, with the sink just to your right. If you need a little more room, there is a countertop extension to the right of the sink. Diminutive as it may be, the stove uses a modern electric ignition – just turn on the gas supply, touch a small rocker switch and the stove is lit. There is no traditional vent hood above the stove, but there is a powered MaxxFan vent ($147) in the ceiling that more than makes up for that. Additional LED tube lighting is located underneath the overhead cabinets, which shed plenty of light on the work surface. A cabinet behind the stove with a sliding glass door can hold spices, while small hooks let you display your favorite cooking utensils. “Cute” is the only way to describe it, but it is practical as well.
Underneath the sink is a large, open cabinet big enough to accommodate a kitchen trash can and some cleaning essentials, and underneath the stove, four good-sized drawers. Directly behind you as you stand at the kitchen counter is the wardrobe, which has enough room for some hanging clothes, a shelf above that is perfect for storing shoes, and shelves with bungee nets against the back wall for small essentials. The wardrobe door has a long mirror on its inside surface for primping purposes, and there are two shallow but long drawers underneath. Like the other cabinets in this motorhome, they feel sturdy and are well-made.
Above the stove is the command center, with Winnebago’s OnePlace control panel (generator on/off, water pump switch, tank/battery-levels monitor), a switch for the holding-tank heater, Truma Combi display, solar-charge controller and power-management panel. Just inside the sliding door are switches for most of the lighting (lighting at the rear is controlled by separate switches) as well as the full-length power awning and its strip light. Among these is also the bathroom light, which we found incongruous; a press on/off light inside the bathroom would be a far better solution. It would also be great if the switches were labeled.
The wet bathroom is all the way up front, directly behind the driver’s seat, and though small, thoughtful details here make a huge difference. First, the sliding metal-look door is radiused, so once inside, you have room to stand and even turn around. Clever use of space includes a European-inspired fold-down sink behind the porcelain toilet, and a waterproof storage compartment near your feet that is a good place to keep an extra roll of TP. The removable showerhead and attendant hose are all metal, as is the mixer valve, and there are both a roomy medicine cabinet with mirror and compact overhead fan as well. And though the segmented door is designed to eliminate the need for a clingy plastic shower curtain, Winnebago thoughtfully supplies a cloth curtain that snaps over the medicine cabinet and drapes over the toilet to keep these areas dry(er).
Of course, one of the biggest benefits of owning a Class B is its ease of driving and parking, and the same is true of the Paseo. Based on the superlative Ford Transit van with the powerful and smooth 3.5-liter EcoBoost gasoline engine, the Paseo is one of the nicest driving motorhomes we’ve been in. With 310 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque on tap, it has absolutely no trouble keeping up with traffic on any freeway, or any grade. If you’ve ever felt like a lesser citizen because you got passed on a steep climb by a 500-horse diesel pusher, those days will be over. And as noted in this magazine on numerous occasions now, the Transit is the superior van chassis today. It’s faster, smoother, rides better, handles better, steers better and brakes better than the competition. The seats are more comfortable, the controls more logically placed and the visibility is outstanding. And when you need a break from driving, you can stop and park almost anyplace you’d park the family sedan – just make sure you remember that this sedan is more than 9 feet high.
Camping is easy, too. There are no leveling jacks to deploy. Find yourself some level ground, put the powered awning out and relax. The solar system and batteries will supply most of your power needs, so it’s rarely even necessary to run the generator, except when it’s time to run the microwave or air conditioning. Getting ready for bed is the only thing that requires a little patience; although there are the aforementioned day/night shades at every window, you must cover the windshield and side glass with the well-made custom covers first, then cover the rear cargo-door windows with snap-on cloth. Once you get used to the process, however, it goes pretty quickly, and the best part is that the interior stays completely dark at night. The only area that could possibly admit any light is the overhead MaxxFan vent, but that would be easy enough to cover if you wanted. In fact, the interior was so dark we found it necessary to leave the light on in the bathroom, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to find it.
The only challenge with this motorhome (as with all Class B’s) is the lack of exterior storage. There is some under-floor storage beneath the rear table that is accessible through a panel in the floor or through the rear cargo doors, but it is limited. There is a roof rack, however, and a sturdy ladder, so a roof pod will likely take care of most of your exterior storage needs. You’ll just have to get creative to bring along what is important to you, but this is a small compromise in our opinion.
The Paseo illustrates what can be done when your goal is constant improvement. Winnebago has transitioned well into the Class B market, and with this latest floorplan, we feel confident it will continue to do so. We’re eager to see what Winnebago comes up with next.
Winnebago Industries Inc. | 641-585-3535 | www.winnebagoind.com