The Spirit of Iowa

The Winnebago Spirit 31D, seated on a Ford E-450 chassis, provided a smooth ride down the highways and backroads of Elkhart, Indiana.
The Winnebago Spirit 31D, seated on a Ford E-450 chassis, provided a smooth ride down the highways and backroads of Elkhart, Indiana.
Photo by Shawn Spence

The opposing-slide Winnebago 31D, with its welcoming living area, is ready for family-friendly adventures

It was almost midnight and I was standing outside watching a spectacular Midwest thunderstorm. The rest of the testing crew was deep in slumber, their RVs dark, as were the other RVs in the campground. Lightning flashes illuminated the Winnebago Spirit 31D, my home for the week in Elkhart, Indiana, where about 80 percent of America’s RVs are manufactured.

But not the majority of Winnebagos. With the exception of some of the company’s towables that are manufactured in Middlebury, Indiana, and high-end diesel motorhomes in Junction City, Oregon, the renowned RV giant builds most of its motorhomes in Winnebago County, Iowa. Talk about getting into the spirit — the company was named by Winnebago’s founder John K. Hanson after the county in which it resides, and the river flowing through Forest City, where the company’s headquarters is located.

Attaching the privacy curtain in the cab was quick work, and the captain’s chairs swivel around for additional seating. The cabover bed is almost the width of a queen-size mattress.
Attaching the privacy curtain in the cab was quick work, and the captain’s chairs swivel around for additional seating. The cabover bed is almost the width of a queen-size mattress.

The Spirit is offered in seven floorplans, ranging from several with no slides to some with three, like the 31D we tested. Though this 32-foot, 9-inch Class C could have entertained up to seven more overnight guests, I had the place to myself. Class C’s are known to be family-friendly, and this unit features a cabover bed as well as opposing slideouts in the living area that house a dinette/bed on the curbside and sofa/bed on the streetside, making for a triangle of sleeping for six. For private quarters, head to the rear of the Spirit to the bedroom, with its queen bed in a third slideout that deploys from the rear of the motorhome.

Because this bed moves out on a platform — practically surrounding you with shelving — you must crawl into bed from the foot of the 60-by-80-inch mattress. You’ll also need to climb over the bed to get to the cabinet, and there’s no storage under the bed since the freshwater tank is housed there. But that’s not to say there’s no room for essentials. On the curbside, what the company calls a “nightstand” is really a shelf that runs the 7-foot length of the bedroom — and it can hold a lot of overflow. As if this isn’t enough space to keep magazines, tablets, your dog or cat, eyeglasses, nibbles and anything else you may want bedside, there’s a large storage pocket below the nightstand and another shelf parked over the head of the bed.

This overhead shelf, while good for keeping items handy, limits headroom, so sitting up in bed to read or watch the 24-inch TV ($471 option) on the wall above the drawers at the foot of the bed is out. Two reading lights illuminate the overhead shelf so you can see its contents, and they shed enough light to read by without being so bright that your bed buddy will feel like he/she is in the spotlight. A USB charger and 120-volt AC GFCI outlets are somewhat hidden, tucked up under the nightstand. Large windows on either side of the bed allow for natural light and a decent cross-breeze.

There’s good airflow and natural light in the Spirit’s living area as well, with large sliding windows over the dinette and sofa and a ceiling vent above the cabover bunk. The galley’s great use of floor space makes for a welcoming gathering place, where up to nine people (with the cockpit’s swiveling captain’s chairs) can comfortably sit. The captain’s chairs have 4-inch booster seats to raise the occupants so they don’t feel left out of the party.
Swiveling the chairs around takes a little finesse in order to clear the doghouse and is probably best done before having that glass of wine.

One evening, Publisher Emeritus Bob Livingston’s wife, Lynne, and I parked ourselves on the sofa to shuck several dozen ears of corn from Sweet Corn Charlie’s, a nearby farm that sells such good corn on the cob that it became a staple for almost every dinner. Afterward, sweeping up the corn silk was quick work on the vinyl floor, though the sofa was so comfortable that we joked that we should sit here and enjoy a glass of wine and see how long it would take until our group noticed that the corn was missing from the dinner table.

The sofabed, an optional TrueComfort+Sofa with Memory Foam ($1,283), has two seat belts for travel and is the comfiest spot in the house. The queen bed in the bedroom was perfectly adequate, but once I discovered the 58-by-74-inch TrueComfort’s thick pad of bliss, the queen bed was abandoned for the rest of my stay. For tall folks who need a couple more inches of legroom, you can lose the back cushion, but it served as a comfy headboard for me. And there’s plenty of headroom to sit up in bed and watch the 32-inch HDTV with Sony CD/DVD player set over the dinette’s window across the aisle. For movie night, the TrueComfort’s wide armrest served as the perfect place to set a bowl of popcorn, and the couple inches of countertop next to the range served as a good place to keep a drink.

With the TrueComfort reclined for sleeping, it leaves a 16-inch walkway between the foot of it and the dinette. There’s room to pass through into the cab, but it does crowd the bunk ladder for the overhead bed, so you’ll need to fiddle with the ladder to position it just right and step onto the sofa to climb up.

The dinette, with its 4-inch-thick ultraleather cushions, makes into a 6-by-3½-foot bed. There are seat belts for three in the dinette, and the two-tone black-and-tan back cushions snapped in securely for travel. The area under the dinette’s bench seats was good for stowing large items, though the plywood bases are not hinged, so some assembly was required when putting them back in place. Above, open shelves with netting are handy for keeping DVDs, hats, and odds and ends next to the TV.

The kitchen is set up efficiently with a stainless-steel two-basin sink, range with oven and convection microwave grouped together in an L-shape that places everything just a step or two apart. For an RV that’s clearly designed to accommodate a lot of happy campers, the kitchen is set up more for one person to do the cooking. With an 18-inch-wide countertop, there’s room for just one person to chop and prep as there were no sink covers or a countertop extension. Of course, you can always set up shop on the dinette table and enlist the help of a couple of sous-chefs.

Behind the three-burner range with a one-piece grate covering are 7½ inches of counterspace, which is handy for keeping bottles, spices and cooking utensils at the ready. There’s also a glass backsplash to the right to keep cooking splatters off the neighboring TrueComfort+Sofa. Across the aisle is a 7.5-cubic-foot Norcold refrigerator that’s set midway between the living area and the one step up to the aisle that leads back to the bedroom and bathroom. Putting my foot on the step when perusing the contents of the refrigerator was natural, just as the location of the step itself was.

An L-shape galley places the sink, range, convection microwave, oven and cabinetry in close proximity. The TrueComfort+Sofa lives up to its name with memory foam cushions that pamper your behind and back.
An L-shape galley places the sink, range, convection microwave, oven and cabinetry in close proximity. The TrueComfort+Sofa lives up to its name with memory foam cushions that pamper your behind and back.

A large pantry with four drawers on slides is located to the right of the refrigerator, and more cabinetry is across the way. The bathroom door does double-duty by closing the bathroom and bedroom off from the galley, but a wise investment would be a door stop since the door handle, when bumped against the cabinet, can leave a ding in the side of the cabinet. A second accordion-style door that Winnebago refers to as a folding door, meets where the bedroom joins the hall. With both doors closed, this area makes for a private bathroom/dressing room with access to the large wardrobe and four drawers.

There’s no lack of places to hang towels in the bathroom, with a bar on the wall behind the toilet, on the inside and outside of the sliding glass shower doors, a towel ring next to the mirror and double hooks on the door. The toilet is set at a good height of 17 inches, but you do have to step up and down almost a foot into the (separate) shower. With the skylight, there’s 6 feet 7 inches headroom in the shower, and there’s an exhaust fan (the only one in the motorhome). My feet stayed toasty warm after a shower one cold morning thanks to the floor-level heat register.

Handy open shelving and a 32-inch HDTV are mounted over the dinette that’s housed in the curbside slideout.
Handy open shelving and a 32-inch HDTV are mounted over the dinette that’s housed in the curbside slideout.

The Spirit’s control panels are grouped together on the wall opposite the refrigerator and the Coleman-Mach thermostat is a cinch to control the 15,000-Btu air conditioner and 30,000-Btu furnace. While the furnace was turned on a few times to take the edge off on a couple of chilly mornings, the Spirit’s A/C with Indiana’s change-in-a-minute weather — from muggy-and-hot to muggy-and-rainy to muggy-and-muggier — was on a good portion of the daytime and did a fine job keeping the interior comfortable.

While the 31D is conducive to group gatherings in the living area, it’s also set up well for when alone time is in order, with the bedroom nicely separated from the galley and the bathroom in between. The test motorhome had the optional Exterior Tailgate Package ($1,001) with a 32-inch TV and Jensen DVD player, making for a total of three TVs, good for family members who like to watch their own programs.

Entering the motorhome from outside, there’s no exterior step to wipe your feet on, so using an outdoor mat would be good, otherwise you’ll be tracking in dirt. A welcome touch is a large interior handrail, and switches for the awning, lights and hydraulic auto leveling system set inside the door for easy access. The dinette slide to the right restricts the entry door from folding open against the coach, of which I’m not a big fan.

With the push of a button, the electric awning moves out posthaste, and slopes down lower in front to keep us in shade longer during the day. At night, almost 15 feet of LED-strip shines enough light to read by. We enjoyed sitting under the awning at night to watch the light show put on by the fireflies.

Chill and fill: The hallway leading back to the bedroom from the living area features a 7.5-cubic-foot refrigerator that blends in nicely alongside the pantry, a large wardrobe and drawers for lots of packing space.
Chill and fill: The hallway leading back to the bedroom from the living area features a 7.5-cubic-foot refrigerator that blends in nicely alongside the pantry, a large wardrobe and drawers for lots of packing space.

Spanning the width of the Spirit at the rear is a most practical locking exterior storage compartment, and it houses the Jensen DVD player for the exterior TV. The lighted storage is accessible from three sides, and with the large doors held up out of the way with clips, it makes packing and retrieving items convenient. It’s 3 feet tall at the highest point with “bins” to keep stuff contained. Another exterior storage area below the TV was large enough to hold a couple of folding chairs.

Our caravan of test motorhomes headed out one day for some sightseeing and to weigh the RVs. Rolling down country roads in a $120,000 motorhome with rear air springs and all the comforts of home was such a contradiction to the Amish horse-drawn buggies sharing the lanes. Here I was settled into a plush high-backed captain’s chair, electrically adjustable side mirrors handy, air conditioning blasting at me from four different vents and listening to an AM/FM satellite SiriusXM radio, while the buggy drivers, sweating in the humidity and listening to vehicles whooshing by, were content with their simple transportation and one or two horsepower.

With the slides in, there’s a 16-inch-wide walkway from the cab through the galley, giving access to the bathroom, refrigerator and most of the kitchen. The 31D has nicely balanced opposing slides to create an open and welcoming living area, comfortable sleeping accommodations for up to eight, plentiful storage and it drives well, to boot.

I enjoyed my stay in the Spirit so much that if Winnebago had given the OK, I would have driven it back to our office in California from Indiana, swinging through Iowa to explore its roots in Winnebago County. It is in this Spirit that I’d love to explore the country, and bring along a couple of friends.

Winnebago Industries
641-585-3535 | www.winnebagoind.com/products/class-c/2018/spirit/overview


 

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