European Styling and a New Platform Provide Economical RVing for the Whole Family
OK, I’ll admit it. I didn’t want to like the new Winnebago Trend Class C.
It’s certainly not because I have anything against Winnebago, as the company has one of the broadest, high-quality product lines in the industry and is widely known for its fresh, innovative thinking. And it’s not because I don’t like small Class C motorhomes, although I do think some are lacking in their execution. No, in the case of the Trend, my trepidation originated with the styling. The Ram ProMaster chassis (the North American version of the Fiat Ducato) is built with a front fascia designed for easy replacement in the event of a midtown fender bender. A great feature for the commercial applications that originally spurred its creation, but not exactly what most would call stylish. In fact, one onlooker likened it to a cattle guard. And its single rear wheels, tucked far beneath the body, reminded me of a fat kid trying to ride his little brother’s bike.
But I liked it anyway. And the more time I spent with it, the more I liked it.
The reason has to do with how well this motorhome works for its intended purpose — but also the potential it represents for the future of RVing. The ProMaster opens up a new world of possibilities — not just for consumers, but manufacturers as well. By its own estimation, Winnebago says the ProMaster chassis will carve several thousand dollars off the sticker price of any alternatives it offered previously.
But cost is only part of the equation. The ProMaster chassis carries with it a number of uncommon benefits, not the least of which is an unprecedented array of 35 safety features that includes anti-lock brakes with brake assist, six air bags, electronic stability control, traction control, hill start assist and much more. There’s even one feature called Drift Compensation Technology, which can detect conditions such as road crown and side winds, and adjust the steering system to compensate for pulling and/or drifting.
Winnebago is also leveraging Chrysler’s U-Connect multi-media system, making it standard in the Trend, and its sister product, the Itasca Viva. U-Connect offers some very useful features for RVers, including Bluetooth hands-free phone functionality, hands-free text reply capability, and a full-color, 5-inch touchscreen with GPS navigation and a backup camera — features that, quite frankly, I think every motorhome should have.
The ProMaster is unconventional in other ways, as well. First and foremost, it is a front-wheel-drive configuration, which may seem odd at first, until you consider the functional aspects. Front-wheel-drive offers better control in inclement weather, which is why the bulk of passenger cars on the market today use this configuration. Second, and something RVers can certainly appreciate, is that it eliminates the need for a doghouse between the driver and front passenger seats, so the floor is flat and the foot wells roomy.
Stepping into the cockpit, there are numerous similarities to the Sprinter chassis, including the dash-mounted shifter (with manual shift function), firm, manually-adjustable seats and rubber flooring. However, the controls in the ProMaster are far more intuitive and easy to use than they are in the German-designed Sprinter. Three knobs are all that’s required to adjust the climate control, and the speedometer/tachometer are laid out in a very legible dial arrangement. There’s also a driver information center between the two gauges that can relay myriad information, from the mundane (door ajar) to the miniscule (ours notified us of a license plate light that was burned out!).
Initially at least, Winnebago is offering the Trend in two floorplans: the 23B, with its large rear bath, and the 23L, which features a 49-by-75-inch bed in the curbside corner. For our test, Winnebago furnished a preproduction 23L, which, while lacking some of the final details of the production units, was close enough to production for our evaluation. We loaded it up with gear and headed for California’s high desert.
The ProMaster’s Chrysler 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 has been recognized as one of the best engines available on the market today — but powering a half-ton truck and an 8,000-plus-pound motorhome are two very different things. Regardless of this fact, the Trend feels very lively at drive-off, thanks (in part) to a low 3.90:1 first gear ratio (compared to 3.00:1 in the current six-speed automatic in Ram 1500-series trucks). With 280 horsepower on tap, the motorhome had no problem climbing a 6 percent grade at 65 mph, although manually shifting into fourth gear before the grade is recommended to keep the engine in its torque peak. And owing to its commercial nature, the engine roar can be quite pronounced at higher engine rpm, although it’s very acceptable during highway cruising.
Likewise, the suspension is designed for heavy use, and is a bit bumpy over expansion joints and such — but the flip side is that the coach felt very stable even during high crosswinds, and exhibits excellent handling. Speaking of which, the ProMaster’s turning circle is unbelievably tight — we were able to perform a U-turn on a city street with absolutely no drama. And the four-wheel disc brakes, with their Brembo calipers, had excellent pedal feel and stopped the motorhome effortlessly.
For years, we’ve criticized some coach manufacturers for providing sleeping quarters for several guests, but belted seating positions for just two. That’s certainly not the case with the Trend — in fact, this coach is the first to have three-point seat belts (like the ones used by the driver/front passenger) in the dinette area — something traveling families will doubtlessly appreciate. However, our passengers didn’t enjoy sitting here for very long, as the smooth, Ultraleather upholstery made for a lot of slipping and sliding, and the padding was a bit thin for our taste. Personally, I’d prefer it if Winnebago made the seat thicker and upholstered it in cloth, or at least offered cloth as an option. Likewise, the curbside bench seat also has two belted seating positions, but again these seats are slippery during travel. Also, the anchors for the belts extend down into the doorway for the storage bay underneath, which we thought odd — but Winnebago says it will address this in future models.
It was late afternoon by the time we arrived at our site in the Mojave Desert, so we set up camp and got ready to prepare a simple dinner. The Trend has a kitchen typical of these small Class C units, featuring a two-burner stove and sink with glass covers. Something fairly uncommon, however, is the cabinetry. Not only is it good looking and well constructed, there’s also plenty of it — I’ve tested full-size Class A motorhomes that didn’t have this much space in the kitchen. And the countertop extension gives the mobile chef adequate room for prep duties.
At first glance, the dining area looks odd, as there’s only the one, forward-facing bench at the dining table. For additional seating, the driver/front passenger seats swivel rearward to become the other two dinette seats. We can’t speak for how well this works, as our prototype didn’t have swiveling seats in it, but it seemed like it would do the job. Likewise, a table extension allows another diner (or perhaps two small ones) to sit at the end of the table on the curbside bench. That’s a total of five adults — more than most dinettes in full-size coaches can handle.
TV placement is always a challenge, especially in a smaller motorhome like this one. Winnebago placed a 22-inch LCD TV in a recess above the refrigerator, and it’s on an arm so it can be viewed from either the living or bedroom area. Because the fixed dinette bench faces forward, that means the TV must be viewed from the swiveling cockpit seats (putting that small TV kind of far away) or from the curbside bench, which means watching TV with your head turned to the left. And if viewed from the rear bed, the controls for the AM/FM/DVD player are on the other side, near the entry door. It’s not ideal, but again, space is limited, so we made due.
Just to the rear of the galley on the street side is a wardrobe with plenty of room for a couple’s hanging clothes, plus more drawers. And in the streetside corner is a surprisingly roomy bath, with a good-size shower, a foot-flush toilet and a large sink finished in what looks like solid-surface material. Mounted just underneath the sink is the control for the tankless water heater system, as well as a water-pump switch, which is always appreciated. In general, the switches throughout the coach are logically placed and within reach.
When it comes time to turn in for the evening, you’ve got options. Boy, do you. In the living area, the dinette table swivels down to meet the forward facing bench, and the curbside bench pulls out like a big drawer to fill the gap. Arrange the seat and back padding appropriately, and voila! You’ve got the 51-by-87-inch Flex Bed System. A more impressive option, however, is the 51-by-78-inch StudioLoft bed that descends from the ceiling via a power switch and stops about 4 feet from the floor. Now, you’ve got a bunk bed arrangement that can sleep four; a supplied ladder helps the top sleeper(s) gain access to the StudioLoft. When stowed, the bed looks like part of the ceiling and doesn’t compromise headroom very much — but if you’re much taller than 6 feet, you might need to duck a little here.
The rear 49-by-75-inch bed holds more surprises. Besides being a cozy place to catch some shut-eye, the bed allows individual adjustment of the backrests. The mattress is bisected at the top half, and underneath this section are two corresponding panels with pull straps. Pull one of the straps up, and the panel ratchets up into place; pulling it all the way up allows the backrest to fall flat again. Lift on the front of the bed, and you’ve got storage space for the StudioLoft ladder and privacy curtains for the cab windows, as well as anything else you want to stow. Above the bed are reading lights underneath the overhead cabinet, and the thermostat control is at the foot of the bed. A privacy curtain is another nice touch.
You might have noticed that we haven’t discussed options — and that’s because there aren’t that many. Winnebago offers the Trend in one well-equipped version, with only a few available features. For example, the 23L had Aosta Cherry cabinetry ($504), a heated drainage system ($259) and an applique package in the cab area ($259). The option sheet also showed a 19-inch LCD TV ($371), but it hadn’t been installed in the prototype. This brought the total as-tested price to $91,844 — well below the cost of a comparably equipped Sprinter-based coach.
The combination of the European-inspired Trend and the Ram ProMaster chassis it rides on may take some getting used to, but I’m willing to bet you’ll learn to like it — just like I did.