In the world of upper-class coaches, the Itasca Meridian fits right in. It’s not opulent by any means, but it does have enough high-end features to satisfy the needs of discriminating buyers.
Well-thought-out floorplans combined with eye-appealing (and comfortable) Ultraleather-clad furniture, well-appointed fixtures and enough pizzazz to turn heads makes the Meridian a suitable candidate for owners looking to move up to a diesel-pusher.
To test the Meridian waters, we evaluated the 34B, a new floorplan in 2013 and one that sits at the shorter end of the model lineup. The longest model reaches 431/2 feet and there are two models in between. Enthusiasts looking for a more manageable size pusher will like the 34B, even though it actually pulls the measuring tape to 35 feet 7 inches.
Mating the body to the chassis is accomplished with precision and the result is a smooth, quiet ride. The frame, a network of extruded aluminum with steel reinforcement, gets a lot of the credit for a strong superstructure. Interlocking joints connect the side walls, floor and roof for added rigidity, and the entire structure is wrapped with laminated fiberglass walls with block foam insulation and a crowned, fiberglass roof.
The lower portion of the front cap has a racked-out look and is fitted with tiny head and turn lights that contrast against the expansive one-piece windshield. The look is an acquired taste that eventually pleases one’s visual senses. Full-body paint finishes off the exterior, protected by an automotive clear coat. The Meridian is a handsome coach, enhanced by shiny aluminum wheels and free-flowing graphics.
Beyond the enthusiasm of owning a nice coach, driving a diesel-pusher that exhibits good road manners is always a big part of the payoff. In this case, the driver has command of the road via superior front and side visibility and can remain in the bucket for long stretches of time. Instrumentation and controls are ergonomically placed, and although the buttons for the stereo are on the small side it’s a decent trade-off in exchange for the higher quality components.
The coach’s 13-ton weight contributes to positive road hugging attributes and the chassis handles beautifully. There is virtually no noise from the cabin, which attests to its fit and finish. But the 340-hp Cummins engine is not a barnburner. Owners get the 360-hp iteration with the 36-footer and once the coach gets to 40 feet, the 380-hp engine is offered. Uphill performance (without a car in tow) was better than expected, considering the sluggish acceleration from a full stop. Full throttle kept the coach at 40 mph up most of a 6 percent grade, but after the transmission downshifted twice, the hill was crested at 45 mph. Don’t get me wrong, the powertrain is livable under most conditions and once you consider fuel economy at 9.6 mph, the whole picture gets brighter.
Cameras for the rear and sides of the coach, combined with an exhaust brake, well-placed side mirrors, the MCD power solar windshield shade and, of course, usable cup holders, all contribute to a pleasant driving experience.
Once the driving is done for the day cockpit occupants can step back immediately into the front living room, the result of the front entry door configuration.
The cockpit seats play an important role in the living room setup. When turned, they face a couch on the passenger side and a hutch with table and freestanding chairs on the curbside. The living room becomes a sensational conversation area that gets even better once the rear section of the couch is pulled out to expand seating into an L-shaped arrangement. The process is simple after figuring it out for the first time.
Push a button to pop up the 40-inch TV from the hutch and the area converts into a nice entertainment environment. The couch occupies most of the front slide on the curbside while the dinette/hutch is part of the full-wall slide on the streetside. With both slides extended the area is expansive, although the aisle is restricted when the slides are retracted for travel.
We like the hutch arrangement; it gets the TV out of the way when not in use and offers good seating for dining. The table can be extended by adding a leaf and the two chairs stored in the back closet. The flat floor is a nice feature that facilitates chair placement and the hutch offers considerable storage. We’d like to see adjustable shelves in the hutch, which will improve storage versatility. Also, more attention should be given to securing the wires that connect the TV to the antenna and other audio/visual components. The HDMI cable ripped out from the back of the TV the first time the TV was lifted. That’s not a pretty repair.
We’ve always given Winnebago high marks for understanding the entertainment needs of the owner, but you have to be a rocket scientist (or a youngster who is digitally possessed) to figure out the complexity of the system. The HDMI Matrix central video selection system is a nice touch and being satellite ready and having the Blu-ray home theater components is great, but getting everything to work in harmony is complicated. There are three TVs in this coach, counting the one in the outside compartment, and connecting them to the system requires on-screen programming and poring through multiple instruction manuals. I suggest Winnebago build a single instruction manual with a clear road map on programming. Once we got the system up and running, the sound was superb, although we never did figure out how to connect a satellite receiver without an HDMI input.
The center portion of the coach is reserved for the galley on the left and an opposing, enclosed bathroom. Winnebago took an interesting approach to the galley. When the slide is extended, a stationary structure with the double stainless sinks becomes fully accessible. When the slide is retracted, only one side of the sink is usable, but that works fine. Countertops are light-colored Corian and there is actually enough space to prepare elaborate meals, even though it looks somewhat restricted because of the countertop overlap. The cooktop is exposed when the Corian insert is lifted out and the microwave/convention oven is built into the upper bank of cabinets. There are plenty of drawers to store kitchen utensils and supplies and enough room under the sink to house the trash container. For bigger items, a pullout pantry next to the refrigerator is available.
The residential refrigerator option was chosen, giving the user a stainless steel French door refrigerator with a pullout freezer drawer below. As part of this package, a 2,800-watt inverter is provided along with two more group 31 AGM batteries for a total bank of six. The $413 option is a pretty good deal, but makes parking without hookups for long periods of time less practical. Fortunately, the 8,000-watt diesel generator is tied to an automatic start system that kicks in when necessary.
While not expansive, the bathroom works well for our tastes, since it’s not an area we tend to lounge in. It’s about the only floor space that doesn’t move inside a slideout, so there’s limited square footage. The lav counter has room for essentials and the sink is big enough to get the job done. Cabinets above and below the sink offer sanctuary for just about anything a resident can use in a bathroom. Elbowroom in the shower is decent, but the fixtures are comical for a coach of this status. The cheesy plastic shower wand was less than effective, so we replaced it for the duration of our trip. Sliding glass doors close off the shower, but they could be taller. Short shower doors with head-banger rails are a pet peeve of mine.
A porcelain toilet is provided, but I’d rather see the elongated version used instead. I understand the logic of the designers thinking the bigger toilet will restrict walk space, but we think that’s something we can live with in return for the more comfortable toilet.
Out back are the usual features, with an optional king-size bed centered in the slideout section. The Ideal Rest bed has digital controls to individually manage the feel of the mattress, and it’s exceptionally sleep worthy. Of course, the larger mattress consumes most of the walk-around space, but access to make the bed is still attainable. A TV and shelf/cabinet structure is opposite the bed, in perfect
sight for watching while reclined. The rear wall houses the wardrobe closet with mirrored sliding doors and the closet for the optional stackable washer/dryer. A ceiling fan is an inexpensive and valuable option for the bedroom.
Rounding out the interior amenities are plenty of light fixtures and indirect lighting, MCD American Duo solar/blackout shades on all the windows, dual 13,500-Btu air conditioners with heat pumps, dual 20,000-Btu furnaces and a two-zone thermostat. The OnePlace systems center makes operating slideouts and appliances/accessories convenient.
Comfort heating and air conditioning are well balanced throughout the coach, with a little more heat concentrated in the bathroom — not a bad thing for those chilly mornings. An energy management system provides versatility when using all those appliances in concert with available 120-volt AC power.
As expected, the list of standard features for a motorhome of this caliber is rather extensive. By contrast the list of options is not that long, meaning it’s well equipped right out of the box. Just north of $9,600 covered all the available options, except for the satellite dish.
By diesel-pusher standards, the Meridian’s stature is on the small side, but aside from its physical length, there’s nothing small about the 34B. The floorplan is entertainment-friendly, and of course, it’s perfect for a couple looking for a big dose of luxury.