TEST: Winnebago Minnie Winnie 31G & Vista 31BE
These two Winnebago motorhomes may look different, but they are more similar than you think
Fraternal twins — those that are born just minutes apart yet look different front one another — are often mistaken for “ordinary” siblings. But if you were able to see below the surface, you’d find just how similar they really are. DNA defines us as individuals, providing the genetic instructions used in our growth, development and function — an inexorable link to our family’s traits and characteristics. No wonder, then, that the automotive industry, and indeed the RV industry, often uses the letters DNA to demonstrate similarities in their products, or point out aspects that have evolved in some way to provide better performance, comfort, safety or all of the above.
Winnebago is the parent of the two siblings you see here — and its lineage is well established. The company’s extensive family includes everything from entry-level Class B and C motorhomes all the way up to diesel pushers and even travel trailers and fifth-wheels. You don’t have to be an RV expert to see immediately that the two motorhomes featured here are different — but inside, they’re not only similar, they’re nearly identical. Call it a crazy experiment or a stroke of genius, but Winnebago is giving buyers a choice of the very same floorplan in its Vista Class A or Minnie Winnie Class C motorhomes. Naturally, we had to test them both and compare.
Traditionally, Class C motorhomes have been considered the most family-friendly owing to their increased sleeping capacity, so it would make sense that the Class C Minnie Winnie came first, and the Class A Vista followed. In actuality, however, the Minnie Winnie 31G is the one that’s all-new for 2017. Both motorhomes incorporate a fixed dinette, galley, bunk beds, a bedroom wardrobe and storage in a full-wall, streetside slideout. On the curbside, both feature a sofa bed to the right of the entry door, a refrigerator and a fully enclosed bath area. At the rear, a horizontally opposed, walk-around 60-by-75-inch queen bed faces the street side.
There are subtle differences, however, that could influence which interior you would prefer. Starting up front, the Minnie Winnie has the traditional cabover bunk that measures 57 by 95 inches, while the Vista’s 48-by-80-inch powered StudioLoft Bed, which lowers from the ceiling above the cockpit, is an optional feature ($2,310). The dinettes are similarly sized, with the slightly wider Vista 31BE floorplan making use of a dinette that, at 73 inches long, provides 3 inches more space than does the Minnie Winnie. The standard HDTV mounted on the dinette wall in both motorhomes is also larger in the Vista, at 39 inches versus 32 inches. The galleys, which both feature a semi-L shaped configuration, come equipped with cost-saving laminate countertops, a white acrylic sink with a residential-style high-rise faucet, a microwave oven and a three-burner range with oven. The Minnie comes standard with a three-burner cooktop, but the test unit was optioned with the oven ($189) so that it would be as similar as possible to the Vista.
Everyone on our staff that entered both motorhomes noted that the Vista felt bigger, and this is no doubt due to the larger front windshield that admits more light, in addition to the marginally wider body. The Minnie’s living-area ceiling height is actually 2 inches taller than the Vista’s, but that advantage ends once you walk past the galley. The Vista’s ceiling height remains 6 feet 8 inches throughout, while a four-inch step in the rear of the Minnie reduces ceiling height to 6 feet 6 inches from the bunk/bath area rearward, and the aisle is slightly narrower than the Vista’s. In spite of these drawbacks, one staffer noted that the Minnie’s bedroom actually felt larger due to its extra walk-around space. Both bedrooms are comfortable and cozy, with nightstands on either side, wardrobe/storage at the foot of the bed and a perfectly placed 24-inch HDTV in the upper left-hand corner. A rear window in both motorhomes makes the area feel light and bright during daylight hours, and the MCD blackout roller shades do a great job of darkening the space at bedtime.
The bunks are in fact a little smaller in the Minnie (28 by 73 inches versus 30 by 73 inches), and both models offer privacy curtains as well as an optional 24-inch HDTV on the opposing wall ($329) that is viewable by occupants of both bunks. As an alternative in the Vista, you may opt for two DVD players with 10.1-inch LCD monitors and headphones ($942).
The bathrooms are a push. Though there is less headroom in the Minnie, the deficit isn’t noticeable unless you compare it directly to the Vista, which has a recessed wall near the toilet to provide additional elbow room. Both motorhomes offer access to the area via a standard door opposite the galley, or a sliding door off the bedroom, making bathroom visits easy for parents and kids. Once inside, both floorplans feature a plastic toilet in one corner and a neo-angle shower with sliding glass door on the other, which helps increase foot room. The vanity offers adequate counter space, a mirror and plenty of storage underneath the white acrylic sink.
As you might have guessed, living in both motorhomes is very similar, although we preferred the Vista for its more open feel, bigger TV, swiveling cab seats and couch that had a higher, more supportive back. The overhead bed, which can be a head knocker in a lot of Class C motorhomes, actually didn’t pose a problem in the Minnie, as its half-moon recess on the living-area side provides the needed clearance. We did, however, touch our noggins on the edge of the StudioLoft bed in the Vista a few times, and felt that making and climbing into it was less convenient than in the Minnie.
The cockpits of both motorhomes were comfortable, but the Minnie, which features an engine doghouse and insulation by Ford, is much quieter than the Vista, especially under hard acceleration. Attenuating high-frequency sound through well-established Noise Vibration and Harshness (NVH) mitigation techniques really shows in the Minnie — so much so that you might think the two motorhomes had different engines. The Vista sounds as if a plastic kiddy pool was placed over the engine, exposing your ears to every unpleasant note the thrashy Ford V-10 can generate. We often had to shout at each other when climbing grades. If Winnebago could just add extra insulation to the dog house and perhaps the flooring of the Vista, it would go a long way to making the driving experience more pleasant.
The Minnie also established itself as the far better driving of the two motorhomes, which came as somewhat of a surprise. Many larger Class C’s we’ve tested in the past wallow excessively when the steering wheel is sawed back-and-forth, but this wasn’t the case in the Minnie. On winding roads leading into and out of Southern California’s Los Padres National Forest, the Minnie’s handling was predictable, its steering accurate and braking confident. Obviously, this is no race car, but it can be hustled along surprisingly well if needed. By contrast, the Vista’s chassis reveals its delivery-truck roots. Its solid axle/leaf spring suspension rides rough, the steering is numb on center and it has to be guided deliberately through the corners. If we were to choose which one we’d like to drive all day, the Minnie would win, hands down.
Where the Vista excels is exterior storage. Though it isn’t a huge amount, it does have larger compartments with bigger doors, and we found there is enough space for tables, chairs, exterior carpet, a small grill and most of the other necessities families would typically bring along. Both motorhomes have large storage compartments at the rear that can be optioned with tailgate packages containing a refrigerator, drawers and other equipment depending on the model, but frankly, we wouldn’t recommend these. Considering the amount of stuff seven people can bring, you’re going to need all the storage you can get.
When we tallied up our score cards, the two motorhomes were in a dead heat, but for different reasons. Both are a good value, both are family-friendly, and both will help you entertain your friends and family in comfort and style. Which one you choose depends on which aspects of ownership are most important to you.