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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Driving the Winnebago Via - Rookie Drives an RV Motor Coach

2013 Winnebago Via, cooling its shoes in Wilmington, N.C.
Ezra Dyer
The New York Times' automobile blogger Ezra Dyer learns about the pleasures and pitfalls of mobile living with the Via, an R.V. based on the platform and powertrain of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van.

By Ezra Dyar, published in the New York Times, 8/28/2012 Link to their site follows:2013 Winnebago Via, cooling its shoes in Wilmington, N.C.
WILMINGTON, N.C. — After five minutes of wrestling with the electronic parking-meter station, I had my receipts to place beneath the windshield wiper. A roving meter maid would see that I had paid for my spot. And the spot next to it. And the one next to that, thus answering the question, “Where do you park a 25-foot Winnebago Via motor coach?” I’ll take spaces 113 through 115, thanks.
This year, the 2013 Via served as transportation for the annual family trip to the beach. We rented a house, but I figured the Winnebago in the driveway would serve as my oasis of solitude, a respite from the perpetual activity in the house. It also would serve as a sort of mega-sport utility vehicle, toting much of the luggage and assorted detritus to fill the six-bedroom rental.
At first blush, the Via seems unfathomably huge and ponderous; it may have only four seat belts, but its rear luggage compartment is bigger than some hotel rooms I’ve stayed in. Within a couple of hours on the road, however, I was throwing it into corners like the overgrown Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van it was.
The steepest part of the learning curve concerned the lack of a rear window and, consequently, a rear view. Like any good truck driver, I conditioned myself to rely on the huge outside mirrors, which provided ample sight lines down the Via’s flanks. They were abetted by side cameras that commandeered the navigation screen whenever the turn signal was activated. Had I inadvertently crushed the Hyundai hanging by my bumper, I would have had no excuse.
Though my comfort level grew as I drove, there was no forgetting that this was a massive conveyance. By subtracting the passenger and cargo capacity from the Via’s 11,030-pound gross vehicle weight rating, I deduced that the Via’s curb weight was around 9,600 pounds. And with the humble output of its turbodiesel three-liter Mercedes V-6 engine — its 188 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque are less than half that of a new diesel-powered Ford pickup truck — I figured testing the Winnebago’s 5,000-pound tow rating might be a bridge too far. But I needed to get a 4,000-pound boat to the coast, so I hooked up the trailer and stepped back to ponder my 50-foot-long, 14,000-pound vacation behemoth. Go big or go home? I say go big and drive your home to a different home.
Burdened by seven tons of boat, passengers and cargo, the little V-6 huffed its turbocharger and resolutely propelled the Via down the highway at the speed limit of 70 miles per hour. Granted, I wasn’t crossing the Continental Divide, but I had to conclude that the Sprinter was an absolute beast. Over 130 miles of boat towing, the Via averaged 11.5 miles per gallon, which struck me as pretty decent, all things considered. Winnebago claims the Via can creep toward 20 m.p.g. when unburdened by a trailer. On-the-road dynamics would seem a low priority for a vehicle that counts “decorative backsplash” on its list of standard equipment, but the Via was actually quite pleasant to drive.
As for making the Via my seaside man cave, I lost the desire. The rooftop-mounted air-conditioner took a while on a 93-degree summer day to cool the interior. Still, I could appreciate that the Via would be quite the launchpad for a couple eager to explore the country. There are twin beds in back, which can convert to a king; a power-slideout living room; as well as cabinetry and appliances befitting a vehicle with a Mercedes badge on its crossbar grille. The refrigerator could run on propane or electricity, so I used it for overflow beer storage without firing up the onboard generator, a nice convenience.
Which brings me to my major beef with the Via. Its 3,600-watt Cummins Onan MicroQuiet generator could stand to be better isolated from the chassis, perhaps by sound-deadening material or vibration-absorbing mounts. The generator is not terribly loud from the outside, but when one is relaxing in the rear living area, the vibrations course up through the floor, making it sound as if junior were mowing the lawn right outside the window.
Many Via drivers will avail themselves of power ports at recreational vehicle parks, thereby eliminating the need to run the generator. Though I’m not a rugged individualist in the Thoreau mold, I’d want to head off the grid in the Via to a place I’d have all to myself. And in those environments, I’d be reliant on a generator that might spook the mule deer.
But if its generator is loud, the Via’s exterior graphics are louder. Granted, slews of R.V.’s embrace tasteless graphics. This vehicle had full-body paint, a $5,166 option, which consisted of a taffy swirl of color that looked like it could have been the logo for one of Vince McMahon’s old XFL teams. I understand that a canvas this large could come across as bleak and brooding in monotone, but what’s wrong with a little old-fashioned two-tone or some discreet stripes? Why does every R.V. graphics package look like it was created by Pauly D’s tattoo artist?
At $136,539, the price of my tester R.V. reflected a base sticker of $125,045 along with $11,494 worth of options. People are invariably shocked at the price of R.V.’s, but $136,000 doesn’t strike me as out of line for a well-wrought, 25-foot-long mobile abode riding on a Mercedes chassis. On the latter subject, I went to the Mercedes Sprinter Web site and priced out the bare chassis, which came to more than $41,000 all by itself. Add that power-slideout living room, air-conditioning, heating and plumbing systems, a kitchen and bathroom, multiple TVs, a 16-foot power awning and a king-size bed, among other bits of equipment, and low six figures begins to look quite reasonable.
Some might delegate the imperative of forward movement to a high-torque Ram, Ford or GMC pickup and the mobile domicile to a trailer, generally a far less expensive proposition than an R.V. Trailers, however, don’t have the cachet of coaches, a point driven home on my final day of vacation.
All week, the Via was parked nose-out in the driveway, the rationale being to dodge any neighborhood ordinance designed to prevent the Cousin Eddies of the world from torpedoing local property values with a permanently stationed 1977 Chalet Festiva Supremo. But even if there’s an anti-R.V. law in place, who is going to complain about a Mercedes in the driveway? The Via, consequently, spent the week with its three-pointed star pointed brazenly toward the house across the street, daring a call to the relevant authorities.
Sure enough, as I packed up to leave, I felt that very challenge approach. The residents across the street pulled in, disembarked from a diesel BMW X5 and began glancing at the Via while talking in low tones. I steeled myself for a conversation that very likely would begin and end with, “You know you can’t park that here.”
A moment later one of them called out, “Excuse me. Hey, is that thing as awesome on the inside as it looks from the outside?” I affirmed that it was, unlocked the doors and let them have a look around. It was a good thing they spoke up, because in a few hours the Via would be out of there, on its way to the next stop of a perpetual vacation.

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