Talk about taking a trip down memory lane, and into the future.
Last week, Winnebago gave me a sneak peek at the 2013 Winnebago Via 25T, a 25-foot Class-A motorhome that’s decked out with techie features. My wife, who grew up in an RV in Alaska, stepped inside and had an immediate flashback to barking hounds, fold-out maps, and cramped spaces. But that 1972 Winnebago Brave, a 24-footer, guzzled fuel and swayed on the road like a drunken sailor.
This model is a stark departure from that stereotype. A Mercedes-Benz turbo-diesel engine provides about 13-15MPG and it sleeps five comfortably. There are two twin beds in the back that convert into a queen for three people, the couch folds out into a bed, and there’s another fold-down bed above the front captain’s chairs.
As a confirmed geek, my first impression of the Via was: finally, a motorhome that has enough power outlets, techie features, and entertainment options to mimic my man-cave at home.
There are two flat-screen LCD screens, one 32-inch Jensen tucked away next to the sofa and a 26-inch Jensen in the back by the beds. In a small compartment above the sink, you can connect just about any accessory to the AV and HDMI ports, including an Xbox 360, video camera, or a Blu-Ray player.
For live broadcasts, there’s a Jack Digital TV antenna on the roof. This model, fixed in height so you never have to raise it, has 100mA of power. About 20 HD stations came in clear as a bell. One slight annoyance is that you have to turn on the antenna twice, once using a button tucked away in a cabinet and then with another switch near the ceiling. Fortunately, it’s easy to change the antenna position.
Because there are so many power outlets scattered around the living space and two televisions, you’ll find there are three different ways to keep the juices flowing: battery power (there are two 12-volt batteries tucked under the entryway steps); plugged-in to campground power; or via the 3,600-watt Cummins Onan MicroQuiet LP generator, which runs on the same diesel fuel as the Via’s engine. (Winnebago wisely uses an auto-shutoff feature where the generator will stop working when there is only a quarter-tank left.)
Like many modern cars, the Via has a 6.5-inch LCD touch screen-based infotainment system. Unfortunately the navigation system is not integrated with the Mercedes engine, so you won’t get any automatic suggestions as to find fuel along your route before you run out. You can, however, use a “green” mode that finds shorter and more direct routes. There’s also a dedicated 30-pin hook-up for an iPod or iPhone, and a second USB cable for a USB stick or an Android phone.
One plus: this Winnebago Via model is the first to use LED ceiling lights, which draw about 70-percent less power than traditional lights. That means you can leave the AC/DC inverter on all night and even keep one or two lights glowing without much worry about being greeted by a dead battery in the morning.
Driving the Via is pure joy. If you’ve ever rented a U-Haul, you are more than ready for this model. It's steady on the road, and the relatively compact 25-foot length means you’ll rarely have to plan your turns too far in advance, the tradeoff being a slightly cramped interior. One important note: while there is plenty of space for five people to sleep, don’t count on them all having enough water in the morning for a shower. The 28-gallon fresh water tank might seem like enough, but unless everyone takes a lightning-fast military style shower the tap may run dry on somebody mid-shampoo.
There are a few other minor quibbles. One is that there are magazine holders next to the two front captain's chairs with lids that flip up so you can stash a camera or a map, but the lids don't stay open on their own, and keep slamming shut. When they do, they make such a loud whack that you think you have a flat tire. Another is that you can fill the Via using a hose or by pouring water into a gravity fill, but the opening on the gravity fill is a hair smaller than a typical gallon jug spout, so you might need a funnel. Finally, the otherwise clever retractable screen door kept coming off the track almost every pull – apparently a design flaw.
Winnebago offers three floor plans. The 25T I tried has one slide-out in the living space and costs $123,942. The 25R costs $123,686 and has one longer slide-out for a queen bed and a sofa. The 25Q has two separate slide-outs, one for a queen bed and one for the sofa, which costs $126,074.
One note about the fuel economy: Like any RV, driving slower is better. But, with the Mercedes engine, keeping your RPMs right around 2,000 has a dramatic effect. Drive 55 and you might get 15 mpg or better. Increase the speed to 65, and you’re looking at closer to 12 mpg.
My overall impression is that the Via is outstanding . I like the easy driveability; the HD screens look sharp and bright; cushions are soft and comfortable; and just about every amenity worked as planned. There are surprising perks, too: the icebox is removable so you can fit in more cold storage, and the inverter is smart enough to disable some of the power outlets when you are using battery power, in order to conserve energy.
You may not use one to live in Alaska, but 40 years from now your memories of it should be pretty good.