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Motorhome Review: Winnebago's 21-Foot Vista

The front-wheel-drive Volkswagen chassis used in this type C motorhome lends it impressive road handling and fuel economy, and the Winnebago "house" makes clever use of available space.

By Lazelle D. Jones
October  2002,

In terms of chassis and power train configurations, the Winnebago Vista represents a subtle departure from conventional type C motorhome design. On the other hand, its "house" portion incorporates the amenities, floor plan, and livability that are typically associated with type C motorhomes. I observed this combination of form and function firsthand when I took delivery of a Vista 21B earlier this year. As I embarked on a road test of the 21-foot motorhome, which is manufactured by Winnebago Industries Inc., I wondered how well its Volkswagen chassis and power train would perform.

The Vista's Volkswagen chassis features front-wheel drive and a 24-valve, six-cylinder engine with a dual overhead cam. With a 2.8-liter displacement, the engine develops 201 horsepower and yields 181 pound-feet of torque. The engine is mounted transverse, or perpendicular, to the length of the vehicle, and the Volkswagen platform looks quite different compared with those equipped with big-block V-8 engines, as most type C motorhomes today are.

Independent front torsion bar suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, and power-assist steering all contribute to the Vista's responsiveness and handling. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard. The coach's low, sporty appearance is further accented by the inclusion of standard 16-inch wheels (aluminum wheels are optional) that come equipped with low-profile tires. For ease of access, the driver and passenger doors are designed to open almost a full 90 degrees.

The overall length of the Vista is 21 feet 4 inches. Clearance from the ground to the top of the roof air conditioner is 10 feet 2 inches, which greatly reduces the chances of encountering overhead obstacles, plus helps to reduce wind resistance. A tall individual can comfortably maneuver about inside the Vista, for the interior measures 6 feet 5 inches high.

The Vista features several separate sleeping quarters, making it ideal for taking along the kids, grandkids, or friends on an overnight or weekend adventure. One caveat, however, is that it is equipped with only four seat belts, so only four passengers should travel in the coach at one time. The sofa, when converted into a bed, measures 40 inches wide by 67 inches long. It nicely accommodates one adult or a couple of children. The cabover bed is 49 inches wide and 80 inches long, and can sleep one adult or two children. The dinette can be converted to a bed that is 30 inches wide by 65 inches long, and can comfortably sleep one medium-sized individual. Even when the sofa and the dinette are made up into beds, sufficient aisle space remains for walking between the back and front of the coach.

The Vista's gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is 7,275 pounds. With a full tank of fuel (21 gallons) and a full tank of fresh water (14 gallons), the unit I reviewed weighed 6,480 pounds. Thus, the coach could have carried another 795 pounds of cargo, passengers, or fluid in the holding tanks, etc., and remained within design specifications.

An optional Class II receiver hitch rated at 2,000 pounds is available; read the owners' manual prior to towing.

I was impressed with the way the Vista handled both in heavy city traffic and at freeway speeds. The Volkswagen chassis exhibited a sports car feel, providing excellent road performance and handling characteristics. With its shorter overall length, lower overall clearance, and narrower body width (87 inches), the Vista proved to be a nimble and flexible participant as I drove through stop-and-go rush-hour traffic.

I also was impressed with the Vista's fuel economy. Taking into account a variety of driving conditions (on hills, in the city, and at maximum allowable interstate speeds), the Vista averaged a very respectable 14 miles per gallon.

The exterior side mirrors are power-adjustable and come with a defrost feature. One critique item I did note involved the right-side mirror. I would have preferred for it to be a bit wider, to improve visibility along the curb side of the coach and eliminate a potential "soft spot" in that region. This problem might be resolved by adding a fish-eye mirror to the corner.

I also would have preferred to have a driver's seat with two armrests. The driver's seat has no right armrest, and the passenger's seat has no left armrest. Perhaps this was done because having fold-down armrests would narrow the passageway between the cabin and the cockpit. I have since learned that the cockpit seats in the 2003 units have both armrests.

The cockpit also features dual air bags; a Sony AM-FM cassette player with an optional CD player; and an uncluttered instrument presentation. Appointments include heated windshield wiper washer nozzles; a filtered dash air-conditioning system; power door locks; and one-touch power windows that feature a pinch guard: as the windows are going up, they automatically retract if they detect resistance.

Inside the driver's door is a lockable storage compartment. In addition, the backs of both captains seats include large pockets for stowing an atlas, maps, and more.

When discussing the construction of this type C motorhome, let's start by taking a quick peek at the chassis that Winnebago Industries receives from Volkswagen. Volkswagen sends each cab complete with an engine, transmission, front drive axle instrumentation, heater, and chassis air conditioner; Winnebago then builds the entire chassis structure aft of the cab. To facilitate shipping, two cabs are attached to each other, back-to-back, while in transit. Winnebago Industries workers separate them when they arrive at the plant in Forest City, Iowa.

If you were to look at a cutaway of the entire chassis, you would see electro-deposition-coated critical steel components. This means that they are treated in such a manner to ensure long-term corrosion protection.

The Winnebago portion of the chassis features a frame composed of steel and laminated aluminum risers with laminated aluminum panels. The floor is made of upper plywood, a high-density foam block, and lower plywood and aluminum, all laminated together. The sidewalls and back wall are made with an interior aluminum frame laminated with one piece of exterior fiberglass, lauan, foam core, and interior decorative paneling. For the roof, Winnebago uses laminated panel with exterior fiberglass, aluminum, foam core, and interior decorative paneling. Winnebago Industries calls this its SuperStructure form of motorhome design and construction. Steel and aluminum substructures; interlocking joint technology; and Thermo-Panel floor, roof, and sidewalls come together to form a durable vehicle body.

I was impressed that the Vista has two exterior pass-through storage compartments that offer 30 cubic feet of space, even for those extra-long items. Also on the exterior of my test unit was an optional wash station with hot and cold running water. A second fresh water pump switch is located at this wash station, precluding the need to go inside the coach to activate the pump. This wash station is an excellent place to clean up after a day at the beach or after catching your limit at a favorite fishing spot.

Lockable exterior access doors protect a 25-foot, 30-amp shore power cable; the waste valves; a 2.8-kilowatt gasoline-powered Onan generator; and the fresh water fill. The Vista's 5.9-gallon LP-gas tank is sequestered behind an exterior bay door, and the house battery is accessible from inside the coach through a door mounted in the floor.

The coach comes prepped for an air conditioner. Buyers can choose an optional 7,100-Btu roof-mounted air unit or the 9,100-Btu roof air conditioner that is part of the optional Deluxe Feature Package. The Vista is warmed by a standard 19,000-Btu forced-air furnace that is ducted into registers in the front, middle, and rear of the coach. The 6-gallon water heater runs on LP gas and features electronic ignition.

The optional 2.8-kilowatt Onan Microlite gasoline generator is capable of handling all of the on-board AC equipment for extended periods of time. Because of this capability, the Vista can be used in locations without electrical hookups, such as tailgate parties, family reunions, and more.

The coach has a fresh water capacity of 14 gallons, and a black and gray water capacity of 16 gallons each.

The Vista's side entrance door leads directly into the main living area, immediately aft of the copilot's seat. The coach includes a separate screen door, too. The entry step is operated manually. Inside, the living area floor is covered with plush carpet laid over padding. From the galley back to the rear bath, the floor is dressed with high-gloss, low-maintenance vinyl.

The sliding windows are surrounded on three sides by fabric-covered lambrequins. Accordion-pleated window coverings pull down for privacy.

The Vista 21B features a rear bath, which stretches across the back wall. A residential-height toilet with a foot-pedal flush and a sink with a cabinet are on the back wall. To the left of the sink in the curbside corner is a surprisingly spacious wardrobe. Opposite the wardrobe in the streetside corner is a shower with a skylight and a draw-across shower curtain. The shower faucet is a dual-control unit with a flexible showerhead. By using a separate shutoff on the showerhead, you can conserve water as you bathe.

A window covered by a mini-blind is located on the rear wall, with an overhead cabinet above it. The bath and wardrobe area can be closed off from the remainder of the coach with a fabric accordion-style door.

It's inspiring to see the fine job Winnebago Industries has done in gleaning mega amounts of livability out of this downsized motorhome floor plan. Imagine -- a living area, dining area, galley, bathroom, and permanent sleeping quarters in a unit that is a mere 21 feet long.

Winnebago offers the Vista in three interior color schemes: Aqua Frost (greenish blue), Bluestone (grayish blue), and Sandstone (beige and brown). The cabinets are constructed with flat-panel door inserts and offered in a woodwork color called Portsmouth Oak. Other interior appointments include a clock; front privacy curtains; roof vents; and low-maintenance vinyl on the walls.

A liberal amount of storage space is found in the galley, with two rows of stacked drawers and cabinets below the counter, and a cabinet above and adjacent to the microwave oven. Cabinets line the areas above the sofa and dinette, too. Above the refrigerator is a shelf where a television and VCR can be placed while the coach is parked. Countertops are fashioned from a white laminate material.

The optional Deluxe Feature Package includes the 9,500-Btu air conditioner (as noted above), as well as a microwave oven, a three-burner range top and storage, and stylized aluminum wheels. My test unit, a 2002 model, came with the Deluxe Feature Package as well as the optional Onan generator; the 2,000-pound trailer hitch; and an AM-FM radio with CD player. These brought the as-tested price to $56,597. The base suggested retail price of the 2002 Vista is $51,711.

Relatively few changes have been made to the 2003 Vistas: a new Sony AM/FM stereo with CD player and six speakers; an optional air conditioner heat strip; two new interior color schemes (a total of three are offered); new window treatments; and a new decorative clock. The base suggested retail price of the 2003 Vista 21B is $52,595.

The very best way to fully appreciate what Winnebago Industries has done with this coach is to see and drive a Vista for yourself. It may fit right in with your lifestyle.


SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer ... Winnebago Industries Inc., 605 W. Crystal Lake Road, Forest City, IA 50436; (800) 643-4892, ext. 3; (641) 585-3535; www.winnebagoind.com
Model ... 2002 Winnebago Vista
Floor plan ... 21B
Chassis ... Volkswagen
Engine ... Volkswagen 2.8-liter V-6, 201 horsepower; 181 pound-feet torque @ 2,500 - 5,500 rpm
Transmission ... four-speed automatic, floor-mounted shift lever
Axle ratio ... 4.57 to 1
Tires ... 16-inch low-profile, Continental
Wheelbase ... 152 inches
Brakes ... 4-wheel disc
Suspension ... front -- reinforced, independent, double wishbone with stabilizer bar; rear -- beam axle
Alternator ...150 amps
Batteries ... chassis -- 280 amp, 60 amp-hours; house -- Group 24, deep cycle, 85 amp-hours
Steering ... power-assisted rack and pinion
Electrical service ... 30 amps
Auxiliary generator ... 2.8-kilowatt Onan MicroLite, optional
Exterior length ... 21 feet 4 inches
Exterior width
... 87 inches
Interior height ... 6 feet 5 inches
Exterior height ... 10 feet 2 inches (with roof air conditioner)
Gross combination weight rating (GCWR) ... 9,275 pounds
Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) ... 7,275 pounds
Gross axle weight rating (GAWR) ... front -- 3,527 pounds; rear -- 3,968 pounds
Wet weight as tested
... (weighed with full water and fuel tanks) front axle -- 3,000 pounds; rear axle -- 3,500 pounds; total -- 6,480 pounds
Payload ... 795 pounds
Frame construction ... Patented SuperStructure construction; steel and laminated aluminum risers with laminated aluminum panels
Insulation ... Polystyrene foam
Fresh water capacity ... 14 gallons
Holding tank capacities ... gray water -- 16 gallons; black water -- 16 gallons
Fuel capacity ... 21 gallons
Fuel requirements ... unleaded gasoline
Propane capacity ... 5.9 gallons
Water heater ... 6-gallon LP gas with electronic ignition
Water system ... demand
Furnace ... 19,000 Btus; forced air
Air conditioner ... (1) 7,100-Btu or (1) 9,100-Btu, optional
Refrigerator ... Norcold, 4.3 cubic foot
Toilet ... Thetford
Warranty ... coach -- 1 year/15,000 miles; structure -- 3 years/36,000 miles; Volkswagen chassis -- 2 years/24,000 miles; Volkswagen power train -- 5 years/50,000 miles
Base suggested retail price ... $51,711
Price as tested  ... $56,597

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