Machine Design

Minnie Winnebago

With a name that belies its size, the Minnie RV from Winnebago is a cozy cottage on wheels, making camping less of an up-close encounter with the nastier side of Mother Nature and more of a restful vacation.

Our camper is based on a Ford chassis and drivetrain. The 6.8-liter V10 Triton engine supplies 306 hp and mates to a four-speed automatic transmission. They let the 20,000-lb vehicle make it up and down backroads and keep up with highway traffic without a problem. The camper can also tow up to 5,000 lb. Mileage is in the 8 to 10 mpg, so the 55-gallon tank doesn't last as long as you might like, especially if you run the generator nonstop at your campsites. Four-wheel antilock brakes provide the stopping power.

From the front seats, the ride is smooth, and the 31-ft long cabin-on-wheels handled well. Those in back might have gotten a bit bounced around on corners I took too fast, but the backseat passengers were three subteenage nieces who seemed to enjoy the added excitement. Once you get accustomed to the size of the vehicle and figure out where the blindspots are, which doesn't take more than 3 or 4 miles, driving it becomes second nature.

Winnebago does a wonderful job of cramming household systems (heating, air conditioning, cooking, refrigeration, and plumbing) into the vehicle and goes the extra step in making them easy to operate. A readout panel near the sink, for example, shows how much water is in various holding tanks, how much charge the batteries have, and lets you control the water heater and pump, as well as the 4,000-W generator. Temperature control is as simple as setting a thermostat. It figures out if it needs the 30,000-Btu gas furnace or the 14,850-Btu air conditioner. Even novice campers, which I aspire to be, can make maximum use of the camper's features without taking an online course in RV maintenance.

These features also include a small bathroom and shower, microwave, three-burner gas range and oven, TV and extendable antenna, DVD and CD players, including a CD player/radio on the outside for those fireside serenades. There is also an awning, roof vents, and an electric slideout that adds about 50 sq ft of floor space to the camper when it is parked.

From a structural standpoint, the RV's sidewalls are made up of panels invented at Winnebago. They combine a durable exterior panel with sealed aluminum supports embedded in high-density foam-block insulation. Panels attach to tubular steel risers in a truss-type design. All critical steel components are electrochemically coated to resist corrosion. And the roof is a single piece of fiberglass with a 10-yr warranty, an improvement over rubber roofs that break down in sunlight and weather.

The spanking-new $71,000 camper really turned heads at parks and campsites across Ohio. My only complaint is with the layout. Our camper had an entertainment center in the portion jutting over the cab. I'd much prefer one with the 57 X 80-in. bed. But, ordering a different floor plan can easily solve this.

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