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Little Log

The 2016 Navion: Updated Impressions

We’ve now had our new Winnebago Navion for a full half year; and have just finished the excellent road test one encounters when driving the Alaska Highway south through the Yukon Territory and all of British Columbia. With a few side trips through Montana and Idaho, we logged almost 4,000 miles in a bit under six weeks. We did so towing our little 2016 Fiat Sport. The Alaska ferry got us north to Skagway. But now a lot of southboun miles were on the horizon. While earlier weekend outings had given us some preliminary impressions, this much longer adventure really put everything to the test. We’d like to share our experience with others who might consider the purchase of the same or similar type RV.

“Winnebago Navion”. Until the 2016 Sprinter chassis was made available in late 2016, Winnebago offered two virtually identical models. One was the Itasca Navion; the other was the Winnebago View. Our purchase documents show that we had purchased an “Itasca” Navion. However, when it showed up at the Guaranty Dealership in Junction City, OR, everyone was quite surprised to see that this “Navion” now sported the label “Winnebago”, rather than “Itasca”. That is hardly a noteworthy difference — except for those readers that might be inclined to think we’ve made a major error here in discussing a “Winnebago” Navion.

Downsizing: Our previous coaches had been a 36’ Country Coach Intrigue, which we purchased new in 1999; and a 34’ 2007 Alpine Limited, which we purchased new in 2006. We had traveled more than a combined 150,000 miles in those two very nice units. But it was time to “downsize”. In part because of consistently positive reader comment, we looked at options for purchasing something on the 3500 Sprinter chassis, which offers a 6 cylinder, 188 HP Mercedes diesel engine and a five-speed automatic transmission. We had two sets of concerns. One was whether we’d be able to accommodate to the smaller interior and storage space. The other was just the instinctive concern any experienced RVer has with purchasing a new unit: It normally takes a year or so, and far too many service visits, before all the punch list items can be resolved.

The Sprinter Chassis: This was the primary consideration that led us to purchase a Navion. And it has not disappointed. The overall ride quality clearly is not the same as a high end coach with air suspension. It is more akin to driving a large pickup truck. But in today’s world, those can be reasonably comfortable as well. The engine is surprisingly peppy. And we found that it could easily handle the challenges of the rough and always-under-construction Yukon roads, and the amazingly frequent steep (10%) long grades of British Columbia. In fact we found that we could more than keep up with most high end diesel pushers as we both struggled to maintain a decent uphill speed with the transmission dropping from fifth to fourth to third gear. This particular trip is not particularly designed to achieve great fuel economy. But we had an overall trip average of 14.8 mpg towing our little /Fiat Sport. The engine and transmission operated flawlessly; and the ability to override the automatic transmission on uphill and downhill grades made driving under difficult conditions quite easy. The Navion is not as wide as other Class C units (thus the nickname “Skinny Winnie”), which might account for it’s feeling reasonably stable for a lighter RV vis a vis passing trucks and in crosswinds. Our unit is equipped with “lane assist”, which can be turned on or off at the driver’s discretion. Unlike diesel engines from yesterday, the Mercedes diesel is remarkably quiet. Like other European diesels, it will not tolerate biodiesel above the “B-5” level, which can quickly exclude a number of re-fueling options — including some of the major truck stops. Like all modern diesels, it uses DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) which requires occasional refilling. The DEF tank holds approximately 5 gallons, and it seems to burn about one gallon every 750 miles or so. In terms of service interval, the new 2015 Sprinter chassis calls for its first service at 20,000 miles. Our experience thus far with the Sprinter chassis has fully met all expectations.

The “House” Portion: The Navion comes in multiple configurations, mostly accommodating different bedroom options. We chose the 24 “V” model, which offers either a king bed in back with zero clearance on either side, or alternately two twin bunks. We chose the latter. there is also a choice to either have the traditional Class C overhead bunk in front; or to substitute instead a smaller space that offers a modicum of additional storage in a set of sleek rounded cabinets above the driver and passenger seats. Without a forward bunk, it would seem this model of Nation is likely better characterized as a Class B unit. The exterior includes full body paint, and except for the windshield appears to have stood up very well to the hostile road conditions that typify the Yukon and far northern BC.

The interior, once you acclimate to the fact that it’s far smaller than a full size diesel pusher, is actually very nicely done. The cabinets are high gloss wood finish. One corner that is decidedly not rounded is just above the sink and stove area — and is unfortunately a candidate for one of those “hit head here” signs. Both cabinets and drawers use solid hardware. The lighting is all LED, and generous use is made of indirect lighting. The two burner stove is adequate, though we’d like to replace the noisy piezo igniter with a quieter and more efficient electronic version. There are dual kitchen sinks, equipped with covers. And the latter point is very fortunate since in these smaller units kitchen countertop space is one place you’ll immediately see the impact of “smaller”. The fridge is a small Norcold unit that works on three-way power. That is, when it’s working at all. This appliance has been our single significant issue with the new Navion (more later). There are two entertainment centers, one in-dash, and the other in the entry way wall. Both are reasonably sophisticated units that have wireless features and integrate with a mobile device. The forward unit includes a GPS unit made by Rand McNally. The screen size is not as large as one would like, but it does offer basic GPS capability and has a few RV-specific features. The same unit also connects to your iPhone or Android device. The captains chairs are fully adjustable, provide generous legroom, and offer good comfort for a full day’s drive. On the outside, the lighting on the patio side offers considerable illumination. And a string of LED lights along the outside of the awning provide additional is available as well. Two outdoor speakers on the patio side are available for outdoor entertainment.

There are two design features of the Navion we've found a bit of a nuisance. First, because the gray holding tank is located behind the back axle, and the sewer discharge connection is located forward of that axle, the only way to empty the gray tank is to press and hold a switch that "pumps" the gray water "over the hill" and out. You can't just turn it on, wait, then turn it off when you can hear the tank is nearly empty. Naturally the switch is in the plumbing bay, and it's extremely incovenient to have to crouch over and hold that switch in the on position for 4 to 5 minutes. The other design problem is that the storage space for the sewer hose is both very short and too narrow to allow storage of a hose with the normal fitting attached. As a consequence it is for all practical matters unuseable space, unless one might choose to store a wine bottle there. I think not. But a new Navion owner will have to deal with that quite thoughtless design flaw.

First Year Blues? Here’s the part that most experienced RVers dread: Dealing with the punch list that inevitably comes with buying a new RV. With both our Country Coach and Alpine purchases, there were more than just a few trips back to the factory to address needed repairs that were only discovered after we’d taken delivery. These service visits often required several days to fully resolve the list of issues. So it was only natural that we approached the purchase of our new Navion with some trepidation. But to our considerable surprise, save for a very pesky Norcold appliance this new unit has been trouble free. After our 4,000 mile trek south from the Yukon, with a bit of added wandering in Montana and Idaho, I think we saw just about every type of road condition most RVers would ever encounter. While it was extremely frustrating to have a new fridge that would only run about half the time, we’re mindful that this one is indeed an appliance issue. The only thing we’d discovered was that one of the struts that supports the largest of the exterior storage bay doors could not quite hold the door in the fully “up” position. Except for the Norcold fridge, which had caused us to rely substantially on a white styrofoam cooler and blocks of ice driving south, that was the extent of “what was wrong”. The techs simply swapped out the underpowered strut for a much stronger one, which was about a 10 minute job. Punch list? What punch list?

Norcold Blues: So instead of first year blues, our only major issue was that of the fridge. Our other earlier service visit to Guaranty was primarily to address what we'd already found was an erratically performing refrigerator. They could not replicate the problem in the shop, and we all concluded maybe it was just a one-time failure — and going forward we’d not experience it again. But of course once the Alaska ferry offloaded us with our vehicles in the far north, it was a different story. The fridge worked for the first day; and then was operational for less than half the trip south. When it did work, we were justifiably certain that pretty soon everything in the freezer would melt again. Which is exactly what happened. This was really our only reason for scheduling a warranty visit to Guaranty. We’d spoken to our designated service advisor a couple times by email on our trip south; and she was ready to tackle this issue head on. Her first call to Norcold resulted in a response that Winnebago hadn’t installed their fridge with the appropriate venting. However, they they said, “the customer can purchase an aftermarket product that should solve the problem”. She was not pleased, but proceeded to call Winnebago, to get their take on the situation. The Winnebago rep advised that they had designed the unit precisely to Norcold’s specifications. Given the “finger pointing” standoff, our service advisor told them this was totally unacceptable. She insisted they both participate in a conference call, so that the matter could be resolved in a manner that would address the “customer’s” very legitimate concerns. And her persistence paid off. Norcold agreed they would supply the magic part via overnight freight; and Winnebago agreed that if it did not solve the problem they would agree to replace the refrigerator. This is perhaps a bit longer story than needed here; but we found the Dealer’s insistence on reaching a satisfactory resolution for their customer to be both commendable and noteworthy.

Fiat — the Really Fun Tow Car: We’d planned to include commentary here on this unusual tow car, which packs a lot of storage and weighs in at less than 2400 pounds. However that deserves a separate conversation which we’ll post in due course.

In a Nutshell: Perhaps because we’d previously also had smaller RVs, including a 10 foot truck camper that we used extensively some years ago, we had relatively little difficulty adjusting to the diminished interior space. The living pattern is decidedly different — something that must be acknowledged and accommodated. Very simple things like recognizing it’s not easy for two persons to pass in different directions simultaneously through the narrower parts of the coach. Or that you can’t possibly open the bathroom door if the refrigerator door is already open. But with time comes acceptance of these new implicit living restraints. And as to storage? In some areas we clearly could use just a bit more. But we’ve also found that in the aggregate, we still have unused storage spaces — even after gearing up for the long trip south from Alaska. The Mercedes Sprinter chassis has proved its capability through some of the most difficult driving conditions most RVers will ever encounter. Its performance was flawless. But perhaps the most significant part of this evaluation is that save for an appliance issue, the Navion has been very close to trouble-free.