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Little Log

2016 Winnebago Navion: First Impressions

This is a story for which, at the moment at least, the ending has not been written. We’re on a new type of RV journey — a road many have travelled, and still more will contemplate. It’s called “downsizing”

We’re in the early innings of this new game. We sold our much larger diesel pusher last summer; and recently took delivery on our new 2016 Winnebago Navion. We’ve experienced the challenge — and opportunity — of selling a 7-year old Alpine coach using free internet resources. And we’ve completed what was for us a very satisfactory purchase experience in acquiring our 2016 Winnebago motorhome. With our new RV now happily getting prepped for its first road adventures, we are limited in what we can report at this point. But as one reader suggested, there are indeed first impressions…

These impressions relate to the purchase experience, the delivery process, and our discoveries in transferring the stored items from our previous diesel pusher into a much smaller space. Let’s take them in order.

The Purchase: It was only after selling our 35’ diesel pusher that we felt comfortable in moving forward with the purchase of a new smaller motorhome. We’ve documented this in a previous article, but suffice it to say that the substantial benefit of a private sale versus a dealer trade-in covered roughly the first quarter of the cost of our new Navion. Our prior purchases of new diesel pushers, a 2000 Country Coach Intrigue and a 2007 Alpine Limited, had been with Guaranty RV in Junction City, OR. Both of those were on balance positive experiences, though we’d opted for the extra-cost factory delivery in each. We’d been fortunate to get to know the owners and key sales folks at Guaranty; and we were completely comfortable in starting our search for a new, smaller RV with them.

The past several years have been a major challenge to the RV industry, and to RV dealers as well. And though Guaranty has done a bit of downsizing itself, it still is the same friendly family-owned operation we’ve known from those earlier purchases. Most of the sales professionals from yesteryear have moved on, including Susan Graham, who worked with us on our earlier “big rig” purchases. But she’s now a principle with Premier RV in Junction City. We asked for her recommendation for a current Guaranty sales person to work with on a purchase of a new and smaller motorhome. That reference put us in contact with Ken Dingman — who for us proved to be a very good choice.

We’ve had a great deal of positive comment at our website about the Sprinter chassis. And that was where we first focused. Quite a number of manufacturers build smaller rigs on the Sprinter chassis — including Itasca and Winnebago. Guaranty, as it turns out, is an “Itasca” dealer. There is another RV dealer in the Eugene area that is a “Winnebago” dealer. Itasca made the “Navion” — a “24” that actually measures 25’ 7” — while Winnebago makes the “View”. The two are absolutely identical in all respects except for (then) the name Itasca or Winnebago prominently displayed on the front of the unit. That’s changed….

Once the sale of our Alpine was completed, our mission was to find a new 2016 downsized unit that would fit within the budget that was established by that sale. And with a great deal of patience by Ken, we eventually settled on the Navion. It was, at the time of purchase, an “Itasca”. The 2016 Navions had been available since mid-year 2015. But not the 2016 Sprinter chassis. So we ordered a new Navion, picking the exact options we wanted, and requested it not be built until it was on the 2016 Sprinter chassis. This caused a significant delay in processing our order. It was originally scheduled to be delivered in September/October 2015; but because the “real” 2016 Sprinter chassis did not appear until later in the year, it was not until we’d left on a one-month trip to Borrego Springs in November that we learned the unit had finally been delivered at Guaranty in Junction City.

It was a surprise both to us and Guaranty when it arrived boldly stamped not as an “Itasca Navion", but as a “Winnebago Navion”. It seems as if we may have one of the very first of these newly-branded Winnebago units. We surmise it’s because the change occurred with the arrival of the 2016 Sprinter chassis. But clearly anyone who has a 2016 “Itasca" Navion surely has a key to its birth date!

Taking Delivery: With the tardy arrival of our newly ordered unit, we finally were able to set up a PDI at Guaranty in mid-December. “RV delivery”, with its extremely important walk through and inspection, is something we know is a very key part of the buying experience. We had paid a considerable premium when purchasing our Country Coach, and our WRV Alpine, to make sure we took delivery “at the factory”. There we knew we’d have access to an assigned specialist who knew *everything* about the specific coach we’d just purchased. We also knew it could take not just hours, but perhaps an overnight and a second day to learn all the nuances of the new unit. This is not an option with Winnebago. They do not offer any form of factory delivery. But for us that was not worrisome. After all, we are hardly novice RVers. We know what a sewer hose is, how to attach it, and which tank should first be emptied. In fact we know just about everything an RVer should know before hitting the road. We had some sense that things probably have changed since we last did a factory delivery with our 2007 unit. But what we under-appreciated was (i) just how much technology has changed RVs (particularly “infotainment” systems) in these past years, and (ii) how important it would be to understand the unique characteristics of what had just become a “Winnebago” Navion.

As a consequence, our “walk through” was far shorter than it was with our previous factory delivery experiences. But in fairness, this was mostly because we thought we already knew much of what we’d need to return to the familiar RVing lifestyle. Wrong on two counts. While our tech was extremely helpful and willing to track down the answer to any questions we’d have, he’s also employed by a dealer that deals with many different RV products. Guaranty prides itself on offering a broad range of manufacturer offerings; as a consequence its service techs are required to deal with the characteristics of units that are vastly different from one brand to another. But it was mostly our own assumption that we’d already dealt with much bigger and more sophisticated units (only partly correct) that caused us to make some assumptions we should not have made as we progressed through what is actually a fairly complex and high tech machine. After all, we’re veteran RVers. Or are we?

A Guaranty Delivery Highlight: Even before we started the walk through, Don Fults, Guaranty's General Sales Manager had mentioned that our delivery was part of a new pilot program the dealership has launched. It's purpose is to provide enhanced support to Guaranty purchasers to ensure quality post sale follow-up and service. I should have paid more attention to this, but my thoughts at the time were more to getting on with the walk through and finishing the process. With hindsight I should have reflected on this more carefully. He’d mentioned that our assigned service contact with Guaranty would be “Sherry” — and that she would introduce herself during our our introduction to our new Navion. I fell even a bit further behind in this process, as while the service tech and I were busy studying by flashlight a well-hidden switch under the dash I heard Sherry’s cheerful voice introducing herself to Stephanie in the background. For a moment my mind was slightly diverted from some obscure control switch to what would in time likely become a much more important connection to Guaranty for all things “follow up”. And indeed that has proved to be the case, and worthy of special note here. As any objective-thinking RVer would know, it’s not so much what you learn during the walk through, but rather what you failed to ask, failed to notice, or simply found out later you don’t know that is what counts.

And so it was with us. Not long after driving our new Nation from the dealership to its new home in our RV garage in coastal Florence, we discovered a puddle of water near at the galley. It didn’t take long to discover that the leak was coming from the water supply line to the kitchen sink faucet. With hindsight we realized that when the unit was driven from its point of manufacture to the dealership in Oregon, likely the water tank had been neither filled nor used. It was empty when we picked it up at delivery, and it was only after we’d completed the walk through that it occurred to us maybe we should have some water in the new unit before we headed for the coast (color us way too slow on that!). What took a time to notice was that when pressurized, there was indeed a slow leak in the waterline. But now we were 65 miles away and back home in Florence. Solution? Hmm. Let’s try the “email Sherry” option. Wow! Within minutes we had both Ken Dingman, then in his office, and a service tech on the line. Sherry separately had arranged for another service tech call. They quickly diagnosed the issue, and even low-tech me was able to cure the problem. A few days later, another issue — this time the GPS unit. It sort of worked, but only sort of. It could “see” where we were, but if we drove around town, it still “saw” us at home. Solution? Maybe email Sherry again? Yup, and within a few minutes of sending a message, more service support. We’ve determined the GPS failure is likely caused by the GPS antenna either having become disconnected, or is not properly placed within the dash. We’d already scheduled a “punch list” service appointment for later in the month — so this is at the top of the list. But so far a very short list indeed, though we'll cover that in a later update. So what was the best part of closing transaction? Did someone mention Sherry?

Where do we put all this stuff? When we offloaded our Alpine diesel pusher, filling uncounted boxes full of “stuff” for future use in the new motorhome, we must have been laboring under a very foggy vision of what we’d be able to use going forward. It’s not that there’s no space. There actually are places to put things. There’s just not as many of them; and those that are hold neither the size nor the quantity of what was so always accessible before. Now this should hardly be a surprise to anyone entering into the downsizing process — but it is only to document the fact that at some point reality catches up. And that’s where we are at the moment. There are surely things we previously had on board that we did not much use. Some, in fairness, never. These will not find a new home here. But that still forces a series of new decisions about what the essentials really are. We’re cautiously optimistic, but this is not without its challenges. On that we’ll have to reserve for a later report.

First Impressions: The short take on this first report are the things that jump to mind that make us smile, and a few that make us scratch out heads. On the smile side, the the “fit and finish” on this unit is extremely good. The exterior full body paint with clear finish is nicely done. And the interior is comfortable and attractive. The cabinetry has a warm and inviting glossy finish, and rather than straight lines, has smooth, rounded corners that blend tastefully with the interior design. The lighting, all energy efficient LED, is both direct and indirect, and offers a range of options to set exactly the lighting effects that are desired — both inside and out. TVs in the main cabin and bedroom offer multi-source connections; and preliminarily the “infotainment” options seem to offer everything and more from our previous high-end diesel pushers. Once the GPS unit can be connected to its source antenna, hopefully this will get a further upgraded report.

Downsides? Yes. Space issues we were prepared to deal with. But with the smaller size unit comes some things that downsizing also invites. There is no “always there” dining table. Instead, to conserve space, it’s a table top stored as a slab with its anchoring post in an already very small closet. Understandably the only way to do it — but an adjustment for the downsizees in this story. Other short cuts? Well, yes. Plug the unit into shore power, and your house batteries are charging. But not the chassis battery. No built in system to ensure that when the RV is stored not only the chassis batteries stay topped off, but the chassis battery as well. Instead there’s this not-so-friendly option of disconnecting the chassis battery using a very clumsy disconnect switch that’s located roughly under the accelerator pedal; and which if you win the fight will eventually disconnect. And then there’s the issue of balancing where, on a small rig, to offer reasonably good fresh/gray/black water tank capacity with ease of dumping. In the case of the Navion the gray water tank is located behind the rear axle, and the fluid needs to go forward over the rear axle to flush. That’s not downhill. As a consequence, while the black water tank empties with the always welcome force of gravity, the gray tank requires turning on a pump to get the fluid uphill over the axle, and ultimately into the dump station. And finally, cable TV anyone? Or might you have an external satellite dish you’d like to use? Well, both of these are connected in the extreme inside back of the same compartment into which the power cord gets stuffed for storage. It’s some 20+ inches into a small compartment. We hope you have long arms if you want to try this one. And by the way, you’d better pull the entire power cord out first, as the connections are otherwise not reachable. Solution? Sure. make a 2’ piece of coax and use duct tape to secure it to the inside wall of that obscure orifice so that you don’t have to search into the murky depths of an almost unreachable space. Just one of those things that while trying to appreciate the complexities of doing so much in such a little space — makes you wonder why Winnebago didn’t think of that?

Bottom Line: On balance, we’re cautiously optimistic we’re on the way to the transition to a downsized RVing lifestyle. Obviously there are tradeoffs when doing this sort of thing. And we’ve yet even to have taken our first on-the-road test of this new rig. Undoubtedly we have a lot yet to learn. We’re more aware of exactly what the challenges of a smaller rig are. But the potential upside here seems, on balance, to forecast a positive experience. Surely it has been so with the dealer. And now the rest is up to us. And when the rubber hits the road, surely we will have a much more informed update to follow…