Life’s a Beach!
Winnebago’s Airlie has much to offer, no matter where you like to holiday…
by Malcolm Street
I'm thinking I should start this review of the Winnebago Airlie with some clarification of the Winnebago name in Australia. In recent times there have been at least three different manufacturers/importers simultaneously selling motorhomes with the Winnebago name on them, but now there’s only one – and that’s the way it looks like remaining.
Winnebago RV Pty Ltd is a wholly Australian-owned subsidiary of Apollo Motorhome Holidays. It has exclusive rights to use “Certain Winnebago trademarks on motorhomes, campervans and caravans across Australia and New Zealand,” according to its press release. Apollo Motorhome Holidays also owns Talvor motorhomes, which these days are basically just for its Apollo motorhome rental fleet.
Winnebago RV Australia Pty Ltd now manufactures a range of motorhomes in Australia, as well as importing fully assembled Winnebago caravans from America. The Airlie is part of its ‘launch’ motorhome range and is manufactured at its Brisbane plant, alongside Talvor vehicles.
When I first saw the new Winnebago motorhomes, I thought they looked very much like re-badged Talvors – badge engineering of course being nothing new in this world. However, I've been assured by the very helpful marketing people at Talvor/Winnebago that all the Winnebago motorhomes have had at least a makeover and, in some cases, input from Winnebago USA.
Underpinning the Airlie is the very familiar Fiat Ducato Multijet 180. Measuring 7.88 m (25 ft 10 in), the Airlie has an Al-KO chassis bolted to its Ducato cab and is available as a B or C-class unit. In this case it’s the latter, having an over-cab Luton peak for an additional two berths as it does. Body construction is all fibreglass: composite sandwich panels for the walls and mouldings for the front and rear. Dometic has supplied the windows (Seitz) and entry door, although the door isn’t a security seen unit. For a change, the awning is a Thule Omnistor.
A surprise in the Airlie is the amount of external bin space – two along the kerb side, one on the driver’s side – and all of good size, along with tunnel storage accessed from the driver’s-side rear. Also using space along the kerb-side side wall is an entertainment unit, cassette toilet door, external shower and gas cylinder bin. Inside this last one are two gas cylinders, one 4.5 kg and the other 2.0 kg. Longterm bush campers might have a problem with gas capacity, but for most travellers having the smaller cylinder as a back-up should be okay and is much better than just a single cylinder.
Water tanks don't often get a mention but the Airlie has a 100 L fresh water tank and a larger 150 L grey tank. That's interesting because most manufacturers have it the other way around, although in New Zealand legislation requires the grey tank to be larger. It might seem odd, but in environmentally sensitive areas fresh water taps are often more common that dump points.
On the Road
No real surprises in the handling department I have to say. Certainly the 3.0 L 132 kW turbo-diesel delivers the goods, while the 6-speed automated manual transmission (AMT) works as expected.
In my short travels in the Airlie I discovered one real advantage of Fiat's oft-maligned front-wheel drive. It had rained heavily the night before and the narrow track I headed down to get some photos was surrounded by wet, boggy grass – including where I was planning on turning around! However, I realised that by carefully keeping the front wheels on the firm track as I reversed around it didn't matter if the non-driving rear wheels were on the boggy grass.
So what do we have inside the Airlie? Stepping through the front door reveals a dining/kitchen area up front, a split bathroom mid-motorhome and a lounge/sleeping area in the rear. There are two beds, one above the cab and the other across the rear, with the latter being an electric roll-down bed above the lounge. With a little bit of compromise you get the best of both worlds: An NZ-style club rear lounge with windows all round and a bed that does not have to be made up every night!
Sitting back and relaxing isn't too difficult in the Airlie. Apart from the previously mentioned rear club lounge, there is a also a sideways facing lounge behind the driver's seat, while the cab seats themselves swivel around. Naturally, the lounge comes with a table but it can't quite be reached from the cab seats.
One of the assets of using a Fiat Ducato is that the cab area can easily be integrated into the rest of the motorhome. However, the Airlie – like all the Winnebago/Talvor line-up – has a fixed shelf/bed above the driver's cab. Most manufacturer's either use the full Fiat cut-out or have a bed that can be lifted out of the way if not needed. For some reason Winnebago/Talvor don't do that, making cab access a bit too much of a crouch over/head banger for me.
This is another reason the rear area looks so good: Even with the elevating bed there is plenty of head room and, more importantly, there's either space to put the feet up or have guests over. With the elevating bed there aren't any overhead lockers, but the rear tunnel boot has a large floor hatch for access. Also, the driver’s side seat cushions can be removed to give access to the external bin space below. On the opposite side of the lounge most of the under-seat area is occupied.
Between the driver’s-side lounge and shower cubicle is a small cabinet that can be used equally well as a cupboard or a bedside cabinet by night. Part of the space above also has a small locker.
Time to Eat
Catering can be handled reasonably well in the mid-sized kitchen, which comes with a three burner cooktop and a grill/oven. Adjoining the cooktop is a stainless steel sink with a flick mixer tap. Winnebago has dodged around the benchtop space problem by not having a sink drainer. Bench space is better here than some RV kitchens I have seen of late and using a removable plastic drainer is a good compromise.
A couple of overhead lockers, four good-sized drawers, one cupboard and a wire basket slide-out pantry supply the storage. However, part of the cupboard is taken by the hot water heater, while part of one overhead locker is taken by the essential electrical panel.
I should mention the 190 L, 2-door fridge of course, fitted in between the driver’s-side lounge and the shower cubicle. It's size means the microwave oven fitted above is set at a fairly user-friendly height, which is nice. Not really a kitchen item but still essential is the multi-media Fusion radio unit fitted above the microwave, which will connect to something like an iPod.
As noted, you get a choice of two beds in the Airlie: the elevating bed that measures 2.03 m x 1.52 m (6 ft 8 in x 5 ft) and the over-cab bed that measures 2.05 m x 1.4 m (6 ft 9in x 4 ft 7 in). Lowering the elevating bet is easy, requiring just the press of a button. Well almost. To get it down to user friendly height the lounge seat backs have to be removed. That’s not a difficult task I should point out – just lift them out and place on the floor. I mention that because although it might sound fiddly, I have seen others in which it was not an easy task at all. An additional feature is the fold out step in the nearside cabinet for easy bed access – a nice touch! Getting the bed down to lounge level also means the windows can be fully used for ventilation purposes.
Something Winnebago has done well is the LED reading/room lights around the bed. Again, I've seen a few designs without any at all, but two on each wall seems a bit of overkill, not that I’m not going to complain!
Having the split bathroom with the shower cubicle on one side and the toilet cubicle on the other does seem to work quite well. Measuring 0.78 m x 0.76 m (2 ft 7 in x 2 ft 6 in) the shower is large enough to turn around in. Across the aisle the toilet cubicle contains not only a cassette toilet, but also a vanity cabinet with wash basin and a mirror-door shaving cabinet above. Ventilation is by both a largish roof hatch (similar to the shower’s) and a small window. A concertina curtain can be used to close off the bathroom and bedroom areas from the rest of the motorhome, providing welcome privacy.
What I Think
In many ways the Airlie layout ticks quite a few boxes. It looks a bit like a rental motorhome layout in some ways, but one that has been highly tuned for the private market. Undoubtedly the winning feature for those who like an NZ style motorhome is the rear club lounge with wrap-around windows. Coming as it does with the elevating bed above, it means to some extent you can have your cake and eat it too!
Additionally, as a C-class motorhome the Airlie can easily be used for a family. All-up, an interesting and well thought-out layout from the Winnebago team. If only they'd do something about that fixed shelf above the driver's cab.....
- Elevating rear bed
- Rear club lounge with surround windows
- Reasonable size kitchen
- Good external storage
- Easily moveable rear seat backs
- Separate shower and toilet
- Fixed bed/shelf above driver's cab
- Swivelled cab seats don't fit well with table/lounge
- No security door
- Luton ceiling quite low
- Single house battery
Click HERE to visit Winnebago's website.
Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications and contact details.
Winnebago Airlie (1850 KB)
Winnebago Airlie (1850 KB)