BACK TO THE FUTURE
Winnebago’s Ceduna is an old favourite with a new cardigan...
by Richard Robertson
Winnebago’s Leisure Seeker was Australia’s archetypal C-Class Motorhome: a space efficient box-on-wheels design that could easily be adapted from vehicle to vehicle with a minimum of redesign work. Winnebago made a million of them, figuratively speaking, and when production ceased it left a hole in the Company’s expanding line-up that it decided to fill with the sixth-berth Ceduna.
Essentially a re-born Leisure Seeker with a different roofline (so I’m advised), the Winnebago Ceduna continues the tradition of bang-for-your-buck real estate, but without any real innovation. It’s something of an anachronism, given Winnebago makes some very stylish and up-to-date motorhomes, but as they say: horses for courses.
The test Ceduna rode on Volkswagen’s Crafter 50 LWB cab-chassis, which seems to have become the Euro workhorse-of-choice amongst manufacturers looking for an appealing, lower-cost entry model: witness its popularity amongst rental fleets.
This is a smart move because Crafter is a twin-under-the-skin with the considerably more expensive Mercedes Benz Sprinter. In essence you get Mercedes’ design, engineering and quality at a VW price; because they all come down the same assembly line until they need their engine, gearbox and sundry bits fitted, at which point they are shipped off to VW for finishing. It’s a curious arrangement that obviously has commercial advantages for both companies, but savvy motorhome manufacturers and buyers are the real winners.
Under the bonnet is where Crafters and Sprinters diverge most noticeably, and VW’s workhorse engine is its 2.5-litre 5-cylinder turbo-diesel, producing a modest 100 kW and 300 Nm. In other guises this same engine produces significantly more power, meaning as a motorhome it should be suitably under-stressed. Mated to this is Volkswagen’s six-speed automated-manual transmission (AMT) – another major point of difference with the Sprinter, which uses a full automatic gearbox.
If this all sounds a little tame you can have a Ceduna on a Sprinter 519 cab-chassis, complete with thumping 140 kW/440 Nm 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel and the full auto transmission, but at a considerable price premium.
One curiosity of the Crafter/Sprinter’s Euro-heritage is its small 75-litre fuel tank. Larger tanks are optionally available, but 100-litres should be the minimum for Australian touring conditions – especially when lugging a big body on the back.
Ceduna comes with a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of 4490 kg, meaning it can be driven on a standard car licence and it can tow another 2000 kg. However, its tare weight is a not-inconsiderable 3756 kg, so with a full load of people, fuel and water you’d need to be very circumspect about what else you could carry. Do the maths and you’ll see what I mean.
The Ceduna is 7.11 meters long, 2.472 metres wide and 3.235 meters tall, and is equipped with dual air bags, disc brakes with ABS, electronic stability control (ESP) and the usual array of powered features like windows, mirrors, locking and steering. Semi-automatic Climatic airconditioning is standard, too.
Typically Germanic, the Crafter is solid and capable if uninspiring to drive. You’d never call a Crafter fun (unlike a Fiat Ducato, for example), but where it shines is in its relentless ability to cover miles comfortably and with a minimum of fuss. Aiding this is Mercedes Benz’s terrific wand-operated combination cruise-control and speed limiter. This allows you to choose to let the Crafter maintain your speed automatically (great on open roads) or stop you exceeding a pre-set speed (great in traffic or on unfamiliar roads). Very useful...
You sit deep inside the Crafter’s cab, with excellent visibility forwards and to the sides. The seats seem unremarkable but are as comfortable at the end of the day as they are to begin with. The multi-adjustable steering wheel sits upright, like a car, rather than bus-like, as in many commercial vehicles and although the instruments are easy to read, you’ll need to spend time with the owner’s manual to fully decipher the workings of all the minor controls.
Perhaps the Crafter’s greatest on-road attribute is its absolute rock-solid front end. Never fazed by road irregularities, potholes, passing trucks or whatever, it causes neither steering kick-back nor wander and inspires great confidence in all situations. It also has a terrific turning circle – another benefit of its Mercedes’ heritage.
The Ceduna body does contribute to general body roll, as you’d expect, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Being rear-wheel-drive helps steering feel, while dual rear wheels enhances stability and towing ability, too.
On the down side, performance is leisurely at best, due to the shifting pattern of the AMT gearbox. Reluctant to up-shift at times (especially from first gear at low speeds) and with a considerable lag when it does, getting to know this gearbox takes time, but once familiar its foibles are quickly accommodated and forgotten. So don’t be put-off from what you might read, or from a brief, initial driving experience. And remember, you can always manually override when the terrain/situation/mood takes you.
The test Ceduna had about 44,000 km on the clock as a Winnebago demonstrator and loan vehicle and had obviously been well used. Despite that it drove well and no more shakes and rattles than I’d expected. Winnebago backs its new motorhomes with a 5-year/1 million kilometre structural warranty in addition to VW’s 3 year/Unlimited km vehicle warranty. While the 1 million km allowance might seem more gimmick than useful, in reality it all amounts to substantial security, backed by a national dealer network.
Only a died-in-the-Insulwool Winnebago fan would call the Ceduna’s boxy body beautiful, but it’s functional and it works. It’s really quite a juxtaposition to the out-there looks of the Crafter.
To reduce wind resistance the Luton-peak over the cab has a low roof line, but this compromises interior over-bed headroom. There’s a good-sized through-boot at the rear, which is also the only external storage locker, apart from the one near the driver’s door that hold the 2 x 4-kg gas bottles and has room for cables, hoses and other hook-up essentials.
The body sits on a steel floor plate and has a one-piece internal plywood floor, separated by insulation. Wall panels are fully insulated, as you’d expect, and the roof is a one-piece rubber design, to reduce the chance of water ingress. Herr-brand louvered wind-out hopper windows on both sides (the rear window is fixed) look old fashioned and have a real rental feel, but work well and can be left open in the rain – unlike sliders and some more modern designs. They’re also very secure. Speaking of which, a Herr dead-bolt entry door with flyscreen is fitted, but the screen-door section isn’t lockable and affords no security whatsoever, which is mystifying on a motorhome.
Capacity-wise, the Ceduna comes with 100 litres capacity for its fresh and grey water tanks. The removable toilet cassette holds 17 litres of stuff you don’t want to read about, while the Suburban gas and electric hot water system holds 23 litres. Two x 100-amp house batteries look after electrical duties when away from mains power. Oh yes, LED clearance lights are fitted but it’s a pity the LED theme doesn’t extend to the tail lights or outside lights, which would make them far more durable and efficient.
A Living Thing
An electric entry step affords easy access to the Ceduna’s quite cavernous interior. The layout has the bathroom right behind the driver and a wardrobe behind the passenger, the kitchen on the nearside and a rear u-shaped lounge (or New Zealand Back as Malcolm calls them) with an electric bed that lowers from the ceiling. There’s also the second bed in the Luton Peak, above the cab.
Stepping inside will be a trip down memory lane for previous Leisure Seeker owners – because it seems little, if anything, has changed. Flat-faced timber cupboards and matching brown upholstery are a real blast from the past, as are the beige curtains and timber-look flooring. On the plus side this means the design works and is durable; on the down side it’s like buying an early 90s Commodore when Holden is also selling 2012 models: If you’re a function-over-form kind of person you’ll probably love it.
There’s certainly room to dance in the ‘entry lobby’ and there’s plenty of room down the centre of the vehicle (which means the bathroom could be wider). At the rear the u-shaped lounge has seatbelts for four and an approved child restraint anchor point, plus plenty of windows, so be sure to reverse into any spot to get the best views. The roof-top airconditioner also doubles as a heater, while interior lighting is mainly old-school: A mixture of 12-volt fluoro and halogen, plus a few LEDs.
The rear-only sideways seating with lap seatbelts, for those not lucky enough to be riding up front, is another concession to old design habits. The trend now is to have a cafe-style dinette behind the driver with forward and aft-facing seats equipped with lap-sash seatbelts: Far safer and far better for on-the-road communication.
Come and Get it!
With room to seat six at dinner time in this six-berth motorhome, it will be a fight to see who gets to use the table and who eats off their laps. I’d say two will miss out, but to its credit the table is highly adjustable and can also be lowered when it’s time to lower the overhead bed. Best to eat while it’s light, too, as the bed precludes any direct overhead lighting.
The flat-screen TV with integrated DVD sits on a swivel mount on top of the wardrobe unit, behind the front passenger’s seat. It’s a long way from the lounge but is designed so it can be watched from there (with binoculars, perhaps?) or from the over-cab bed.
The kitchen is well equipped but bench space is at a premium, despite a small flip-up extension by the door. You’ll probably need to use the dining table when catering for larger numbers.
Standard equipment includes a sizable 150-litre Dometic 3-way fridge/freezer with automatic energy switching (AES), meaning it will choose between gas, vehicle 12-volt (while the ignition’s on) and mains power. This sits at floor level between the bathroom and rear lounge, on the offside, with the stainless steel microwave above it.
Across from these, between the entry door and rear lounge, is the working heart of the kitchen. There you’ll find a glass-lidded stainless steel cooker with an oven and grill, plus two gas hobs and a single electric element on top. Above it is a stainless steel range hood, while a glass-lidded single-bowl sink with integrated drainer shares the smallish bench top and is positioned closest to the entry door. There’s good drawer and cupboard space, plus decent over-bench cupboard storage and an extra cupboard above the microwave.
Most electrical operations are controlled from a single panel above the end of the kitchen bench, by the entry door, which also includes an internal and external thermometer. You can check the batteries and water tank level, amongst other things, but the hot water system switch is beneath the sink, as is the rear electric bed switch. Why the latter wouldn’t be down by the bed is a mystery.
The Ceduna’s six overnight occupants sleep in two double beds and two singles.
Access to the over-cab bed is via a reasonably wide and secure aluminium ladder, but once up there over-bed headroom is adequate rather than brilliant. There’s a single reading light at both ends and a safety net to stop kids from unexpectedly experiencing the terrifying effects of gravity in the night.
The Ceduna’s party trick is its electrically-operated roof bed, which is about queen size and which stores away unobtrusively above the rear lounge when not in use. It’s a great idea that works well and is truly space efficient.
The rear lounge converts to two lengthways single beds, but you’ll need to ensure those occupying them aren’t claustrophobic, as they will be sleeping beneath the partially-lowered overhead bed. Conversely, if the rear roof bed can’t be lowered right down you might need a step or two or three to access it. As with everything in a motorhome, compromise reigns supreme. At least you can leave the rear roof bed made-up when not in use and its pretty much out of sight.
Entering the Ceduna’s bathroom brings you into a small powder/change room featuring an angled bench-top with a corner hand basin and mixer tap. There’s good cupboard space and a well lit makeup mirror, plus a big side window fitted with a venetian blind a little too long for it. What’s that they say about the devil and detail?
It’s good to have a private dressing room, especially when there are potentially up to six people aboard, but it could be a bit of a squeeze – especially for larger occupants.
The shower set-up is quite unusual in that the cubicle has the toilet at the rear; with its own screen door to keep it and the loo roll dry. When standing in the shower you’re really between a bog and a dry place (sorry), so just remember to close both screen doors and you’ll keep everyone happy!
Winnebago’s Ceduna is a capable motorhome that should provide years of reliable service. It’s neither exciting nor innovative, yet it obviously appeals to a range of buyers who value proven practicality above all else.
As a six-berth motorhome it has great room for two people and acceptable room for four, but the rear bed arrangement could cause issues when used to capacity, not to mention the lack of dining-table space for six people. Payload capacity with six adults aboard would be an issue requiring careful management, too.
VW’s Crafter is the bright spot in the equation, providing proven engineering with comfort and convenience, plus quite reasonable fuel consumption. I averaged a gnat’s whisker less than 15 l/100 km on test, although I did only cruise at 100 km/h on the freeway and there was only me on board.
The Ceduna is a solid motorhome, but it reminds me of how far motorhome designs have come in the last decade – in a thousand little ways. It just needs a makeover to bring it back to the future.
- VW Crafter cab-chassis
- Electric roof bed
- Spacious interior
- Spacious rear lounge
- Panoramic views
- Clever bathroom
- Payload limitations
- Limited dining capacity
- Limited kitchen bench space
- Inefficient internal lighting
- Only one house battery
- Small gas bottles
Click HERE to visit the Winnebago (now Avida) website.
Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications, photos and contact details.