Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A Home Away from Home Winnebago's Smallest Model Offers Comfort, Easy Driving

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A Home Away from Home Winnebago's Smallest Model Offers Comfort, Easy Driving

Article excerpt

The two wild turkeys trotted past our 1998 Winnebago Rialta's

large side window, but our son watched the built-in TV.

Out front, a flock of mallards waddled past the wide

windshield en route to the lake. Still, my son watched the Disney

tape on the VCR.

But when the turkeys nosed around his toys next to our

campsite at Blythe Island Regional Park near Brunswick, he noticed.

"Don't eat my toys," he yelled.

Scenes like this are probably why 25 million people go camping

every year in motor homes, according to the Recreational Vehicle

Industry Association.

This 21-foot, 8-inch Rialta, Winnebago Industries smallest

offering, was tucked in a wooded spot a few steps from a misty

lake and a gobble away from two wild turkeys.

Within its small Volkswagen Eurovan-based chassis are beds for

four, a phone booth-sized toilet, sink and shower, plus microwave

oven, refrigerator, stove and storage space.

While my wife and I enjoyed the view out the huge rear window,

our son watched "Cinderella" from the front twin bed on the

built-in TV, cooled by the roof air conditioner. This is the way

to go compact camping.

Our Rialta is a refined version of Winnebago's earlier Rialta,

which started life in 1995 with a Volkswagen Eurovan minivan

front end, grill, hood, dash, transmission and wimpy 109-hp

2.5-liter gas engine.

Winnebago added a 37-inch-longer chassis, steel frame and

floor and aluminum wall and roof to make a vehicle that stands

eight feet, three inches tall.

For 1998, Winnebago uses a redesigned Eurovan with sleeker

bodywork and a 2.8-liter, 140-hp VR6 engine.

Then they add an extra 10 inches to the tail.

The streamlined result is quiet on the road except for some

creaking of inside panels. The body is well built, with good

paint and straight panel lines. Tanked up on its 16-inch

Continental Contrans tires, it weighs about 6,000 pounds.

Driving the Rialta was no chore. You will find comfy front

captain's chairs that also swivel rearward and get air bags for

the first time.

Visibility is pretty good forward. Thanks to a huge rear

picture window, you can see traffic helped by a quick-acting rear

defroster and large windshield wiper.

The Volkswagen dashboard offers a clear analog gauge package

while a good, six-speaker Panasonic AM-FM-cassette deck and dash

air conditioner are nearby.

Large door map pockets and a small cargo bin under twin

cupholders offer more cargo space. Overhead controls offer

auxiliary a/c, rear heat, rear defroster and wiper, while the

9-inch Audiovox color TV is mounted above the driver's head.

Two more comfortable captain's chairs are planted behind the

front seats, with screened, shaded windows. They convert to the

twin bed.

Across is the ingenious bathroom. You slide out the front and

side walls to get room to use the flush toilet, fold-down sink

and hand-held shower, while the drain is under a lift-up carpeted

floor panel. The four-gallon water heater gave quick hot water.

The kitchen has a 1.8-cubic-foot refrigerator, twin-burner gas

stove, steel sink and overhead microwave oven. Counter space can

be expanded with a swing-out table.

Storage cabinets circle the ceiling and there is more storage

room under the second row of seats.

Eight lights brightly illuminate the interior. But working

space was tight with everyone on board.

We were forced to crouch in all but the area between the

shower and the kitchenette, which allowed us room to stand and

cook or dress. …

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