Winnebago Towables enters the luxury fifth-wheel field with a stylish body and a long list of features
It’s hard to imagine the Winnebago nameplate on anything but a motorhome. The name is so common, it’s not unusual to hear those outside the RV lifestyle refer to all motorhomes as Winnebagos; the name is probably the most generic description of motorhomes on the planet. Not bad for a company that emerged in a small Iowa town that used to be called Puckerbrush before it was renamed Forest City.
So when Winnebago started building trailers and fifth-wheels three-and-a-half years ago, diehard motorhome owners and serious trailer enthusiasts were scratching their heads. “What does Winnebago know about building trailers?” Fact is, Winnebago built trailers before motorhomes back in 1958 and came out of its trailer-building hiatus when it bought long-established trailer and fifth-wheel manufacturer SunnyBrook. The move jump-started the process of Winnebago re-emerging as a towable contender.
The synergies were obvious; Winnebago easily capitalized on its ability to produce highly livable motorhomes and transferred much of that expertise into its first towables aimed at the lightweight side of the market. It was only a matter of time before the company would venture into the luxury side of things, and the Destination is its first fifth-wheel loaded with amenities and earmarked for the full-time — and long-term — crowd.
What rolled off the assembly line looks nothing like the other Winnebago towables. Sweeping lines, frameless tinted windows and a low profile set the Destination 36RL apart from the others in its fifth-wheel line in a grand way. Add a dramatically designed, painted rear cap to complement handsome body graphics, and this fifth-wheel is a sure attention-getter wherever it wanders.
The low profile, a big part of the illusion of making a 13-foot-tall fifth-wheel look less imposing, made us suspicious of ground clearance problems right from the start. Our concerns that the fifth-wheel would drag on driveways and undulating roads would have been dismissed if it weren’t for the front landing jacks that had only 3½ inches of ground clearance. The front jacks are part of an automatic six-point hydraulic leveling system, and they dragged when the terrain varied. The bone-chilling scraping sound was disconcerting, but in reality the jacks lost only a few microns of metal each time — and left scars on the pavement.
Repositioning the front jacks to allow additional ground clearance is certainly in order, and while the engineers are at it, they might take a look at where the control panel is located. It’s on the front wall inside the street-side compartment and requires one to crouch down and twist his or her head to use the controls and view the screen. In this position, there’s no way to see kingpin positioning while hitching and unhitching without going back and forth — or soliciting a second person. Overall, the convenience of auto leveling is appreciated, but location of the controls is questionable. Also, the memory function was not accurate.
Interestingly, the 37-footer, weighing in at 12,900 pounds without cargo, doesn’t feel big or heavy, which might be attributable to the stout Ford F-350 dually used to tow it. On the road it behaved beautifully and was maneuvered easily into conventional RV spaces; even shoehorning into a very tight site, which took some jockeying because of the long crew cab, was not overly stressful. Overall, we felt good about towing the Destination — and appreciated the Equa-Flex suspension and optional quad shock absorbers and Trailair Rota-Flex pin box.
Hitching and unhitching are a two-person process because insufficient clearance makes it impossible to drop the tailgate fully when hitched. A second person has to support the tailgate as the truck is moved into hitching position — unless the tailgate is swapped for a louvered aftermarket replacement with a notched section designed to clear the kingpin box. A patient person can do it in a pinch with the factory tailgate, but it will require moving cautiously, stopping and getting out of the cab when there is just enough clearance before and/or after latching the kingpin. The stubby “cabover” section of the fifth-wheel certainly enhances the overall look of the exterior, but operator miscalculation will result in damage to the front of the trailer and tailgate. And by the way, the Ford tailgate is rather heavy.
Setting up in the park is a pleasurable experience, with easy access to the intuitive utility center and large pass-through storage compartment. Side-opening doors with slam-latch hardware make it convenient to retrieve and store gear, and the area is well finished. The front compartment increases capacity, but if a generator prep package is ordered, items stored in this area will be subject to the outside elements. Cutouts in the metal pan facilitate the generator installation, but the holes prevent the compartment from being water- and dirt-tight. If the owner decides to forgo the generator, he or she will have to add weather-tight flooring on top of the metal cutouts.
Three slideouts, two opposing in the living room/galley area and one in the bedroom, open the interior, exposing a popular floorplan. Focal points are the extra-large stationary island with double stainless sinks and designer faucet, and the street-side entertainment center across from theater seating for two.
All the elements in the lower portion of this fifth-wheel work in harmony to keep the occupants from missing their stationary homes. Whether entertaining guests or preparing a nice dinner for two, the kitchen serves the cook well. Most prep work will take place on the island counter, but the oven and range cubbyhole and hutch counter supplement nicely. Cold food is stored in the 21-cubic-foot residential refrigerator that’s tied to a pair of 12-volt batteries and a 1,200-watt power inverter to keep it running while on the road.
There is a ton of storage in the galley area, highlighted by the full-length pantry with a standard door. Large items can be stashed in the space below the island structure, including placement of a trash container. The rounded edges create space to display knickknacks on shelves in the back section, where an optional dishwasher can be installed if desired — a good plan for those who want one. On the opposite end is a mystery cabinet. It opens — which is nice — but I never did figure out what to store in this area.
Cabinets and shelving abound, and are good quality, but you won’t find a place for utensils and other implements normally stored in the kitchen. That’s because there are no exposed drawers! I’m not sure what the designers were thinking here, but if they figured the three large drawers inside the pantry would suffice, they missed the target.
Nevertheless, it feels good to hang out in the main living area. The theater seating is super comfortable and has a direct, no-neck-burning view of the 50-inch TV. Planners did a sensational job of flush-mounting the TV in the entertainment structure, but it did cause a chuckle. The nice-looking wood frame covers the infrared eye, which makes it impossible to turn on the TV or change channels — even the manual buttons on the side are covered, preventing access. Nudging the remote to a crack in the corner of the frame did the trick, and we recognize this is a pretty easy fix, though humorous. Also, we never did find the connections for components like a DVD player or satellite dish.
Below the TV is a fireplace with controls to circulate heated air, which helped neutralize the early morning chill in mid-40-degree F temperatures. A concealed desk in the entertainment structure pulls out and flips open to store flat items — nice touch for computer users who don’t want to hog up the freestanding dinette, but their feet will have to squish next to the fireplace glass when seated in a chair in front of the desk.
Above the TV is a stereo unit with all the accoutrements of modern-day music listening, and it’s tied into a redundant component that adds Bluetooth capability. Sound in the living room comes from this component, with independent speakers in the bedroom ceiling and outside. Speaker placement outside is interesting. Two speakers are mounted in the wall of the patio-side slideout, which is not where occupants will typically sit. They do a good job of entertaining the plants, but those sitting under the awning will have no idea music is playing. Not sure why the speakers are not in the wall under the awning.
The rear living room is a great place to relax or entertain. Large windows provide exceptional outside visibility, and the couch along the back wall is comfortable. Simulated wood flooring (linoleum) takes the worry out of soiling carpeting, and MCD solar/blackout roller shades add window-covering versatility. The ceiling fan helped circulate the ambient air, but the windows barely open, so it was tough to keep the place comfortable in 80-degree F temperatures, even with the use of the Fan-Tastic Vent fan. Ambient air circulation was further impeded by the lack of a screen door at the entryway. A large window fitted into the entry door — half of which can be opened — took the place of a standard screen door. This approach is not well thought out, and there were no provisions for covering the window for privacy.
Use of the single 15,000-Btu air conditioner was just about futile, even with the ceiling fan spinning at full speed; high ceilings (even in the curbside slideout) and overall square footage impacted cooling capabilities. We did enjoy the almost silent operation of the air conditioner, a testament to proper duct routing and good insulation. We’d opt for the second air conditioner in the bedroom, since the bedroom windows have limited openings, but would probably miss the roof vent that could be fitted with a second Fan-Tastic Vent down the road.
Two steps lead to a narrow hallway that connects the bathroom and bedroom with the rest of the fifth-wheel. Those who prefer to luxuriate in a large shower will be all smiles in this bathroom. Full-length showers with double sliding doors are showing up in a number of RVs these days, and it’s worth the space allocation. Close proximity of the 10-gallon gas/electric water heater to the bathroom faucets made hot-water delivery very fast. This is an asset for those who need to conserve water in a primitive environment, but the lack of a shut-off valve in the shower wand kind of negated the benefit.
There’s not an abundance of floor space, but the bathroom is roomy enough to get the job done without claustrophobia. Counter space around the sink is limited, but toiletries can be stored in the nearby cabinets and accessed very easily. All the cabinet doors in the rig are fitted with heavy-duty hinges, which fling them open with great velocity. The idea is to provide durable hardware that holds the doors open without effort, but they slam into adjacent structures and walls, making a nasty noise as the metal door handles make contact. I suppose users could learn to hold the doors until they stop, but we were especially concerned that the cabinet door slamming into the glass shower door might eventually cause breakage down the road. Restraining cables or non-spring-loaded hardware should be fitted to doors where complete opening is restricted.
The front of the rig is reserved for the bedroom, which is very inviting. The memory foam mattress on the king-size platform is relatively comfortable, and the room has all the amenities to facilitate long-term living. The front walk-in wardrobe is huge and has strategically placed shelving that promotes organization of clothing, shoes and other items. Next to the wardrobe is a washer-and-dryer-ready closet designed to handle a stacker system. At the foot of the bed is a chest of drawers with plenty of space for daily wear, and a TV is smartly placed within this cabinetry.
While the room has enough space to walk around the king bed when the slide is extended, through traffic to the closet is blocked when the rig is in travel mode. Even getting to this point requires the head of the bed to articulate up for additional clearance. The power mechanism to move the bed is controlled by one switch on the wall and a second next to the bed. The assumption here is that the head of the bed can be lifted for reading or watching TV. Great idea, as long as no one leans on the mattress; once any weight (upper back and head) is placed on the lifted portion, it returns to flat, defeating the purpose of the mechanism — and then has the audacity to flash warning lights all night long until the mattress is lifted slightly, which won’t work as long as people are on the mattress. Get the picture?
We like to read in bed, so the two overhead LED light fixtures on flexible shafts were a welcome sight, until we used them. They would have been perfect if our arms were 2 feet longer, so the light could be directed on the book. Of course, this is a simple fix at the factory level. There are plenty of LED light fixtures throughout the interior, making it easy to illuminate just about any area. Switch placement could be improved, though.
For example, accessing the bathroom from the bedroom at night can be problematic. The door to the bathroom opens from the left, which means the user has to go down the steps to get out of the way of the swinging door, because of the narrow hallway. The light in the hallway that illuminates these steps is in the galley hutch, along with most of the controls for the trailer systems. If the user doesn’t want to wake the other person in the bedroom with bright lights, he or she will have to negotiate the steps in the dark to either find the light switch or make room to open the bathroom door. To prevent accidents, the addition of a switch to operate a hallway nightlight would be welcome. A light switch should also be added to the entryway to keep from repeating the above scenario when entering the rig in the dark.
After spending time in the Destination and analyzing Winnebago’s approach to fifth-wheels, I can’t help but think of the children’s book The Little Engine That Could. The thought process behind developing a luxury fifth-wheel — with cues taken from the company’s highly regarded motorhome division — is truly optimistic. Construction techniques and materials are top-notch; the execution needs some work.
Winnebago is resilient, and even though it cut its teeth on building trailers, it’s been a long time since the company directed any energy toward building towables.
Stay tuned; a few tweaks, modifications and improvements will make the Destination a viable player for fifth-wheel aficionados looking for luxury and stylish curb appeal.