A family friendly floorplan and thoughtful details are defining characteristics of this lightweight towable
“World famous” is a claim that we’ve all heard time and time again — and strangely, it’s usually applied to something that is, in actuality, relatively unknown. From chili beans to designer jeans, there aren’t many brands that are truly known the world over — but Winnebago is one of them. With the possible exception of small populations in developing countries, most of us associate the name Winnebago with the bold motorhomes that personify the RVing lifestyle.
What a lot of us don’t realize is that Winnebago actually got its start building travel trailers. In fact, that’s all Winnebago built from its inception in 1958 until 1966, when the company introduced its first motorhome product. Since then, trailers have been largely absent from Winnebago’s line — but with the acquisition of SunnyBrook travel trailers in 2010, Winnebago was firmly back in the towable business. Its new line of Ultralite travel trailers offer the livability of some fifth-wheels at the fraction of the weight, enabling them to be towed by half-ton pickups and even some full-size SUVs. At the same time, they offer the build quality, décor and luxurious feel that have made Winnebago motor-homes so famous.
The Ultralite is available in three floorplans, ranging from 27 feet to 31 feet. For our test, we selected the 28DDBH, a family friendly floorplan with some uncommon features. First, since most of us spend the bulk of our time in the living area, Winnebago made this area huge, courtesy of two opposing slides. In fact, there’s so much room in the area that Winnebago was able to fit an island kitchen, something you don’t often see in travel trailers. At the rear of the trailer is a bunkhouse with two beds large enough to house four young teenagers, as well as a bath area with its own entry door — a feature that would later become the biggest subject of debate with our staff. More on that later.
Our test route took us across California’s Mojave Desert and through the beautiful Owens Valley along the fabled U.S. 395. As we suspected, handling was indeed an issue once the wind started to blow; the trailer’s length, combined with its relatively light weight can definitely exact some tail-wagging-the-dog action on the tow vehicle. Fortunately, we fitted a sway control hitch in advance to mitigate any unwanted movement — and we recommend you do the same. Even with this equipment in place, concentration was required to keep the trailer on the straight and narrow.
On the outskirts of Lone Pine, we spent our time at a popular RV resort with full hook-ups. Once we arrived, setup was accomplished pretty quickly, as all of the plumbing/electrical necessities are located at the left rear of the trailer, where they should be. And, there are some useful standout features here as well, such as a light within easy reach, a black tank flush and an exterior spray port with a detachable, coiled hose and spray nozzle that’s perfect for quick cleanups. At the front is a large pass-through storage compartment with optional slam-latch baggage doors ($72) that was more than big enough for our table, chairs, generator, gas can, grill and other assorted items. A cordless drill and socket made short work of the four manual stabilizing jacks (power jacks are available) but we couldn’t have lived without the 3,500-pound capacity power A-frame jack, a worthwhile investment at $172.
Preparing a simple family meal in this trailer is easy, as the galley countertop is roomy, and the island is huge. There’s plenty of prep room at either end, and the sink is located right in the middle, perfect for two cooks. Elegant pendant lighting provides plenty of light, as does an overhead skylight, but the latter is not always a welcome feature. Yes, it makes the area feel pleasant and airy, but when the sun is overhead and you’re preparing lunch, the heat on the top of your head can get uncomfortable. A sliding sunshade here would cure this problem, and help keep the living area darker at night as well.
The island’s cultured marble countertop got mixed reviews. Some of our staff thought it should be the same color as the textured laminate kitchen countertop, while others thought it provided a nice contrast. One thing we all agreed upon is that the beige plastic sink has to go; it looks out of place against the cultured marbletop and residential-style brushed nickel pull-out faucet.
There is plenty of storage in the galley area, both in the galley itself and underneath the kitchen island. There’s also a massive pantry that is great for a large family — most small homes don’t have a pantry this size. That being said, we’d gladly sacrifice a little overhead storage for a bigger microwave; the one supplied is large enough to warm a TV dinner or a small plate of food, but that’s about it. Also, we’d appreciate some more organized storage underneath the island, perhaps some shelves in the middle and trash can storage at one end, for example. Overall however, the galley is very intuitive and a pleasure to use.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the entertainment center. The test trailer was equipped with an optional 32-inch LCD HDTV ($718) that pivots 180 degrees so it can be watched from either the living area or front bedroom. That’s the good part. The bad part is that it’s mated to an automotive grade AV system, which we found cumbersome to use. For example, when watching a movie, the picture plays on both the TV and the AV system’s touch screen, which is distracting. And, if watching TV in the bedroom, the remote for the AV system won’t work because the unit is on the other side of the wall. Personally, I’d rather Winnebago made the trailer AV ready with an appropriately sized slot, then it could be fitted with a proper Blu-ray player and a single remote could control the whole shooting match from either room. On the plus side, the system worked great for playing music, with built-in speakers in the living area, front bedroom and patio area. A switch on the AV unit makes it possible to play music through all the speakers, or divide them into zones, which we thought was a nice touch.
Monsoon weather had swept into the Owens Valley by nightfall, and we found ourselves grilling outdoors, under the clouds, in 85-degree weather. When the sky darkened and a light rain ensued, we were grateful for the optional electric awning with LED lighting, a bargain at $319. In fact, it was probably the coolest option fitted to the test unit. A strip of LEDs runs almost the entire length of the awning, and supplies plenty of soft light with the awning deployed even a few inches. With the awning closed, the lights don’t shine much farther than the entry steps, so they don’t become a burden to neighboring campers. And, being LEDs, they last almost forever and consume very little power — something you’ll appreciate when dry camping.
Soon it was time to turn in for the evening, so we headed to the front bedroom. This area is compact, but features a walk-around 60- x 80-inch queen-size bed with small wardrobes on either side, overhead cabinets and underbed storage for comforters or other bulky items. In reality, you only use the bedroom to get some shut-eye, and it works perfectly fine for this.
The rear bunkhouse, on the other hand, we’re not so sure of. While there were no kids along for this test, we couldn’t help but notice that Winnebago doesn’t provide a way to access the top bunk, so don’t forget the stepladder. The lighting isn’t terribly well-conceived either; the spacing for the lights is different for the two bunks, and they’re located at the foot of the beds. We understand the reasoning behind this layout, as it allows kids to turn on the lights so they can see their way into the bunk. However, once in, they can’t do any reading unless they want to lay backward and on one side. A better way to do this would be to place a switch near the entry of each bunk, with the light mounted high and to the rear. Also, the top bunk is rated at only 250 pounds, which we think is a tad on the light side, considering a pair of teens sleeping up here could easily surpass this. Lastly, a curtain in this area would be a nice addition so the bunks could be darkened when the adults are still whooping it up in the living area.
The rear bath is well-suited to family duty, with a lav, medicine cabinet and even a porcelain toilet. We appreciated the fact that Winnebago saw it appropriate to fit the bathroom with a tub/shower, making it easy for parents to bathe the little ones in the family. The enclosure uses an accordion-style plastic door that worked well for the intended purpose, and there’s plenty of headroom for 6-plus-footers thanks to a welcome skylight.
Now, back to that second entry door. Most of us thought it was a great idea, as it provides quick access to the bathroom when on the road. And when kids are outside exploring, they can use the bathroom without tracking dirt through the living area, something all parents can appreciate. However, some felt that having two doors on the trailer makes it look cluttered, and that they’d rather deploy the curbside slide just a bit and walk back to the bathroom when on the road. These are, of course, personal preferences. However, one thing we all thought Winnebago overlooked was a second switch for the water pump in the bathroom. When on the road, you either have to leave the pump on or enter through the front door, turn the pump on, then enter the rear door to use the bathroom. And don’t forget to turn the pump off again before returning to the tow vehicle. A simple switch in the bath area would prevent such awkwardness.
The Winnebago Ultralite comes very well equipped, especially considering its weight-saving intentions, and it does offer a number of options. In addition to those mentioned previously, the trailer was also equipped with a tri-fold hide-a-bed sofa ($218), tinted frameless windows ($218), 15-inch deluxe aluminum wheels ($363), a 15,000-Btu ducted air conditioning system ($218; 13,000 Btu standard) and night shades ($218).
Winnebago’s return to the towable market is a welcome one, indeed, and the Ultralite series is a great choice for buyers who want a lightweight trailer that doesn’t skimp on quality.