Just Cruising

Story by Patrick Hayes

Copyright © On The Road Magazine 2002. Any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.

The Winnebago Leisure Seeker is an easy-to-drive motorhome in which a family or a couple can explore Australia in comfort and style

This adventure started when Winnebago’s Australian sales manager, Graeme Wakeling, rang On The Road to ask if we would like to road test its Leisure Seeker motorhome. Is the Pope a Catholic? We said “Yes” immediately because the chance for journalists to get out on the road in a Winnebago is a rare event.

Virtually all of the motorhomes that take two to three months to roll down the production line at Winnebago’s giant Emu Plains factory are destined for a particular dealer and, through the dealer, to a particular customer whose wish-list of custom gear is fitted during production. The customer is unlikely to appreciate being presented with his dream motorhome to find it has been lived in by somebody else and that it has more than delivery kilometres on the clock.

So Winnebago ran this Leisure Seeker on a Mazda chassis down the production line and then registered and insured it so that people like me could take it into the bush and report back to you.

That shows the confidence Winnebago chief Bruce Binns has in his motorhomes – this one carries a basic price tag of $92,515 before options, so getting one on the road for demonstrations was an expensive operation.

It didn’t take me long to get on the road and head up the Hume Highway to Sydney; just in case Graeme changed his mind or somebody at On The Road found some pressing task for me to do. Somehow my fishing gear found its way on board too. Well, there’s nothing like being thorough.

Editor Elizabeth Mueller told me she caught her first trout at a place called Burrendong Dam, north of Orange in New South Wales. That seemed just the spot to try out a motorhome and, better still, enabled me to start off along the Great Western Highway across the Blue Mountains. If the Leisure Seeker was able to handle that sort of twisty, mountain country it would certainly be no problem anywhere else in Australia.

Graeme Wakeling gave me a quick rundown on the Leisure Seeker and I set off.

The Leisure Seeker is one of Winnebago’s smaller motorhomes but it is built the same way as all the others. It has a separate steel chassis that sits on the vehicle (in this case a Mazda TM series) chassis.

On top of that chassis goes an alloy frame for the walls, roof and some internal structure (like seat belt attachments). The walls, made of a plywood, foam and fibreglass sandwich, go on the outside and the plywood furniture goes inside. The furniture framework is screwed and glued, adding even more strength to the body structure.

The Mazda TM that the Leisure Seeker is built on is a short-wheelbase, forward-control light truck that is ideal for the purpose. Anyone with a car driver’s licence can drive it and, after they become familiar with the controls, will find it as easy as a car to handle. It’s no speedster and it handles tight corners like you’d expect a motorhome on a truck chassis to, but it kept up with the traffic as I crossed the Blue Mountains.

To make things easier for the driver the Mazda has power-assisted steering and its high seat gives a great view of traffic ahead and driver and passenger great views above the fences and scrub lining the road.

There is room for three to sit in the cab or the centre seat can be folded down to aid communication with anybody travelling in the rear.
To make life even more comfortable up front there is a cab air conditioner.

The five-speed gearbox feels a bit like stirring a pudding but with a 4.5-litre diesel engine providing lots of torque there’s no need to change gear often anyway. I found that when I was sailing along in fifth gear at 80 or 90 kilometres an hour up and down dale in the hilly country in the central-east of New South Wales there was hardly any need to change down.

On one occasion when I selected third gear instead of first, it still pulled away smoothly, if slowly, when the traffic lights turned green.
The Leisure Seeker can be built on a variety of chassis and automatic versions are available.

The Mazda version does have one truck feature that car drivers will find a boon, an exhaust brake. Just pull a stalk on the steering column and the engine takes on the braking task so the normal brakes do not get over-used and overheated on long descents.

At a length of 5.5 metres (18 feet) the Leisure Seeker can be parked easily and legally in most country towns that have diagonal parking.

The internal layout is one of the best I’ve seen, particularly for a small vehicle. In some motorhomes the driver and number one passenger sits up the front and anybody else on board has to sit right at the back of the vehicle. Any discussion about items of interest along the way has to be carried out at a bellow that soon wears out the voice and the temper of both parties.

That doesn’t happen with this Leisure Seeker. It is permitted to carry five people and, if two sit up front, the three remaining sit, in seat belts, around the motorhome’s table and just behind the cab.

It is easy for passengers to watch the countryside through the Leisure Seeker’s large side windows and pass food, drinks and pullovers back and forth through the “scramble space” linking the cab to the motorhome.

Better still, if there are children along, they can sit on either side of the table and play board games or cards if the travelling is getting a bit boring. We carry a magnetic chessboard when we go touring and in the Leisure Seeker the board could be passed to and fro to involve the cab passengers in games with those in the rear.
With passengers up the front, the kitchen moves to the rear and that’s neatly done, too.

Across the back of the Leisure Seeker there are a SMEV stove, complete with griller and oven, the kitchen sink, a range hood with light and fan, a work bench with light above, a window so we can seen what’s happening while doing the washing up, four cupboards and six drawers. The window also pops out to become an emergency exit.
Just across the doorway is the large Electrolux refrigerator that works off 240 volts, 12 volts or gas.

There’s a bench on top of the fridge that would be an ideal spot for a television set, and a cupboard above that would suit a built-in microwave. There’s plenty of gas to power the stove and the hot water service. Two nine-litre bottles sit inside an exterior side locker.

And tucked away in the corner beside the cooker so you hardly know its there is the surprisingly roomy shower and toilet (a Thetford electric-flushing cassette type). In future models, a stylish fold-down wash basin will go in here too.

There’s plenty of water. The freshwater tank holds and the sink and shower drain into an 81-litre “grey water” tank. At a caravan park, of course, the Leisure seeker would be connected directly to the camp water supply and its sullage disposal.

There is also plenty of power. Two big, deep-cycle batteries sit on a slide-out tray inside another side locker. If you wanted to be able to use the air conditioner while camped on a non-powered site in the bush, a 240-volt generator could fit easily into the outside storage locker.

Otherwise the batteries would provide lighting, television (if fitted) and minor items like the water pump and electric showers for quite a few days in the bush and for longer still if a solar panel is fitted on the roof.

The “black” (toilet) and “grey” (sink and shower) tanks enable the Leisure Seeker to camp anywhere and not leave a trace.

Apart from the cupboards and drawers around the kitchen area, there are piles of space for storing clothes and holiday gear. There are six roomy roof lockers, a wardrobe with hanging space, a cupboard above the refrigerator (if you don’t need a microwave) and cavernous areas underneath the seats on either side of the table.
Outside, there’s a roomy side locker for all those grubby items you don’t want inside.

One thing you don’t want inside is the sand and dirt that clings to people strolling back from the beach. There’s an exterior hot-and-cold shower fitted into the exterior wall of the van to take care of that.

And the fishing? Just one catfish. But it was still a really enjoyable getaway.

Contact Winnebago on (02) 4735 8116, or visit www.winnebago.com.au