Our First Vehicle
Our first adventure vehicle was a Winnebago ERA class B. When we decided to enter into the RV market (Ron got the bug first) we knew we did not want a large “motorhome”, but something that would give us the flexibility to explore out of the way places and bring our own bed. It needed to be large enough to be fully self-contained, but small enough to park downtown in small to medium sized towns. After some research we quickly landed on the Sprinter based class B as meeting our needs. At the time the primary converters of Sprinters available in the Pacific Northwest were Airstream, Pleasureway, Road Trek, and Winnebago. After looking at all of them at a RV show we decided to pursue the Winnebago. At that time they were selling for nearly 30% below the other vans with very similar features, and while they were a little less elegantly put together we liked the layout and the feel of the van.
The Good and The Bad of the ERA
The ERA was a great introduction for us and really met our needs. Like any small vehicle there are necessary compromises. During a little over three years of ownership we put over 40,000 miles on it. This included a trip to Alaska, and two cross country trips.
Things we really liked about the ERA:
1. Fuel Mileage. In general we averaged around 17 mpg despite Ron’s lead foot. The mileage ranged from 15 to 21 mpg depending on conditions. The Sprinter from a fuel economy point of view is nearly unbeatable.
2. Ease of Setup and Tear Down. Once we got our routine down we could fully set up for living within 10 minutes of arrival. Tear down was done in less than 15 minutes. This allowed us to easily use the ERA on a daily basis, even if we were returning to the same spot that night.
Caught in an unexpected snow storm St. Louis February 2013
3. Comfortable to Drive. Initially it was a little twitchy in the wind and was definitely affected by passing 18 wheelers. But after we upgraded the shocks and installed a beefed up rear sway bar, it drove very comfortably.
4. The size was acceptable. We had no trouble maneuvering in towns or in relatively close quarters with the ERA based on the 24 ft. Sprinter. Ton did think that the 21ft. Sprinters conversions we saw were even cooler and more practical. In parking lots we only required two spaces back to back to fit the van in. We were able to parallel park legally in cities and mid-sized towns within a few blocks of the down town core.
Things we wanted to change:
1. Low ground clearance. On the second day we ever used it I caught the running boards on a downed tree branch in Redwood National Park. The running boards on the passenger side were a constant concern not only on rough roads, but when parallel parking in urban areas. The utility area on the drivers side, while less exposed was also at the very bottom of the truck and vulnerable to catching on something.
2. There was effectively no sitting area in the van when the bed was made. You did have the option of swiveling the front seats and using them as “living area”, but that never seemed to work for us.
3. The couch/bed was uncomfortable. We tried several things to improve the comfort of the bed including an air mattress and 3″ memory foam top. They never did the job for us very effectively and by the end we were just sleeping on the couch without anything on top.
4. The ERA did not have an inverter. The other three Sprinter Class B’s we looked at did. At the time of the purchase that seemed ok, but as time went on it became more of a problem for us as we ventured afield. When not hooked up to shore power we had to run the generator to use the microwave or electric kettle. If we had kept the ERA longer we would have added an inverter.
5. The generator on a small vehicle is a noisy beast. Running the generator for all but the shortest of uses was not an option as it was located right below the bed causing a lot of noise and vibration.