Published Thursday, July 12, 2001
At first glance Winnebago's latest addition to its family of motor homes could be taken for a van. What's a comfortable term for a 22-foot long Class C motor home that sleeps four but handles like a sports car?
Bus? Truck? RV? Car? Van?
Winnebago came up with its own name: Rialta. But Ken and Barbara Perry like to call it ``home'' for months at a time.
Designed as the perfect weekender for RV enthusiasts, the Rialta has minimal living space but still sports a kitchen with a sink, dorm-sized refrigerator, microwave and stove; a dinette that converts into a bed for two; even a bathroom that pulls out to support a shower, sink, toilet and medicine cabinet and slides back into the wall to maximize floor space.
The Perrys have pushed the vehicle to its limits, though, using it to traverse the United States in three months, logging 16,000 miles in the single trip.
``We think it's the Taj Mahal,'' says Perry, a retired Oakland Park police officer who loves his 2000 Rialta so much that he's taken a part-time job selling them at Palm RV Centers in Fort Lauderdale.
``It drives like a sports car and rides like a passenger car -- better than a van,'' Perry says. ``You can turn on a dime and park anywhere. We've never found a place we couldn't go, a road we couldn't handle or a place we couldn't park.''
Tony Sciolino of Wellington says his 2001 Rialta is just perfect for him and Reta McCoy. The couple like to take short getaways from their full-time occupation running Garden Villas, an assisted-living facility for Alzheimer's patients in West Palm Beach.
``It's enough space for two people without feeling like you're living in a sardine can," Sciolino says. ``You just have to have a mate you can get along with.''
Sciolino cites other advantages to the smaller RV.
``Whatever sacrifice you make for size, when you get to your campsite it's sure worth the effort. It's economical, handles like a car and it's comfy traveling in it. You can take it where you want to and park where you want to -- including in the driveway without upsetting the neighbors.''
The 2002 models, introduced at the Great American RV Rally in Perry, Ga., in April and also displayed at the Fort Lauderdale trade show in May, have the added power of a 201-horsepower V-6 Volkswagen engine.
That's a 44 percent horsepower increase over 2001 models, a response to complaints that the smaller RV needed better acceleration.
Even with the more powerful engine, the 7,500-pound Rialta gets 15-19 mpg -- about double the mileage of larger RVs.
Although he's happy with his 2000 HD model, Perry acknowledges that the 2002 has a little more ``oomph'' when traveling at higher speeds.
``People look for power, but it's power they probably won't need anyway. My vehicle does everything I need it to do -- I don't feel it's underpowered at all,'' says Perry, who often tows his bass boat or motorcycle.
He says that friends in WIT (the Winnebago-Itasca Travelers) Club have nicknamed the Rialta the ``No-Tow'' because owners don't need to drag around a secondary car to explore destinations the way some owners of larger motor home do.
Both Perry and Sciolino have made custom modifications to their vehicles and Perry says Winnebago has incorporated some of his ideas into the 2002 models. Perry suggested adding an outdoor light over the doorway, and now it's there. He thought a second light in the bathroom would aid in shaving, now there are two -- one on each side of the mirror.
Sciolino mounted an additional drawer for silverware into unused space under the microwave, moved the electric cord from its hard-to-access location at the bottom of the trunk to the adjacent generator access bin, and added an extended sewer hose for convenience when parking.
He's mounted a satellite dish and connected his television and video cassette player to 12 amp service and added a pair of suspended speakers that enhance the radio and can be moved outside.
SIMPLE AND SPACIOUS
On initial inspection, the Rialta appears very small with only minimal storage space, especially compared to larger RVs. But in actual use it's surprisingly efficient and spacious, and one of the goals of camping is to simplify, after all.
The vehicle offers a closet for hanging clothes and shoes, dual bins for folded (or rolled) clothes, and another set of bins for books, maps, camera, or whatever traveling items you need. The bathroom medicine cabinet is large enough for shower and grooming items. A cabinet, underseat bins and even the microwave help provide full kitchen storage for complete meals on the road. The outside trunk space is great for storing a hammock, sporting gear, snorkels, fins and Frisbee.
The 2002 floor plans include the 22QD, which features four passenger seats and can carry four more seated at the rear dinette. It also sleeps four. The 22FD model has a third passenger seat and double or twin beds in back. The 22HD combines the best of both the QD and FD by offering the third passenger seat and galley in the mid-section with convertible sleeper/dinette in the rear.
The 2002 models have the added power of a 201-horsepower V-6 Volkswagen engine.
List prices for the 2002 Rialta range from a base of $57,858 for all floor plans to $66,161 for a 22QD with all the options including leather seats, 9-inch color television with video cassette player, 2,800-watt generator and aluminum wheels.
While the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association reports an increase in RV ownership among baby boomers who want to combine adventure with affordability, Perry says that vacationers aren't the only ones using the Rialta.
The Air Force recently purchased a fleet to use as mobile recruiting stations and they're popular with real estate agents who need to bring services to clients in comfort.
Perry and his wife Barbara don't reserve their Rialta for vacations, either. Instead, it serves as their second car.
``We argue over who gets to use it each day,'' Perry says. ``My wife likes to take the grandkids to the beach in it. They've got a bed if they're tired, can rinse off in the outside shower, keep snacks cold or heat up lunch in the microwave when they're hungry.
``It's like having a little apartment with you, but instead of paying for a motel room, you're paying $1 an hour in the parking meter.''