By Tony Barthel
When I was a young lad a family friend owned a VW Westfalia camper, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. With a sink, stove, ice chest and all the accoutrements of camping, plus a vehicle that could shuttle us brats to school – this was a nifty conveyance. So I was particularly intrigued looking at the Winnebago Solis™ line as they’re sort of the emotional ancestor of that VW camper van.
EDITOR’S NOTE: These reviews are not based on an actual physical inspection or test drive of an RV (with exceptions). We gather and interpret information from RV manufacturers and other sources to try to provide you with a sneak-peek of each model that we discuss in this space 365 days a year.
Nowadays VW no longer sells vans in the U.S., the last being rebranded Chrysler minivans, but chief competitor Fiat does. However, in the U.S. they carry a Ram brand instead of Fiat Dublò. These Italian-designed vehicles are unusual for larger vans as they sport front wheel drive. That allows all the driving bits to be centralized up front, leaving the back more for whatever you want to put back there.
What makes this the emotional successor to the VW Westfalia is the large pop top which, like the Westfalia, is hinged at the rear and opens the interior up significantly when opened. Like the Westfalia, the pop-up roof reveals a large bed area. While this will easily accommodate two adults, I can’t imagine any kid who wouldn’t love this attic sleeping space as sort of a “fort.”
Of course the Winnebago is significantly larger than that old VW ever was and incorporates much more than that vehicle ever did. For example, there is actually a shower and a toilet in the Solis, the latter being of the cartridge variety.
Basically a cartridge toilet has a small waste holding tank that is removed from the outside of the vehicle. Its five gallons of contents can be easily emptied in any regular flush toilet, so it’s very convenient in that way. You can dump it at a filling station or in the pit toilet at a campground or just about anywhere you can find a toilet.
WHILE SOME MIGHT TURN UP THEIR NOSES at the idea of carrying five gallons of yesterday’s taco special around, it’s really well done so there’s little chance of accidentally spilling the contents.
The shower in the Solis is admittedly small, as you can only do so much in the size of a van, but they have provided a unique tent-like structure that goes across the back double doors when opened. Also at the back is a water port with hot and cold running water which could create an outdoor shower depending on your camping environment, if you so choose. There is also a second water port, also with hot and cold running water, by the sliding passenger-side door.
The hot water as well as cabin heat come courtesy of a Truma Combi space and water heater. This instant hot water device can also heat the cabin, and its German design means it’s surprisingly efficient and highly effective.
With just 21 gallons of water there have been a number of provisions to conserve. These include a water recirculating system called Eco-Hot™, which is a system that recirculates water back into the fresh tank while waiting for it to get hot, rather than just filling your gray tank. There’s also a very large LED that indicates water level which is pretty decorative and also cool.
Storage is surprisingly good for a van-based RV and Winnebago has added functionality with the L track in various places inside the coach. This allows you to easily install or remove a variety of hooks and fasteners and loops to secure cargo or carry things of all sorts. It has a standard mounting surface so there is a ton of aftermarket racks and mounts available.
There are also cubbies under the floors, in cabinets up above, under the seat and more. It’s surprising just how much storage this rig has.
In fact, in a video from The Fit RV there is a shot of them putting two bicycles behind the folding bed of the Solis, showing how much storage this vehicle has all over.
And Winnebago has utilized the space both above and below the floor for things campers would definitely value.
Under the floor are two AGM batteries which are charged by the sun in the form of a large, 220-watt flexible solar panel up on the pop top. There is also an Onan® generator under the floor that is surprisingly quiet for an Onan unit, almost as quiet as a Honda. This built-in generator is great for when the sun isn’t out but you still need power, and it can also run the air conditioner and 110vac outlets.
A few other positive mentions should include the fact that there’s a roof access port so if you do choose to put something on the roof of the vehicle that needs to be tied in to the body of the coach you’re not drilling holes in the structure. Also there are USB and 12-volt access ports all over – at every possible sleeping and sitting position.
Like that old Westfalia of my youth, there is a small refrigerator and it can be accessed from inside or outside the coach. And, like that van of days gone by, this one can legally accommodate passengers in the second-row seats complete with three-point seat belts. There is a dining table here that can be shared by the passengers in this seat and also the front seat occupants when the van is parked and those seats are swiveled around to face rearward.
A few negatives about this platform are just going to be inherent in the platform. The size of holding tanks is absolutely limited. Compromises, such as not having a bathroom sink but incorporating a nice kitchen sink are ones that some will like, others won’t.
That’s true of the cartridge toilet as well. You either don’t care or you really care and aren’t happy about it. The five-gallon capacity will limit your ability to be off-grid unless someone just happens to have a toilet out in the middle of nowhere.
One thing I would like to have seen was some sort of a ventilation fan like a MaxxAir fan but I’m not sure how much roof real estate is even available when you combine the solar panels and air conditioner.
I can see why vans are so popular nowadays. Not only has Bob Wells and his Cheap RV Living presence motivated a lot of people, but the ability to have a vehicle that fits into a normal parking space yet gives you the ability to go RVing is quite appealing.
I think Winnebago has done a really good job with this vehicle, especially in the area of space utilization.
In my imaginary world somehow there would be a way to incorporate the vehicle AC into a van and while friends have said I’m nuts, electric cars do incorporate AC systems into vehicles that don’t have a gasoline engine to run them. This would be a good thing to figure out … or just another ridiculous fantasy.
The MSRP on this RV starts at $101,717.
Please leave a comment with your thoughts, pro or con, if you own this model RV or a similar model.