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Airstream Westphalia is an appealing new RV

OPEN ROAD -

June 18, 2004|by JEFF JOHNSTON/Motor Matters

Long-time campers may be familiar with the Westphalia name as the builders of pop-top VW-van-based camping conversions. Airstream has tapped that company to produce the Westphalia Sprinter class B motorhome based on the new Dodge Sprinter full-size van.

Since Westphalia is a German company, many of the Westphalia's features reflect European-style RV design as opposed to typical American-built practice. Naturally, Airstream has a lot of say in the rig's overall design, but the German influence shows through. Some U.S. customers may find the style takes some getting used to, but once acquainted with the coach, it's an easy rig to love.

This is not the rig to drive if you want to keep a low profile. Far more than in any other coach we can recall, we were the recipients of doubletakes, stares and other admiring glances from the passersby of all kinds while driving this rig. And those onlookers covered a wide range of ages as well, from young kids to seniors. The term "universal appeal" comes to mind.

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At the same time, owning a Class B motorhome isn't for everyone. For the same money - the Westphalia retails for approximately $85,000-plus, exact price to be determined - a buyer can get a much larger, full-featured Class C or Class A motor home with a lot more elbowroom.

However, the average Class B buyer has specific needs and functions in mind, and for those, the larger coaches don't work at all. For example, the Westphalia is highly economical to operate, albeit costly to buy.

During our drive, we covered a variety of freeways and backroad mountain grades and averaged 18.5 mpg through it all. That's better than many family vehicles can achieve. The Dodge Sprinter van is powered by a Mercedes-Benz 2.7-liter 5-cylinder diesel engine rated at 154 hp and 243 lbs.-ft. of torque. It's backed by a five-speed automatic transmission with overdrive, and a gearbox that provides plenty of gear ratio selections to keep the rig scooting along smartly.

Drivers who imagine the diesel may be sluggish would be pleasantly surprised. The rig climbed a 6 percent grade at 58 mph in third gear, a more than acceptable speed for an RV, and it averaged about 18.32 seconds on the 0-to-60-mph acceleration run. Throttle response is excellent, and the engine runs quietly and smoothly, especially for a diesel.

Maneuverability is another plus for a Class B. The Westphalia's 18-foot 6-inch overall length means it fits nicely in most "non-compact" parking spots, so it's easy to haul around town as needed.

Inside, the rig is snug but livable. The German designers squeeze the most out of the limited space.

The main bed is above in the fiberglass raised roof. A bed platform slides back from the forward section, providing an 80x57-inch bed with 24 inches of space to the roof. Down below, the rear bench seat can accommodate three adults when traveling. It then flips and folds flat to turn into a 76x51-inch bed with a dandy mattress. Folded back into a seat, a removable table sets up and makes for a dining area for five with the front bucket seats swiveled around.

The galley is aft and includes a refrigerator, two-burner stove, microwave in a cabinet too low for easy access, storage cabinets and more effective counter space than in many rigs twice its size. All components and assemblies are extremely well done, and look more like they originated with the automotive industry than an RV company.

Out back, the "wet bath" is a molded fiberglass unit with a wash-basin faucet that doubles as a hand-held shower, a freshwater flush toilet and a storage cabinet, plus there's a retractable clothesline overhead.

Most of the rig's systems are controlled by an LCD screen and keypad panel in the overhead area up front. The fridge temperature, air conditioning and furnace controls are there, along with water tank,battery level, time, temperatures inside and out, and other functions. There's also a timer to automatically switch the furnace or a/c on or off when desired.

A curbside rear-corner shirt closet is standard, but otherwise, the Westphalia is short on bulk storage space, not counting the galley. That's one Class B feature that users choose to live with as a tradeoff for the rig's other positive elements.

The Westphalia continues the tradition of excellence set by that company decades ago, and provides an economical-to-operate and fun-to-drive alternative to big, fuel-thirsty RVs.

For complete information about the Westphalia, contact Airstream, 419 W.Pike St., Jackson Center, Ohio 45334; 937-596-6111, www.airstream.com.

Copyright Motor Matters, 2004

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