advice, Travel, VanLife

Long awaited Winnebago Boldt BL Review

BoldtCoverSorry for the delay in getting our review out, but who would have thought libraries, restaurants, coffee shops, Starbucks, and visitors’ centers would all close and consistent, strong WIFI would be so difficult to find. I also had no idea the limited cellular service that would be in Death Valley, Mojave and Joshua Tree National Parks.  So we are posting our blog as I have gotten a few Facebook requests as people are ready to purchase their Boldt, our video will come in a few days when we get more internet access to upload it.

Does BL stand for bad logic?  You know what they say about don’t buy the first model year of a car?  Oh well, when life gives you lemons… make lemonade!  For starters, this review is going to skip items that you can find from other reviewers that provide a general Boldt overview.  I recommend reviews from Ultramobility and the FitRV about the Boldt (we hyperlinked the videos for you to review if interested).  Keep in mind we are not receiving any consideration from Winnebago for this owner review, which should be self-evident once you see it.

First off, the Mercedes chassis.  Looks good, we like the styling.  We get lots of compliments on the Tenorite (cobalt) Blue stealthy color.  We enjoy the high-tech features such as the integration with Apple and Android for navigation and media. So far the auto dim LED headlights work awesome and practically turn nighttime into day.  I love the cruise control that adjusts based on traffic speed in front of you.  Although, the cruise control will become disabled if it gets dirty or covered with ice.  It’s fairly easy to park and change lanes with the vehicle’s sensors and back up camera.

Now for the cons: the Hey Mercedes ‘hands free’ navigation system must be either deaf or based on tech from 20 years ago.  It seems to never ‘hear’ or understand your voice commands.  My hunch is that the cabin may be too noisy when driving??? We still haven’t figured out how to input geo coordinates even after reading the manual and searching Google.  We also asked a Mercedes Dealer in Reno, NV about it and got no help or useful advice so far.  If you have an idea about how to add a destination based on longitude and latitude or make the voice integration work better, please add your suggestion about it in the comments section below.  For now, Rane is my dependable co-pilot, along with our dog Bode.

Its weird, because our 10-year-old SUV provided better voice integration and geo coordinate navigation. For an expensive and high-tech Mercedes this should be fixed!  There is a GEO coordinate button but it only gives you the GEO coordinates of your current location and doesn’t allow you to enter your desired location.  If you have figured this out, please let us know in the comments section below.

The mileage on our 4×4 diesel version is about 14 mpg after about 6,000 miles of fully loaded and variable driving.  By comparison, I hear that the 2-wheel version is averaging around 17 mpg.  The automatic sliding door works great until it doesn’t.  Our 2-month-old van door stopped working as I was trying to exit the van with my dog Bode (he can only easily exit that way) at 5 am when it was 19 degrees.  It opened about 6 inches then gave up.  Some people in the user’s groups have said that this may be a low battery issue, the Mercedes rep I spoke to said it’s a known issue with no work around and that we are only supposed to open the door when the engine is running.  So, there’s got to be some fix for this or customer education on proper uses of the automated sliding door.

One of my other pet peeves is that in order to disengage the instrument panel after turning off the engine you must open and close the driver door- otherwise everything on the chassis AC will stay on- draining the battery until the system reaches low battery mode and automatically shuts itself down.  Please let me know in the comments section if you know of a work around.  Also, because of emission controls you are not supposed to idle the diesel engine, which defeats the effectiveness of using the alternator to charge the Volta system.  Major disappointment!

The house part of the Boldt designed by Winnebago also has some good stuff and frankly some poorly thought through stuff.

Let’s look at the good: We’re cooking and eating nearly every meal in the RV, so in the beginning the dinette came in handy and was useful.  But now that we have lived in it for a while we have moved the table to the back with the beds where it is more roomy and rarely use the dinette anymore.  I’m going to revisit the fold out single bed that’s under the dinette in the bad section, but could be good if you have a younger, smaller, more agile dog that can jump to use as a bed, our dog is 10 and he has used the bed once but finds jumping into it and staying on it very difficult.

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The toilet/shower combo is ok.  Keep in mind I’m just under 6 feet tall and 160 pounds, it would be comedy genius (or horror show) to see the average (large) size American in the bathroom, but it’s working ok for us, it sure reminds you the importance of staying flexible and fit(and by fit I mean skinny).  The beds are okay and can be made from side by side full to a little bigger than Queen size. We’ve done both but prefer the two twin beds now living in it for a while.  You can use normal twin or extra-long twin sheets just fine and don’t need to purchase special RV sheets. I like the smart design of the pull-down racks above the sleeping quarters.  We like the cassette style blinds-especially now that we had the Winnebago factory service center remove them and put a foam gasket around the edges to prevent light bleeding through, added insulation and reduced rattling.

shower

The kitchenette is serviceable, it would have been nice to have a convection microwave like on the KL.  I would have preferred a kitchen faucet with a removable spray wand and more of a U shape for easier hand and dish washing.

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Battery life- we arrived at Eagle Lake, CA at about 2 pm with full Volta lithium battery capacity.  We dry camped 2 nights with warm sunny days (63 degrees) and cool nights (25 degrees) and cooked all our meals in the van.  We ran the Truma heating system on gas only mode at about 60 (and 68 or so when we woke up) degrees setting during the night.  We ran the tank heaters both nights.  Using all these amenities with 2 people and a dog we were left with about 10% percent Volta state of charge by the second morning.  No alternator was used and my guess is that the solar adds about 5 to 10 percent capacity per day, when sun is available.  Oh, I also tested the Truma water heater on the EL2 Hot setting to test out the outside shower after a bike ride.  That alone burned 5-10 percent of the battery and my shower was luke warm after waiting 10 minutes for it to heat up.  I should have waited 20 minutes but lost patience.

Tank capacities:

  • Fresh water 21
  • Grey sink 10
  • Grey Shower 26
  • Black: 24 gallons
  • Propane: 16 gallons

So far, we are on day four after dumping and filling up our fresh water tanks on Sunday.  The black tank is at 1/3 full, the sink tank is over 2/3 full and + shower tank is still empty.  We still have about half a tank of fresh water but we opportunity filled with the gravity method about 6 gallons at the Lava Beds National Monument campsite.  We do appreciate that the Net Cargo Capacity is nearly 2,000 lbs. allowing you to add a lot of cargo. The side and rear Rolef screens are a convenient and sturdy addition and we’ve already used them this winter/spring.

So, the limiting factor for us seems to be the kitchen sink tank and then fresh water.  Winnebago are you listening… We need a bigger fresh and sink tank, sacrifice some of the shower tank if needed or if possible, swap the sink and shower tanks.  Its nice that the KL just has one grey tank that the shower and sink share, making this a non-issue.

Which reminds me, the other trouble that we have had with the van started on about day 3 after picking up the van in Forest City, Iowa from Lichtsinn.  Our sink grey tank macerator pump stopped working, which means you can no longer use your sink?!  Lame!  So, for 2 weeks we washed our hands and dishes inside of our Instapot. Back then we were still asking Lichtsinn for service advice and their only idea was to stop at the nearest authorized service center. As of 3/18/20 all owners with this issue should be notified of this recall issue thanks to our product testing and persistence.

They didn’t mention the trouble shooting tips I later found deep within the owner’s manual.  Anyway, La Mesa RV Tucson was sort of on our way, so we made an appointment and spent half a day waiting around for them to decide that the pump was bad (which ended up being an incorrect diagnosis).  They didn’t have one in stock, so we soldiered on towards our house in Oregon to try and resolve it there.  Then we went to our local shop in Bend, All Seasons RV spent the whole day on the pump issue that turned out to be a bad fuse.  Well, long story long, turns out Winnebago poorly designed the fuse panel and the tank heaters and pump to the grey tank were on the same 20-amp fuse.  This apparently was a design flaw and the fuse was overloaded.  So apparently, it’s thanks to our product testing that the Boldt will now have a service campaign to correct that issue, but it was quite a headache for us and ended with a week’s worth of fixes at the factory service center.

We find the black tank size is fine, we have gone five days without needing to dump the tank.  We find ourselves needing to dump more often because of the sink grey tank being full and the black tank is still at ½ or 1/3.  One thing is Winnebago puts in a very simple sewer house that you must hold that doesn’t lock or have an elbow.  We found one on Amazon having a clear elbow really helps in knowing when you are done and not having to hold it in place and step in the sewer dump area.  Here is the link to them.
We were first time RVers, so we had no idea how best to dump the tanks and are now thankful for our improved setup that can be done with one person instead of two, but we find a team effort makes this process much easier and cleaner for all parties.

The Truma heat system is great, but the control knob not wasn’t installed correctly.  It is a tiny screw and if the installer drops it, Truma says many times they just take another screw and use it.  If it isn’t the flat head screw then it won’t work properly, which is what happened to us.  Truma sent us a new screw, which was easily swapped out by Greg and we are back in business!

Locking cabs perform well and are much appreciated while driving on rough bumpy roads.

Cons, cabinets veneer is paper thin and not durable, we already have several scratches and they weren’t done by us but when they were installed.  We expect more for the money.  Also, beware the sharp end of the cabinet above the driver side bed, get ready to have your shin banged and scratched several times until you get used to it.  Greg got a nice gash that prevented him from getting to enjoy the hot springs on one of our trips.

The fold out bed under dinette, for us, seems to be a waste of space.  We’re considering removing it and opting for more storage-if possible.  It could fit a child or a maybe a small pet but not suited for much else.  It also slips and slides and needs Velcro to keep the cushions in place. It has some storage but we hope we can get more when eliminating the bed.

We don’t like the fact that you have to turn on a pump to remove the water from the shower drain and it’s got to be cleaned after every shower. Only tiny fingers can do this- poor Rane is designated to this ‘fun’ disgusting job.  Another reason to opt for the KL shower which simply uses a gravity drain.  Also, the BL had no toilet paper holder, we had one (Dometic) installed at the factory service center.  Check the height of the shower wand during your walk through-the installed height for ours was installed below factory specifications and had to be relocated about an 1.5” higher (trust me, every little bit helps).

Bed storage access is poorly thought out.  If my 5-foot-tall 115-pound wife can accidentally rip off the aluminum leg that props up the bed, Winnebago needs to revisit their durability testing.  We’ll be going back to Junction City, OR where Winnebago has a factory service center to get this redesigned and rebuilt with a different, safer, more durable propping system. It would be nice if there was a small indent that the propping leg could sit in then there would be less stress on the joint.

bendroom

The Nova Kool Fridge- the cooling works and it has a decent amount of space for 2 people, except for the door fell off day three after we picked up the van.  We called the manufacturer and they sent us new door hinges.  It’s been 2 months and it seems that the hinges are going to be a constant source of failure and poor design.  The bolt that holds the door on only is designed with a 1/16 of an inch of thread. I’ve had to fix it already on our current trip and we are only on day four. Weak!

It would have been nice to have one Master control panel instead of 6 different gauges and systems.  Multiplex wiring and touchpad controls would eliminate the need for so many controllers and are commonly found on vans at much lower price points like the Coachmen Beyond and Pleasureway Ascent.

As you have probably read in your research, Winnebago isn’t known for their quality control or warranty protection.  Unfortunately, our rig was finished on Friday the 13th, so the team must have been anxious to leave the factory or to move on to other production.  Not only did we have the issues above, our counter wasn’t installed properly and there was a large gap against the wall and trim where a lot of food and debris could fall down and looked very cheaply done.  Also, there was no back splash so it allowed food to fall behind the counter.

We were happy that at the service center added a small back splash for us and it works well now-we really like it!  The Rolef screen at the sliding door was installed improperly and had a significant hole in the upper left corner where bugs could easily fly in.  The bathroom shower had the hot and cold flipped, resulting in 5 super cold showers for us, until we figured it out, not to mention the fact that the shower drain screen was installed backwards. The outlet next to the sink was poorly aligned and didn’t sit flush.  A couple of our drawers weren’t installed properly and had to be reinstalled.

In the end, the VP of Winnebago called us after we posted a review on their Facebook page and made it right and had all our issues fixed (at that time, we now have a few more), taking a full week at the factory service center in Junction City, Oregon. We highly recommend this location if you have issues with your Boldt take it there- the team is professional, knowledgeable and detailed oriented.   He also sent a product engineer from Winnebago, Chris Bienert, out to meet with us (you may recognize Chris from several FitRV YouTube videos) and for us to share the items that need to be fixed for the next models that get built.  We enjoy our BL now, but it should have been this way when we purchased it and hope future customers no longer have all of these production issues.  If we had to do it over again, we probably would have purchased the KL where many of these kinks have been worked out.  Live and learn.  😊

Here is a  link to our video review.  Please hit subscribe on Youtube, we need 45 more subscribers to have a channel!  This week, we will have our Top 10 to do’s for new RVers for their road trips!

Don’t get us wrong, we are enjoying our Boldt and vanlife and still recommend the Boldt just maybe the KL instead or maybe the BL by the end of the calendar year when they get all these issues resolved!

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6 thoughts on “Long awaited Winnebago Boldt BL Review”

  1. Wow! I am shocked, and saddened, to hear all that you had to endure. I am glad you have made the best of it. With the KL, I have only a few minor quibbles but none that soured the experience, even remotely. I wrote about mine on bikeandboldt.com. The NovaKool door is pure bad luck – and perhaps emblematic of your overall experience, sadly. I say that because the KL features my second NovaKool refrigerator. The first was in my 2018 Travato. Never a problem with either door (or the Boldt sliding door for that matter). Sounds like things are turning more positive for you. Keeping fingers crossed!

    1. Thanks Ralph! Things are going much better and we are loving the rig and life. Now that we have lived in it a couple of months we are figuring out what needs to be fixed, modified and added for comfort! Do you have a cargo box on the back or roof for extra storage?

  2. StateOfCharge: I’m a bit shocked you were down to 10% SOC by the second morning in fairly mild weather. No AC use, correct? Was that when you tried the Truma on Electric?

    Since then have you seen better battery life while boondocking?

    1. Yes, battery life is much better when in warmer temperatures. We also found to use propane instead of electric when its super cold. We haven’t used AC until today. When we are good and only turn on the inverter when we are using it and turning it off when we don’t need it we can easily go 4 days before hitting 20%.

    2. FYI – the manual says you can’t run the tank heaters off the Lithium system. You should only run them while under power or when plugged in as they draw off the chassis, not the Lithium. I missed this my second night out and saw a similar big drop. I fixed it the next night by running them both all day while moving to a new spot, then turning them off. Obviously, if you want to go somewhere cold and stay without a plug in for several days this is not going to work without some supplemental power source (generator?). My dealer also told me that just idling the motor won’t charge the chassis batteries very fast – much faster to just drive around for 15 minutes or so. Hope this helps… CM

  3. Multiplex wiring: I used to share your desire for a single multiplex control panel instead of all the separate knobs, switches, and gauges. However, after talking with many engineers and technicians over the years, I am now convinced that separate controls are the way to go. They can be repaired or upgraded independently. They are much easier to service and isolate problems in. You can often even fix or improve them yourself. Example: My Revel’s digital thermostat (from Rixens) was malfunctioning. They sent me a replacement and I easily swapped it out. Try that in a fancy multiplex system.

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