BUYERS GUIDE - 4X4 CAMPERVANS
It’s five years since our mates at iMotorhome slipped behind the wheel of a Trakkadu All-Terrain. That was when Volkswagen launched the Transporter T6, the long-awaited upgrade to its venerable ‘Kombi’ line-up. Things move slowly in light-commercial vehicle circles and it’s taken half a decade for VW to deliver the face-lifted Transporter T6.1.
Meanwhile, Trakka has been refining the Trakkadu to keep it at the top of its game. It might be the smallest model in the Trakka lineup, but it’s also the best seller and traces its pedigree back to the company’s roots more than 40 years ago. No less stylish and innovative than any other Trakka, the end result sees Trakkadu remain impressively capable, sophisticated and the gold standard in campervans.
Here’s the iMotorhome report on the 2021 Trakka Trakkadu 450 AT
Subtle styling cues aside, the T6.1 update is primarily focused on technology. According to Volkswagen: “The line-up features a range of standard safety and convenience items that include front assist with city emergency brake, crosswind assist, side assist including blindspot monitoring and rear traffic alert, multi-collision brake and, in some models, the intuitive digital cockpit”.
The other notable development is a power increase for the top-spec’ version of the 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel: output climbs to 146kW/450Nm, from 132kW/400Nm in the T6. Standard in the Trakkadu 450 AT, this engine drives through VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system and a seemingly refined version of its seven-speed DSG auto gearbox.
The upgraded engine makes do with outdated Euro 5 emissions standards, meaning no AdBlue fuel additive is required. I can already hear the sighs of relief from potential owners, if not from the environment. Sighs of relief will also be heard from those camping next to new T6.1 VWs, because the sliding side-door now has a soft-close feature that pulls the door firmly shut after being gently closed. So, no more need for ‘whizz-bang’ door slamming!
Like all European auto-manufacturers these days, Volkswagen plays the options game at purchase time. That means to experience a new T6.1 at its best you need to dig deeper and tick all the boxes. These comprise the $3035 Digital Pack (discover media, comfort dash, digital cockpit and driver alert), the $3425 Driver Pack (tyre pressure monitoring, park assist with side protection, adaptive cruise control and active lane assist) and the $2365 Light Pack (LED headlights and light assist high-beam control).
While there’s no doubt the new Transporter T6.1 is a premium product, there are a number of omissions from a vehicle at this price point: namely climate control, keyless entry and keyless (push-button) start. On the plus side, the Digital Pack brings the digital dashboard and upgraded entertainment system, which together propel the T6.1 to the forefront of current automotive trends.
The dashboard is a high-resolution screen with three main display options: traditional speedo and tachometer, plus two less intuitive but more information-rich layouts. Additionally, there is a whole array of sub-menus and pages that deliver far more information than any traditional dashboard, you just need to spend time learning how it all works. Couple that with wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (although oddly, no wireless phone charging) and it really is at tech’s leading edge.
The only downside is that the VW’s dash-mounted USB ports are the tiny USB-C type, as used in the latest computers, rather than the bigger USB-A size most of us use. Fortunately, a simple adapter cable is available.
Trakkadu 450 AT
In the four-model Trakkadu line-up the 450 AT is the hero model. More than just superficially made-over, it’s transformed by a total suspension rework, using Volkswagen-approved Seikel components from Germany.
Trakka said: “With upgraded front and rear shock absorbers and springs, the suspension increases the campervan’s ground clearance by approximately 40mm, improving ride comfort and off-road ability, while the Seikel engine and gearbox guard protects essential vehicle components.
“This conversion provides the ability to tackle rough terrain, rutted and sandy tracks with ease.
“An optional Seikel body protection kit includes differential, fuel tank and muffler guards, as well as rock-sliders, for the ultimate safekeeping of vulnerable components”.
The AT Pack also includes upgraded 3200kg gross vehicle mass (GVM), providing a maximum payload capacity – people, fuel, water and freight – of 630kg and comes with a heavy duty bottle jack to match. It also includes a set of five 235/65R17 Kumho AT tyres, a rear differential lock, downhill assist, a 100 amp-hour lithium house battery upgrade and a 250-watt solar panel.
All Trakkadus have Trakka’s proprietary rear-hinged elevating roof, plus a sliding, seat-belt-equipped bed/seat. The cab seats swivel and the dining table, which now stores in a cavity in the sliding side door because of its wafer-thin laminate top, can be used inside and out.
Like all Trakkas, Trakkadus are LPG-free, using a Webasto diesel-fired cooktop. Unlike other Trakka models, however, Trakkadu uses an engine-heat-exchanger hot water system.
Trakka’s signature LED strip lighting, with flush-mounted touch on/off controls runs throughout, but the electric awning of the preceding model has been replaced by a manual wind-out unit, due to adjustment issues unique to Trakkadu.
In keeping with a demonstrator, the test Trakkadu 450 AT fairly bristled with extras. On the vehicle side, these included the aforementioned Digital, Driver and Light packs, plus special 17-inch Barstow aluminium wheels and window tinting.
Oh yes, the whole vehicle was finished in a new colour called Ascot Grey – one of the new type of non-metallic paint jobs that are becoming increasingly popular. Interestingly, the reality looks nothing like Volkswagen’s brochure sample!
On the fit-out side, the options comprised colour matching for the roof and wind deflector, a Webasto diesel heater and a 200 amp-hour lithium battery upgrade. From an initial drive-away price in NSW of $136,000 for a standard 450 AT campervan, the test vehicle tipped the financial scales at $153,485, which puts it into motorhome territory.
Of course, the Trakkadu 450 AT will go where most motorhomes fear to tread, while doubling as a daily drive for a solo, couple or family of four. It’s horses for courses, and this horse will cover more courses than most…
Trakka has perfected the Seikel suspension set-up and it shows in the 450 AT’s driving experience. Despite sitting 40mm taller than a standard Trakkadu and rolling on ‘oversize’ tyres, the ride is exceptional. Rock solid and planted on the bitumen, the feeling continues on dirt, providing a high degree of driver confidence and safety. There’s little body roll; the electromechanical steering is positive and precise, and as an added bonus, interior noise levels are subdued at worst and virtually absent at best.
The uprated engine provides a linear flow of power guaranteed to put a smile on any driver’s face. Coupled with a refined DSG gearbox that feels much more ‘together’ than I remember, this is a vehicle you can hustle along winding and uneven backroads with confidence – and just for fun. It’s also a consummate freeway and open road cruiser.
The only chink I found in its otherwise impressive armour was a seeming lack of engine response from idle. I couldn’t work out if it was turbo lag (unlikely in a bi-turbo engine) or uncertainty on the part of the gearbox/engine management computer. However, unlike earlier DSG gearboxes, this one never ‘dithered’ in response to throttle inputs at low speed.
Tech guru Allan Whiting, who also drove the 450 AT, reckoned it just needed ‘more decisive’ pressure on the accelerator to get things moving. I guess it’s something you’d quickly get used to…
It’s a shame Volkswagen seems to toy with buyers where ultimate safety is concerned, as every new T6.1 should have adaptive cruise control and active lane assist as standard – not optional. It’s the first options box I’d tick as they’re game changers. Not only do they slow you down and maintain an (adjustable) distance behind slow moving traffic, while giving the steering wheel a nudge when you get too close to lane markings, they providing a significant degree of semi-autonomous driving capability that reduces fatigue and improves safety.
For example, once underway just set the digital cruise control to your desired speed and if the road ahead is clear it will accelerate to that mark. If you come upon a slower vehicle, the T6.1 will slow and match its speed while maintaining a constant distance behind.
On multi-lane roads, moving into an unobstructed lane will see the original speed resumed, but, if the vehicle in front continues to slow, so will you, eventually to a full stop. If that vehicle moves off again within three seconds, you will too – automatically – while continuing to maintain distance and match any rise or fall in its speed. However, if it stops for longer than three seconds, a warning comes on requiring your foot on the brakes.
Once underway again, just press the cruise control ‘resume’ button on the T6.1’s beautiful, multifunction leather steering wheel and the system reengages; again maintaining speed and distance until the slow vehicle is gone or the road opens up. It’s a godsend in slow traffic and adds an invaluable layer of security for tired/bored/distracted drivers.
Off-road, the optional rear differential lock and hill descent control, added to the Seikel suspension, increased ground clearance and bigger wheels (plus the VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system and the DSG gearbox), make the Trakkadu 450 AT a formidable machine.
Four-wheel-drive-motoring guru Allan Whiting, owner of OutbackTravelAustralia.com.au, put the 450 AT through its paces on his favourite rocky climb and it didn’t disappoint. Despite limited wheel travel and ground clearance in ultimate terms, plus the lack of dedicated low-range gearing, the ‘van clawed its way up a steep, washed-out rocky incline with just a bit of wheel spin (kept in-check by traction control) and the occasional wheel in the air.
On the way down, Allan tested the hill descent control with little expectation, but at the bottom remarked, “This is the best hill descent control in the business”. No faint praise indeed…
The only real driving compromise is a lack of legroom for taller drivers like me. The driver’s seat back pushes against the end of the kitchen unit, which also limits seat-back recline. Combined, it’s less than ideal and in a perfect world Trakka would have a Tall Driver Option, although I know the positioning of certain components would make this difficult. You certainly do get used to the driving position and it’s only an issue for six-footers-plus, but if a solution was possible it could only broaden the Trakkadu’s appeal.
The 450 AT’s floorplan is classic Trakkadu. The pair of swivelling cab seats face the sliding bed-seat; the kitchen and other cabinetry run full length down the driver’s side, while a cushioned shelf across the rear makes up the other end of the bed (which measure 1.98m overall). That rear shelf now tilts and can be fixed at different angles to make access easier to the considerable boot space underneath.
Also, a real personal favourite: the two shelves in the wardrobe are now made of the same roller-shutter material Trakka uses for its cupboard doors and can be slid across and down, completely out of the way. That means you can have a full hanging wardrobe or a half-hanging half-shelved wardrobe, or an all-shelved wardrobe – brilliant!
Impressively, when the rear-hinged roof is raised there’s well over two-metres headroom in the front living section of the Trakkadu and it feels more open, spacious and easy to move around in than our Project Polly (a Ford Transit motorhome). An optional roof bed is available, which Trakka says is best for a child (or two).
The sliding passenger seat has seat belts built-in and can move perhaps a metre fore-and-aft, meaning you can have passengers sitting right behind the cab for easy conversation (or to stop kids fighting!), or have them wayyyyy down the back, with better-than-limo legroom. The seat-back also adjusts for comfort, while the headrests fold neatly down when it’s bed time.
That same flexibility is available at meal times, when the sliding seat combines with the slide-mounted table to allow anything from cosy dinners for four to effectively two eating areas: the swivelled seats up front (for eating from your lap) and the bed-seat with table down the back, perfect when travelling with kids who want their own space.
Although we’re not campervan people, Mrs iMotorhome and I can see the Trakkadu’s attraction. It can be a daily drive, haul bulky goods and prove invaluable when friends are moving house (if you’re not careful). The fridge is great when you’re grocery shopping. It makes an excellent day vehicle for trips to the beach or watching the kids/grandkids at sporting events and is an ideal base station for mountain bikers, hikers and a myriad of other lifestyle pursuers. It can also tow a 2500 kg trailer. In short, it’s a genuine Trakk-of-all-trades (sorry)…
Despite having the Trakkadu 450 AT for several days, the lack of a Porta-Potty and our lack of desire to be the first to knock-over a wee bucket in the night in a brand-new $150,000 vehicle kept us close to home.
We also knew that the bed, which measures just 1.2m (3’ 11”) across, to be too narrow for our pair of Duvalays, which together measure 1.32m (4’ 3”) wide. However, we were determined to try the bed, so on a warm and breezy late afternoon we raised the roof, opened all windows and gave it a go.
We popped a fitted double sheet over the excellent new folding foam topper that covers the whole bed and quickly slipped off to sleep for half an hour or so. That was with the pillows at the forward end to make the most of the breeze, and it was very comfortable.
In winter, with the Webasto room heater going, we’d sleep with heads by the rear door, when the tighter shoulder space and lack of opening windows wouldn’t feel so restrictive. Of course, for a solo traveller the bed is close to a king single and positively decadent!
What I Think
Anyone who dismisses the Trakkadu range as ‘just’ campervans seriously underestimates them. Featuring the same style, quality and innovation as all Trakka motorhomes, every Trakkadu is a mini-me in size only.
And anyone who dismisses the Trakkadu 450 AT as a ‘wanna-be’ off-road campervan is in for a serious shock. At home doing the grocery shopping, at the hardware store, commuting, on the highway or beach, in the Outback’s dust or High Country snow, on fire trails, fording creeks or climbing rocky and muddy tracks, it’s an awesome machine for all seasons – and reasons. If Allan Whiting reckons it’s just what he needs, it has to be good.
Volkswagens’ new Transporter T6.1 delivers class-leading technology and refinement. Now backed by a five year/unlimited kilometre warranty and a sensibly priced service plan, it makes luxurious European motoring practical and affordable. Combined with Trakka’s innovation design and construction, ‘Trakkadu 6.1’ continues to lead the field and the 450 AT is the icing on the cake…
The post-2018 Trakkadu All-Terrain model had an automated transmission that we reckon many buyers will want. We checked out two of them, on- and off-road.
Trakka then produced three levels of Trakkadu 4WD campervans and the All-Terrain model slotted into the middle of the range. It was built on the latest VW Transporter van, with a third-generation DSG seven-speed automated manual transmission as an alternative to the standard six-speed manual.
The Trakkadu All-Terrain was powered by a twin-turbo two-litre diesel four, having outputs of 132kW and 400Nm, so power and flexibility weren’t issues. It could also tow a two-tonnes trailer.
Above the basic Trakkadu specification the All-Terrain model scored the Seikel raised-height suspension and engine/transmission shields, as fitted to the ORP model, along with 215/60R17 all-terrain tyres, a GVM upgrade to 3200kg and a driver-controlled rear differential lock.
That spec’ level fell short of the ORP model’s off-road equipment list, but it was some 20-grand less expensive as well.
Plusses for many buyers were the self-shifting gearbox and cruise control; both of which were not available on the ORP model.
Over the years, successive Trakkadus have enjoyed VW Transporter upgrades. The 2018 model we tested came with Apple Car Play, for example.
What you got
Trakkas aren’t cheap, but in the 4WD touring business you generally get what you pay for. Where many camper conversions compromise the original ‘Kombi’ concept Trakka’s preserves almost entirely the multi-function-wagon attributes of the Transporter.
Lift the large tailgate (a power option hopefully soon, VW) and the only permanent reduction in load space is the starboard-side kitchen, wardrobe, cupboard and shower module. The third part of the folding bed is easily removed and the second-row seat can be slid fully forward, creating a large loading floor. The seat also has a large under-seat drawer.
The second-row seat is ADR-approved for two adults, making the Trakkadu a proper four-seater and there are twin child-seat restraints as well.
The front seats swivel, increasing the effective van space when in camping mode. A folding table clips onto a kitchen rail and can be moved fore and aft easily. With the rear seat positioned behind it the table can seat four.
The table can be used outside, clipping onto a sliding door rail and the leg is adjustable for height, to keep the table-top level.
Trakka’s low-profile lift-up roof panel is made from composite material and gas struts aid the lifting action. When open, the roof pulls coated polyester fabric sides into place and there are three meshed ventilation panels incorporated, with zip covers. Two opening windows and an optional electric fan further aid ventilation.
The kitchen runs along the van body, opposite the sliding door and incorporates an 80-litre front-opening fridge, diesel-fuelled cooktop and stainless-steel sink with fold-down tap and glass lid.
Privacy is ensured by sliding and clip-on
insulated curtains all around and an optional rear annexe allows the tailgate to be left open. The space under the raised tailgate makes a great outdoor, yet private, shower tent.
A retractable awning is fitted above the sliding door.
Trakkadu’s electrical system uses a 12-volt, 100 Ah AGM house battery (125Ah lithium optional) ,15-amp charger and LED lights inside and out. There’s also a 240-volt system with lead and exterior socket. An electronic control system monitors all circuits and supplies readouts for battery condition and tank levels.
The plumbing is supplied from a 55-litre tank and there’s a 38-litre grey water tank. A heat-exchanger hot water system and powered awning are standard in 2018 models.
The starting price in 2018 was around $125,000 and options fitted to the fully-loaded second test vehicle included leather front seat upholstery, colour-matched awning cloth, lithium battery upgrade, diesel room heater, air compressor and tyre inflation kit, aluminium ‘roo bar, aluminium wheels, Hella light bar and window tinting, for an ask of $143,805.
On and off road
We drove both Trakkadu All-Terrain models on freeways, around town, on gravel roads and on our off-road test course.
The seven-speed DSG transmission got our attention on-road, because it worked beautifully, with seamless, automated shifts. Hopefully, VW is over its well-publicised twin-clutch transmission issues with this latest development.
We also appreciated the cruise control function that’s not available with the ORP model’s revised-ratio manual transmission.
On-road performance was outstanding and the transmission kept the engine running in its optimum rev band. Economy was excellent, at 8.5L/100km.
The Trakka All-Terrain handled predictably and braking was powerful and stable. However, on rough surfaces the 60-profile tyres were noticeably stiffer in bump reaction than the 235/65-profile tyres fitted to the ORP version. The relatively narrow tyres get their load-carrying capacity mainly from air pressure and can be pumped up to over 60psi – not exactly ideal for rough surfaces.
We’d like to see fatter, taller, lower-pressure tyres on this vehicle, if gearing and handling wouldn’t be compromised.
Trakkadu All Terrain managed our soft-roader test circuit without grounding anything, but baulked at the more difficult rock climb the ORP model handled.
Gearing was fine for the vehicle’s off-road capability.
The test vehicles were finished with VW’s $2600 metallic paint option that look great at caravan and camping shows, but was just going to get scratched in the bush.
The All-Terrain model has been, understandably, Trakka’s best-selling Trakkadu version. It had an auto box, cruise control and sufficient ground clearance and under-body protection for modest off-road and firm-beach driving.
The camper conversion didn’t detract much from the Transporter’s versatility and the four-seat interior and modest exterior dimensions made it a campervan that could be used for the daily drive.