Grand Design Revisited
Two years on how has the Trakkaway 700 evolved?
By Richard Robertson
The best motorhome designs evolve and the more perceptive manufacturers don’t try to reinvent the wheel every model year, they hone and refine proven designs to bring out their very best.
Two years ago I spent a week by myself in the production prototype of Trakka’s 2-berth Trakkaway 700 – read about it here – the smallest of Trakka’s coachbuilt motorhomes. Since then it has become the top-selling model of the Trakkaway range thanks to an appealing blend of living space, features and compact dimensions. Two years on and I was invited to revisit and spend more time in this interesting motorhome. So along with Mrs iMotorhome we hit the road for a few days to see how the design works for two people and what Trakka has done to improve an already impressive motorhome.
Models in the Trakkaway range are easily identified by number. For instance, the Trakkaway 700 is 7 m long while the Trakkaway 860 is – you guessed it – 8.6 m. Seven metres is a great length for a touring vehicle; big enough to provide some decent living room but small enough for easy parking and manoeuvring. All Trakkaways, with the exception of the recently introduced 800, ride on a Fiat Ducato that features AL-KO’s strong, low and light chassis. Developed specifically for motorhomes and tailored to the individual needs of each model, the AL-KO chassis is a quantum leap over the ladder chassis that comes with a standard Fiat Ducato, or any other brand of, cab-chassis.
The Trakkaway 700’s party piece is a slide-out rear bed. This not only keeps the overall length down and provides extra living space, it’s not a no-go item – meaning if the slide-out mechanism suffered a catastrophic failure whilst extended the vehicle is still completely drivable (unlike a side slide-out). I should also point out the Trakkaway 700 is designated a “Remote” model, which in Trakka speak means it's made for off-grid travel (think free camping). To this end it comes standard with solar panels, a pair of maintenance-free AGM deep-cycle house batteries and is LPG free – meaning cooking, hot water and heating are all diesel fired from the Fiat’s fuel tank. For those nights when you do check into a caravan park – or hook up a generator – electricity takes over the water heating and will allow you to run the ducted Truma reverse-cycle airconditioning system.
In the best traditions of evolution the overall design and layout are unchanged, but externally, larger windows have been fitted to the lounge and bedroom while at the rear the bed slide-out has been lowered 150 mm and the lift-up boot door has been replaced by a sideways opening unit. The AL-KO chassis also now features automatic level control (ALC) as standard, which keeps the ride height constant despite load, when travelling, and inhibits cornering body roll.
Inside there’s a new lighting system with touch dimmable LEDs and, it seems, quite a few more of them. New stick-on solar panels (2 x 120 W) conform to the roof’s curved profile and reduce weight and wind resistance, while looking a whole lot better: The loss of 35 watts (total) output over the previous 2 x 135 W system deemed negligible in view of the gains. The lower bed makes access easier – not that I remember it being difficult to begin with – and a new Eberspacher diesel/240-volt Hydronic hot water and heater unit complements the Webasto diesel cooktop.
The test vehicle only sported two options: a 12 V fan in the bedroom – and raised front suspension. AL-KO now offers a makeover that replaces the MacPherson struts and springs, raising the nose by about 40 mm so the vehicle now sits level (Fiat Ducatos sit nose-down) and, most importantly, dramatically improving ride quality whilst eliminating the harsh front-end ride and bottoming out Ducatos are famous for. The revised front end provides about 190 mm of ground clearance – heading for 4WD territory – and imbues the vehicle with an almost-Mercedes Sprinter ride quality. Importantly, the new front suspension is covered by Fiat’s 5-year/200,000 km factory warranty, while tare (empty) weight has decreased by 100 kg.
Suspension upgrades aside the Fiat Ducato base vehicle remains unchanged, which means it still features a 3.0-litre turbo diesel engine producing 132 kW and 400 Nm that drives the front wheels through a 6-speed automated manual transmission (AMT). The Fiat comes standard with the 120-litre long-range fuel tank, four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with ABS and traction control and 225/75 R16 Michelin Agile Camping tyres that resist flat-spotting when parked for prolonged periods. The vehicle has a tare weight of 3590 kg and a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of 4490 kg, leaving approximately 900 kg carrying capacity for passengers, fuel, water and load. It also has a reduced towing capacity of 1500 kg due t the AL-KO chassis (2500 kg is Fiat’s standard).
Inside, the Fiat’s refreshing Italian design shines through. From the sporty, thick leather-wrapped steering wheel to the slightly odd pedal placement it’s pure Italian. Standard features include dual front airbags, air conditioning, cruise control, remote central locking, power steering, electric windows, electric mirrors, adjustable headlights, trip computer, Blue & Me Bluetooth system with voice activated commands and an integrated-but-removable TomTom GPS. It's also the most visually pleasing commercial vehicle cockpit on the market today. If only the Italians realised the rest of the world likes to drink coffee while travelling and included factory cupholders – Trakka adds its own – plus reach adjustment to the steering wheel because not all arms are the same length, it would be perfect!
Despite being so very familiar – a Fiat Ducato is a Fiat Ducato is a Fiat Ducato – this one drove like no other. Gone was the familiar front-end harshness over road irregularities big and small, while in our five days away the front suspension steadfastly refused to bottom out over big bumps at speed. In its place was a compliant and comfortable ride experience I quickly forgot to notice, simply because it felt ‘normal’.
Quiet and comfortable on the highway – the engine turns about 2000 RPM at freeway speeds – the Fiat Ducato is a consummate long distance tourer. This Ducato, however, seemed to have a poorly calibrated cruise control that lagged on hills and overran noticeably at the top. It also had an overly optimistic trip computer that showed average fuel consumption of 12.5 and 11.7 L/100 km over two refills compared to the real figures of 13.94 and 13.28 L/100 km, respectively. From experience all trip computers err on the side of optimism, but in this instance I think it mightn’t be entirely to blame.
As mentioned earlier, this vehicle was fitted with a new Eberspacher Hyrdronic unit for hot water and vehicle heating. Being the middle of August and given we spent much of our time at higher altitudes in places like Oberon, the Eberspacher did a fair bit of work. Mrs iMotorhome also cooked at least two meals a day on the Webasto diesel cooker and I have a feeling the combined usage of these diesel-fuelled devices probably accounts for a large part of the trip computer’s discrepancies.
The Trakkaway 700’s body is made of high-tech vacuum moulded composite panels that eschew an internal frame in favour of the strength, rigidity and weight saving of, what is essentially, monocoque construction (as used in cars and aircraft). Underneath, the AL-KO chassis is already hot-dipped galvanised for long-term corrosion protection. Windows are Seitz double glazed acrylic items, with inbuilt privacy and insect screens, which I was surprised to see as Trakka has shifted to a new style window in its van conversion range that feature sturdier and easier to use blinds/insect screens.
The Trakkaway 700 has a distinctive, streamed “Aero2” nose with a large Skyview hatch, which can be replaced with an “Aero4” nose that includes an over-cab bed and side windows should you wish to sleep four. This would be an excellent solution if you were looking to travel with kids as the forward facing dinette seat has belts for two, but dinner time around the dinette for four adults would be rather squeezy.
Because the AL-KO chassis does away with the pair of heavy steel beams that run down the spine of a conventional truck chassis, Trakka has been able to build the 700’s body ‘deeper,’ providing a low entry-step height, excellent internal head room and a low overall roof line. Perhaps the only downside is relatively limited external storage, because any lockers impinge on internal living space. This is in contrast to a conventional motorhome where they occupy the space below the floor line, in the cavity between the lower body panels and chassis. In the Trakkaway 700’s case there is a reasonably sized rear boot that also has access via a smallish hatch on the driver’s side, but that’s it. The hatch in the passenger side rear corner houses the hot water/heating system.
Featuring a front lounge, mid kitchen/bathroom and a rear bedroom the floorplan is thoroughly conventional. Decor, on the other hand, is textbook Trakka: Euro contemporary with a total absence of bling.
Decades of design experience is evidenced by the subtle delineation of living, cooking and sleeping zones, accentuated by differing floor heights: each feels self-contained yet part of an organic whole. Similarly the bathroom, a substantial unit opposite the kitchen, blends away as you move through the vehicle. Light wood hues contrast with silver and grey trim, while at night concealed purple/blue strip lighting enhances mood and confers intimacy. Roller shutters on overhead cupboards and wardrobes, curved drawer fronts and bench tops, carefully profiled cupboard ends and trim panels all combine to cocoon and impress.
It’s the clever use of curves and an integrated interior design approach that sees the Trakkaway 700 – and all Trakkaways – stand in stark contrast to many other motorhomes, whose interiors feel like they were cobbled together from a hardware store’s Father's Day bargain catalogue.
There’s a Tardis-like quality to the Trakkaway 700’s interior that means you occasionally need to remind yourself it is ‘only’ a 7-metre long motorhome and there are some compromises. For example, to access the bedroom you need to extend the slide-out. This is no chore as it’s done by remote control, but you can’t just walk in to grab something. Ditto the Switch Mode Bathroom, or SMB. The loo tucks away beneath the vanity until needed, providing a generous shower cubicle, but it does mean when Nature calls you need to extend it – again by remote control and again no chore, but something that introduces an extra step into the process. The dinette also is a compromise, because the main table is removable and stored snugly in the bedroom. This means if you need it at lunch time you need to first extend the bed and then walk right through the vehicle with its separate pole and top before assembling and adjusting them once in place (fortunately there’s also a handy flip-up mini table ideal for sandwiches and coffee or pre-dinner drinks and nibbles). These little things, designed to maximise living space whilst minimising vehicle size, need to be embraced to enjoy the Trakkaway 700 to its maximum.
One final thought on this subject, Mrs iMotorhome pointed out that for her – and probably many people – the bedroom also needs to be a secondary living area: a place of retreat when you’ve been together 24/7, where you can have some ‘me time’ reading and/or watching television. In this vehicle the dimensions of the slide-out bedroom’s bed-head ‘box’ means it’s not possible to sit up in bed to do these things, even though a concertina privacy door makes it all the more desirable. Also, having a full-size window at the bed head would negate it even if there was room. Upon returning the vehicle Trakka told us the bed-head box is being made 120 mm taller to help address this, and we recommended reducing the size of or removing the window completely, given the size of the bedroom’s side windows and roof hatch, plus the fan option, to circulate air on a warm summer night. Given that I’m not a sit-up-in-bed type of person her observations eluded me when I spent my week in the production prototype two years ago. Lesson learned!
We quickly settled into the Trakkaway 700 for our five days/four nights away. Being winter we appreciated the convenience and comfort of the new Eberspacher Hydronic heating and hot water system, which uses a heavily insulated 20 L storage tank to provide long-lasting hot water as well as vehicle interior heating. It's digital control unit meant we could set a precise interior temperature and we left it running overnight, although we found the fan quite noisy. I've since discovered the unit has a multispeed fan with a quiet night mode and Trakka was checking to see why it was misbehaving.
The concept of a completely LPG-free motorhome is appealing, not only because it does away with the tedious task of checking gas bottle levels and having to refill them, but also because it avoids an annual gas inspection at registration time. The Webasto diesel cooker is the centrepiece of this system, replacing the traditional three or four gas burner cooktop, but it does take a while to get used to and is painfully slow boiling a kettle due to its prolonged heat-up/cool-down cycle. Those who regularly want to cook three or four things at once might want to revert to a gas cooking system – even with its attendant complexities and drawbacks – as the Webasto system is best suited to one pot wonders and reheating. Alternatively, carry a portable gas stove that uses a gas canister (they’re about $20 a Big W) for quick/extra cooking and a quick cuppa (and carry a thermos).
Mrs iM loved the spaciousness of the kitchen; it’s bench top and clever perimeter shelf plus deep, soft-closing drawers. All electrical controls are grouped in a central overhead cupboard, between the microwave and carefully compartmentalised crockery cupboard. I again found the dinette made a good office, with the multi-adjustable Zwaardvis table providing a wide range of options. The bathroom’s wrap-around shower curtain kept towels and loo paper dry, with press studs holding it securely in place preventing it becoming an enveloping wet white cloud. Despite its rounded corners the bed proved long and wide enough to accept our pair of Duvalay memory foam sleeping bags, while small bedside shelves provided enough room for mobile phones, books, etc.
Other touches like the inclusion of dual 12 V USB charging outlets; two TVs, the front one of which can be swivelled and watched from outside through the window; an electric awning with dimmable LED exterior lighting; REMIS privacy blinds for the cab; a reversing camera with two lenses, one for straight down when parking and the other as a rear view camera; drinking water filtration system; heater outlets in the bedroom, bathroom and lounge; outdoor table; inbuilt 240 V power lead; an external shower and more – all as standard equipment – make for very easy living.
One For The Road…
The Trakkaway 700 is certainly one for the road. And whether that road is long or short, straight or twisty, smooth or rough it will get you there – and back – in comfort and style.
Packing so much equipment into a small motorhome is always going to cause compromises, but like any good relationship, once you understand what you’re dealing with it’s simple to adjust and get the most from it.
Trakka’s devotion/obsession with innovation is what keeps it ahead of the pack. Also, it’s willingness to take feedback onboard and implement it quickly to help improve already great designs is impressive. The Trakkaway 700 is a grand design, one made better with time, insight and effort, and one of the best – if not the best – in class. It was well worth revisiting!
- Standard equipment
- Off-grid ability
- New heater/hot water system
- Limited external storage
- Diesel cooker won’t suit everyone
Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications, photos and contact details.
Trakka Trakkaway 700 2014 (2672 KB)