THE LONG TRAKKAWAY
The latest Trakkaway rides on VW’s Crafter, providing economical travel with all the mod-cons...
by Allan Whiting
Trakka’s Trakkaway motorhome series has been based on the Fiat Ducato front-wheel drive chassis, but now there’s a dual-tyred rear-wheel drive model, built on the VW Crafter 50 chassis. The Trakkaway 790 can accommodate four adults with ADR-approved seatbelts and is plated at five-tonnes gross vehicle mass (GVM), which requires the driver to have a light truck licence. Smaller Trakkaway models have 4495 kg GVM and can be driven on a car licence.
Inside its 7.8-metre overall length the Trakkaway packs a dinette that can seat 7 for a quiet little drink and nibblies while comfortably accommodating 4 around the set table for dinner; a large L-shaped galley with slide-out pantry, servery-shelf and drop-side bench extension; water filtration; a three-burner stove and oven; range hood; microwave, 190-litre three-way fridge/freezer; separate shower and toilet cubicles; an island double bed or two singles; and a ‘Luton’ peak over the cabin with an optional double bed and side windows. The aft-bed raises electrically, if required, to increase volume in the huge rear ‘boot’.
The Trakkaway has brushed-aluminium roller-door lidded storage compartments in every conceivable space and even the full-height wardrobes in the bedroom are fitted with these space-saving roller doors.
There’s a concertina privacy curtain across the bedroom doorway; variable-height screens, privacy blinds and curtains on the opening body windows and the Crafter cabin glasses are fitted with Remi concertina blinds that are custom-designed for the VW.
The interior colour scheme of the test vehicle was optional cream leather and soft silver – very tasteful. A reversing camera was fitted; the two skylights were powered and the nine windows were double glazed. There was also an optional outdoor BBQ, a high-def DVD/TV, LED and halogen lights (most with dimmers), 240V ducted air conditioning (standard) and diesel heating (optional).
Trakka receives the VW Crafter as a rolling motorhome cab-chassis and fits the Trakkaway bodywork at its Mt Kuring-gai factory, on Sydney’s northern outskirts. The finished vehicle packs in a 180-amp alternator; a 100 AH starting battery; two 100 AH house batteries; a 25-amp automatic charging system (optional 135-watt solar panel); electronic monitoring of battery and all fluid levels; 165-litres of fresh and grey water, a 17.5-litre toilet cassette, 14-litre hot water and 100-litre diesel tanks; 2 x 4kg LPG bottles (a third bottle comes with the BBQ option) and a TV antenna.
Living with the 790
The Crafter cabin offers an excellent driving station, with Euro ergonomics that include single armrests, steering wheel control buttons and a trip computer. A stubby lever that pokes out of the dashboard controls a transmission that can be driven two-pedal style, like an automatic, or can be manually selected.
The other Trakkaway models are powered by Fiat 3.0-litre turbo-diesels with 132 kW of power and 400 Nm of torque, but the 790 model has a smaller VW 2.5-litre turbo-diesel with only 100 kW and 300 Nm.
The VW Crafter felt somewhat underpowered hauling the five-tonne GVM weight around and its relative lack of grunt showed in the fact that the motorhome Crafter chassis needed to be fitted with a relatively short final-drive ratio. Engine speed at 100 km/h was a heady 3100 rpm and at this speed the combination of mechanical and tyre noise was quite intrusive. At 80-90 km/h engine speed was nearer 2000 rpm and noise levels were much lower. We were pleasantly surprised to see fuel consumption around the 16L/100 km mark when cruising at 100 km/h and it dropped to a very respectable 14.5-15.5 L/100km when running 10 km/h slower.
VW loves its automated manual transmissions, but we don't share their affection for them. Shift quality in this admittedly 'green' vehicle wasn't very good in traffic conditions, with noticeable delays during gear changes. On the open road the shift quality was much better, but still nowhere as smooth as that of a torque converter, fully-automatic transmission.
Interestingly, Mercedes-Benz, which makes the Crafter for VW as part of its Sprinter van and light truck line-up (but incorporating VW engines and transmissions in Crafter versions) uses a torque converter auto box. 'Benz moved back to real autos after some years of playing around with automated manuals. The latest full-autos have downshift programs incorporated into the engine-transmission computers, providing engine braking when decelerating, without driver intervention, but with the Crafter's automated manual shift the driver has to downshift manually.
Apart from these gripes we found the Trakkaway very pleasant to drive, with excellent ergonomics and controls, powerful braking and excellent ride and handling characteristics, given its considerable body volume and weight.
We drove it on different road surfaces, from freeway concrete to potholed dirt and it didn't put a foot wrong. We also encountered strong side-winds, up to 30 knots at times, and were impressed with its stability and resistance to yawing in gusty conditions.
Wipers and headlights coped with Australian conditions; the mirrors were excellent and the reversing camera gave a perfect view to the big machine's rear.
Trakka's interior layouts are justifiable award winners and the Trakkaway is no exception. There were no rattles or squeaks from the fittings and furniture – even the roller-shutter cupboard doors – when on the run and everything functioned well when we camped.
Obviously it would be a squeeze with four aboard, but for two of us the Trakkaway felt like a bed-sit apartment.
The luxury of separate shower and toilet/vanity rooms was a nice touch and very practical (The distinguished actress, Googie Withers, was once asked the secret of her long and happy marriage to equally distinguished actor, John McCallum. She replied, with a laugh: “Separate bathrooms!”).
Setting up the motor home for an overnight stay was simple: awning and access step electrically powered out; gas bottle valve opened and blinds closed and we were ready for the night.
I’m not as keen about the VW-Trakkaway 790 as I am about the more powerful Fiat Ducato-based, front-wheel-drive models. If it were my money on the table I’d have the three-axle Trakkaway 860, but chassis aside, it’s a Trakka and you simply can’t lose.
The VW Crafter/Fiat Ducato question is a good one and both have their relative merits. Firstly Crafter is scheduled for a substantially more powerful engine that should equal or exceed the Fiat’s output (possibly by the time you read this). Also, the Crafter is rear-wheel drive, which many people prefer – particularly for towing. And finally, VW has a far more extensive service network around Australia that Fiat, which is something well worth considering.
Regarding the automated-manual v full automatic gearbox question, while the VW’s ‘box does dither and can leave new driver’s frustrated, the more experience you get with it the less of an issue it becomes. Given the rest of the Crafter’s attributes it wouldn’t be a big deterrent for me in the final decision making process – and you could always choose the manual.
- Innovative design
- Quality construction
- True living space
- Long-term tourer
- Long standard equipment list
- Separate toilet/shower a winner
- Good fuel economy
- VW quality engineering
- VW Crafter somewhat underpowered
- Automated-manual gearbox can dither