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2016 Trakka Trakkadu AT Review: Volkswagen Transporter campervan tested

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When is a Volkswagen Transporter van more than just a van? When you can cook, sleep and shower in it!

This is the Trakka Trakkadu AT, an Aussie-made conversion that turns VW's workhorse cargo van into a camper.

Never heard of Trakka? Well, where have you been? The Aussie company has been around since the 1970s, with Volkswagens being the main stock in trade. Trakka deso Fiat and Mercedes-Benz vans, too, but hey – we thought we’d keep it traditional.

Trakka sources its cars directly from VW’s German factory, and the company can turn around a conversion like this in about a week. The company aims to sell about 50 units per year – which means there must 50 pretty well-off buyers out there looking to relive their flower power days.

That’s because the Trakka Trakkadu AT you see here is priced from $120,000 plus options (on-road costs are included). Yes, that’s expensive, but you can get a more affordable one, starting from $85,000 plus options, though it is front-wheel drive (the AT stands for All Terrain, and this big bus has VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive underpinnings). And Trakka says that about 75 per cent of all models it sells are the all-wheel-drive version.

Either way, when you consider what else you could buy – like a big 4x4 with a caravan, if that’s more your style – then this seems on the exxy side. And while you might even get a caravan with a fully functional bathroom in it for that, or a fully kitted out motorhome without AWD, let’s run through what you get for your money with the Trakka Trakkadu AT.

Now, while Volkswagen offers its very own camper in the European market – it’s called the California, and it’s sick – the Trakka model here is pretty ill itself.

It’s got an angled pop-top that locks down with two latches, and you have to remember to unzip the side flaps before you lift it up – but it has gas struts to make it easy to raise. The pop-top is designed so that you can stand up straight when you’re trying to cook or wash dishes – however, if you’re on the tall side, you may find yourself hunching a bit because of the height of the benches (it’s restricted due to the side window height).

There’s a main control panel nearby for taking charge (geddit?) of the power in the cabin. There are two batteries – one for the car, one for the cabin – and you switch the latter on by using the touchpad. It’ll give you light, and the display allows you to see the charge level of both batteries. If you need to charge the rear battery, you can either kick the engine over, or plug in to mains power by way of the external covered outlet on the driver’s side rear. That switch also controls the exterior lighting power awning control and the water pump, and in the cabin there is an electric fan, plus a 240-volt powerpoint (which can't be used on 12-volt power), and twin USB points (which can be used on 12V).

The cooktop is diesel powered, and takes about five minutes to heat up, and that on-board water pump gives you hot and cold running water, too, both in the sink up front and the extendable shower in the boot area (more on that later). The dishwater from the front sink drains to a grey water tank, which you can drain under the body of the vehicle.

What good is a cooking area if there’s no room for a dining table? Well, there is: a little pack-away unit can be used in between the seats, or out under the patio, where it attaches to the door. It stows behind the driver’s seat when it’s not in use, but we think it could be the least thoughtful element of the entire design – which says a lot for the rest of the vehicle.

There’s room for four to sit and eat. The front seats can be twisted around to face backwards – well, almost; the driver’s seat is doesn’t swivel all the way because the steering wheel is in the way, and you’ve got to have the handbrake off to turn it around, too.

The bench seat can be slid fore and aft – just make sure you pull the correct lever to slide it, or you’ll just open up the huge under-seat drawer. In there you can store heaps of stuff.

In fact, this isn’t just a couch; it’s also the bed. You need it to be slid forward on the rails to where the carpet mat stops, then tug on the fabric lever near the central seatbelt clickers, and push the seat back down, and boom – you’ve got a bed.

When you’re ready to get set up for the night there are blinds on all the rear windows, and the company gives you sunshades for the front windows that attach magnetically to the side windows and by press-stud and elastic on the windscreen. And there’s a diesel-powered heater. It takes a little while to get warm, and it does smell a tad of that fuel source – but if you’re cold, you’re cold!

There is lots of storage, including cupboards for utensils, a drawer for food, and up the back there’s a mini wardrobe (under which sits the 80-litre water tank). Under the bed there is a couple of metres of storage length, and we took a shovel with us, too – there are no toilet facilities in the van so be prepared to dig.

The aforementioned electronic awning is a bit fiddly to assemble on your own, but it is new to the Trakka brand – they used to use manual ones. Apparently buyers wanted it, and with two people it’s a bit simpler to set up.

The tailgate annexe is another job better done by two people rather than one – it clips up over the top of the tailgate, and that’s a stretch even for larger humans, but once you see how much space it adds, you can see why it’s worth the effort.

That handheld shower spout is great to get you clean after a day in the mud, and you’ll be hidden away because of the annexe. Just beware that your feet may remain messy, depending on where you park.

As well as being a great place to stay the night, it’s also got plenty going for it on the road.

So, what is this Trakkadu then? Well, it’s essentially a long-wheelbase VW Transporter, with a 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel engine under the bonnet. The engine is a corker too, with 132kW of power and 400Nm of torque. The amount of grunt makes it feel effortless, even though the Trakka is about 700 kilograms heavier than the standard Transporter cargo van. It doesn’t feel underdone at all.

It has a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which is pretty well behaved – even at low speeds (anyone familiar with VW will know that these types of transmissions can be a little hesitant at low speeds, but with this much weight to shift it proved reasonably responsive from a standstill). On the open road the transmission shifts rapidly and with decisiveness.

The good news is that the fuel use is pretty excellent. We saw no higher than 10 litres per 100km, including a stint in heavy traffic. And there’s an 80-litre tank, so you’ve got good driving range almost guaranteed.

With all-wheel drive it’s more than capable of dealing with muddy, loose surfaces like we drove on, and in fact, it’s pretty capable, even coming with a rear differential lock.

The suspension has been upgraded to Seikel high-riding springs and struts, and ground clearance has been improved. It sits up 220mm from the ground, with heavy duty body protection underneath to keep the undercarriage protected.

On the road it rides smoothly, dealing with bumps very well. And the steering is good, too – you don’t feel like you’re driving around nearly 5.3-metres of van. It is long, but thankfully doesn’t feel it on the road, and the long wheelbase makes it feel quite composed over bumps, even though this model has that beefed up suspension.

Because there’s a great big hole cut in the roof you can hear the body flexing a little when there is a camber change, but it doesn’t feel flimsy, and while it isn’t as quiet as a fully enclosed VW van with seats in the back, it isn’t too noisy, either.

Keeping connected on the road is simple, with a touchscreen media system with Apple CarPlay standard. You don’t get sat nav as standard – you can upgrade to the higher-spec media unit if you want, though – but a rear-view camera is standard, and so are rear parking sensors.

As for the warranty, the Trakka Trakkadu is covered by the standard Volkswagen three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, plus an additional two-year warranty for any work done by the local conversion house. As for servicing, the Trakka falls under the same capped-price servicing plan as the VW Transporter: that means six years or 90,000km of cover, with maintenance due every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first. The average cost per service is high: over that period, it comes out at more than $620 before consumables.

Look, the Trakka Trakkadu AT is a fully competent campervan – it’s just not as affordable as those old Kombis used to be. At $120,000, it’s pretty darn pricey…

Still, for those who want to live the flower power life and can afford to do it, then this Trakkadu is a top option.

Click the Photos tab above for more images by Glen Sullivan.