With the border locked down, Australians are trying to get comfortable with the new normal of staying put. For the time being, there will be no jetsetting to faraway lands for adventure holidays. Van life is officially the in thing. While we navigate this difficult and strange time, the famous Aussie van adventure might just be our saving grace.
Australia is not such a bad place to be 'stuck'. With limitless options in every direction, what you need for your Aussie van adventure is a motorhome. Not just any motorhome, but an all-wheel-drive motorhome. One Australian company combines both the luxe accommodation and base vehicle with the necessary chutzpah, Trakka.
Its newest motorhome, the Trakka Jabiru J2M, is the perfect escape wagon. A fully functional mobile home that comes in a manageable size and has the necessary engineering to go almost anywhere.
The Trakka Jabiru J2M is built on the mid-wheelbase Mercedes Sprinter in all-wheel-drive configuration. The Jabiru as a model has been around since the Sprinter appeared on the scene circa 1998. Unlike the builder, there isn’t a huge amount of history to the name. It is a bird and sounds like a good motorhome name.
Trakka works across multiple platforms, and with over 47 years’ experience it has an extensive R&D facility built into, and working in conjunction with, the sales arm. It means Trakka is quick and nimble in deploying innovative solutions for everyday problems. Some larger box manufacturers are not as flexible in this regard.
The mid-wheelbase Mercedes Sprinter makes an excellent base vehicle for a motorhome. It is constantly at the pointy end of the field when it comes to medium-format commercial vans, and is commonly used in Australia by the ambulance service, who require a reliable vehicle capable of handling a reasonable payload day in, day out.
It is a manageable size that lacks the massive overhang of the long-wheelbase model, which means it is possible to go further. The vehicle itself measures just a shade over 6m in length at 6090mm long, 2060mm wide and 2740mm high, or 2900mm with air-conditioning.
As a daily driver, you might occasionally find yourself in the 'too big basket', so pay attention to size limits, especially in car parks. That said, the Sprinter is immensely driveable and manageable in day-to-day scenarios.
In what is typically a boxy vehicle, Trakka uses its magic to transform the Sprinter into a very elegant and sturdy-looking motorhome, with clever use of graphics and some tasteful, well-engineered accessories.
The competitive set is quite small for a fully-fledged go-anywhere van, but there are options. Jayco uses the Sprinter for its All Terrain Campervan. Horizon Motorhomes offers a range of fit-outs with the Wattle, Acacia and Waratah each offering something different, and Campervans Australia offers the Safari Edition, all built on the AWD Sprinter. Of those, only Campervans Australia offers the mid-wheelbase model, with pricing starting at $143,000.
The Trakka Jabiru J2M AWD MWB starts at $195,000, and it may be a significant difference, yet price alone isn't always what counts. For instance, Trakka’s Jabiru, to use an analogy suitable for the task, is far more refined, luxurious if you will, and more German-like in its finish.
While both these vehicles are small-run production models, the Campervans Australia equivalent just doesn't quite meet the same level, and as a result feels far more production run, while the Trakka Jabiru feels like it is made just for you.
And that's the way you want to feel when you are going to be living in it, and sometimes for considerable periods of time. And there is also the resale value to consider. Once the big trip is done and dusted, many of these vehicles will find their way onto the second-hand market, and I can guarantee the Trakka Jabiru is going to return more cash to your pocket in the long run.
It's also the little things, like not adding an electric step, as this is more than likely the first thing to go missing when you are off-road, and offering an electric/manual awning as opposed to manual only.
Beyond those, a custom manufacturer could be engaged to do a conversion on a mid-wheelbase Sprinter, although I expect you would have to shop around to find someone with experience on the platform. Trakka offers the Jabiru in long-wheelbase and in all-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive options.
Both Trakka and Campervans Australia offer the VW Crafter as a mid-wheelbase option if you are looking for a more affordable option.
Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your perspective, the seating arrangement is limited in the Trakka Jabiru J2M. This is a strictly two-person wagon. The layout is tidy and simple. Two 360-degree-rotating seats up the front and accommodation down the back.
This is where the Campervans Australia model has a difference. Trakka’s design uses a full-time bed at the rear to create more internal space for the kitchen and toilet. Campervans Australia offers a full-time bed, two singles, or a version that includes a rear bench seat that converts into a bed. Useful, but if you’re only travelling with two, as you can only sleep two, can you use it safely and will you ever use it as a seat? Probably not.
While seating is limited, drink storage is not. Mercedes has you well and truly covered when it comes to beverages. Fitted with four cupholders low in the dash and another two up top, you can multitask drinking coffee, water and a softie all at the same time.
The Trakka Jabiru J2M's cockpit is a very comfortable space, with a large 10.25-inch screen located prominently in the centre of the dash. Trakka fits this display as standard, and it comes with 3D mapping and can run Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
The onboard AI runs through this unit, and is able to learn on the fly, which makes it more efficient over time. We did not have enough time to truly test this feature, but we did manage to get in a few 'Hey Mercedes' along the journey, accidentally or otherwise.
Under the bonnet of the Trakka Jabiru J2M is an upgraded turbo diesel engine producing 140kW and 440Nm. That is mated to a seven-speed automatic gearbox driving the rear wheels. The power is evident early on and there isn’t too much of a lag.
This engine is a smart choice for Trakka as the standard power plant. It is humble in its laying down of torque, and gets the rig moving effortlessly. Freeway speeds are easily achieved in a timely manner.
Our test day involved some freeway driving coupled with some decent and at times challenging off-roading. Fuel usage was reasonable. It sat up around 12–14L per 100km, but we spent a lot of time on the tracks using low-range, which is going to throw out the usage figures somewhat. I would suggest on freeway driving alone, that figure would be down to near the 10L/100km range.
To aid your go-anywhere options, Trakka also chooses the long-range fuel tank as a standard offering, which ups the fuel capacity from 71L to 93L.
By comparison, the Safari Edition by Campervans Australia only offers the 2.1-litre engine, which is considerably outgunned at 120kW by the more powerful 3.0-litre version.
On the Road
The driving position is up high and comfortable with a commanding view of the road. Soak in the views and enjoy the precise steering. The whole package is definitely more manageable than the equivalent long-wheelbase.
I dare say the fit-out by Trakka has actually improved the ride and handling of the Sprinter, giving it a more settled and less bouncy feel. Unladen vans in general can be a little nervous on the road, but the added weight of cupboards, fridges and beds really settles the rear end.
Onboard, the Trakka Jabiru J2M has a host of safety features, not the least of which is a Trakka-standard 360-degree camera system. It's a godsend when you are trying to squeeze the van into a caravan parking spot.
Mercedes tech includes the AWD traction-control system called 4ETS, which is fully compatible with the vehicle's electronic stability control. This means ABS anti-lock braking system, ASR acceleration skid control, EBV electronic brake-force distribution, BAS brake assist and AAS start-off assist are all operable at all times. The vehicle will also register a high centre of gravity and adapt accordingly, which means extra safety onboard for the owner.
The test vehicle was fitted with optional mud-terrain tyres, and I have to admit they look rather handsome. The cabin dynamics are good enough to mute the road noise you would expect from these tyres. The downside is that they aren’t that good on-road, so I expect most owners will be happy with all-terrain tyres instead.
Despite the mud-terrain tyres, I must divulge that the Trakka Jabiru J2M is not a hardcore off-roader. That territory remains the property of the LandCruiser and modified cars like it. Don’t get me wrong, it is as capable as it looks, and will go further than most owners will ever push it.
It is limited by a 210mm ground clearance at the rear diff, so it’s not huge. Most owners won’t be charging into the bush, but it pays to know that you can take that track to the beach when you need to.
I’ve driven the equivalent long-wheelbase motorhome that uses the same onboard systems as this vehicle, so I know both are capable. However, the mid-wheelbase Jabiru is better able to deal with rampover and approach and departure angles than the long-wheelbase can, and to me that means it will go further.
The on-demand all-wheel drive is an electronic-based system with a dedicated low-range reduction gear. It is quietly competent, but does have limitations. Beach driving, for the most part, will not be an issue. Steeper and undulating terrain where wheel-lifting can occur will challenge the vehicle.
The system runs a 35/65 split between front and rear drive. When off-road, an onboard computer detects a slipping wheel, then brakes the wheel in a series of short pulses and transfers that torque to the wheels with traction. For the most part, that will get you through the majority of possible scenarios and situations that a typical owner is going to encounter.
Remember that, electronically, you can only do so much. You could get into situations that no amount of onboard electrics can solve, and a locking diff is therefore required.
To make off-road use more convenient, the Trakka Jabiru J2M’s low-range reduction gear increases overall torque by 42 per cent. Perfect for tight manoeuvring and slow crawling, it reduces wear on the drivetrain and gives the driver better control.
The layout of the Jabiru J2M is not revolutionary, although in saying that, there is almost an effortlessly efficient use of space that only an outfit like Trakka can master.
At the rear is a large east/west bed with storage underneath. You can access this via the rear barn door of the van and from inside the cabin. The kitchen, which uses SlimTec bench and table tops, runs along the left side of the vehicle adjacent to the rear sliding door, which has a one-touch operation.
The SlimTec tabletops are both elegant and of a high quality. They are thin, durable and fully water-resistant. It is a compact 3D laminate that is environmentally friendly, suitable for food preparation, strong, and certainly not overpowering in a compact space.
Every aspect of the conversion is performed with meticulous care and detail in Trakka's purpose-built facility north of Sydney. With some other brands, you would be replacing parts within 12 months. I have spoken to Trakka owners who haven’t had to touch their motorhomes for up to 10 years or more, such is the build quality.
Along with the build quality is innovation. That's a big part of the Trakka ethos, and the proprietary switch-mode bathroom used in the Jabiru J2M creates extra space that others simply cannot match. A sliding toilet is recessed under the basin, which allows room for a standing shower. If I were going to get picky, it does run on electrics, so it does take a little while to move into position, but the advantage of having much more space when it is stowed overrides any of those concerns.
Knowing exactly how owners are using their motorhomes allows Trakka to come to the party with a host of standards. Avid explorers looking to go further with less can do so with a diesel cooktop, diesel water heater, and ducted diesel room heating, which means there is no need to carry LPG. That is a big plus in my book.
In addition, up to 200W of roof-mounted solar keeps the house batteries topped up. Trakka’s closed-cell thermal insulation also adds to the comfort onboard, as do the standard sliding side and rear screens. Something generally offered as an option elsewhere.
The Campervans Australia Safari Edition can be optioned up with a diesel heater, but runs gas burners as standard. It does mean that you will need two fuel sources when on the road – LPG and diesel. While diesel cooktops are more expensive than gas, I prefer the idea of the single fuel source and no open flame inside my campervan.
And for off-roaders, the Offroad Pack available on the Jabiru J2M adds underbody protection for all the important parts of the vehicle, which offers peace of mind for those hard-to-reach places. The engine sump, transfer case, rear diff and sills all get extra protection, as well as the rear shocks. The sill guards can also be used as a high-lift jack point.
Trakka knows that most customers are looking for simple operation that allows maximum enjoyment of their vehicle and the subsequent journey. That’s why Trakka has set this vehicle up with a 200Ah lithium house battery, 200W solar charging system, 240V lithium charger, and DC2DC and solar five-stage lithium charger. This set-up is lighter, has a longer life, and more usable battery capacity.
The Trakka electronic control panel includes a monitoring system with digital touchscreen for keeping track of water tank levels, battery condition and available capacity in percentage, power input and power output. Simple solutions to everyday problems.
Customer feedback is crucial to the Trakka experience, and this is exactly why things like the Alfresco Pack are customer-driven solutions to on-the-road experiences.
The Alfresco Pack adds an externally and internally accessed 16L drinks/snacks fridge, workbench for the side sliding door, hot/cold tap that doubles as an external shower, and portable solar upgrade – an additional 240W panel (takes the total to 440W). With a fridge, microwave and plenty of storage, you’ll be more than capable of never returning to civilisation.
Warranty and Servicing
Service intervals are listed as two years/40,000km, with a three-year/200,000km warranty. Mercedes offers round-the-clock roadside assist available throughout the warranty period on a pay-as-you-go or pre-paid fixed service plan.
Servicing averages around $750 per service for the first three, which is more expensive than, say, a Ford Transit, but this is a European car and they often attract premium costs.
Fully kitted out, the Trakka Jabiru J2M as tested starts at $195,000 on-road in NSW. To that you can add $5100 for the wheel and tyre upgrade, $2450 for the underbody protection, $3820 for the rear door wheel carrier, and $3000 for the Alfresco Pack that adds indoor/outdoor fridge access, external work bench and basin, hot and cold wash-up and outdoor shower, plus additional solar panels. All up as tested, the vehicle sits at $209,370.
Focusing on the positives that this strange time brings us, think local, buy local and travel local. Enjoy the boundless opportunities that our country affords us and, most importantly, do it in style.
While you may not be able to travel overseas, there is an awfully giant backyard you should only see in a Trakka Jabiru J2M.