On The Evolutionary Trakk
For some manufacturers the only constant is change…
by Richard Robertson. Images by Trakka.
The Australian RV industry is a strange one. Isolated from the rest of the world geographically and in many ways ideologically, it can feel like the land time forgot. Compare the offerings from some manufacturers from five or ten years ago to today and you could be forgiven for thinking you missed something: apart from a change of exterior striping and perhaps some upholstery updates the unimaginative, cookie-cutter designs are dull and yawn-inducing.
It's no coincidence then that the Industry’s leaders are the ones who continuously push the boundaries: Drawing inspiration from international design trends, customer feedback and personal experience, these company’s model ranges continuously evolve, and the differences between now and a decade ago are stark. Perhaps the best proponent of this is Trakka, a company that mixes and matches models and designs that are always interesting and often exciting. Despite the loss of founders Dave and Sally Berry, the Trakka Team continue to push the boundaries in a way that would make them proud.
In recent years the Trakka lineup has shifted from predominantly coachbuilt to almost totally van-conversion motorhomes. This mirrors an explosion of interest in van-based RVs of all shapes and sizes, aided by the release of all-new models from Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen in addition to a refresh from Fiat. Van-conversions have a strong steel body that provides structural rigidity, rollover protection and ease of repair, while minimising the opportunities for water leaks. They’re also narrower and have a lower roof height, which makes them easier to manoeuvre and park, and reduces fuel consumption.
Into the mix, Trakka added the Akuna range in 2020. Based on the all-new Volkswagen Crafter, Akuna now sits between the VW T6-based Trakkadu campervan and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter-based Jabiru, and comes in both medium and long-wheelbases. With features and floor plans that essentially mirror the slightly longer Jabiru, new Akuna starts at a significantly lower price point, instantly making it an attractive proposition. But there’s far more than price to the new Akuna’s appeal…
The subject of this review is an Akuna A2M – the A denotes Akuna, 2 means two-seat and M stands for medium wheelbase. Priced at $145,000 drive-away, Trakka sees the shorter Akuna as bridging the gap between its smaller campervans and longer motorhomes. Measuring 5.99 m (19’ 8”) long, 2.05 m (6’ 8”) wide and 2.77 m (9’ 1”) high (with optional aircon), the A2M can legally fit in a standard car space and at a pinch could double as a daily driver. Lacking nothing except interior space, it’s fully featured and ideal for a solo traveller or couple; the latter with one provision I’ll get to later.
This particular machine is actually the last of, let’s say, the ‘first generation’ Akuna A2M. The Next Generation is already on Trakka’s website and available to order, with exisiting deliveries commencing early in 2022.
Externally, the next generation models look basically the same as the vehicle remains unchanged. The real action is inside and underneath, with Trakka finally able to release an all-wheel drive (AWD) version of the Akuna featuring Volkswagen's 4Motion drive system. Highly desirable and the subject of much inquiry, 4Motion was unavailable because the floor is 100 mm higher than the two-wheel drive version, to accommodate the driveshaft to the rear axle. That meant Trakka's patented Switch Mode Bathroom (SMB) wouldn't fit. However, for 2022 Trakka has significantly redesigned the interior to incorporate a simpler and more compact bathroom more in keeping size-wise with the medium-wheelbase vehicle’s layout. That's had the added bonus of allowing more spacious north-south single beds rather than the smaller, east-west bed of this particular vehicle. It will be a win-win when released and significantly broaden this already-impressive vehicle’s appeal.
Down to Business
Power across the Akuna range comes from Volkswagen’s 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel that produces 130 kW and 410 Nm. Drive is via an eight-speed fully automatic ZF transmission, with power delivered to the front wheels as standard or to all four with the 4Motion option. Along with an automatic stop/start system for saving fuel when stopped, it also comes with regenerative braking that converts frictional energy during braking into electricity via a generator. That power is not only stored in the Crafter’s battery, it can also be used to assist acceleration.
The Akuna A2M here has a Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) of 3550 kg and a Tare weight of 2941 kg, leaving a maximum payload of 609 kg. It also has a maximum braked towing capacity of 2500 kg. The new AWD version will have the option of a 3880 kg GVM upgrade.
Like Akunas across the model range, freshwater capacity is 140-litres, grey water 80-litres (with electronic dump valve), hot water 10-litres, the toilet cassette 16-litres and fuel, a relatively small 75-litres (offset by excellent economy). A 200-amp-hour lithium house battery (300 AH now optional) , 200-watts of solar and the very latest charging systems to manage vehicle, solar and mains power inputs. The A2M gains 5-mm of ground clearance compared with long wheelbase Akunas, for a total of 190-mm. Those equipped with 4Motion will have 255-mm when equipped with the Trakka’s new optional off-road suspension and wheel package.
As you'd expect, new Crafter comes with an impressive range of standard safety, comfort and convenience features. These include Front Assist with City Emergency Braking, Driver Fatigue Detection, Multi-Collision Brake, Hill Hold Assist, Crosswind Assist, Front and Rear Park Distance Control, reversing camera, cruise control, and an eight-inch colour touchscreen infotainment system including Apple Car play, Android Auto, Bluetooth and Voice Control. To that standard specification Trakka adds LED headlights with automatic on/off, Rain Sensing Wipers and Front Fog Lights across the Akuna range. Unfortunately, Volkswagen only offers dual front airbags on the high-roof Crafters used in the Akuna range, although up to six are available on other models. While disappointing, in a vehicle of this size frontal impact protection is the most important.
The test Akuna came with the optional Volkswagen Plus Pack ($6500), adding Lane Assist, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Traffic Alert, Side Park Distance Control, Park Assist (self parking!) Adaptive Cruise Control and Trendline Styling (additional 12 V cab socket, entry step illumination and various chrome trim elements). Given the Akuna’s attractive starting price and the range of cutting-edge technologies in this pack, it's little wonder most customers are including it.
Additionally, it came with Trakka’s popular Alfresco Pack ($3000), which includes an externally/internally accessible drinks fridge, a total of 440-watts of solar (200-watts already on-roof plus a 240-watt portable panel), an outdoor workbench with removable sink and an external shower that also provides hot and cold running water at washing-up time. Add to that a 2000-watt inverter system and induction cooktop ($1910) plus Saturn Black alloy wheels ($2190) and the drive-away price moves up to $163,600. However, the 2022 Akuna has a revised option list and it seems the Alfresco Pack has disappeared, in favour of individually selectable upgrades. The bottom line is, use the above as a guide but be sure to check out the new vehicle’s specifications for the latest options and prices.
Volkswagen’s offers a five year/unlimited kilometre warranty and has a pre-paid $2300, 5-year Care Plan that covers scheduled servicing at 12 month/20,000 km intervals. Although it must be bought prior to the first service, it’s a lot of budgetary peace of mind for an average of $460 per year for the whole warranty period…
Specifications and price aside, the Crafter’s interior and driving experience are well worth reporting. Cab entry is easy thanks to wide opening doors and a deep step on each side, plus there's good clearance between the seats and dashboard. The dash itself is quite plain and flat across its full width, but features handy storage nooks and crannies, and a large, deep glovebox. Visibility is excellent and the seats comfortable, if a bit flat, although they do have electrically adjustable lumbar support.
The multifunction steering wheel is small and sporty, with a flat bottom à la Formula One. I'm pleased to report that, although plastic on the test vehicle, production Akunas will have a leather steering wheel, as befits a quality European vehicle. The instrument panel is a model of ergonomic efficiency and instantly familiar to any Volkswagen owner. It's dominated by a large circular tachometer and speedometer, the latter being on the right-hand side and therefore in the correct position when glancing down from the road (European vehicles often retain the speedo on the left).
To the left of the instrument cluster is an eight-inch infotainment system. It incorporates the reversing camera, which includes an overhead image of the vehicle that flashes in conjunction with warnings from the front, rear and side sensors, when detecting obstacles at slow speeds. The infotainment screen also provides access to a wide range of vehicle and entertainment systems and information, plus provides connectivity to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – just plug your smartphone into the dash-top USB port.
Disappointingly, there’s no climate control; occupants having to make-do with old-fashioned air conditioning with rotary knobs for guessing the temperature and setting fan speed and airflow direction. Completing this section, the gear selector sits below the air-con controls and is perfectly positioned, just to the left of the steering wheel. Conventional in operation, it has also been adapted for right-hand drive and flicks across to the right to operate in sports mode. That's a nice touch…
On the road the new Crafter is a delight. Mrs spent some time behind the wheel and fell in love with the light steering, visibility, big side mirrors and ease of driving. In particular she said she found the engine response and gearbox very car like, and appreciated the shorter overall length.
The gearbox is worth singling out for its crisp, precise up-shifts and seamless operation in normal or sports modes. Combined with more than 400 Nm of torque, a relatively wide body and squat stance, the medium wheelbase Crafter is enormous fun to punt along a winding back road; it doing an excellent impersonation of a big kid’s go-kart. Of course, it's equally at home on the freeway and open roads, where it will happily cruise all day at around 1500 rpm in 8th gear.
Finally, special mention must go to the Adaptive Cruise Control. Its primary function of maintaining speed is exemplary: You can adjust desired speed to the kilometre-per-hour via the steering wheel control and it will hold it uphill and down dale, thus avoiding speeding over crests and when heading downhill. The Adaptive aspect, however, takes that further. Not only does it use radar to adjust speed and maintain distance from the vehicle in front, it slows you as traffic slows and will even bring you to a stop, before accelerating again when the vehicle in front moves off. Combined with Lane Assist, which keeps you safely between lane markings, it's almost like autonomous driving. Obviously, you must remain alert and ready to take over, but these features really take a lot of stress and fatigue out of many common driving situations.
The Akuna A2M’s medium wheelbase gives a pleasing, stocky appearance, with one passerby commenting, “The thing appears to be smiling – and ready to pounce!”.
The body looks good and in my few days with the vehicle it attracted a lot of positive attention. Volkswagen's designers have done an excellent job with the front end and arguably it's the best looking light commercial vehicle currently available. Trakka capitalises on that and accentuates the style with subtle decals, plus blackouts around the dark tinted, flush-fitting windows.
Like all Trakka campervans and motorhomes now, the Akuna A2M is LPG-free. Cooking, hot water and ducted interior heating are all diesel-fired, drawing a very small amount of fuel from the vehicle’s tank (with a cut-out to prevent you becoming stranded).
An electric awning with LED outdoor lighting is standard, as is a portable entry step, with electric as an option. The rear barn doors open to reveal a sizeable boot beneath the bed. Home to the house battery, optional inverter and Alfresco Pack outdoor table, the boot also has enough room for camping chairs, hoses, power cable, toolbox, wheel chocks and more. A nice touch is the pull-down insect screen that closes off the bedroom, meaning you can leave the barn doors open and enjoy an insect-free breeze. It's matched by another screen discreetly concealed between the Crafter’s sliding side-door and kitchen. The side door itself has an external mounting rail for the Alfresco Pack table, which conveniently sits at waist height. The table has a cut-out for a removable, collapsible silicon washtub that’s positioned towards the rear of the vehicle. This allows the Akuna’s outdoor shower to also provide hot and cold washing-up water, thanks to a magnetic shower-head holder that can be positioned where required.
Inside the Box
The Akuna A2M’s floorplan is compact and straightforward. It utilises swivelling cab seats for after hours relaxation and dining; has a small but comprehensive kitchen unit by the sliding side door, the Switch Mode bathroom opposite and an east-west bed at the rear.
Decor is Trakka-modern and the walls are fully trimmed, meaning there’s no bare metal like you often see in van conversions. Even the rear barn doors and sliding side door are fully trimmed and it makes a world of difference.
The Akuna A2M features a number of Trakka signatures, beginning with roller doors on the cupboards. These are simple, light, require no locks, have no hinges and can’t accidentally open while you drive, nor can you walk into them if left open. Another signature is the exclusive use of dimmable, strip-LED lighting – TrakLite they call it – operated by flush-mounted touch sensors. There are no conventional light switches (apart from a small master switch just inside the side door), no individual globes and no protruding fittings. Trakka’s SlimTec bench and tabletop is its newest signature: Extremely thin, strong, durable and waterproof, it's a 3D laminate that's safe for food preparation, scratch resistant and is also used for the bathroom floor duck board in place of the original wood unit.
The cab seats swivel easily, aided by a drop-down handbrake. The pole-mount dining table stows neatly between the driver’s seat and fridge unit, and is quick to set up and put away. Incredibly thin and strong, it’s a slightly odd shape with cut-outs for coffee mugs or glasses and takes a bit of getting used to, but it can be moved around a bit to aid seat and fridge access. There's also a small corner table between the driver’s seat and fridge cupboard, complete with mains power and USB charging outlets.
Speaking of mains power, it's worth noting Trakka wires all mains power points to the inverter, unlike many others who only connect the inverter to a single power outlet. In the cupboard above the end of the kitchen bench are all the system controls, conveniently grouped together at eye height. The main touchscreen displays battery life and real-time power usage, water tank levels, fridge and vehicle interior temperatures and even the barometric pressure. There are also the control units for the diesel-fired hot water and central heating, the cooker and inverter.
Between the driver’s seat and bathroom is the unit that houses the fridge, mounted at chest height. Above it is the microwave, in a cupboard, while the rubbish bin is in a pull-out unit at the base, which has a secondary storage drawer inside. The fridge itself is the amazing new 90-litre Dometic 12-volt compressor unit that is double hinged, meaning you can open the door from the left or right without having to do anything special. Buyers who tick the Alfresco Pack option box also get a 16-litre drinks fridge in the base of the forward-facing end of the kitchen unit. Until recently this fridge unit swivelled, but when facing outside it fouled the new sliding insect-screen door, and so the decision was made to fix it in the forward-facing position. Still easily accessible from outside or in, it's a sensible move that doesn’t affect usability.
The kitchen unit in the test vehicle has just enough room for a round stainless steel sink with lid and lift-up mixer tap, the glass ceramic cooktop and a filtered drinking water tap in between. At the forward end is a small but welcome flip-up bench extension, with a double mains power point and drawer below (and the drinks fridge at the bottom). The main unit has two self-closing drawers beneath the cooker: the top one including cutout storage for four mugs and revealing a small, hidden cutlery drawer, and the bottom one deeper for pots, pans and the like.
In the new 2022 Akuna A2M, the kitchen unit is shortened and now only features a sink, losing the diesel-fired cooktop. In its place is a portable induction cooktop kept in a drawer beneath the benchtop, which can also be used outside. That means the previously-optional 2000-watt is now standard equipment, which is a great standard inclusion.
Across the aisle in the test vehicle was Trakka's patented Switch Mode bathroom. It received a makeover and has been lengthened to provide more standing room when the toilet is extended. It has also been slightly reshaped and has lost the entry step, making access easier. When not in use the electrically-operated toilet stows beneath a small vanity unit, which has a freestanding handbasin and the same flick mixer tap as outdoors (its head unit pulls out on a flexible hose and attaches to a wall mount to become the shower). Above the basin is a mirror with nicely integrated LED lighting that includes Trakka's logo.
As previously mentioned, the 2022 to Akuna A2M gets a totally new, more compact and simpler bathroom that lacks the stowaway toilet in return for freeing up overall floorspace. It will be interesting to try this and see if Trakka has managed to balance space saving with practicality.
That brings us to the east-west bed, which has a sturdy pull-out step at the end of the aisle. There are two separate mattresses – both Dunlop double memory Endure foam – and the one closest to the kitchen hinges-up sideways on a gas strut to reveal a goodly amount of internal storage (the rear mattress sits atop the boot). Each has Trakka’s new tilt-up head end – sun lounge style – so you can sit up for a coffee, to read or whatever. There are mains and USB power outlets, plenty of overhead cupboard room, including a small hanging space, a big roof hatch, windows at both bed ends and (opening) windows in the back doors. If you order the optional air conditioning it replaces the roof hatch.
Despite the external pod on the designated head-end, the bed is best for those less than six feet tall. I’d say well less in fact, if you like a full size pillow and to stretch out. Of course the good news is the 2022 model has single beds that can convert to a queen/king size if desired, while the external pod is no longer required.
What I Think
It shouldn’t be difficult to tell that I think the first generation Akuna A2M is a winner and that the evolutionary changes coming in 2022 can only make it better. Trakka’s design innovation continues to lead the industry and the closer you look the more you realise just how far ahead it is.
The new Crafter’s next-generation design and engineering won’t quickly age and it has the requisite bells and whistles to keep tech nerds happy. On top of that it delivers a premium-car driving experience, backed by an excellent warranty and service package, making European vehicle ownership practical and affordable.
All-in-all it proves evolution is inevitable and leads not only to survival of the fittest, but to them flourishing. We can only hope those stuck in the muddy shallows of the evolutionary past free themselves and follow suit, so that every RV buyer benefits…
Trakka Pty Ltd
9 Beaumont Rd
Mt Kuring-gai, NSW. 2080. https://goo.gl/maps/A4hmMkcphX92
T: 1800 TRAKKA (1800 872552)