Review: Trakka Trakkadu 450 AT
By Richard Robertson
It’s six years since I slipped behind the wheel of a Trakkadu All-Terrain (AT). That was when Volkswagen launched the Transporter T6, the long-awaited upgrade to its venerable ‘Kombi’ line-up. Things move slowly in light-commercial vehicle circles and it has taken half a decade for VW to deliver the face-lifted Transporter T6.1.
All that while, Trakka has been refining the Trakkadu to keep it at the top of its game. It might be the smallest model in the Trakka lineup, but it's also the best seller and traces its pedigree back to the company’s roots more than 40 years ago. No less stylish and innovative than any other Trakka model, the end result sees Trakkadu remain impressively capable, sophisticated and the gold standard in campervans.
Subtle styling cues aside, the T6.1 update is primarily focused on technology. According to Volkswagen, “The line-up features a range of standard safety and convenience items that include front assist with city emergency brake, crosswind assist, side assist including blindspot monitoring and rear traffic alert, multi-collision brake and, in some models, the intuitive digital cockpit”.
The other notable development is a power increase for the top-spec version of the 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel: Its output climbs to 146 kW/450 Nm, from 132 kW/400 Nm in the T6. Standard in the Trakkadu 450 AT (hence the name), this engine drives through VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system via a seemingly refined version of its 7-speed DSG auto gearbox. The upgraded engine makes do with outdated Euro 5 emissions standards, meaning no AdBlue fuel additive is required. I can already hear the sighs of relief from potential owners, if not from the environment. Sighs of relief will also be heard from those camping next to new T6.1 VWs: The sliding side-door now has a soft-close feature that pulls the door firmly shut after being gently closed. So, no more need for whizz-bang!
Like all European auto-manufacturers these days, Volkswagen plays the options game at purchase time. That means to experience a new T6.1 at its best you need to dig deep and tick all the boxes. These comprise the Digital Pack (discover media, comfort dash, digital cockpit and driver alert), the Driver Pack (tyre pressure monitoring, park assist with side protection, adaptive cruise control and active lane assist) and the Light Pack (LED headlights and light assist high-beam control). Combined, these add about $8500 to the purchase price. Gulp…
While there's no doubt the new Transporter T6.1 is a premium product, there are a number of omissions from a vehicle at this price point, namely climate control, keyless entry and keyless (push-button) start. On the plus side, the Digital Pack brings the digital dashboard and upgraded entertainment system, which together propel the T6.1 to the forefront of current automotive trends. The dashboard is a high resolution screen with three main display options: traditional speedo and tachometer, plus two less intuitive but more information-rich layouts.
Additionally, there is a whole array of sub-menus and pages that deliver far more information than any traditional dashboard, you just need to spend time learning how it all works. Couple that with wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (although oddly, no wireless phone charging), and it really is at tech’s leading edge. The only downside is the VW’s dash-mounted USB ports are now the tiny USB-C type, as used in the latest computers, rather than the bigger USB-As most of us use. Fortunately, a simple adapter cable is available.
Trakkadu 450 AT
In Trakka’s four-model Trakkadu campervan line-up, the 450 AT is the hero model. More than just superficially made-over, it’s transformed by a total suspension rework using Volkswagen-approved Seikel-brand components from Germany.
Trakka says, “With upgraded front and rear shock absorbers and springs, the raised suspension increases the campervan’s ground clearance by approximately 40 mm, improving ride comfort and ability, while the Seikel engine and gearbox guard protects essential vehicle components. This van conversion has the ability to tackle rough terrain, rutted and sandy tracks with ease. An optional Seikel body protection kit includes differential, fuel tank and muffler guards, as well as rocksliders, for the ultimate safekeeping of vulnerable components”.
The AT Pack also includes an upgraded 3200 kg gross vehicle mass (GVM), providing a maximum potential payload of 630 kg, and comes with a heavy duty bottle jack to match. It also gets a set of 5 x 235/65R17 Kumho AT tyres, a rear differential lock, downhill assist, a 100 amp-hour lithium house battery upgrade and a 250 watt solar panel.
All Trakkadus have Trakka’s proprietary rear-hinged elevating roof, plus a sliding, seat-belt-equipped bed/seat. The cab seats swivel and the dining table, which now stores in a cavity in the sliding side door because of its wafer-thin laminate top, can be used inside and out. Like all Trakkas, Trakkadus are LPG-free, using a Webasto diesel-fired cooktop. Unlike other Trakka models, however, Trakkadu uses an engine-heat-exchanger hot water system. Trakka’s signature LED strip lighting with flush-mounted touch on/off controls are basically everywhere, but the electric awning of the preceding model has been replaced by a manual wind-out unit, due to adjustment issues unique to Trakkadu.
In keeping with a demonstrator, the test Trakkadu 450 AT fairly bristled with extras. On the vehicle side, these included the aforementioned Digital, Driver and Light packs, plus special 17-inch Barstow alloy wheels and window tinting. Oh yes, the whole vehicle was finished in a new colour called Ascot Grey, one of the new type of what I call ‘flat colour’ paint jobs that are becoming increasingly popular. Interestingly, the reality looks nothing like Volkswagen’s brochure sample!
On the fit-out side, the options comprised colour matching for the roof and wind deflector, a Webasto diesel heater and 200 amp-hour lithium battery upgrade. From a drive-away price of $155,978 for a standard Trakkadu 450 AT, the test vehicle tipped the financial scales at around $171,000, which puts it firmly into motorhome territory. Of course the Trakkadu 450 AT will go where most motorhomes fear to tread, whilst doubling as a daily driver for a solo, couple or family of four. It's horses for courses, and this horse will cover more courses than most…
Trakka has perfected the Seikel suspension set-up and it shows in the 450 AT’s driving experience. Despite sitting 40 mm taller than a standard Trakkadu and rolling on 'oversize' tyres, the ride is exceptional. Rock solid and planted on the bitumen, the feeling continues on dirt, providing a high degree of driver confidence and safety. There's little body roll; the electromechanical steering is positive and precise, and as an added bonus, interior noise levels are subdued at worst and virtually absent at best.
The uprated engine provides a linear flow of power guaranteed to put a smile on any driver’s face. Coupled with a refined DSG gearbox that feels much more ‘together’ than I remember, this is a vehicle you can hustle along winding and uneven backroads with confidence – and just for fun. It's also a consummate freeway and open road cruiser. The only glitch I found in its otherwise impressive armour was a seeming lack of engine response from idle. I couldn't work out if it was turbo lag (unlikely in a bi-turbo engine) or uncertainty on the part of the gearbox/engine management computer. However, unlike earlier DSG gearboxes, this one never ‘dithered’ in response to throttle inputs at low speed. Tech guru Allan Whiting, who also drove the 450 AT, reckoned it just needed ‘more decisive’ pressure on the accelerator to get things moving. I guess it’s something you’d quickly get used too…
It’s a shame Volkswagen seems to toy with buyers where ultimate safety is concerned, as every new T6.1 should have adaptive cruise control and active lane assist as standard. It’s the first options box I’d tick as they're a game changer. Not only do they slow you down and maintain an (adjustable) distance behind slow moving traffic, while giving the steering wheel a nudge when you get too close to lane markings, they providing a significant degree of semi-autonomous driving capability that reduces fatigue and improves safety.
Off-road, the optional rear differential lock and hill descent control, added to the Seikel suspension, increased ground clearance and bigger wheels (plus the VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system and the DSG gearbox), makes the Trakkadu 450 AT a formidable machine.
Four-wheel drive motoring guru Allan Whiting put the Trakkadu 450 AT through its paces on his favourite rocky climb and it didn’t disappoint. Despite limited wheel travel and ground clearance in ultimate terms (plus the absence of dedicated low-range gearing like a convention 4x4), the ‘Trakkadu clawed its way up a steep, washed-out rocky incline with just a bit of wheel spin, which was kept in-check by traction control, and the occasional wheel in the air. On the way down, Allan tested the hill descent control with little expectation, but at the bottom remarked, “This is the best hill descent control in the business”. No faint praise indeed…
The only real driving compromise is a lack of legroom for taller drivers. The driver’s seat pushes against the end of the kitchen unit, which also limits seat-back recline. Combined, it’s less than ideal and in a perfect world Trakka would have a Tall Driver Option, although I know the positioning of certain components would make this difficult. You certainly do get used to the driving position and it’s only an issue for six-footers-plus, but if a solution was possible it could only broaden the Trakkadu’s appeal.
The 450 AT’s floorplan is classic Trakkadu. The pair of swivelling cab seats face the sliding bed-seat; the kitchen and other cabinetry run full length down the driver’s side, while a cushioned shelf across the rear makes up the other end of the bed (which measure 1.98 m overall). That rear shelf now tilts and can be fixed at different angles to make access easier to the considerable boot space underneath. Also, a real personal favourite, the two shelves in the wardrobe are now made of the same roller-shutter material Trakka uses for its cupboard doors and can be slid across and down, completely out of the way. That means you can have a full hanging wardrobe or a half-hanging half-shelved wardrobe, or an all-shelved wardrobe – brilliant!
Impressively, when the rear-hinged roof is raised there’s well over 2-metres headroom in the front living section of the Trakkadu and it feels more open, spacious and easy to move around in than our Project Polly. An optional roof bed is available, which Trakka says is best for a child (or two). The sliding passenger seat has seat belts built-in and can move perhaps a metre fore-and-aft, meaning you can have passengers sitting right behind the cab for easy conversation (or to stop kids fighting!), or have them wayyyyy down the back, with better-than-limo legroom. The seat-back also adjusts for comfort, while the headrests fold neatly down when it’s bedtime.
That same flexibility is available at meal times, when the sliding seat combines with the slide-mounted table to allow anything from cosy dinners for four to effectively two eating areas: the swivelled seats up front (for eating from your lap) and the bed-seat with table down the back, perfect when travelling with kids who want their own space.
The Trakkadu’s appeal lies in its ability to be a daily driver that can also haul bulky goods, while the fridge is great when grocery shopping. It also makes an excellent day vehicle for trips to the beach or watching the kids/grandkids at sporting events, and is an ideal base station for mountain bikers, hikers and a myriad of other lifestyle pursuits. It can also tow a 2500 kg trailer.
The bed, at 1.2-metres, is on the narrow side for a pair of larger people, but is still comfortable (especially with a memory foam overlay), while for a solo traveller it’s positively palatial. There’s a surprising amount of room inside any Trakkadu when set-up for camping, and if you add a tailgate tent for the Porta-Potti and shower it makes a surprisingly practical long-term tourer.
What I Think
Volkswagens’ new Transporter T6.1 delivers class-leading technology and refinement. Now backed by a five year/unlimited kilometre warranty and a sensibly priced service plan, it makes luxurious European motoring practical and affordable. But it’s also only part of the story.
Trakka transforms the T6.1 into something truly remarkable. More than just a campervan with the style, quality and the innovation of a Trakka motorhome, the Trakkadu 450AT is a bells-and-whistles all-rounder without equal. At home doing the shopping, commuting, on the highway or beach, in the Outback’s dust or High Country snow, on fire trails, fording creeks or climbing rocky and muddy tracks, it’s an awesome machine for all seasons – and reasons. When Allan Whiting reckons it’s just what he needs, it has to be good. It really is the icing on Trakka’s cake.