Alloy wheels VW's Transporter traces its origins to post-WWII Europe and the need for a cheap, rugged van.
Famous for its split windscreen the original T1 (known as Kombi) had a 1.2-litre engine producing just 19kW. The T2, built from 1968 to 1979, was a big improvement and the version Trakka started converting in the '70s.
From 1980 the T3 gradually switched to water-cooled engines and introduced Synchro all-wheel drive, while T4 moved the engine up-front, changing the design for ever. T5, released in 2005, is another total make-over, with new levels of safety and performance (some versions are still called Kombi, too).
If you're over 30 you probably grew up with, around or knew someone who owned a Volkswagen Kombi. I had a bright orange one way back when and I loved it to bits.
Fast forward several decades and the humble VW van has evolved into a highly desirable vehicle. The current offering - officially named the T5, meaning Transporter Version Five - is a paragon of safety, comfort and performance. And that's before the gurus at Trakka get their hands on it.
Trakka began converting Kombis way back in the 1970s and my old orange beast was one of their first projects. Over the years they've learned nearly everything there is to know about turning small vans into campers and their range-topping Trakkadu 4Motion with Off-Road Pak (sic) proves it. It's the cream of the campervan market and although not cheap, it can easily double as a daily-driver and short-break escape machine, with impressive off-the-beaten-track ability.
Volkswagen's T5 was designed from the ground up to provide car-like levels of occupant safety and driving pleasure. It comes with dual airbags, ABS with four-wheel discs, power rack-and-pinion steering with reach and tilt adjustment, remote central locking, electric windows and side mirrors, airconditioning, a single in-dash CD sound system and more. Unlike Toyota's Hi-Ace, for example, you sit behind the engine and front wheels, not over them, so ride comfort is car-like, as is frontal crash protection.
Power comes from a 2.5-litre turbo-diesel producing 128kW and 400Nm, driving through a six-speed manual gearbox with a stubby, dash-mounted gear lever.
There's no auto option with the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system and this is a real shame as the six-speed auto, available with the same engine in lesser Trakkadus, is a beauty. The 4Motion system monitors all wheels and provides power to each as it sees fit. We managed to catch it napping on the beach when it didn't want to drive the back wheels, but letting the tyres down a bit woke it up and we were away. Sand is where autos rule and the lack of it will be something of a blow to beach lovers.
To make the standard VW more off-road friendly Trakka adds an Auto Seikel Off-Road Pak from Germany. Proven in the gruelling Paris-Dakar Rally it includes heavy-duty springs and gas shocks, lower ratios for first and second gears and a superb alloy bash plate. All-terrain tyres combine with the suspension mods to increase ground clearance by a useful 80mm, while a snorkel is fitted to keep the engine safe during creek crossings.
On the road the Trakkadu 4Motion is eminently drivable with plenty of power and safe handling, although the lowered gearing means you're very quickly through the first few gears. The engine bash plate seems to amplify mechanical noise compared to a standard Trakkadu, as does the revised air-intake system, but it's a worthwhile trade-off for the 4Motion's dramatically enhanced rough-road capability.
Front seat occupants get super comfy individual seats with folding armrests and swivel bases, although the driver's seat only rotates through about 90 degrees, to the left. This Trakkadu had optional leather upholstery, which looks great and is very practical, while the rear bench seat is a mechanical work of art - but just for two. Complete with built-in seat belts it slides fore and aft for maximum space efficiency, has a deep drawer in its base and converts to a bed when required. There's good storage room behind the seat, too, and with it run forward and the rear shelf removed, the Trakkadu becomes a cavernous load carrier.
The bed is a good six feet long when made up although not overly wide, due to the cupboards running full-length down the driver's side. These incorporate a wardrobe and general storage area at the rear and a kitchen up-front; complete with a three-burner stove, sink and a 12V fridge. Ours also had the optional hot-water system - a heat exchange unit that's a beauty - with a retractable hand-held shower at the rear, accessed by lifting the tail-gate. A removable table stows behind the driver's seat and can also be used outside, while the rear-hinged lift-up roof is very sturdy, if a little heavy to get going.
The real beauty of the Trakkadu 4Motion is its enormous versatility. It can be your only car, a second car, a cosy weekender for two or, with the optional roof bed (or a tent) a small family escape machine. That's a lot of versatility and while it doesn't come cheap you get the best, most capable campervan in its class - and a great car. This is why we rated it at five-stars. So if you long to get off the beaten track, make tracks to Trakka and check out the Trakkadu.
Those looking for a less adventurous version of the all-conquering Trakkadu will be pleased to know that 2WD models start from $78,695 with the same 2.5-litre turbo-diesel engine and six-speed manual gearbox. An extra $3,000 buys the brilliant six-speed auto ($81,695) while another thousand on top of that gets you the standard Trakkadu 4Motion manual - without the Off-Road pak - for $82,695.
Regardless of which model you choose all Trakkadus feature the same layout, with its terrific versatility and space efficiency.
Review published in Caravan+RV magazine, Autumn 2007.
Loads of storage space
Increased road noise due to Off-Road Pak
Width of bed