When CW editor Max Taylor raised the possibility of a trip to Mungo National Park in western NSW, I was all ears. I’d previously been in the area with the CW team a few years ago but, having discovered what happens to ‘dry weather roads only’ in wet weather, the planned visit to Mungo was cancelled. A second attempt was looking good.
My part of this expedition was to arrange an AWD/4WD motorhome. Anyone who has looked into this sort of vehicle will know that they are in a specialised market. As a first step, because I’m based in Sydney, I contacted Trakka to see what was available. Trakka’s Sally Berry was soon on the phone to advise me that her personal Jabiru 4X4, fitted with just about every state-of-the-art motorhome option, would be available and was I interested? Do fish swim?
ON THE OFFROAD
Trakka’s Jabiru is based on a Mercedes Benz Sprinter. It’s a large van conversion on what is normally a 2WD vehicle. However, a few years ago, Mercedes introduced a 4WD version and it didn’t take long for Trakka to develop an offroad model in its Jabiru range.
The Jabiru Sprinter comes with a 3L turbodiesel engine that punches out 140kW of power and a considerable 440Nm of torque, making it ideal for anyone who desires some get-up-and-go under their right foot. The power is not just for rev heads, of course: often when offroading, some quick-response grunt is needed. Another asset of the Sprinter is that it comes with the Mercedes five-speed auto, making it a pleasure to drive.
From Sydney, it’s about 1000km to Mungo. I make this observation because, although it was a long journey, the Sprinter is not a tiring vehicle to drive – it handles very nicely.
In terms of its offroad capability, Mungo didn’t quite provide the challenge I was expecting. I certainly did not have to consider using the Warn winch, or the air intake snorkel, and the engine and gearbox bash plates didn’t get any attention, either! But the AWD certainly did and I appreciated the extra traction in some of the soft-sand areas. There’s no doubt in my mind that this vehicle, while not matching the abilities of a LandCruiser, still offers plenty on rough, sandy and muddy tracks.
Except on bone-jarring corrugations, the Jabiru 4X4 is relatively quiet, partly due, I suspect, to Trakka’s thermal and sound insulation package, as well as good construction – there were few squeaks and rattles. Along those lines, the roads around Mungo were very dusty and a small amount made its inevitable way into the Jabiru (I suspect via the rear doors).
Aesthetically, there’s no doubting the Jabiru 4X4 is a van conversion. For a start, the rear windows on both sides have been extended through the use of a simple fibreglass moulding. Known around the factory as a ‘Trakka Pod’, I keep thinking of them as iPods. Trakka’s Martin Poate reckons we should settle on tPod…
Where was I? Oh, yes. The other striking feature of this particular Jabiru is the ‘carbon-fibre-look’ graphics along both sides and covering the entire bonnet. They certainly give the vehicle an offroad look, but although I’m not a fan of some black finishes (such as checkerplate) because they show up dust and dirt very quickly, this finish wasn’t too bad. And believe me: we saw plenty of dust!
Another obvious addition was the rear-mounted spare wheel. While it’s in a handy location, it meant the rear door wouldn’t stay open if the van was at an angle. I understand Trakka is investigating the possibility of using a door strut to combat this problem.
Familiar with the ‘whirr-clunk’ sound made by a van’s sliding door as it closes, are you? Well, Trakka’s sliding-door assist feature removes the ‘clunk’ bit – the door just has to be slid to a certain point and it locks itself.
Other, more standard, items are fitted to this motorhome, such as the Fiamma awning, power cord holder, 160W solar panel and hatches for both the power cord and Thetford toilet cassette. Because Trakka has fitted its optional ‘Remote Pack’ (which includes a diesel-fired cooktop, diesel water heater and diesel ducted heating), the gas system is eliminated.
Inside, the Jabiru is all Trakka, with the company’s signature muted greys and beige colour scheme, optional leather seats, roller shutter door, sophisticated electrical setup with controls in all the right places, and a general design ambience that works well.
My review Jabiru came with a front lounge dining area comprised of swivelled cab seats and a two-seater lounge behind the driver’s seat, a nearside kitchen, mid-offside bathroom, and a rear east-west bed. For tall people, an alternative layout is available that includes a north-south bed (either two singles or one double).
Up front, the dining area is surprisingly spacious. With both seats swivelled around and the table in position, four people can sit here comfortably. When the table is not needed in the Jabiru – it’s mounted on the inside of the sliding door for storage – there’s the smaller hinged one mounted on the wall, which is quite handy.
The kitchen is quite workable. The diesel-fired Webasto cooktop has two elements: a cooking plate and a simmer plate. Diesel cooktops have a much longer warm-up and cool-down time. Impatient types might like to know that a gas cooktop is the standard fitting. Alongside the cooktop is a stainless steel sink sans drainer, allowing for a moderate amount of bench space.
There’s a large mirror behind the benchtop, improving the perception of space no end. Being close to the cooktop, though, the mirror has to be cleaned quite often.
Because this van doesn’t have an oven, plenty of drawers are on offer – six in total and all are self-closing. In conjunction with the overhead lockers, the drawers offer more than a reasonable amount of storage given the size of the motorhome. Additionally, the front curved section of the under-bench area acts as a wardrobe – neatly enclosed by a roller shutter door. Opposite the kitchen bench are two other necessities: the 136L 12V compressor fridge and microwave above.
Trakka bathrooms are never moulded white shower cubicles with a cassette toilet thrown in, even in its smaller motorhomes. This one comes fully-fitted out with a decent washbasin and a wand-style water faucet doubling as a flexible-hose shower.
Also worth a mention is the Switch Mode Bathroom (SMB) facility. This is actually a fancy name for the Thetford cassette toilet that electrically slides away under the vanity bench when not needed, giving more room for showering. It can be powered out when needed.
From the outside the ‘tPods’ might look like just a bit of character-adding bodywork, but inside they perform the vital function of adding length to the east-west bed. The bed size, by the way, is 2.05x1.78m (6ft 9in x 5ft 10in), with a decent storage area underneath.
This motorhome is self-contained – electrically, water wise and with fuel being diesel only. All the electrics are in the right places, including the main control panel above the kitchen bench and I like the new LED finger-touch lights with two light levels and dimming function.
This particular Jabiru didn’t have an air-conditioner fitted, but either a roof-mounted Dometic B3000+ or a Truma ducted system are options. In the latter case, it fits under the bed without taking up too much storage space.
THE BOTTOM LINE
For my Mungo travels, the Trakka Jabiru 4X4 was ideal for several reasons. I was travelling on my own (before meeting up with the rest of the crew) and didn’t need a large motorhome. It had plenty of grunt. And, finally, it was self-contained – the optional long range diesel tank taking care of any cooking and heating requirements.
Although this trip really wasn’t about comparing rigs, rather looking at different modes of travel, there’s no doubt that I had the easiest in terms of setting up. While Emma, in her camper trailer (see page 54) was busy taking out tent pegs, sliding the kitchen away, folding over canvas and packing up the trailer, and Max (see page 30) was hitching up and doing checks on things like brakes and lights, I was merely closing windows, which could be done without getting out of the vehicle! On a slightly less flippant note, this makes a motorhome ideal for cautious people who travel on their own.
This particular Jabiru 4X4 had a considerable number of options fitted (circa $40K worth). Something to keep in mind. Several acquaintances looked over the vehicle while I had it and thought it rather an expensive proposition, given what else might be available for the same price.
However, it’s a specialist machine and for anyone contemplating some serious offroad touring, or extended travel in remote locations, I reckon it’s a great proposition.
My fuel consumption was interesting. For one leg of the trip, it came in at 13.5L/100km. The rest of the time it was about 17L/100km, and for driving around Mungo on dirt roads and with many starts and stops for photographic purposes, it came in not much worse at 18L/100km.
I expected the latter to be worse than highway travel but, generally speaking, I pushed the motorhome quite hard when travelling on the open highway and would have expected to do better at a more economical speed. Had I a little more time I would have investigated the effect of using the diesel cooktop and water heater, which is probably quite marginal.
That said, the water heater can be used when travelling along – quite useful if hot water is desired instantly upon arrival or for washing up along way.
Yes, Trakka’s 4WD Jabiru costs a pretty penny. But, as we discovered, it’s got a lot to offer long-term tourers, especially if remote travel is on the cards. In that respect, the diesel-fired appliances would be a tremendously handy inclusion. The ability to run everything off the one (long range) diesel tank simplifies things no end. And let’s not forget, diesel is generally much easier to come across in the bush than gas.
The workmanship on display in this motorhome is second to none, too, which should be taken into account as part of the cost equation. – Max Taylor, editor, Caravan World
LATE EVENING DRIVING
Two of the options Trakka had fitted to my Jabiru were the alloy bullbar and Hella driving lights. Now, I know that most RVers like to be stopped and parked up for the night by about 4pm, especially in winter daylight, so, in many cases, they don’t have much use for either. But on my trip, I had a little problem. When I arrived in Balranald, NSW, about 4pm, I was running late but still had another 150km or so to go to the Mungo campsite. Given the wildlife, on both four and two legs, that appears during the evening, I debated the wisdom of staying put or moving on and leaving early the next morning. In the latter case I would probably still have the same problem.
Ultimately I decided to move on, albeit at a slower pace. I made effective use of the driving lights and at one point also the bullbar when a roo bounced the wrong way. I have no idea what became of the roo but, apart from a cracked LED running light, there was no damage to the Jabiru and I finally made it to camp.
· Being on the road in the Jabiru
· Efficient use of space
· Good internal storage
· Ducted diesel heating
· LED lighting system
· External window pods
I WOULD HAVE LIKED...
· To have the keys for longer!
· A rich uncle!
Originally published in Caravan World #516, July/August 2013