Trakmaster Pilbara: Review
Trakmaster’s new Pilbara pop-top caravan is built for serious, uncompromising outback travel.
Typical of Trakmaster caravans, which are named after pioneering or iconic inland areas, the Pilbara takes its moniker from the toughest part of north-west Australia. The Pilbara covers an area over more than 500,000 square kilometres, with vast deposits or iron ore below and a blazing sun that delivers baking summer temperatures exceeding 50 degrees Celcius above.
It seems an appropriate name for the latest and toughest ‘Trakky’.
Trakmaster Pilbara specifications
The Pilbara fills a hole in the eight-model Trakmaster pop-top and caravan range, slotting in between the 4.2-4.7m (14ft-15ft 6in) Kimberley and the 4.8-6.4m range-topping Tanami.
But it’s now the most versatile model in the company’s 19-year history, being offered in a range of lengths from 3.8-6.1m (12ft 6in to 20ft) and as a pop-top or full-height caravan, effectively overlapping the existing 4.8-5.6m (16ft to 18ft 6in) Nullarbor. Got it?
The Pilbara’s configuration and the options fitted to the test pop-top dictated its tare weight of 2133kg, but it’s so over-engineered that you can still accept a payload of more than 700kg if you wish to carry a couple of pizza ovens, or a full set of china crockery, as one Trakmaster owner does!
Regardless of what size Pilbara you choose, you can be pretty confident it will get you places that no caravan of its size deserves to go.
What the Pilbara shares with the Trakmaster Tanami is its standard compressed fibreglass panel (CFP) impact-resistant sandwich wall structure, which the company brings in from Europe and then stamps out to size.
This smooth, white, thermally more efficient, and 20 per cent thicker wall structure is also available as an option on other mid-to-large Trakmaster models, although, to date, most Trakmaster customers still prefer the slightly lighter ply-sandwiched, traditional Meranti wall framing and stucco-finish ribbed aluminium for their vans.
The Pilbara is designed to broaden Trakmaster’s appeal to a slightly younger demographic than the current 55 year-plus buyers and the Pilbara’s tough styling and the bold and polarising graphics on the prototype Pilbara are loud ‘dog whistles’ to this new market.
After years of subtle ochre and sage green striping, it’s a major design departure that most people love, but many traditional ‘Trakky’ owners are still in two minds about it. Fortunately for them, the ‘splatter’ is available in a range of colours, including a dark green, ochre, blue and grey.
OFF ROAD ABILITY
The extreme cut-away, which is only used on one other Trakmaster model – the 13ft 6in Gibson – is also about ‘attitude’ as well as extreme offroad functionality. But, fortunately, you won’t see a square centimetre of checker or propeller plate on the entire van, with impact-absorbing Tebbs padding covering the front of the Pilbara up to the ‘70km/h line’ – the height that stones reach when travelling at the recommended maximum offroad speed.
The prototype Pilbara was built as a 16ftx7ft 6in tandem axle pop-top, which Trakmaster believes is an optimum dimension for the model, making it small and light enough to get through tough terrain, while large enough for extended travelling and to incorporate a combined shower-toilet ensuite.
The layout of the test Pilbara with its front L-shaped lounge, rear north-south double bed and skinny ensuite alongside in the offside rear corner, was really appealing for many reasons. It gives the Pilbara a really spacious feel, allowing plenty of room for three people to sit (and dine) on the L-shaped lounge and plenty of room for someone to work the good-sized galley, as well as the 80L Engel 12/240V compressor fridge on the opposite side.
But the cramped combined shower-toilet ensuite and, in particular, the tight access to it through the bed-restricted door opening could test larger travellers. The steep rear cut-away of course limits the options, but even within these limitations, Trakmaster has other layouts.
Certainly at the test van’s size, there was lots of storage space, both inside and out. Inside, overhead cupboards around the perimeter held clothing and lighter goods, while the large storage area under the side-hinged (and slightly difficult to access) lift-up bed and the base of the many cupboards catered for heavier items.
At its size and with its steeply raked rear end, you wouldn’t expect a lot of external storage in the Pilbara and you don’t get it. The front boot swallows the hard and dirty stuff (jockey wheel, waste and fresh water hoses, wheel chocks, power cord, etc), supplemented on the offside front by a square and roomy locker that is almost large enough to swallow a Weber Baby Q barbecue. Specify that you want to carry a ‘Q’ and Trakmaster will make it larger!
The solid timber furniture in the Pilbara and its robust hinges, is designed to last a lifetime, which is a lot more than you can say for the glued, stapled and lightly-screwed together furniture you find in many other ‘offroad’ vans.
While Trakmaster’s own ‘Trakair’ air bag suspension is available, the most popular option with Pilbara buyers will be the in-house developed Sugarglider trailing arm independent suspension fitted to the test Pilbara, which has long-travel, 150mm coil springs and large bore (40mm) single shock absorbers per wheel. And everything underneath is protected like a bank vault against damage from errant stones.
Trakmaster’s idea with its suspension is to reduce the stress on the van and its contents in rough terrain and this supple ride in turn is passed onto the tow car. Trakmaster also favours a tandem axle set-up for all its 16ft and longer vans and pop-tops because the four wheels share the load and allow lower tyre pressures to be used off the bitumen, which in turn gives a softer ride.
Like other Trakmasters, the Pilbara tows beautifully and tracks faithfully on all surfaces at cruising speeds up to 110km/h, with no hint of swaying despite side winds and with no discernible effect on the tow vehicle’s unladen ride quality.
The new Pilbara not only adheres to all the core values that make Trakmaster caravans sought-after for long-term remote-area travel, but through its smooth-panel CFP bodywork, dramatic styling and ‘out-there’ graphics, broadens the 19 year-old brand’s appeal to a younger demographic.
A starting price of $79,635, or $92,774 with the many fitted options as reviewed, might sound a lot for a 16ft of-road pop-top when similar-size, tough-looking full caravans can be had for less than $50,000. But if you wanted the ultimate sports car, would you rather have a Mazda MX5, or a Porsche Boxster?
- Uncompromising quality
- Custom-built design
- Commitment to customers
I WOULD HAVE LIKED
- Easier entry to ensuite
- Easier-lifting pop-top
- Better water sealing on front boot (under development)
The full test appeared in Caravan World #527, July 2014. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!