>> Sophisticated simplicity
>> Superb engineering
>> Great storage space
NOT SO MUCH
>> No internal ensuite option
A few years ago you could have counted the number of truly off-road, top-end hybrid caravan/campers on the fingers of one hand and still be able to lace your boots. How things have changed!
Melbourne’s Track Trailer got the ball rolling in 2000 with its distinctive Tvan, a hard-shell camper trailer in which the bedroom and main living area were the core of the design, rather than folded or flipped out.
It was a reality check for the hitherto conservative camper trailer market and caused many to lift their game.
The Kimberley Group in Ballina raised the bar much higher in 2003 when it introduced the innovative collapsible ‘Karavan’, based on the proven underpinnings of its flip-over Kimberley Kamper.
What distanced the Karavan from anything else on the market was that everything – slide-out queen-size bed, kitchen and combined en-suite shower/toilet – were all housed within its compact hard shell structure.
It also bristled with technical innovations, from its collapsible design, in which the upper section was winched up and down by electric motors, to a diesel cooktop, vacuum toilet and, more recently, a fuel cell and lithium battery technology.
Then in 2008 Track Trailer returned fire with its more minimalistic Topaz pop-top.
Where the Karavan boasted technology, the Topaz with its satin-finish that continued inside its no-nonsense interior featuring an industrial look with powder coated, riveted steel fittings and furnishings.
And as it was built on a similar MC2 asymmetrical-link suspension and chassis as the Tvan, there was no doubting its ability to follow a full size capable 4WD most places, with the added advantage of being ready to live in with virtually no erection time at around two thirds of the Karavan’s price.
The downside? Being a pop-top it was taller when travelling than the Karavan and while it came equipped with a cassette toilet, this was stored in an outside cupboard when not in use.
The standard hot and cold shower was also an outside job, with its taps located behind a panel at the rear and required the two-minute erection of a simple but effective triangular tent for privacy.
HARD TO TOP
Then last year Australian Off-road Camper Trailer joined the fray with its fibreglass composite shell Matrix – a fully featured hard-roof compact off-road caravan with everything inside.
Weighing in at 1700kg – about the same as its market rivals – and with a similar large 4WD width and very capable suspension, it sells for $89,000, just below the Karavan’s starting factory RRP of $90,338.
Then Ultimate Off-road Campers topped them all early this year with its dramatically styled pop-top Nautilus, with its cupboard-like internal ensuite, plus an eye-watering $97,500 price tag.
But the blue chip war is far from over, because Track Trailer has just fired another salvo with a major upgrade of its Topaz, called the Series II, which recently went public at Melbourne’s National 4X4 Show.
While the Series I Topaz was offered in two models – base-level Canning and more comprehensively-equipped Murranji, the Topaz Series II with its substantially redesigned chassis and front body superstructure comes in just one even-better equipped model, priced below its two key market rivals at $79,900.
While the van’s redesigned front section, with its protruding storage box ‘nose’, topped by an extended and more steeply-raked panel that extends over the east-west queen-size bed are the unmistakable visual changes, it’s the totally new chassis below that is the real news.
Instead of a separate A-frame joined to parallel chassis rails, Track Trailer has developed a completely new fabricated steel box section chassis that bows across its mid-section to swallow the wind-up spare wheel.
This new chassis is a significant investment for Track Trailer that will surely cause other manufacturers to consider a similar path, while down the line there will doubtless be a trickle-down of the technology to other Track products.
The beauty of this new chassis is that it’s lighter, stronger and more space-efficient than its predecessor and by locating the bulky and weighty spare wheel within the chassis rails, the vehicle’s centre of gravity has been lowered for better handling.
The valuable A-frame room has also been freed up for the extended bodywork and more storage space.
The more steeply raked front bodywork with its larger fixed skylight window has also increased internal space, with extra storage room for clothing and other soft items now possible behind a large net above the leading edge of the double bed.
The other big interior change is the custom-made glass opening windows on either side of the bed, replacing the previous fixed windows with their opening wall vents.
This change has in part been forced on Track Trailer by AORC’s Matrix, which arrived with large wind out double-glazed windows as standard.
But Track Trailer has delayed making the change to the Topaz until it was satisfied it had a fully dust and water proof solution – key factors in a vehicle that’s designed to follow a 4WD across rivers to Cape York, or through bulldust holes along the Gibb River Road.
The wind-out windows on the pre-production prototype we reviewed are still a work in progress, as Track Trailer was also testing a much slimmer wind-out window and also a sliding glass window that would do the same job with less intrusion into interior space.
SPOT THE DIFFERENCES
The rest of the interior remains similar to the earlier Topaz models, but there are a myriad of small refinements made following feedback from owners.
For example, there’s more storage space under the main couch, and a pair of hat-holders are now incorporated in the pop-top ceiling, over the kitchen area.
There’s now an internal clothes line and a mirror is integrated into the door of the wardrobe, which like its predecessor has variable shelving to allow for different combinations of hanging and storage room.
The Topaz II also gets an upgraded battery capacity to run more toys. A pair of 105AH AGM deep cycle batteries supplemented by a 120 watt portable-solar panel and fed via a 25 Amp multi-stage battery charger are now standard, along with a battery monitoring system that shows you what current you’re drawing and the charge remaining.
A 300W inverter, AM/FM/CD/MP3 radio with iPod dock and TV aerial wiring are also now standard.
Further rearwards the galley, with its four-burner Swift cooktop, optional LG microwave below and 80 litre Waeco 12v/240v fridge/freezer, are unchanged, although there’s now a $2865 diesel cooktop option if you want to spend 15 minutes boiling an egg!
The main attraction of the Topaz kitchen for many is its spacious, full height benchspace, with deep, waist-high storage drawers with off-road locking catches below. So you don’t have to stoop to prepare a meal, as you do in some other off-road pop-tops and caravans.
The pop-top is also really easy to raise and lower from the kitchen end, thanks to its simple over-centre design, once you have unlatched it externally. In fact there’s sufficient height to access all of the van for roadside stops, so you only have to raise the roof at night.
SHOWER UNDER THE STARS
The ‘bathroom’ however, remains outside, which still puts the Topaz at a disadvantage against the Karavan, Matrix and Nautilus for some buyers, although Track Trailer maintains the space taken up by an internal shower is not warranted by a feature used once a day.
However I believe the Melbourne manufacturer will have to yield to market forces here and offer an internal en-suite as an option some time in the near future. Twin 70 litre water tanks are standard.
As it is, the Topaz’s ‘en-suite’ is a quick and simple-to-erect triangular tent that attaches to the rear of the van, enclosing both the external hot/cold shower and providing privacy for the standard portable cassette toilet that otherwise stores in a right-hand rear cupboard with external access.
Outside, as previously mentioned, the big change to the Topaz is up-front, where the new chassis and re-located spare wheel have made room for a large multi-purpose front boot.
Along with a locking slide for a large fridge/freezer in a separate compartment, there’s storage space for outdoor matting, the optional full annexe with draft skirt, a generator, solar panels, etc. to supplement the generous storage bays along both sides of the main bodywork.
Like the main door, all these hatches (and opening windows) are fitted with compression locks designed to render the Topaz both dust and waterproof in extreme circumstances.
The upper section of the front boot now also contains a standard wood tray, but this can alternatively be used to mount a bike rack or a carrier for a second spare wheel, if required. The vehicle’s ATM has been upgraded to 2200kg to allow this.
Finally, if the new ‘Mistletoe’ green exterior highlight colour of the Series II doesn’t suit your style, Track Trailer offers a $250 choice of 10 highlight primary colour options so that you can match your Topaz to your tow vehicle or personality.
The upgraded Topaz is better equipped, more commodious, and just as capable for its original off-road purpose as its predecessor.
The biggest problem that buyers in this top shelf marketplace now face, is choice.
TRACK TRAILER TOPAZ SERIES II
Travel length: 6.15m
Interior length: 4.3m
External width: 1.938m
Overall height (roof down): 2.45m
Interior height (with roof raised): 2.07m
Wheel track: 1.65m
Departure angle: 20 degrees
Suspension travel: 230mm
Ball weight: 88.5kg
Body: Aluminium bonded and riveted sandwich
Chassis: Galvanised steel fabricated box section
Suspension: Track Trailer MC2 with twin Koni telescopic shock absorbers per wheel
Price (as reviewed): $79,900 ex-factory, Victoria
Supplied by Track Trailer, Bayswater, Victoria
Published : Monday, 17 September 2012