Of­froad war­rior

We test Track Trailer’s 2013 Se­ries II Topaz hy­brid cam­per in its nat­u­ral habi­tat: Cape York.

Motorhome & Caravan Trader - - 2013 Track Trailer Series Ii Topaz - Clock­wise from main:

The idea of own­ing a fully-equipped, com­pact hy­brid car­a­van that will fol­low the wheel tracks of a 4WD nearly any­where has cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of many Rvers over the years.

Mel­bourne’s Track Trailer sparked the idea in 2000 with its dis­tinc­tive Tvan, a hard-shell cam­per trailer in which the bed­room and main liv­ing area were at the core of the de­sign, rather than folded out. Then, in 2008, Track Trailer coun­tered with its tech­ni­cally less com­plex and min­i­mal­is­tic Topaz pop-top. The early Topaz shouted func­tion with its satin-fin­ish alu­minium com­pos­ite panel walls and in­dus­tri­al­look in­te­rior fin­ish with pow­der-coated riv­eted steel fit­tings and fur­nish­ings.

And as it was built on a sim­i­lar MC2 asym­met­ri­call­ink sus­pen­sion and chas­sis as the Tvan, there was no doubt­ing its busha­bil­ity. It had the added ad­van­tages of be­ing ready to live in with vir­tu­ally no erec­tion time.

What im­me­di­ately distin­guished the Topaz from its ri­vals at the time was its dis­tinc­tive body style and rugged, proven mil­i­tary-spec sus­pen­sion. With the 2013 Se­ries II Topaz, you can also tick off ‘chas­sis’.

STURDY FEA­TURES

In a ma­jor and costly in­no­va­tion, Track Trailer cre­ated a fab­ri­cated gal­vanised steel chas­sis for the 2013 model in which the A-frame bows from the main mem­bers to al­low room for the spare wheel to be winched up be­tween them. Mov­ing the com­bined 50kg of spare wheel and tyre closer to the axle line keeps the tow­ball load­ing light, cre­ates a lower cen­tre of grav­ity for bet­ter han­dling, and also frees up valu­able stor­age space in the front.

Track Trailer then ex­tended the front panel of the Topaz II to cre­ate more head and stor­age room over the trans­verse queen-size bed, while also build­ing in an enor­mous multi-com­part­ment stor­age area in the van’s nose.

As well as two huge lock­ers, each with slides and ca­pa­ble of swal­low­ing a full-size ARB fridge/ freezer on one side and four jerry cans or a por­ta­ble gen­er­a­tor on the other, there are two more dust-proof and wa­ter­tight com­part­ments ahead of them, which will hold a va­ri­ety of ob­jects from fold­ing chairs to awning mats.

The stor­age area on top of the boot could be cus­tomised to suit your camp­ing needs, with op­tions that in­cluded a fire­wood holder, a sec­ond spare wheel mount­ing, or a bi­cy­cle rack. The 2013 Topaz’s ATM was up­graded to 2200kg to al­low for this ex­tra load­ing.

The Topaz II also re­ceived open­ing side win­dows, some­thing its pre­de­ces­sor didn’t have. It sounds like a sim­ple thing to do, and it is, as long as your de­sign in­cor­po­rates stan­dard-size rec­tan­gu­lar win­dows. But if you opt for a stylish win­dow shape like Track Trailer did with the Topaz, then get­ting an open­ing win­dow made, which will also seal against dust and weather, is a time-con­sum­ing and ex­pen­sive job. The wind-out win­dows open to 45 de­grees and cer­tainly al­low more air to flow through the Topaz’s sleep­ing area. They also in­cor­po­rate midge-proof mesh. But you need to be care­ful walk­ing around the van, as the frame­less glass can be hard to see when the win­dows are open.

While the Se­ries I Topaz was of­fered in two mod­els – the base-level Can­ning and more com­pre­hen­sively-equipped Mur­ranji – the Topaz II came in just one, bet­ter-equipped model, priced from $79,900, as new in 2013.

The stan­dard kit in­cluded up­graded battery ca­pac­ity with two 105Ah bat­ter­ies, a battery man­age­ment sys­tem, a 300W pure sine wave in­verter, a 25A battery charger, and a stan­dard Fu­sion sound sys­tem with ipod dock.

The rest of the in­te­rior is sim­i­lar to the ear­lier Topaz mod­els, but a myr­iad of small re­fine­ments were made fol­low­ing feed­back from own­ers. For ex­am­ple, there’s more stor­age space un­der the main couch and a pair of hat-hold­ers have been in­cor­po­rated in the pop-top ceil­ing, over the kitchen area.

Fur­ther rear­wards, the kitchen, with its four­burner Swift cook­top, op­tional LG mi­crowave be­low, and 80L Waeco 12V/240V, fridge/freezer is un­changed, al­though there was also the op­tion for a diesel cook­top.

It looks great, but what’s it like to live with? A 10,000km round trip from Mel­bourne to the top of Cape York pro­vided the an­swers.

For a start, it’s im­pres­sively spa­cious in­side with room for an enor­mous amount of gear in the lock­ers.

Our Nis­san Navara ST-X 550 V6 dual-cab ute didn’t have a lock­able canopy or hard lid over the load bed, so the chairs, re­cov­ery gear, and tools that we had planned to store there had to go some­where else, both for se­cu­rity and to keep them out of dust and rain’s way. For­tu­nately, the Topaz was more than up to the task and its huge tun­nel boot, plus an­other sep­a­rate side locker (which is oc­cu­pied by an op­tional air-con­di­tioner if fit­ted) eas­ily swal­lowed it all, leav­ing the front lock­ers free for our 47L fridge/freezer, fold­ing ta­ble, awning mat, three jerry cans, a tool­box, large fold­ing shovel, two large ARB fold­ing chairs and all our spare tow­els and linen. And there was plenty of room for more.

Best of all, these lock­ers were all dust and wa­ter­tight thanks to sep­a­rate com­pres­sion

locks that we en­gaged via a T-shaped key when trav­el­ling of­froad.

In­side, through the full-height door with its sturdy sep­a­rate fly­screen, the main at­trac­tion of the Topaz for my wife Wendy was the kitchen with its large and full-height bench space, and deep, waist-high stor­age draw­ers with of­froad lock­ing catches be­low. You don’t have to stoop to pre­pare a meal, as you do in some other of­froad pop-tops and car­a­vans.

Some man­u­fac­tur­ers place more em­pha­sis on out­door kitchens and this is fine if you are liv­ing and trav­el­ling in the trop­ics. But in much of Aus­tralia, in­clud­ing the in­land, it can be bloody freez­ing at night (and of­ten windy and rain­ing), even when the win­ter days are warm, so we think Track Trailer made the right choice, par­tic­u­larly as the full Tvan ex­ter­nal kitchen was an op­tion.

The pop-top is 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 with­out the pop-top to ac­cess the whole van for road­side stops, so you only have to raise the roof at night.

The Topaz II has an east-west queen-size bed with the most com­fort­able foam mat­tress we have ever slept on but, de­spite the new wind-out win­dows and all the zip-down vents in the pop-top, you may still need the op­tional 12V fans for re­ally hot nights.

GREAT OUT­DOORS

The bath­room, how­ever, is out­side. The Topaz’s ‘en­suite’ 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 which is stored in a right-hand rear cup­board with ex­ter­nal ac­cess.

Al­though some peo­ple pre­fer an in­ter­nal shower, the area is gen­er­ally used just once a day. On our Cape York trip, we did not use the chem­i­cal toi­let once and used the shower only when we stopped for more than a night – and then only twice with the shower tent, as most of our camps were in rel­a­tively re­mote bush ar­eas.

While the sys­tem works well, it’s too much bother to put up for overnight stops and, if it’s rain­ing or cold, it doesn’t com­pare to an in­ter­nal en­suite. But hav­ing one of those would mean los­ing the wardrobe and, more sig­nif­i­cantly, a re­duc­tion in the size of the kitchen.

From the start of our trip, the Topaz felt to­tally at home be­hind the Navara. Track Trailer’s MC2 asym­met­ric link in­de­pen­dent sus­pen­sion de­liv­ered a sup­ple ride, com­bined with a full 250mm of wheel travel that kept its two fat 265 sec­tion 16in tyres on the ground.

With a Tare of 1700kg and a trav­el­ling weight of around 1950kg with both 70L wa­ter tanks full, a well-stocked fridge, three full jer­rys and all our other gear, the Topaz still weighed in at well-un­der 2000kg, com­fort­ably within the Navara’s rated braked tow­ing limit of 3000kg. The ball weight was still less than

100kg, but the Topaz proved so bal­anced and sure­footed on all roads and tracks that it was easy to for­get it was there.

The main Penin­sula De­vel­op­ment Road, which by­passes the most ex­treme sec­tions of Cape York’s Old Tele­graph Track (OTT), may look tame by com­par­i­son to its of­froad al­ter­na­tive and is al­most free­way-like in parts, but it can just as quickly de­te­ri­o­rate into a se­verely cor­ru­gated hor­ror stretch, com­plete with sus­pen­sion-breaking bull­dust holes and crowned gravel corners that will roll you into the scrub if you ar­rive too fast. Cheaper cam­per trail­ers or less­capable hy­brid car­a­vans with­out a rugged chas­sis and ro­bust of­froad sus­pen­sion will al­most cer­tainly suf­fer dam­age on these roads, un­less you are ex­cep­tion­ally care­ful and watch­ful. But if you have a proper of­froad cam­per, cross­over or hy­brid in tow, there are many Cape York ad­ven­tures open to you off the OTT.

Thank­fully, the Topaz II is built like a bank vault and, after 10,000km, in­clud­ing nearly 2000km of­froad, only the re­mov­able (and re-paintable) metal de­flec­tors on the nose of the Topaz had any stone chip­ping, mak­ing re­fur­bish­ment after a ma­jor trip cheap and easy.

While the Topaz Se­ries II cost $79,900 ex-fac­tory in

Track Trailer Can­ning 2008 • $38,500 • SA • 0429 081 318 Track Trailer Tvan MK 2 2005 • $26,500 • VIC • (03) 9988 9523 Track Trailer Topaz Se­ries 2 2013 • $74,500 • VIC • (03) 9988 9523

Clock­wise from top: The Topaz is quick and easy to set up; the spa­cious kitchen with am­ple stor­age and wais­theight benches; Fu­sion sound sys­tem with ipod dock; a rear locker stores the ex­ter­nal shower and taps.

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