We sent the youngest member of the RV Daily team to Victoria to set the Hyundai Santa Fe and New Age Gecko to task

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When you think of your regular target market for towing, a 25-year-old solo female probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind… mine neither. Nevertheless, that is exactly what we decided to explore. To fit this bill, we looked at the smaller range of tow vehicles and vans and settled upon the Hyundai Santa Fe Series II Highlander and New Age Gecko as our combination for this trip. The brief: one woman, one van, one trip to Melbourne. Piece of cake, right?

 

THE CAR

Upon first meeting with my new car and van combo, I wasn’t all that sure the Santa Fe was going to be up to the job of hauling the Gecko around. Nothing personal on the mighty Hyundai – as a daily driver that car is four wheels of rolling comfort. The seven-seater SUV has all the optional extras you could desire, it did everything short of making me a coffee.

The eight-inch satellite navigation system comes with connectivity for USB, AUX, digital iPod and Bluetooth all paring up with the Infinity 550W Logic7 10-speaker Premium Audio System. Talk about a mouthful, but a great one. As someone who can’t travel without a good driving beat, I enjoyed a powerful rendition of Seal’s Kiss from a Rose thanks to the Santa Fe’s audio system (be thankful this article doesn’t come with audio!).

The 12-way adjustable driver seat was a novelty, especially when it slid all the way back upon exiting the vehicle… that took a little bit of getting used to, however, not a pain to use. With that came seat-heating which was a welcome addition on the very
cold Melbourne morning. All over, seating was comfortable for long-distance driving without feeling like you had to get out constantly to stretch or take a breather and there was a plethora of hidey-holes within arm’s reach to stash all of your important items…
like chocolate bars.

The imedia and navigation system were easy to use, pairing up a phone was a simple action and navigating between menus was stress-free. Steering-wheel controls made it even easier to navigate around without your hands having to stray from the wheel.

The Santa Fe is packed with features designed to ‘assist’ the driver, personally I found most of the functions quite irritating. Front park assist that was tripped by someone walking around the front of the car, while useful, I felt was irritating, seeing the person had to be right on the nose of the car to set it off, so I opted to turn off that sensor. The reversing camera was good quality, simple to use and certainly made hooking up the van that much easier. Smart Parking Assist System (SPAS) and Lane Departure Warning (LDW) system along with electronic button handbrakes are things I personally don’t enjoy in a car, however, if you love a suite of safety aides the Santa Fe does them well.

The seven-seater had plenty of room with the rear seats folded down and the rearmost seat was roomy enough to fit an adult of average height without much complaint. The panoramic glass sunroof was a favourite feature of mine by far; elegantly designed, it didn’t feel out of place or intrusive above you when open and overall visibility out of the car was tops. For the purpose of this experiment – as a total package the Santa Fe wasn’t a bad choice.

My only real complaint about it as a tow vehicle was heading uphill. The Santa Fe is far from lacking in power when unencumbered, however, under load the Santa Fe struggled uphill. Taking off part way up a decent incline was just as dismal and there was an uncomfortable amount of clunking noises coming from the car as it towed.

 

THE VAN

Onto the Gecko, which was a bit of a conundrum to me, but I will explain that in detail later. On first appearance, the Gecko is a neat little van, the smallest in the New Age range, yet big enough to wiggle around in without too much discomfort. It was easy to tow and wasn’t too intrusive to have behind the vehicle, tracking quite well without wandering or uncomfortable drag issues.

Despite being roomy enough for just me, having another person in there might change that feel, however. The layout provided a fair amount of room for storage; one big negative in my books though, was the overly loud closing mechanisms on the cupboards. In the small space it echoed painfully prompting to me avoid opening them as much as possible. This noise may be reduced when the cupboards are packed, empty, however, it was quite uncomfortable in the small space.

The separate shower and bathroom was a nice feature for such a small van. The toilet and vanity were on one side of the rear door with a very generous shower on the other side. The rear-facing door was a bit puzzling initially, however, after seeing the layout, the rear door avoided any living space being compromised from the kitchen or seating area making it a suitable choice. However, the addition of a door blind is encouraged. The awning was also attached to the rear, easy to use with a good height range. A side awning would not have gone astray, especially when you consider that is where the outdoor speakers were located.

The kitchen was set up to provide as much bench space as possible with lidded sink and cook top allowing for that extra bit of room when not in use. The under-counter fridge was well placed and the microwave up among the top cupboards was tucked away well. On the other side of the wall, the extendable table was handy, although legroom was a bit tight for those with longer limbs. Storage space and power points abounded throughout the van and lighting was well placed and useful.

Now for the conundrum: When I think caravan, I think four walls and a roof; a fully enclosed, solid wall construction. Boy, was I in for a surprise when I discovered the bed folded out over the front in canvas. Now, from a design point of view, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. It is space efficient, easy to set up and all in all was a comfortable place to have a snooze. However, my bugbear comes in the form of one simple question – if I am paying for walls, why am I sleeping under canvas? This whole concept is a little lost on me, when essentially instead of getting a traditional solid wall caravan you end up with a camper-trailer-caravan hybrid. More so, bed is one place where I want to be as snug as a bug, so out of all possible areas the bed is not where I would want my walls to be compromised in favour of a canvas fold-out. If that were the case, I could easily save money and instead purchase a camper-trailer and have canvas all out. I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.

With that said, the sleeping area was generous, although for someone of quite average height, my feet and head were pushed into the canvas so anyone over 175cm would need to be wedged in. The mattress was comfortable and other than Melbourne trying to turn me into an ice block, it wasn’t a bad place to curl up for the night (with two hot water bottles). One thing I did notice on the bedding was a rubbing between the base of the bed and the locking door that holds it in place when the bed is packed up. With no real way to lock the folded bed in place, there was some rubbing on the door after only two days on the road, so long-term this could be quite a problem.

From the outside, the van is easy on the eyes with the bright green being a striking feature in a pleasing way. Storage boxes are available for any gear you don’t want inside or in the car and there were enough you didn’t feel short changed. The spare wheel, however, was a bit of a pickle to deal with. The doors for the bed wouldn’t open unless the tyre was lowered, which is an easy fix. Except the split-pin system to release the spare tyre was dreadfully uncomfortable to access, and this was before experiencing any mud or dirt. Once dirty, you ended up quite filthy trying to wiggle around the tyre, under the drawbar and up to try and release the pin and lower it to the ground. Same being said for locking it back in place. It wasn’t horrible, but it was far from a walk in the park, and it’s the last kind of device you want to deal with after a long day on the road.

 

VERDICT

The Santa Fe and Gecko were a pretty decent combination with no real issues you couldn’t sort out with some minor tweaks and upgrades. Personally, I would opt for a slightly larger vehicle such as an MU-X or Fortuner to tow the Gecko, but the Santa Fe did hold its own better than I anticipated it would.

On the other side, if I owned a Santa Fe and was looking for something to hitch up behind it, I would go for a camper-trailer, teardrop or a smaller trailer as this combo struggled when the van was empty. I fear it would be worse when both were fully loaded.

Still, if travelling in as much comfort as possible while retaining a relatively low GCM is your thing, this is a combo that’s certainly worth you taking a look at.

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