The Geist AK450 looks good standing still or hitching a ride, but how does this Euro wonder stack up on a searing South Australia day?
There's no doubting, and you'll read it again in our review of the Geist Phantom RG, that Geist has the design of its RVs absolutely nailed. No question. They look good parked or on the move. Layout is great too - and the layout of this AK450 is particularly good - and that it's fully insulated means that even on scorching days it'll stay super cool inside. It was just such a hot South Australian day when I reviewed this 'van.
And to counter local makers' claims that Euro 'vans couldn't handle Aussie conditions, AL-KO, the company that builds the chassis fitted to Euro 'vans, has added extra, strengthening gussets to the chassis. Believe me, they'll go the distance. And nothing else tows quite so well.
But there a few little things here and there that knock the shine off the Geist for me. They are the friction lock fly screens which can be far too tricky to lock and unlock, and some of the flimsy shelves etc that have only been stapled in place. That said, many premium-built Aussie ívans are afflicted with the same problems.
A lot of caravan companies take short cuts with the chassis. Geist doesn't. AL-KO designs and builds the chassis for Geist, and unlike a lot of caravan builders that just make do with a glorified box trailer chassis, AL-KO designs and builds its chassis expressly to be used under a caravan. And because Europe has a lot of winding mountain roads, high-speed freeways and narrow little coastal and country back roads, its caravans need to be sufficiently manoeuvrable but also very stable at speed. The Geist AK450 is one of the best in this area.
Indeed, I've yet to tow a quieter, better-riding caravan than either a Geist or an Adria (another Euro brand), but it's been sometime since I've towed a Golf and they've always been excellent on the road.
Still on the topic of the chassis, most Australian-built caravans use the chassis as part of the structure. Geist doesn't. The caravan is built separately as a structural unit before being plonked onto the chassis. Indeed, the guys at Global Caravans tell us they've jacked up an entire caravan body, supported it with four corner stands and then pulled the chassis out from underneath to repair it.
Another example of the structural strength of the Geist is gleaned from reading the spec sheets. There's a little line that says: roof - walkable. Yep, you can climb up onto the roof of a Geist caravan and set your deck chair up and catch some rays. The Europeans do it; it's often the only way they can get a view.
Okay, now for a quick walk around the outside. There's a front bin that's partly taken up with a spare tyre and a properly boxed and ventilated gas bottle. There's also enough room on the side to stash hoses, etc.
The hitch is excellent and so much easier to use than a traditional ball coupling which can be a nightmare to operate for those who have arthritic fingers, etc. There are the usual wind-down legs which are a doddle to use and the lights at the back of the caravan are nice and big.
The AK450 has its door situated right at the back of the unit and this, in my opinion, helps to make the caravan actually feel bigger than it is. You step straight into the lounge/dinette (the table can be removed), and then walk past the kitchen and through to the bathroom and bedroom. Unless you have your head sewn on backwards, your initial impression will be that this is a quality product, and it is.
The front section of the caravan can be closed off via a concertina door, but if this slips too far inside its (for want of a better word) 'home', it can be tricky to get back out. Anyway, being able to close it off from the rest of the 'van allows for some privacy when getting changed after a shower, or when heading to bed before your partner.
All of the windows are hinged at the top and can be swung out, so even if there's a light shower you can still have the windows open for ventilation. And there are retractable friction-lock flyscreens on all of the windows and while these are an excellent idea and perfectly suited to conditions in this country, they can be a bit of a pain as the slightest bump can sometimes have them flicking back, catching you unawares.
All of the seats are comfortable and the bed, although missing a corner (to make room to get at the shower/toilet) is also comfy enough. The bed is tucked away in the front corner of the 'van giving it a nice, private and cosy feel.
The bathroom is light and airy and, while some might find it a bit tight, I thought it was almost bang on. What I really liked was that Geist didn't try and cram storage for shampoo, etc into the actual shower space. There's room for what you need while showering and, once you're done, it can be stashed back inside the cabinet outside the shower/toilet.
There's plenty of storage space stashed around the place and, while some reviewers like to see an endless supply of cupboards, I don't. They mean you end up packing more than you really need and that just adds unnecessary weight. The light beech-wood colour of the veneer keeps the AK450 feeling very light and airy.
Okay, now for some of the things I didn't like. And I should preface this by saying that I much prefer the light-weight materials used in the Geist to some of the splinter-prone stuff I've seen used elsewhere. Anyway, some of the dividers between shelves felt a little too light-weight for my liking and some of the edge strips are cut a little too short to fit perfectly. There are also, as Allan noticed in the Geist motorhome, a couple of places where the only thing securing curtain pelmets were a couple of staples. Look, I can well understand the need to keep weight down, and I know the Euro caravans are super strong, but some stronger fastening materials and tougher shelf dividers wouldn't go astray. Other than that it's all good and, believe me, there are plenty of Australian-built caravans that are much worse.
Okay, so I pointed out a few niggles that irritated me, but that shouldn't put you off the Geist AK450. Not at all. It really is a class act. It tows beautifully, looks good and, while it's not the best caravan on the market, it's right up at the sharp end of the stack. That its maximum towing weight is limited to 1500kg puts it right in the meat of some good mid-size tow cars - Subaru Outback, Toyota Kluger and Ford Territory.
Excellent towability, great design, quality product.
Some minor finishing strength issues.