Per­fect for dirty week­ends

BRIAN BASSETT proves balies can still do the Hogs­back run for a long week­end, in a BMW X4

The Witness - Wheels - - MO­TOR­ING -

RE­CENTLY it was nec­es­sary for my fam­ily and me to visit the Hogs­back in the Eastern Cape for a few days to at­tend a fam­ily wed­ding.

An­thony El­lis, dealer prin­ci­pal of SMG, of­fered the new model X4, with 20 000 km on the clock, as the ideal ve­hi­cle for such a trip. Bear­ing in mind the Eastern Cape’s in­fa­mous roads, he did make a point of ask­ing me to re­turn the rims in one piece, which seemed a rea­son­able re­quest.

My daugh­ter, Kather­ine, and her part­ner, Mel­chior, flew in from Bel­gium to at­tend the wed­ding, which meant I got to pack the X4’ s 500 litre lug­gage area like a young dad. Af­ter clos­ing the boot with space to spare, I walked around the car for the fi­nal pre­trip check of those rims and tyres.

The X4 re­ally is a hand­some car, ap­pear­ing some­what like a smaller ver­sion of the X6, but with none of the ap­par­ent heav­i­ness of that ve­hi­cle.

The de­sign is ath­letic and clearly a blend of life­style and per­for­mance, which stands out both on and off road.

Our route took us through Un­der­berg to Kok­stad and Matatiele and then on to Mount Fletcher, Ma­clear, Ugie and El­liot. Once there we would turn off to Queen­stown and Whit­tle­sea. Then through the Nico Malan Pass to Sey­mour, where we would take the long, wind­ing road to Hogs­back.

Sure, this is the long way round, but in a car like this, why not? We all mar­velled at a part of South Africa best kept from tourists, and we made the vis­i­tors swear not to tell.

The road to Un­der­berg, via Bul­wer, is ex­cel­lent with turns that made me feel quite vain­glo­ri­ous be­hind the wheel. De­spite the un­du­lat­ing tar, ev­ery­one com­mented on the com­fort of the in­te­rior, the quiet ride, the soft feel of the leather and the ad- justa­bil­ity of the seats.

I made note how the con­trols and gauges are er­gonom­i­cally placed, with the high driv­ing po­si­tion en­abling me to see well ahead of the ve­hi­cle. The leather- cov­ered, multi- func­tion steer­ing wheel is a plea­sure to han­dle, although we used only the au­dio con­trols and the Blue Tooth func­tions.

The eight- speed tip­tronic trans­mis­sion is but­ter smooth and there are four set­tings for the gear­box from Eco Pro, which we used most of the way, to sport+, which makes a dif­fer­ence to per­form- ance, as well as to fuel con­sump­tion.

The four- cylin­der, two- litre, 140 kW/ 400 Nm engine is sporty and en­joy­able in all set­tings, even with my miserly driv­ing .

The road to Kok­stad had the oc­ca­sional pot­hole, which was eas­ily avoided thanks to that high seat­ing po­si­tion and the very re­spon­sive steer­ing, which pro­vides im­me­di­ate feed­back on road con­di­tions.

We lis­tened to mu­sic on the six- speaker au­dio sys­tem and chat­ted in the quiet cabin. Ar­riv­ing in Kok­stad with­out in­ci­dent, we learned about the other Groot Trek, this one by over 2 000 Gri­quas and their cat­tle who were led here by Adam Kok 111 af­ter be­ing dis­placed by the Voortrekkers in today’s Free State.

We crossed into the Eastern Cape and driv­ing con­di­tions changed com­pletely.

Ev­ery­where work was be­ing done to the road. Chick­ens, sheep, cat­tle, pigs, as well as small chil­dren and old men swarmed all over the tar­mac.

Ev­ery blind rise hid dan­ger and stop- go road works caused long de­lays.

The pot­holes seemed to open again as soon as the re­pair crews moved on, some big enough to crack a rim wide open.

Our progress slowed, we pressed on to Matatiele, another in­ter­est­ing and his­toric town founded by Adam Kok in 1864. Here we dis­cov­ered a cof­fee shop in an early stone house, which was stream­ing a Brus­sels ra­dio sta­tion.

Need­less to say we stopped and en­joyed our­selves for an hour and then pressed on to Queen­stown.

Queen­stown is a city of about 60 000 peo­ple, estab­lished in 1853 and named for Queen Vic­to­ria. The toy- vil­lage comes com­plete with a stone- built cathe­dral com­plex, a univer­sity and two re­ally good mu­se­ums. Sadly we saw lit­tle of this place as we pushed on against the fad­ing light.

By the time we turned on to the steep, wind­ing road to Hogs­back, the light was al­most gone and we spent the next 40 min­utes avoid­ing pot­holes aided by the X4’ s fine LED head­lights.

When we fi­nally ar­rived at our ho­tel the bride­groom came out and greeted us ec­stat­i­cally. “How are you all?” he asked.

“Tense,” my daugh­ter replied. “If it had not been for this re­mark­able car we would still be driv­ing, or dead.”

We spent four days at the re­sort vil­lage of Hogs­back, vis­it­ing the sites, where the X4 proved it is no slouch on mud.

I gave the SUV back af­ter a re­turn drive of 13 hours.

I felt re­laxed and only my bad knee re­minded me that I had been sit­ting in one po­si­tion for a long time.

Would I do the drive again? Yes — if I can find some­one to lend me an X4!

PHO­TOS: BRIAN BASSETT

While the black will show the dirt, the X4 makes light of muddy roads, turn­ing even a 13- hour drive over the Eastern Cape’s in­fa­mous pot­holes into a dod­dle.

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