Perfect for dirty weekends
BRIAN BASSETT proves balies can still do the Hogsback run for a long weekend, in a BMW X4
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!
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.