Ve­hi­cle Re­view: Mazda BT-50

Con­quer­ing Sani Pass

Tourism Tattler - - EDITORIAL - By Tessa Buhrmann.

So with chal­lenge ac­cepted, my hubby Daryl and I booked a week­end away in the south­ern Drak­ens­berg so as to tra­verse the steep and zigzag­ging Sani Pass.

Hik­ers, na­ture lovers and four-wheel drive en­thu­si­asts will be fa­mil­iar with this moun­tain pass lo­cated in the UNESCO World Her­itage Site, the uKhahlamba Drak­ens­berg moun­tain range. Rugged and rocky, this gravel moun­tain pass is the only di­rect road link­ing KwaZulu-Natal and Le­sotho – it orig­i­nally served as a trade route be­tween Himeville and Mokhot­long, and has evolved over the years from a path for pedes­tri­ans, horses and don­keys to what it is to­day.

Ed­i­tor's note: Ac­cord­ing to pho­tog­ra­pher Mike Eloff's blog, the first car to ‘drive' up Sani Pass was in Oc­to­ber 1948, when an ex-spit­fire pi­lot by the name of God­frey Ed­monds, and a group of lo­cal work­ers hauled his Willys Jeep to the top in over 6 hours, along with a huge sup­ply of rope to pull it up and sleeper wood as makeshift hand­brakes. Sadly, much of the road has been tarred since 2006 and ac­cord­ing to Wikipedia, the fi­nal phase of tar­ring is due for com­ple­tion in 2019. Our jour­ney be­gan in Dur­ban where the BT-50 felt quite at home in its sub­ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment, per­fect for those cart­ing, car­ry­ing and cof­fee mo­ments, al­beit a lit­tle large in the park­ing de­part­ment for me. Once on the open road though it light­ened up dra­mat­i­cally of­fer­ing a com­fort­able ride, thanks to the dou­ble-wish­bone lay­out with coil springs on the front sus­pen­sion and rigid axle with leaf springs in the rear, all whilst still re­tain­ing a chunky feel.

This chunky solid feel cer­tainly came into its own as we be­gan the climb from the grass-clad lower slopes and rocky peaks of KZN to the alpine veg­e­tated plains and peaks of Le­sotho, the Moun­tain King­dom. The road up to the SA bor­der post of­fered am­ple op­por­tu­nity to test out the ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity of the BT-50 as we dodged rocks and ditches – this lower sec­tion has a long easy gra­di­ent and nu­mer­ous look-out points. Be ad­vised that this is a 4X4 route only and valid pass­ports, proof of ve­hi­cle own­er­ship and in­sur­ance is re­quired. The route up Sani Pass climbs to an al­ti­tude of 2876 m, and on-route the beau­ti­ful Mkhomazana River val­ley slopes get steeper as the road gains al­ti­tude.

The higher one gets the steeper the in­cline – in cer­tain sec­tions, the gra­di­ent is as steep as 1:4 – re­quir­ing much con­cen­tra­tion and a steady hand. The Mazda BT-50's 110kw of power and 470Nm of torque made travers­ing the rocky in­clines a breeze, as did the 6-speed auto gear­box which had us in the right gear for each sit­u­a­tion.

When one gazes over the edge and sees ve­hi­cle wrecks dot­ting the land­scape, it is com­fort­ing to know you're in a ve­hi­cle with ad­vanced safety fea­tures like Dy­namic Sta­bil­ity Con­trol, Trac­tion Con­trol Sys­tem, Hill Launch As­sist and Hill De­scent (great for head­ing back down again), amongst oth­ers. What's more, for true peace of mind, the BT-50 is equipped 4W-ABS, Emer­gency Brake As­sist as well as front, side and cur­tain airbags.

As the fresh moun­tain streams and wa­ter­falls turned to ice the rel­a­tively mild weather grew icier with a wind chill to match. The fi­nal few hun­dred me­tres of this epic climb was by far the most chal­leng­ing with switch­back fol­low­ing switch­back, each get­ting in­creas­ing steeper, rougher and tighter - all han­dled with ease by the BT-50 and its auto box. Soon the reward of level ground and the Le­sotho bor­der post beck­oned, and with taxes paid and pass­ports stamped we pro­ceeded into Le­sotho on what is now a re­ally good tar road to ex­pe­ri­ence the icy snow on the higher peaks.

Well, we had cer­tainly charted new ter­ri­to­ries, and con­quered the out­doors… all that was left was to toast this suc­cess­ful chal­lenge with a lo­cal Ma­luti beer.

My fi­nal thoughts on the Mazda BT-50?

Def­i­nitely still a ‘bakkie' but with the fi­nesse and com­fort of an SUV, giv­ing great ride com­fort no mat­ter where the trail leads.

For more in­for­ma­tion visit www.mazda.co.za About the au­thor: Tourism Tat­tler cor­re­spon­dent Tessa Buhrmann is the ed­i­tor of Re­spon­si­ble Trav­eller mag­a­zine. www.re­spon­si­ble­trav­eller.co.za

When Touris­mTat­tler was pre­sented with the op­por­tu­nity of re­view­ing the MAZDA BT-50 Dou­ble Cab, it was a given that we’d choose some­thing that could be con­sid­ered a chal­lenge – es­pe­cially when the mar­ket­ing blurb makes claims like ‘chart new ter­ri­to­ries’ and ‘con­quer the out­doors in style’.

Watch the video as we put the MAZDA BT-50 through it's paces on an epic trip up Sani Pass.

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