BMW X1 tackles Bain’s Kloof Pass
BMW X1 tackles Bain’s Kloof Pass
When BMW started making them, you knew the compact SUV had crossedover from niche to nouveau riche. Ray Leathern puts the latest X1 to the test in Bain’s Kloof.
Was it a kerb-hopping city car, or was it meant to bring snob value to the Tankwa Karoo? No one knew.
The growth of the high-rise hatch shows no sign of abating. Once only a small niche of mainstream hatches, now even premium manufacturers such as BMW realise that they are likely to sell more of these almost-suvs than all of their stalwart sedan models combined.
Enter the second-generation X1.the first one, made from bits of old 3 Series with a lumpy Suv-meets-estate body welded on top, looked in some ways like a precursor to the alt-left 3 and 5 Series Gran Turismos of the brand. It delivered an equally confused drive.was it a kerb-hopping city car, or was it meant to bring snob value to the Tankwa Karoo? No one knew.
The new X1 (pictured here in M sport spec) is much better executed. Our S drive test unit has a transversely mounted four-cylinder motor and front-wheel drive, just like a Mini Countryman. You will have to stretch the budget by around R60k for the all-wheel drive on-demand X drive version.
We are set for the Boland Mountain Complex, more specifically the historic Bain’s Kloof mountain pass, undoubtedly the most remarkable piece of road in South Africa. An act of civil engineering so gutsy and so complex, it is the only one – out of the hundreds of roads credited to the Bains family – that actually carries the famous name.this will be the ideal test for the fauxby-four BMW.
Conceived during the expansionist program of road building in the Western Cape during the 19th century, Andrew Geddes Bains, the then Inspector of Roads, and Colonial Secretary, John Montagu, were traveling along the Breede River between projects at Houw Hoek Pass and Michells Pass when they came upon their ‘grandest discovery’ – a promising looking kloof through the Limietberge and Slanghoekberge to Wellington. Upon seeing the pass, Montagu reputedly exclaimed, with Galileo-like clarity, ‘Bains, that is just the line!’
Bains’ enthusiasm for the project was soon overcome by the extreme realities of building his most ambitious road. “The frightful terra incognita (unknown land) is repulsive and savagely grand. Vast rocks everywhere disturbing progress, protruding their unearthly shapes to the banks of the foaming torrent of the Witte River … seemingly forever set at defiance of the approach of man. So gloomy was this place, there is a perfect absence of animal life,” Bains wrote in a letter to Montagu after his first expedition.
Despite this, the Colonial Secretaries Office of the Cape enlisted the forced labour of one thousand convicts (not POWS as so many incorrectly believe). On average, 350 men worked on the pass at any one time.the first 10 km from the neck of the pass down the Eastern side had to be blasted entirely out of solid rock.
As Bains described it, “No sooner is
one obstacle removed, than others appear in rapid succession, but the powerful agency of gunpowder is slowly making them disappear.” All other drilling had to be done by hand. After four and a half years, at the unthinkable cost (back then) of £50,000, the road was completed and unveiled in 1853. In 1980 it was declared a national monument.
My fascination with the 30 km pass comes from the fact that, aside from maintenance upgrades over the years, it remains identical – signature white ‘Bains tombstones’ and all – to the one unveiled 164 years ago. Carved and dynamited out of rock by sheer brute force, it is a spectacular edification of one man’s pioneering spirit.
And, consequently, a fitting road to tackle in the equally strong-willed X1. On the climb out of Wellington, hugging up against the Western side of the pass through dappled forest light, I am all but blown away by the strength of the turbodiesel X1 20d.
With 140 kw and 400 Nm available from 1750 r/min, the X1 has more torque than an E46 M3.that is the type of thrust that gives it an almost unfair advantage over its rivals; its nigh on Golf GTD fast (0-100 km/h in 7.6 seconds). Shall we think about that for a moment? More torque than a celebrated sports saloon, sent only to the front wheels. Well, you guessed it. The traction control system of the X1 is the most overworked Münchner since Hannah the Oktoberfest bar maid.
Despite having to multi-task steering and transferring power to the road, the X1 has admirable levels of front grip and a nimble turn-in, thanks to Ls-diff-like brake control on the front axle and urgent steering. A lack of axle articulation and low-profile tyres, however, means that there is a gnarly thump over the more severe bumps, and a generally bouncy attitude over the rest.
We sprint up, crest the summit … and relax, backing it off to comfort mode to cruise the Eastern edge of the pass at a pace more befitting of an X1. Deep in the heart of the valley, at a secluded spot you have probably driven past tens of times before and never noticed; we duck off left to our overnight halt: Bastiaanskloof Private Nature Reserve.
Predictably, we must leave the comforting feel of bitumen behind and explore the warren of dirt roads of the reserve before nightfall sets in.the X1 grips strongly even on the corrugated gravel and the steering remains equally alert, but those low profile tyres never settle on the irregular surface. Till deep in the valley we reach a road that warns “4×4 Vehicles Only” and somewhat mercifully, we decide to throw in the towel and head back to cosy-up in the cottage for the night.
The verdict is this.we want more from the X1, but we do not know what exactly. It is handsome, very brisk, solidly built, and represents a big improvement over its obnoxious older brother. And yet, this is a BMW, and we are a picky bunch.the BMW X1 is the right car for something, but even after our Bain’s Kloof adventure, we are not sure exactly what …
Deep in the valley we reach a road that warns “4×4 Vehicles Only” and somewhat mercifully, we decide to throw in the towel and head back to cosy-up in the cottage for the night.