A ‘travelogue’ is not usually associated with a vehicle review, so when Ford South Africa invited TourismTattler to join a group of journalists, bloggers and photographers on a 3-day journey driving the new Ford Kuga from the Eastern Cape, through the Free State and ending in Gauteng, I was certainly intrigued. Text by Des Langkilde. Images by Rob Till.
True to form, attention to detail – a hallmark that has become synonymous with the Ford Motor Company over its 114-year history, making it the world’s fifth largest automaker based on worldwide vehicle sales – was applied to this journeys itinerary, ably coordinated by Gideo Basson of red-moon events on the logistics side.
These attributes became starkly evident as participants in this ‘roadathon’ journey arrived at East London airport in the early hours of 21 September, signed obligatory indemnity forms, downed coffee, devoured breakfasts, absorbed a quick briefing, grabbed a co-driver buddy, and finally slipped behind the wheel of the new Kuga SUV and headed off for Hogsback.
The most difficult part of the aforementioned proceedings was deciding which model to drive first – the 2.0 TDCi Titanium Powershift 6AT AWD or the 1.5 EcoBoost Trend 6MT FWD. Procrastination was quickly set aside, however, when informed that we’d have an opportunity to drive both during the ensuing days, which meant that indecision was replaced by the need to make comparison – not an easy task when faced with an array of standard features that belie the retail price difference between the two models – but more about that later.
Having selected the two-litre TDCi Kuga for the first day of our road trip, my co-driver Seth Cairns (from The Travel Manual) started reading through the supplied folder featuring the itinerary with step-by-step journey directions, which turned out to be unnecessary once we’d figured out the Ford SYNC console display. In SYNC3 Navigation mode, the onboard GPS tracked our progress at every turn. What I found to be particularly useful, was being able to see a birds-eye-view of the lie of the road ahead before reaching tight bends.
At this point, I have to digress from the journey travelogue and describe some of the features of Ford’s SYNC technology – it’s bloody marvellous! There are actually 3 optional versions: SYNC1 lets you use your voice to make calls, listen to music, and select apps with Ford AppLink; SYNC2 adds enhanced capabilities, like an intelligently organised screen featuring four quadrants to help keep you connected on-the-go; SYNC3 lets you enjoy all of the aforementioned features, plus Ford’s next generation of voice-activated technology using Siri and your iPhone (or Android) to make or receive a call, reserve a table at a restaurant, audibly send a “see you there” text message and more.
On the technology side, the new Kuga has, even more, features, like a wide-angle rear-view camera that automatically activates when the reverse gear is selected to provide a clear view of what’s behind you and take the guesswork out of reversing; a ‘Lane-Keeping Aid’ feature that warns if you begin to drift across into the oncoming lane by applying torque to move back towards the lane you were in; an electronic handbrake that lets you park securely with the touch of a button using Park Assist to steer you in; a Blind Spot Information System to alert you when changing lanes with a discreet warning light built into the driver and passenger doors’ side mirrors; auto-Stop/Start ignition; smart keyless entry with push-start button; rear parking sensors; hands-free ‘open sesame’ tailgate; paddle shift levers mounted on the steering wheel to allow for faster up and downshifts while driving in manual SelectShift mode; and a whole lot more.
It’s a bit like driving a supercomputer on wheels – it even has built-in WiFi, which confused the heck out of me until I was told that this feature enables mobile app updates and Ford can also upload software updates to the car while parked in the owners’ garage. All you need is a Wi-Fi connection.
The hands-free music system is pretty cool too. It can search, select, play specific titles via USB or MP3 player or stream via Bluetooth® Audio. There’s also a bunch of USB ports to keep your phone charged.
Getting back to the journey, I found the ‘Adaptive Cruise Control’ a nifty feature to keep within speed limits, specifically as the deceptively quite 2.0l turbodiesel engine delivers its 132kW of power without you even noticing the corresponding speed. On the open road, Ford’s ‘Collision Warning’ feature also helps maintain your choice speed at preset gaps from the vehicle in front of you. It can also alert you to a potential collision if one is detected.
Hogsback – Eastern Cape
Kicking off the presentation, Ford’s director: Marketing, Sales and Service – Southern & Sub-Saharan Africa, Neale Hill expounded on the new Kuga’s recent accolades, like the 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine having won the International Engine of the Year award for the 6th consecutive year, and that the EcoSport tops the compact SUV segment (with the Mustang leading the sports car category, and the Ranger ending first half year sales results as South Africa’s best-selling vehicle).
Taking over the presentation from Neale, Ford’s Brand Manager, Kuda Takura went through more slides, the most interesting of which bragged about standard features across the range, which include: 7 airbags, ABS brakes with electronic brake assist and brake-force distribution; stability programme with Traction Control; trailer stability function; Hill Launch Assist; belt minder with safari chime; and ISOFIX child-seat anchors.
Reinforced with information overload and reinvigorated with full bellies, our media convoy departed Hogback heading for Molteno via a dirt road route that only the local knowledge of our logistics guru, Gideo Basson could have discerned and confused the hell out of Siri, which insisted that we should follow the GPS via national roads.
Molteno – Eastern Cape
Molteno lies high in the Stormberg Mountains of the Karoo system and is South Africa’s second coldest town with its close proximity to the country’s only ski resort, Tiffindell. The town’s major claim to fame is that it is the original home to Ouma Rusks – a local delicacy made from buttermilk.
The story goes that when Elizabeth Ann Greyvenstyn was offered a half-crown (roughly worth £30 or R560 in 2017) from the town’s pastor in 1939 in an effort to reduce the negative impact of the Great Depression, she started baking rusks under the brand name ‘Outspan’, which soon changed to ‘Ouma’ (Afrikaans for grandmother). In 1941 the IDC (Industrial Development Corporation) gave its first start-up loan to Ouma Rusks for £1,500 and Elizabeth’s grandson, Leon Greyvensteyn (who went on to found the Simba Chip company in 1956) sold the brand to Fedfood in the 1970s, and since 1992 has been owned by Foodcorp who still maintain an Ouma Rusks factory in the town employing 250 people.
After a brief Ouma rusk respite and piss-stop, our convoy of Kuga’s with Seth my co-driver having taken his turn at the wheel of the 2.0 TDCi, headed off for Gariep, still sticking mostly to dirt roads through the Eastern Cape and into the Free State, and our ultimate over-night accommodation at De Stijl Gariep Hotel.
Gariep Dam – Free State
Following a delectable dinner, much wine and banter with colleagues, a restful sleep, and an expansive buffet breakfast the following morning, we set off for Gariep Dam for a unique experience, this time driving the 1.5l EcoBoost Trend Auto.
Now, this is where Ford’s travelogue planning took an interesting turn, for it became apparent that this journey had a theme – namely water, which was rather appropriate given the shortage of same over most of South Africa at the time.
Originally named the Hendrik Verwoerd Dam it was officially changed to Gariep Dam in 1996. Gariep is a Khoekhoe (Khoikhoi) word for ‘river’, the original name of the Orange River. The Gariep Dam is the largest water storage reservoir in South Africa with a capacity of approximately 5,34 million megalitres (5,340 hm3) and a surface area of more than 370 square kilometres when full, although with the current drought conditions the dam was down to about 62% of its capacity.
We were met for a group briefing at the Gariep Dam wall by Gert, after which we proceeded to walk through parts of the 13.2km of tunnels and more than a thousand steps that lead into the foundation of the Orange River. We were told that the water thrust is so tremendous against the convex side of the wall that faces upstream that the wall actually gives or bends under it. The tour concluded with an interesting slide show in its well equipped audiovisual room after which one of the sluice gates were opened to demonstrate the force of water that can be expelled to alleviate pressure against the wall. At Oviston, on the south bank of the reservoir, is the inlet of the Orange-Fish River Tunnel, allowing water to be diverted to the Great Fish River and most of the Eastern Cape’s western parts.
With minds overflowing on aqua trivia we convened for a brief photo shoot along the dam wall before setting off for Clarens, a distance of 421km from Gariep Dam via the R701 and the R26, which skirts the North Western boundary of Lesotho.
Smithfield – Free State
A brief pit-stop for bladder relief and refreshments in Smithfield –the third oldest town in the Free State (after Philippolis and Winburg) – our convoy of Kuga’s continued the scenic drive through undulating grasslands, sheep and cattle farms.
Clocolan – Free State
Arriving in Clocolan, know in Basotho as ‘Hlohlolwane’ (meaning ‘get up and fight’ after an incident in which the bumping over of a basket filled with wheat led to a fight), but the colonialists mispronounced the name and called it Clocolan.
According to the running commentary from our ever-knowledgeable guide Gideo, who was in constant contact with the convoy via two-way radios – interspersed with hilarious karaoke with a twist from Meruschka (@MzansiGirl) – the fertile southern part of the territory we had just driven through is known as ’no-mans-land’ (aka Lower Caledon Valley) by virtue of territorial boundary disputes between the British, Boers and Basotho (it’s an interesting story – read more about this at the Smithfield link above).
Clarens – Free State
Arriving in Clarens (nicknamed the ‘Jewel of the Eastern Free State’), we checked-in at the Protea Hotel by Marriott Clarens – a surprisingly stylish four-star retreat nestled in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains and in close proximity to the Golden Gate National Park and the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.
After a sumptuous meal at the hotels’ Adamo Restaurant it was time for “penalties” – presided over by Neale, whose concoction for the down-down left me feeling glad that I’d not been singled out for having done anything like a few of my colleagues ‘misdemeanours’ which included a punctured tyre (after having been told to be wary of a rough terrain patch on the dirt road section of the journey), and a Go-Pro camera mounted on the Kuga rooftop which became airborne as the driver sped past us all to capture a convoy video clip.
After breakfast on the third and final day of our travelogue journey, our media retinue switched cars again and set off for Johannesburg. Despite our collective hangovers, we still managed a brief stop-over at the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority’s Ash River Outfall site, which forms part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. This is Africa’s largest water transfer scheme, which is gravity fed through massive tunnels from several large dams in Lesotho to deliver water to the Vaal River System in South Africa.
The final leg of the journey, via the R712 through Bethlehem, the R26 through Reitz, the R34 through Frankfort, and finally onto the N1 highway bound for OR Tambo International Airport (a total distance of 310km from Clarence), provided an opportunity to test the Kuga’s EcoMode driver information system. This smart software monitors your driving style and displays its impact on the car’s fuel economy. Floor the throttle and you get a low score; drive efficiently and you get a high score and reduced running costs.
I also found Ford’s Adaptive Cruise Control and Collision Warning system to be pretty useful in Joburg’s traffic congestion, as it provides a visual and audible alert when your speed breaches the safety gap from the vehicle in front of you to avoid a potential collision.
I was rather sad to leave the Kuga behind on arrival at the airport. Still more sad at the thought of leaving all that water in the Free State as I head for the drought-stricken city of Port Elizabeth, and thence to the, even more, drought-stricken city of Cape Town.
While waiting for my domestic flight departure, I downloaded Ford’s New Kuga brochure and thought that their twist of the acronym ‘SUV’ (sports utility vehicle or suburban utility vehicle) to “Smart Utility Vehicle” is rather clever, and certainly appropriate as I discovered during this travelogue journey.
For more information visit www.ford.co.za
PS. I mentioned at the start of this travelogue that I’d tell you more about the retail price difference between the range of new Kuga models. Ford has a nifty ‘build-and-price’ feature on their website – check it out via the link above, and while you’re there, book a Test Drive.