Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Touring: Western Cape, South Africa

There are hundreds of ‘Great Drives’ along spectacular coastline in many places around the world, but one of my most memorable is the drive from Hermanus, along the coast of the Western Cape, to Capetown.


In 2002 I headed a North American press group flying in to Capetown for the press launch of the Bentley Arnage T saloon. We stayed at the quiet, secluded and luxurious Grand Roche Hotel in Paarl, close to South Africa’s wine country. This hotel is beautifully decorated, but also very understated and comfortable.

Hotel Grand Roche

After a brief pit stop for breakfast in Frankschoek, we followed the R45 to Villersdorp, joining the R43, and Route 2 to Caledon. We took the R316 and the R320, to Stanford, and then made a detour to the fabulous Grootbos Private Nature Reserve for lunch, and a chance to get up close and personal with some wildlife, including a couple of very curious Ostriches.
Grootbos Private Reserve

Then the driving changed from hilly terrain dotted with eucalyptus tress, and open sweeping roads, to a winding, scenic drive along the rugged coastline.

As we crested the last hill before joining the coast you look west towards False Bay. So named because many early sailors heading for Capetown, mistook the sweep of this bay as the Capetown Harbour, thus the area a few kilometres offshore is littered with shipwrecks from centuries past.

Cape Point

Had they sailed just a few more miles further out to sea they would have rounded Cape Point, and the spectacle of Table Mountain would have confirmed they’d arrived safely in Capetown.

Capetown and Table Mountain

Today the road edges around the base of huge cliffs under the Kogelberg Nature Reserve. Following the R44 past Betty’s Bay, Pringle Bay, we leave the coast at Strand to head for Stellenbosch.

Bentley Arnage T near Kogelberg Reserve
Stellenbosch is the true heart of the wine district hereabouts, and also a university town. It’s a cosmopolitan centre with great restaurants and hotels. We then turned north for a fabulous, mountainous drive along Helshootge Road, to rejoin the R45 and return to the Grand Roche. Then it was time for cocktails, and the inevitable ‘Presentation’ of the new car, with all its associated technical details, sales forecasts and the Q&A.

Hotel Grand Roche

The ‘business’ end of any launch event is a small price to pay for the chance to drive in far-flung and exotic locations all over the world. More about some of the other Bentley ‘Great Drives’ in future posts.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Fiat 16

Badge-engineered cars turn up in unusual places sometimes, and on a recent trip to Italy I noticed how popular the Fiat Sedici has become – especially with smart, chic, young Italian women.

 The Sedici (Italian for sixteen) is made in Hungary by Suzuki, and about one-third of the production is sold in Italy with either 1.6 petrol, or 1.9. diesel (guess which one is most popular in Italy). It’s a by-product of the original links between Suzuki and General Motors, and then later General Motors and Fiat.  

The car was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Ital Design and launched at the Geneva Salon in 2006, and it’s a really smart looking vehicle. It’s a 4x4 or 4x2 drive configuration (as 4x4 makes 16, that’s why the Italians decided to badge it Sedici).

We know the car in Australia by its Suzuki moniker, SX4. I drove one a year or so back, and I can easily understand its popularity.

Given its short wheelbase it is easy to park, is quite roomy, has acceptable luggage capacity, and the occupants get a nice high driving position with a commanding view of the traffic.

If you’re a young woman doing battle in Italy’s chaotic cities, I can definitely see why this car appeals.
As an all-wheel-drive, it’s not in the Range Rover class of off-road machines, but for dashing about at ski resorts, and coping with occasionally rough terrain on a picnic in the Tuscan woods, it’s quite competent.
The Suzuki SX-4 I drove handled confidently and competently and was great around town. On the motorway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast it was stable, quiet and very economical, with fuel economy around 7 l/100km. Not bad given all the drag induced by an awd system, and a less-than slippery shape.

Suzuki has massively undermarketed this car in Australia, and after the success it achieved with the tiny Swift hatchback, I can’t work out why they didn’t put more effort and marketing dollars into the SX4 SUV. It broadens the range, offers something completely different, and is well-priced.

Clearly, young Italians got the message.