When we heard the call of the Karoo, with its vast open landscapes, silent roads and mountain passes, we saddled up a Jaguar F-Pace 35t AWD S and headed for the Ostrich capital of the world.
When I was handed the keys to a Jaguar F-Pace, which would be tasked with transporting a bike and 3 support crew to Oudtshoorn, I quickly opened up a new tab in my Google Chrome web browser, typed maps.google.com and hit enter. I look up the Karoo, quickly zoom in and then zoom out. Which roads look the most squiggly and where have I never driven before? Then I found my answer. Ahh, the R324 between Swellendam and Barrydale, more famously known as Tradouw Pass. How have I never driven this road before? I was confused too, having actually driven and compiled an entire magazine a few years back on South Africa’s Best Driving Roads. Embarrassingly, I would amend it, if that magazine still existed...
The reason I was heading for Oudtshoorn was two-fold, firstly to take part in the 36ONE mountain bike race, where I would be pedalling in the 180 km leg of the 361 km race. The second was to plant some trees. One hundred and sixty-eight trees to be exact. Cars.co.za plants trees in aid of our planet and through riding the event I would be helping to combat the carbon emissions released by my F-Pace 35t AWD S on the trip – at least that was the idea.
The F-Pace 35t AWD S sat in the middle of the Klein Karoo between Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn.
My drive would start in Cape Town and then entirely avoid the N2 (Somerset West is known for killing the vibe of all road trips) by taking the N1 to Worcester and then hooking a right to Robertson down the R60. At Ashton, I would avoid the now 2-year long road works and traverse the beautiful road into Swellendam. A begrudging short stint along the N2 follows before eyeing out a left-hand turn up the R324 Tradouw Pass to Barrydale. From there it’s a simple flat out blast along the picturesque R62 to Oudtshoorn. A total of 440 km.
In a bid to emit as little CO2 as possible, I initially asked for a 2.0-litre turbodiesel-powered F-Pace to get the job done. That way I could really test the F-Pace’s long distance range. Jaguar countered with the offer of a V6 supercharged petrol, to which all my previous notions of frugality disintegrated into visions of clipped apexes and screaming exhaust notes. “Ja, okay” was all I managed to reply, while trying my utmost to sound disappointed.
The test unit arrived at the Cars.co.za office replete with a custom Thule/Jaguar branded bike rack and 19 000 km on the odometer. It’s extremely rare to receive a test car with anything over 5 000 km on the clock so I was intrigued to see how the F-Pace had stood up to extensive use.
Special Jaguar bike rack made by Thule. There are all sorts of extras you can add on like roof rails and an electronic towbar.
A worrisome feature of the F-Pace is the full-size spare wheel that South Africans demand. Personally, I’m fine with a space saver that will get me to the nearest tyre dealer, but I can’t argue with the research manufacturers do on this topic. The full-size spare reduces the cavernous 650-litre boot to a hatchback-sized 463 litres. Jaguar Land Rover does offer a space saver upon request and you’ll have to weigh up whether the peace of mind of having a fully inflated tyre in reserve is worth the loss of practicality. For me, I've had 1 puncture in 15 years of driving, but I require a large luggage bay at least once a month – I'm happy to take that risk.
Said luggage bay just about coped with 4 people's luggage with minor overspill onto the unused centre rear seat. I carved myself out a letterbox sized hole between all the bags so I could see something out the rear-view mirror. Thankfully the side mirrors are particularly large so rear visibility is excellent.
With the bike locked and loaded we headed off into peak traffic at 8am on a Friday. Once we hit the N1, we would be heading against traffic to our first stop in Paarl (for breakfast). We needed to make Oudtshoorn by 3pm in order to register for the next day’s race so there was no real rush, but with 280 kW at my beck and call it was sometimes hard to keep my right foot steady. Overtaking with that much power in reserve is actually an enjoyable task: peek at a gap, floor the throttle and the Jaguar's transmission quickly knocks down a gear or 2 and then hurtles forward with impressive grace. There’s the backing track supplied by the forced-induction V6 engine that only becomes audible above 4 000 rpm that adds to the enjoyment.
There had been a flood in this area just 2 weeks prior to our trip. You wouldn't say so looking out the window.
Our F-Pace was specced with 4 USB ports, enough to charge the phones of everyone in the car, and they’re 1.5 milliamp ports that can fast charge a modern Smartphone. The best companion over the course of the road trip, however, was the 17-speaker Meridian sound system. There’s nothing like listening to 825W of crisp sound to make those miles tick faster.
The Tradouw pass
... is 20 kilometres of cooked spaghetti tarmac. It traverses the mountain range between the nutrient- and flora rich Swellendam and the dry and desolate Klein Karoo. It’s amazing how a mere 10 km (as the crow flies) can provide such a vast difference in landscapes. The one side bustling with vineyards, wheat and canola farms and the other side, dominated by patchy tufts of veldt and rock, open and untouched. The pass is lined with a brick barrier, a constant reminder that it’s unlikely to hold up to an impact, which could ramp us into the ravine.
The rotary knob that acts as a transmission selector in Jaguars was stealthily rotated into S, sending the 'box into its Sport shift pattern. The drive select button required a couple prods to send the chassis into Dynamic, which apart from lighting the instrument cluster in red, sends the drivetrain and suspension into hyper mode. The F-Pace is billed as a sports SUV, a slogan bandied about (not just by Jaguar) in order to subvert the idea that big cars don’t handle well.
Tradouw pass has spectacular views and kilometres of winding tarmac. Mind the barriers though, they are unforgiving.
The F-Pace is as close as any SUV comes to being sporty – its chassis feels tight and light. There’s less body roll than other Heffalumps (a reference for those who also appreciate the Winnie the Pooh series) and its rear-wheel drive bias allows the front to tuck into apexes quicker thanks to the front wheels being uncorrupted by power.
Surprisingly, most of the passengers were enjoying the whipping, squirting of power and deft braking. Still, we stopped for some air at the midway point of the pass before continuing our onslaught. I’m impressed by the steering of the F-Pace in Dynamic mode, it’s fast and direct and the deep dish wheel enhances the sporty demeanour.
For an SUV, the F-Pace has tonnes of grip... on the many long corners of the pass, the front holds fast and the more power you feed in, the more the torque vectoring system disperses it to the best axle.
The fuel situation
I was expecting the supercharged V6 to be thirsty, very thirsty. Even on the long road, where, at 120 kph, the Jaguar barely idling at 2 000 rpm, it drinks 10.0 L/100 km. Over the entire weekend, the 1 100 km was completed at an average of 10.7 L/100 km. That’s actually not all that bad, all things being considered. I would prefer a larger fuel tank than the 63-litre one that's fitted because it limits the car's range to around 500 km before the fuel light comes on. The Mercedes-Benz GLE, for example, has a 93-litre tank, I'd probably be happy with an 80-litre unit as a compromise.
Mistakes were made
After overnighting near the Cango caves, I set out at 5.20am to get to my race start by 6am, some 40 km away – easy going right? “Sh*t, I forgot my bottles!” I shouted at my sleepy (now sole remaining) passenger a mere 10 km into the trip to the start line. You don’t want to be without hydration in a 180 km race, so there was no option but to u-turn and head back. Anyone who has driven to the Cango caves knows that the road leading there is exceptionally good. Cambered corners mixed with fast sweeps and tight hairpins – it’s driving heaven. I had to pin it, there’s no such thing as a late start in a mountain bike race!
All 361 km of riding. The ride has to be completed within 36 hours, which is madness.
The F-Pace’s capabilities were tested, as were my passenger's stomach and nerves as we hustled it one way, collected the bottles and then whipped it back through the pass again to get to the start with a mere 5 minutes to spare. The Jaguar sat, ticking away as it cooled off in the dark while I rushed into my special Drive for Trees kit and felt my way to the start line
Bike to car
No less than 180 km of riding later and I was absolutely finished, in a world of pain and exhaustion. The route took us from just South of Oudtshoorn, around the Gamkaberg nature reserve and then up the Rooiberg Pass. That pass, in particular, was an absolute highlight in the early morning; it's a 6 km climb, but once at the top, there is an endless view of the Karoo and its vastness. From there we headed to Calitzdorp and along the foot of the Swartberg mountain range before trailing back to Oudtshoorn. The temperatures ranged from 3 degrees celsius at dawn to 33 degrees celsius in the cauldron below Swartberg.
168 trees were planted in partnership with our Drive for Trees programme.
At the finish, I sampled some local beer and then headed swiftly for the passenger seat in the Jaguar for the return trip to our overnight accommodation. I was thankful for dual-zone climate control and a place to rest my weary legs, but entirely aware that the weekend’s physical fitness schedule wasn’t complete. Yes, despite being near-immobile after the day's exertion, my spectators/travel buddies were excited about tackling the adventure course at the Cango caves. That was just what my legs needed – a session of spelunking!
The return leg
The route back was the same, but with stops in different towns for fill-ups and nourishment. The R62 has undergone some extensive tourist upgrades, every town along the road feels geared for travellers with curio shops, speciality food and markets. Barrydale, in particular, is a little gem with a section of the town decked out with timber farm stalls and restaurants.
Swellendam is a popular stop along the N2 highway, and if you veer off the main road, has interesting heritage from its Dutch East India Company days as well as a huge sign noting that it’s South Africa’s number 1 rated municipality.
The mandatory stop on the R62 at Ronnie's Sex Shop.
Returning an F-Pace with 20 000 km plus change revealed some interesting tidbits. The engine still remains an absolute beast and apparently hasn’t skipped a beat since its first kilometre. It’s got yet more work to do: American racing legend Randy Pobst was its next caretaker as he used it to drive from Cape Town to the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb.
The interior has, for the most part, held up extremely well. The leather doesn’t look a day older than new and the carpeting is all still thick and lush. There are a few rattles, especially in front of the dashboard and somewhere in the left front corner, an area Jaguar would hope to eliminate them from in the future. I’m also not a fan of the plasticky cover on the instrument cluster – I would expect something less scratchy/more soft-touch in a car costing in excess of R1.2 million. These are minor gripes, I admit, and ones I could certainly live with. As much as I like the engine and its performance characteristics I would still pick the 3.0d. It’s got all the grunt you’ll ever want and could extract 700 km on a tank, easily.
The F-Pace has won 2017's Word Car of the Year, something some may dispute. As the world continues to buy more and more SUVs, it makes sense that they should have a decent shot at the title. The F-Pace is certainly the most dynamic SUV on sale at the moment, whether it's the best example of an SUV is still up for debate, it may have just come at the exact right time as the world was ready to accept the SUV as the perfect everyday car.
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