MOTORING: Taking Lesotho’s peaks in our stride

The VW Amarok is said to be built to handle tough terrain and in southern Africa, some of the toughest trails are found in mountainous Lesotho.

The Daily Dispatch team recently participated in a Maloti Drakensberg Transfrontier 4×4 expedition supported by Amarok, and this trip took us deep into the scenic mountainous Kingdom in the Sky.

Crossing seven mountain passes – the Ongeluksnek, Old Mphaki, Hloahloeng, Matebeng, Sehlabathebe, Thamathu and Ramatseliso – and conquering an altitude of 2550m above sea level was not for the faint-hearted. Led by Mr 4×4 himself, off-road driving instructor Andre de Villiers, more than 20 journalists in 10 new Amarok TDI 4motion bakkies travelled through Lesotho and experienced what many off-road motoring journalists only dream off.

Let me take you along. On collecting the latest 2017 VW Amarok, 2.0 bakkies from a dealership in Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal, we drove in convoy to Matatiele where the municipal manager, Dr Tsepang Nakin, welcomed us and gave us a send-off.

Driving off from the Ongeluksnek border post we immediately faced our first challenge – misty conditions – but continued up the pass with ease. From there we descended and spent some time near Lake Letsie, taking in the Maletsunyane Falls near Semonkong and Christ the King mission station for scenic views above the Senqu river.

The word “roads” can be used only in the loosest of senses here as they are travelled mainly by surefooted Basotho ponies and their riders. The Amaroks were our horses, handling the rough terrain easily, with the convoy suffering only a single puncture, which De Villiers sorted out in less than 10 minutes at Semonkong.

Sehlabathebe Pass, with an average elevation of 2400m above sea level, was the most difficult route to navigate but with De Villiers’ guidance, everyone completed what is one of the highest passes in southern Africa. The Amarok is the only pick-up in its class to come with an automatic post-collision braking system which thankfully was never needed on our trip – unlike the standard spec 17-inch disc brakes in front and 16-inch disc brakes in the rear, which were very useful at all times.

Although our bakkies did not carry a payload, the vehicle takes up to one ton and can pull a trailer of up to 3.3 tons.

Amarok boast that the bakkie has a maximum load width of 1222mm between its wheel wells and is the only mid-size bakkie in the local market that can load Euro pallets (1.2 x 0.8m) sideways. It also has a lockable tailgate with a clever Torsen bar system to make closing the tailgate effortless.

For assistance to perform off-road, our bakkie had an on-demand 4Motion all-wheel drive. It has a transfer case which enables the front wheels to be electrically engaged and disengaged while driving.

On steep inclines or longer stretches of gravel, an additional reduction gear can also be activated. It can also climb ramps angled at up to 23 degrees and handle inclines of up to 45 degrees with the one-ton payload. De Villiers said the bakkie has off-road ABS that once activated, locks the wheels for longer intervals when braking on loose surfaces to build up a wedge of gravel, which significantly reduces braking distances.

A Hill Descent Control comes standard as this allows you to drive down slopes in a safe, controlled way.

“As you drive downhill, once the off-road [mode] is engaged and the green light comes on and the 4×4 low-range light is on, the vehicle’s speed is limited to a constant crawling pace. You will hear the sound when it automatically applies the brakes – it is assisting you,” De Villiers explained during one of many descents we made during the trip. “Press the buttons you are told to press, take your foot off the clutch and let the VW Amarok do the [work] for you.”

Like many new bakkies these days, the Amarok comes with a number of driver assistance systems or safety systems.

These include park pilot, which assists with an audible sound warning when obstacles are detected in front or behind the vehicle while parking, as well as a rear-reversing camera.

Its automatic post-collision braking system triggers braking after a collision with the aim of preventing secondary collisions and there is a trailer stabilisation system which automatically slows the vehicle down should the trailer start to weave around heavily.

The infotainment system offers all the latest technology such as voice control, app connections and navigation systems.

It also features three handy 12V sockets inside the vehicle – one in the dash panel, one in the central console and one in the back seat. A fourth one can be found in the payload for external power requirements like a fridge.

There are a number of upholstery options, from Kemisu cloth to Nappa, Vienna and Salipra leather seats.

Other specification options include a winter package for those living in the colder parts of the country, where heated windscreen washer nozzles, a washer fluid display and seat heating for the driver and front passenger seat all make winter driving much more fun.

The models and prices at time of print are:

l2.0TDI double cab Comfortline at R507500;

l2.0BiTDI double cab Highline at R542900;

l2.0BiTDI double cab Highline auto at R561200;

l2.0TDI double cab Comfortline 4Motion at R566900;

l3.0 V6 TDI double cab Highline Plus 4Motion at R745500; and the

l3.0 V6 TDI double cab Extreme 4Motion at R778900.

We drove on some of Lesotho’s most difficult passes on one tank of fuel, only refuelling back in South Africa on day three of our trip. The manufacturer’s claim is that these bakkies use 7.8 litres per 100km. —