Secretly soft-roader envy

By Erik Brits

I am as guilty as the next man of acting on emotion rather than reason – it is just less effort. This is especially true when it comes to the age-old soft roader debate… seriously, why do they exist?? Look at a double-cab bakkie with a replacement bull bar, for example, and feel that tug at all things primitive inside you. Instinctively you want to buy a kayak and go find the source of the Senqu river, or stick a bull on that back so that you can have the freshest meat at the next neighbourhood braai.

Similarly, look at a sleek sexy sedan and you can just picture yourself slicing through traffic like a small (excited) dog through your mother-in-law’s flowerbed, making it home at least 17 seconds faster than in a ‘normal’ vehicle. So what then, do you do with a soft roader?

The cherry on top, when a guy thinks with his heart and not his head, is normally this statement: You’d be surprised where you can get to with a regular old car anyway – it’s only when you really need a 4×4 that things change.

It was precisely that statement that led me to go charging into Limpopo for a week of bushveld exploration in my little BMW 1 series recently, runflats and all, thinking I was going to show those city slickers in their RAV’s and iX35’s what a real man can do with enough will power.

Well, as it turns out, a real man can come home with his tail between his legs. You see, although my car has more than adequate ground clearance for most dirt roads and maintained farm trails, that corners-on-rails suspension kit transmits every vibration straight through my foolishbone and into my brain. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure my runflats actually cry every time they see an oncoming rock with a profile sharper than a teaspoon. And of course, game viewing in the Kruger (I took an interesting route home) is quite tricky when you sit with your head below shoulder height for anything bigger than a duiker, and especially so when you have to rev a petrol V6 to 4000rpm to get your scrabbling rear-wheel drive car up a loose gravel hill. Thankfully there were no other tourists nearby trying to enjoy the tranquility that I spoilt.

I will probably never change. I will probably continue to poke fun at people who buy ‘hatchback-on-steroid’ SUV’s that will seldom leave a paved road. But now, every time I do so, I will wince inside, and remember the bill I just paid for new runflats. Call me a sissie, but secretly I wish I had a softy.