Articles by Leilani Basson and Adrian Burford
Photography by Jannie Herbst
Think SUV and you think diesel. In the same way that when you think “eggs”, bacon springs to mind, and when you think “politician”, the nerve-endings in the brain lock onto terms like “corruption” and “scandal”. So not having a turbodiesel has been an issue for Subaru for the last few years, South African sports-ute drivers turning more and more towards compression ignition engines for fuel efficiency, open-road cruising, and low-range lugging ability.
The story is similar in the soft-roader segment. For many years the Forester was the stand-out offering in the segment (the turbo models were fast enough to embarrass many a hot hatch, and the low-range transfer box of normally-aspirated derivatives provided real off-road ability), but the lack of diesel was becoming problematic in a market driven by fashion appeal.
So when a Forester with a Boxer Diesel on its rump sidled quietly into the Leisure Wheels car park, we all leapt in the air, threw high fives, clicked our heels and sang “Hallelujah”. Well, not quite, but we did applaud metaphorically, even though the Forester you see here is not actually something you can buy at your local dealer. But more of that later.
In the blink of an eye we were on the road, heading for the ‘Berg to do the things a typical Subaru Forester owner likes to do: get out there and explore. Foresters have always been good at that. They’re genuinely rugged, and if you do have an outdoor lifestyle, you kind of feel that you don’t have to pamper it and that it’ll complement rather than detract from what you like to do when the working week is over.
For us, the lure of the mountains was primarily about falconry and we didn’t have a boat or caravan on the towbar, or bicycles and canoes on the roof. But if that’s your idea of weekend paradise, the Forester is up to it.
At this point it is worth pausing to recap, and look at the Boxer Diesel engine — the first horizontally-opposed, four-cylinder turbodiesel designed specifically for a passenger vehicle, says Subaru. Its local debut was in the Outback late last year and it made a good initial impression. Needless to say, it is an intercooled common rail unit, with headline numbers of 110 kW at 3 600 revs/min and a generous 350 Nm from just 1 800 revs/min.
These numbers remain unchanged when installed in the Forester, pretty much putting it in the middle of the pack when it comes to power and torque. There are class rivals that make up to 130 kW and close to 400 Nm, but there are also some where twist effort drops into the 320 Nm bracket. So, yes, this is a ballpark engine and like others it requires a diet of low sulphur fuel.
The first thing you do notice, even before reaching top gear on the freeway, is the smoothness of the engine, and there does seem to be more than marketing hype regarding the superior balance of a horizontally-opposed layout.
Combustion force — even more intense in an engine where the fuel ignites under compression — is the reason why diesels have to be built so much stronger than conventional engines, and why they tend to have more vibrations and higher noise levels. Of course, with their plentiful torque they can cope with long-legged gearing, so they’re still pretty relaxed on the freeway.
Liquid-filled engine mountings act as the final line of defence in masking any vibrations there may be, and there’s a whole list of internal features which, Subaru says, reduce noise, friction and harshness – important considering the oilburner has a significantly longer piston stroke than the brand’s 2,0-litre petrol version.
We hadn’t yet reached the first tollgate when the second penny dropped: the Forester can be driven exactly like a normal passenger car – despite a raised driving position. It feels like, well, a regular station wagon. Lane changes occur without delay and responses to the controls are pretty much immediate.
As it turns out, the Boxer Diesel uses an aluminium block to keep weight down. Add in the fact that a flat engine has an inherently low centre of gravity, and it starts to make sense. So high ground clearance coupled to a diesel engine can feel good dynamically, and we haven’t even talked about a permanent 4×4 system which is exactly that: all the wheels are handling some of the drive forces all the time.
You won’t be able to buy a Forester like this one at your local dealer, however, but that’s not bad news. Instead, not long after you read this, a face-lifted Forester range goes on sale locally, including one with this engine. And, as well as some minor styling tweaks, it’ll have revised suspension for an even more accomplished ride/handling balance, improved interior with dual-zone climate control, soft-touch dashboard, and — importantly in our view — Bluetooth connectivity.
Some things in life are worth waiting for, and we suspect the new Forester, with Boxer Diesel inscribed on the tailgate, will be one of them.
– Adrian Burford
Greg McBay is a falconer. A real one. A fulltime one. And yes, he does look the part.
He’s been flying birds of prey since he was 17 — first on the Bluff in Durban and now here in Champagne Valley.
The setting is perfect. The view from the ceremonially arranged chairs is astonishing.
Then Greg starts his lecture and you are captivated for the next two hours.
He begins the show with Rorke, his hand-reared Verreaux’s Eagle (Witkruisarend). When the Parks Board phoned him about an unhatched egg in a nest on an impossible cliff, there simply was no stopping him. Rorke is now four and only Greg is allowed close to him.
“Raptors are incredibly territorial when it comes to their own species,” Greg explains in his regal, compelling manner. “They will kill birds of their own species that dare enter their air space. Other birds of prey are welcome, since they pose no threat.”
Since Rorke grew up with humans, humans are the species he identifies with and will attack and try to eradicate — anyone other than Greg.
Rorke reacts instantly when Greg calls him by name – even when swirling in the sky a couple of kilometres away, on his 3m-wide wings. And he can spot a chicken neck in Greg’s hand from 8km away.
“These eagles feed only twice a week. Fish eagles hunt only eight minutes a day. They spend the rest of their time perched on a cliff, tree or, in our case, a stand next to the house in our garden. Seeing an eagle in flight is therefore a very, very special sight indeed.”
At the end of Rorke’s demonstration, he swoops low over the grass, glides in over the spectators’ heads and lands on Greg’s glove. He’ll spend the rest of the day at the McBay farmhouse perched on a stand, thinking about the thermals.
Allison McBay, Greg’s petite wife, approaches from the cages with Hooter, a Cape Eagle owl. Hooter is quite a character and proves that owls do fly during the day, spend a lot of time in the grass looking for insects and can put up quite a chase on foot when their prey (or in this case, Greg holding a chicken neck) tries to escape.
This is an owl with attitude. He walks among the visitors and sits next to the McBays’ pointer, Jet, without fear. He is as tame as can be and very happy to be stroked and petted by children and adults after the show.
One after the other, Allison carries out the most amazing raptors – each with its own story and quirky personality.
Hugo is a beautiful, light brown young Steppe Buzzard from Russia. He missed the migration back to his homeland, so someone picked him up and brought him to the centre.
Hugo has to be trained to hunt and fly high enough to catch a thermal and soar while looking for food, since he cannot take tips and learn from other buzzards.
“Hugo only has about four months left before the next migration,” says Greg. “He still has a lot to learn and can at best be described as a really, really dumb bird.”
After cunningly swooping down to grab a chicken neck off the lawn that was meant for Jet rather than catch his own in the air, Hugo tries to land his enormous body in a small tree with soft, bending branches. As he falls deeper and deeper into the tree, he finally realises that the roof might be a bit sturdier, so he tries to launch himself from the frail branches. It takes him a while.
The next performer is a Lanner Falcon that catches other birds in flight, then a Harris Hawk from America and a double-jointed vulture that can reach deep into tree stumps to pull out woodpecker chicks for lunch.
While Greg shares more interesting facts about the raptors at Falcon Ridge – both the ones in cages and those living as pets in the farmhouse higher up the hill, African Harris Hawks dance in the sky and play along – catching chicken pieces as Greg tosses them into the air.
“They’ve become part of the show now,” Greg laughs. “They are not ours and we have not trained them. But since they hunt smaller birds, there is no rivalry for food between them and the eagles that mainly feed on dassies.”
At the end of the show, visitors stand around astonished. They discuss these marvels of nature, and many people who admit to not being bird lovers are amazed that birds of prey can be this awe-inspiring. Some ask questions, some bond with the pointers and others pose to have their photos taken with Hooter.
As the visitors assemble in the car park to depart, another unexpected showstopper draws their attention.
“Theez is a lovely automobile,” says a posh-looking French gentleman in his charming accent. He walks around the Subaru Forester, bending to peer inside. “What eez it?”
His fellow tourists are equally interested, tilting their heads, seemingly awaiting an answer. “With theez, you can fly like the eagle, yah?”
*Falcon Ridge – Bird of Prey Display Centre in the Drakensberg, is situated high up in the Champagne Valley. Shows start at 10:30 every morning (weather permitting) except for Fridays. Entry costs R50. A Coffee Shoppe and kiosk, selling Falcon Ridge T-shirts and other memorabilia are open to visitors before and after each show. For more information, telephone 082 774 6398.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia
Falconry is “the taking of wild quarry in its natural state and habitat by means of a trained raptor”.
There are two traditional terms used to describe a person involved in falconry: a falconer flies a falcon; an austringer (German origin) flies a hawk or an eagle. In modern falconry the Red-tailed Hawk and the Harris hawk are often used.
The words “hawking” and “hawker” have become used so much to mean travelling traders that the terms “falconer” and “falconry” now apply to all use of trained birds of prey to catch game.
In early English falconry literature, the word “falcon” referred to a female falcon only, while the word “hawk” or “hawke” referred to a female hawk only. A male hawk or falcon was referred to as a “tiercel” (sometimes spelled “tercel”) as it was roughly one third less than the female in size. Many contemporary practitioners still use these words in their original meaning. The practice of hunting a trained falconry bird is also called “hawking” or “gamehawking”.
Evidence suggests that the art of falconry may have begun in Mesopotamia, or in China and Mongolia, with the earliest accounts dating to approximately 2000 BC. There is some disagreement about whether such early accounts document the practice of falconry (from The Epic of Gilgamesh and others) or are misinterpreted depictions of humans with birds of prey.
Falconry was probably introduced to Europe around AD 400, when the Huns and Alans invaded from the east. Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (1194-1250) is generally acknowledged as the most significant source of traditional falconry knowledge. He is believed to have obtained firsthand knowledge of Arabic falconry during wars in the region (between June 1228 and June 1229).
He obtained a copy of Moamyn’s manual on falconry and had it translated into Latin by Theodore of Antioch. Frederick II himself made corrections to the translation in 1241 resulting in De Scientia Venandi per Aves.
King Frederick II is most recognised for his falconry treatise, De arte venandi cum avibus (“The Art of Hunting with Birds”). Written himself toward the end of his life, it is widely accepted as the first comprehensive book of falconry, but also notable in its contributions to ornithology and zoology. De arte venandi cum avibus incorporated a diversity of scholarly traditions from east to west, and is one of the earliest and most significant challenges to Aristotle’s often flawed explanations of nature.
Historically, falconry was a popular sport and status symbol among the nobles of medieval Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia. Falconry was largely restricted to the noble classes due to the prerequisite commitment of time, money and space. In art and in other aspects of culture such as literature, falconry remained a status symbol long after it was no longer popularly practised.
Within nomadic societies such as the Bedouin, falconry was not practised for recreation by noblemen. Rather, falcons were trapped and hunted on small game during the winter months in order to supplement a very limited diet.
In the UK and parts of Europe, falconry probably reached its zenith in the 17th century, but soon faded, particularly in the late 18th and 19th centuries, as firearms became the tool of choice for hunting. The same probably happened throughout Europe and Asia in differing degrees.
Falconry in the UK had a resurgence in the late 19th and early 20th century during which time a number of falconry books were published. This revival led to the introduction of falconry in North America in the early 1900s.
Throughout the 20th century, modern veterinary practices and the advent of radio telemetry (transmitters attached to free-flying birds) increased the average lifespan of falconry birds and allowed falconers to pursue quarry and styles of flight that had previously resulted in the loss of their hawk or falcon.
*For more information on falconry or to get involved in this ancient sport, log on to the South African Falconry Association’s website www.safa.za.net
– Leilani Basson