So we live in end-of-the-month Saltycrax kind of times. The economy is on the slide and we all have to look at ways to save rands. So what if you have a date with the highest abseil in the world, which happens to be in Lesotho? And you still need some cash for a celebratory beer afterwards? We asked Gerhard Horn and Deon van der Walt to find some practical answers to this conundrum…
Ask songstress Taylor Swift, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, local rapper Jack Parrow or political incumbent Julius Malema what ‘the X factor’ is, and they would all come up with their own answer.
Taylor might reckon it’s a singer’s voice, Donald could consider one’s hair as X factor, Jack would probably refer to a few swear words, while comrade Julius… well, he would probably mention that a sparkling personality such as his own is, in fact, the X factor.
In the adventure motoring scene there is also X factor – Jeep Wranglers, Toyota Land Cruisers and Landy Rover Defenders come standard with it. And nowadays there are a raft of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) that also claim some ‘X’.
In this context, ‘X’ is like a go-anywhere persona, even if it can’t really go anywhere. It just needs to look like it can.
Which brings us to the crossovers – cars with ‘stick-on X’ that are two-wheel driven, and are not really supposed to venture off the beaten track. These crossovers aim to cash in on the ‘X’ while selling at a much more wallet-friendly price than, say, a Wrangler.
Taking this trend one step further are the budget, compact crossovers. Like the Renault Sandero Stepway and GWM M4 – two budget compact crossovers that sell for less than R180 000 and that share most of their qualities tit for tat.
So to get to the town of Semonkong and the Maletsunyane Waterfall in Lesotho, we equipped our two intrepid Dr Livingstone clones with a Renault and a GWM M4. Gerhard, as the senior man, had first option, and decided that the Renault’s forced induction engine was the way to go. Deon, thus got the GWM M4, which has 500cc more than the Renault, but is naturally aspirated.
This is their story…
Why my car is best for this trip
As a people person, the obvious first step was to find out what the people are buying. According to official sales figures, Renault sold just over 400 Sanderos in January of this year.
I have no idea how many of them were Stepways, but judging by how many I see on the road, I’m guessing that the higher riding version makes up a large percentage of the total volume.
Thanks to my positive Renault Duster ‘ownership’ experience over the last year, I was confident that its little brother would survive the torture that was coming its way.
Lastly, I wanted something comfortable with all my favourite luxuries included as standard. I’ve long argued that a man only needs three things and the Stepway comes standard with all of them – cruise control, air-conditioning and a decent sound system with Bluetooth connectivity.
Why my car is the best crossover… in the world!
The world is an ever-changing place, and the fact of the matter is that right now the car-buying public is more sensible than ever before. People are no longer attracted to high power outputs, or fancy gadgets that you only ever use once to show off in front of your mates.
I love the Stepway — it doesn’t show off and it’s as basic as they come. It’s not particularly stylish and it has nothing more than what you want, but it’s honest about what it is. And at its core it’s an affordable, reliable, safe and comfortable way to gain access to a lifestyle people yearn after these days. Never mind the 898cc three-cylinder engine – it’s got a turbocharger, after all!
Yes, most of the time the crossovers are used in the city, but Renault’s engineers designed the Stepway with that in mind from the start, which means it’s no harder to drive than the hatch it’s based on.
It’s a best-of-both-worlds kind of car.
My car is the best car ever for Lesotho… and here’s why!
One word – altitude. My competitor, Deon, had never been to Lesotho before, which meant he had no idea how drastically the altitude would inhibit the performance of his naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine.
There were a few jokes and malicious comments at the expense of my Stepway’s tiny 898cc three-cylinder powertrain, but I knew that his tune would change drastically once we started climbing above 2 000 metres.
This engine is exactly like a Porsche engine, but not quite either. The latest Porsche 911 Turbo has a twin-turbo six-cylinder petrol mill, which meant I was, in fact, driving half a 911 to Lesotho and back.
Yes, they laughed and heckled – right up to the point where the oxygen started fading from the atmosphere.
With the turbo supplying sufficient air to the engine, I hardly noticed the change in altitude. In fact, the only reminders were the elevation readout on the GPS and the small red speck in my rear-view mirror, aka a GWM.
It also handled some fairly tricky gravel with relative ease. The increased ground clearance isn’t much, but it’s good enough if you plan your line carefully and remember the limitations of the vehicle.
I’d say I was pleasantly surprised, but since Renault is on a bit of a roll these days, I wasn’t expecting anything less.
The fuel consumption, however, came as a bit of a surprise. I was expecting to double Renault’s claimed figure of 5.4l/100km, so imagine the surprise when it absolutely refused to move upwards of 6.4l/100km.
Not bad for half-a-Porsche engine.
Renault Sandero Stepway 0.8T
Engine 898cc, three-cylinder turbo petrol
Power 66kW @ 5250rpm
Torque 135Nm @ 2 500rpm
Gearbox Five-speed manual transmission
Driven wheels Front-wheel drive
Driving aids ABS, EBD, EBA, ESP, hill start assist
Ground clearance 193mm
Average fuel consumption 6.4l/100km
Maintenance plan Two-year/30 000km
Warranty Five-year/150 000km
Price R174 900
Why my car is best for this trip
Clearly I had the best car for the job, even though Gerhard was under the illusion that his Renault is half-a-Porsche. Realistically, his Stepway has only 900cc – that’s less than most motorcycles! But it does have a glorified breathing apparatus, also known as a turbo.
Captaining the 1.5-litre naturally aspirated GWM, I knew that the Renault’s little turbocharger might come in handy at the higher altitudes. But on paper my GWM had a better power-to-weight ratio than the Sandero, which is an important consideration when comparing performance. And talking about performance – this is the GWM M4. And we all know that the M4 is also a rather brisk performance car of Bavarian origin. #Just saying.
The M4 also boasts a better break-over angle that is a bonus on the rugged Lesotho terrain. Therefore, it is the best suited vehicle for the task at hand.
Just a point of order, the GWM also has a higher claimed top speed of 170 km/h… Clearly the cool and funky GWM was the better crossover of the two.
Why my car is the best for Lesotho
Lesotho is really beautiful. The Maluti Mountains make for a magnificent backdrop, with beautiful new tar roads, courtesy of the GWM’s countrymen, cutting through the mountains.
So why would you want a turbocharged little engine? I mean, if you visit the Mountain Kingdom to see how fast you can go through the corners, you will miss all the beautiful scenery! So duh! It’s much better to drive the M4 in a sedate fashion, taking in this beautiful country. When the chips are down though, the GWM can keep up with the Renault – it just needs to work a bit harder, and rev higher.
Torque at low revs? Bah. A high-revving four-cylinder is a real driver’s machine.
In summary, this M4 is an excellent tool with which to explore the Lesotho mountains.
Why my car might just be the best crossover in the world!
If that 4×4-imitating X-Factor is what you’re after then the M4 will provide in leaps and bounds. Not only does it come with loads of character and that off-roady look, it can also tread where some crossover owners might not dare take it.
With some leaps and bounds, wheelspin and wheels clocking airtime, it even conquered a road where 4×4 was recommended.
It also has very decent air-conditioning and features cruise control and a surprisingly good sound system.
Interestingly, the centre console features a large LCD-screen featuring oversized lettering. Like in Really Big Lettering. That’s a lot more value for your money right there. Overall the interior is very cool and modern.
Many crossovers are sold because of their fashion appeal. And in this department the GWM is clearly a winner. And images of my cool GWM now reside on tens of cellphone cameras in Lesotho. Compared to the bland-looking and conservative Renault, my M4 was like comparing an aluminium-bodied DeLorean with a VW Golf.
GWM M4 1.5
Engine 1 497cc, four-cylinder
Power7 7kW @ 6 000r/min
Torque138Nm @ 4 200r/min
GearboxFive-speed manual transmission
Driven wheels Front-wheel drive
Driving aidsABS, EBD
Average fuel consumption8.8l/100km
Warranty Five-year/100 000km
The Renault and GWM are both cool little compact crossovers, matching each other in most departments.
Sure, the Renault’s turbocharger made a big difference at 2 000m above sea level, as you’d expect it too. Not that the GWM couldn’t keep up in the mountains – it just had to work a little bit harder, rev higher and burn a bit more fuel.
From an ability point of view, both little crossovers conquered a section of track supposedly reserved for 4x4s, so they both managed more than typical owners would ask of them.
From a fashion point of view, the GWM M4 scored the most in the Joe Public cellphone photo competition. It’s not that the Renault is ugly, it’s just less flamboyant and more conservative than the M4.
After the 1 000km trip Gerhard reckons his half-a-Porsche is unbeatable. And Deon seemed to enjoy all the attention in the flashy GWM M4.
Both are very cool little crossovers, capable of going places where you’d hardly imagine they could tread.
Both the Renault and GWM sell for less than R190 000 – which in these tough economic times is a real bonus. And although you may not get as much X-Factor as you do in more hardcore off-roaders, you still get plenty.
Getting jiggy with the highest abseil… in the world
The journey of scaling down the world’s longest abseil starts with a single step, over the edge. After parking the GWM M4 near the abseil point, I started the mentally most gruelling hike I have ever undertaken. Seeing the waterfall for the first time, any confidence I had, briskly vanished.
To be honest, I did not have that much to start with, especially considering I still had some difficulty getting to grips with what I considered being advanced stopping techniques, despite completing my training of abseiling down a 25m cliff-face three times in a row.
At the top, preparing for what was the most difficult thing I ever had to do, I was buckled, fastened and wrapped in more gear than what would normally be considered comfortable. Abseiling instructor Benedict briefed me on what to expect once I started my decent. Fair to say that I only heard about half of what he was saying thanks to the pounding of my heart in my ears.
Snuggly tied to the mountain with a network of ropes, capable of holding several tonnes, I leant over the edge backwards. At some point, I couldn’t curb my curiosity so I checked to see how far I had to go. That was a big mistake as my breakfast threatened to come up the same way it went down.
The team lifted my rope on the pulley system and challenged me to hang back and completely let go. Realising that fear would not help me get this done, I breathed. Whooo-hooooo! I shouted, psyching myself up. Let’s do this!
One step, two, three, four… and a 10m ‘free fall’.
“Golly! I have never felt this alive before. I can do anything… Spiderman has nothing on me,” I remember thinking.
I remember seeing fellow adventurer Cornell at the bottom, appearing to be no bigger than the tip of a pen. The rest of the way was mostly easy going with no hassles except about 30m of extremely slippery rocks thanks to the spray of the waterfall.
The best feeling though was probably my feet touching solid ground for the first time after what felt like at least half an hour. I had done it! Whooo-freakin-hooooo!
More information: Tackling the longest abseil in the world costs R985 per person. This includes a training session on some less intimidating cliffs. Good news: If you present this magazine at the lodge, you will receive a 10% discount on the abseil. Get more details at www.placeofsmoke.co.ls.
Semonkong Lodge – Lesotho is lekker!
The Semonkong Lodge is situated near the energetic hub of Semonkong, which is one of those places you simply can’t drive past without stopping and having a cold one with the friendly locals.
The lodge has numerous activities, ranging from donkey pub-crawling and fly fishing to that insane abseiling experience.
The rooms are neat and exceptionally comfortable. A fireplace is included, just in case the temperature drops during the night, as it so often does in Lesotho. Prices start at R430 per person.
More information: Tel: +266 62 021-021; email [email protected]; www.placeofsmoke.co.ls.