The pinnacle tour through the Koue Bokkeveld

Posted by Mishqah Schippers on 6 October 2021

Peter Frost heads to the Koue Bokkeveld to enjoy one of the best driving roads in the country. His transport? Mercedes-AMG’s seven-seater GLS 63 4Matic+, naturally.

The R303 through the Middelberg mountain range is one of the country’s best driving stretches; three passes (Middelberg, left), Buffelshoek and Elandskloof offer views, drop-offs and gradients up to 1:5.

Words: Peter Frost | Photography: Anton Crone

Just more than 20km in and I’m beginning to realise that this could be the hardest gig I’ve ever had to do. It’s early, pre-traffic Cape Town and the roads are marvellously, gloriously empty. Whole lanes on the West Coast N7, autobahn-like, tempt even the trundlers. It’s torture. In a car such as the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 4Matic+, capable of such exquisite, insanely easy turns of speed, 120km/h is barely moving. I will myself to stay committed to the Rule of Law. I make do with short charges, acceleration so liquid, so silky, so effortless it’s addictive. Select Sport mode, floor the accelerator and listen to that 450kW, 4.0-litre twin turbocharged V8 roar as the nine-speed changes ratios, ripping into that 4.2 second time to 100km/h. In a perfect, unrestricted world, this jump jet still has another couple of ratios to go at 230km/h…

Way, way, way too soon the N7 morphs into B-road, morphs into backroad, road surface deteriorating from First World to Third in a matter of kilometres. No matter; the leviathan seven-seater GLS, Mercedes-AMG’s flagship people carrier, proves as adept at the twisties and potholes as it does at being an intercontinental cruise missile. Thank the all-independent air suspension with adaptive damping for that – the car’s intelligent monitoring system flattens rutted roads, and up Gydo Pass, sends power to the wheels that need it, as well as countering excessive lean. The effect is nothing short of miraculous. As the full-sized SUV rockets up the pass into the Koue Bokkeveld I laugh out loud – the laws of science and physics are seemingly being rewritten – it can’t be this simple, this easy, this much fun.

Up there, high above the bustle of Ceres, it’s a different world, a cold, crisp mountain kingdom extending all the way to the looming Cederberg Range and into the vast Tankwa Karoo. There’s effectively one road, a habit-forming tar ribbon that becomes a dirt track over the Winterberg Mountains, down Middelberg Pass, into the fruit-rich town of Citrusdal. It’s the ideal route to test an allroader’s abilities, a calamity of contradictions – on and off road, up hill and down dale, sweeping and tight, fast and slow, smooth and utterly broken. Only the genuinely adept make the grade.

The 6.3 earthquake of 1969 that struck Ceres was the largest in South African history, a rupturing of the shallow Worcester Fault. It closed both Gydo (pictured here) and Michell’s Pass for a week, repairs continued through the nights.

The tar ends beyond the village of Op Die Berg, the pantechnicon pelotons bringing down the last of the Pink Lady apples finally behind me. The dirt is powder fine, as invasive as the Port Jackson that threatens to throttle the fynbos. In the double-glazed GLS it’s dust free and eerily calm, the noise and thump of the corrugations a distant pulse. The interior is living room, office and central command all in one, a jetfighter-like spread of technical mastery, Mercedes’ latest MBUX interactive system the architecture of a network that co-ordinates infotainment, safety, chassis setup and comfort requirements. The massive dashboard screen is the main point of entry but the steering wheel controls add the option of a safety-first, eyes-front interaction. It’s all so simple, effectively an app-based smartphone approach. Behind, the seven-seater expanse accommodates the largest of families. All seats are automatically collapsible, leaving a cavernous 2 400-litre storage space, if needed. They say the GLS is the S-Class of SUVs but it’s also the super tanker of carriers.

Middelberg Pass presents itself, a series of dirt switchbacks as the R303 falls off the escarpment. Far below, Citrusdal seems a Lego fantasy, impossibly distant, the zigzag thread leading there a real challenge. The big Merc braces for the descent, the fully variable all-wheel drive and low range capability available at the press of a button. It’s simplicity itself, the electronic programme seeing to all the traction needs Middelberg throws at it. As the Winterhoek recedes, it becomes clearer and clearer that the ultra-luxurious GLS is a genuinely formidable off-roader.

Half an hour later and the big Merc is back on the N7, negotiating yet another Western Cape pass, this time the fast, well-cambered Piekenierskloof. It throws up another GLS strength, the benefits of tremendous torque – 850Nm of it. It’s good for lightning-fast overtaking manoeuvres, and as the single lane expands to double for just a few hundred metres, those labouring Pink Lady 16-wheelers are soon rear-mirror memories.

Table Mountain appears through the haze, chaotic traffic in the gloaming. The giant 500km loop is nearly closed. A Bach fugue on the 26-speaker Burmester 3D system makes the taxi turmoil manageable. It’s a masterful machine this, every inch the Renaissance polymath, accomplished, authoritative, elegant, yet up for any new adventure you care to throw at it. Friend, champion, supporter. Advantage Mercedes.

Road-trip vehicle

Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 4Matic+

Engine: Four-litre V8 petrol, twin turbochargers,
450kW, 850Nm
Performance: 0–100km/h 4.2 secs, 250kph
Interior: Seven-seater, three rows, rear: automatic folding
Drive system: AMG Performance 4Matic+ all-wheel drive with fully variable torque distribution
Transmission: Nine-speed Speedshift
Fuel consumption, combined: 11.9l/100km
CO² emissions: 273g/km

Contact: mercedes-benz.co.za, Facebook:  @mercedesbenzsouthafrica Instagram: @mercedesbenzsa






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