The road ahead turns to liquid as the cumulus cloud formations drop to meet it at the horizon.
The GPS mounted to the dashboard on a perch fashioned from Prestik informs me we've been at this for the past nine hours and 22 minutes. Along with my driver, economy run veteran Willie Nel, I have another 290 km before I can be unleashed from the cabin of the Nissan X-Trail we're travelling in.
Willie and I are participating in Nissan's East meets West Challenge that sees one team travel from Alexander Bay just below the Namibian Border in the Northern Cape and another from Richard's Bay in Kwa-Zulu Natal to meet roughly midway across the country at Bloemfontein. (This is later revised and we meet in the delightful little dot on the map in the western Free State, Boshof, instead.)
According to X-Trail product manager Ross Garvie the reason for this exercise is to point out to current and prospective X-Trail owners that it is possible to attain decent fuel consumption figures even by just adjusting your driving speed a bit.
Note this is not your average economy run since both vehicles run air-conditioning for most of the trip at average speeds on or around 90 km/h rather than 80 km/h.
From east and west
However, we (Willie and I) form the control unit and the other vehicle driving from Richard's Bay carries what are being labelled as the "novices". This means that while our car stopped for nothing but "comfort breaks" (three in total across the 11 hour 34 minute and 1 053-km trip) and a quick stop in Upington to source a car cell phone charger, the "novices" stop often in towns along the route to take in the sights on their 951-km trek.
But in the "real world", the differences in fuel used is negligible, especially considering that the car travelling from Alexander Bay to Boshof averages 93.1 km/h while the Richard's Bay to Boshof car travels at an average speed of 90 km/h. This does add up over distance though, and our fuel consumption, according to the trip computer, is 5.3 l/100 km, while the Richard's Bay car's trip computer registers 5.4 l/100 km.
After refueling in Boshof, the actual figures are consulted and the variance is rather significant. Actual consumption on the Alexander Bay leg turns out to be 4.65 l/100 km, while the Richard's Bay vehicle had sipped 4.87 l/100 km.
Quoted average fuel consumption for the 2.0D XE 4X2 used on the trip is 6.9 l/100 km and while driving to any holiday destination at a constant speed of 90 km/h would drive me to madness, it is a comfort knowing that should you really want to test your diesel X-Trail's fuel-sipping mettle, figures closer to 5 l/100 km would not be unattainable.
And while I certainly would have stomped my feet at having to travel across scorching sections of the Northern Cape without air conditioning, one could only imagine what the eventual difference would then have been. Of course, can one really put a consumption figure on arriving at your destination as fresh as a protea?