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Roadtrip: The Volvo XC40 is a mixture of heritage and an SUV for any ocassion

2018-07-10 09:30

Ferdi de Vos, Images - Ryan Abbott / RoadTrip

Image: Ryan Abbott

By the time you read this it may be too late to recreate this road trip again… as after the recent good rains in the Western Cape the stretch of road that served as catalyst for this story-brew is probably by now again covered by water.

You see, the idea for this yarn started to ferment when I was informed that the level of the Brandvlei Dam was so low that the old road from Rawsonville to Villiersdorp (apparently called route 298), submerged when the Quaggaskloof Dam (now part of Brandvlei) was built in 1975, was now completely uncovered … and drivable.

An origin of beer

With a new Volvo XC40 on test and the strong Swedish connection in the history of European-style beer brewing in South Africa in mind, we decided to assess this first compact SUV from Gothenburg on a trip from Newlands in Cape Town to Brandvlei – tackling the recently exposed road section through the dam as well.

READ: Driven: Volvo's new XC40 in Johannesburg

Why Newlands, you may ask. Well, as perhaps most of you know, this Mother City suburb was the birthplace of beer brewing (European style) with hops in South Africa. And two Swedes, Jacob Letterstedt and Anders Ohlsson, was instrumental in the commercialisation of the beer industry in the country.

The Swedes started it…

We started our journey on the south bank of the Liesbeek River, close to the hallowed Newlands rugby and cricket ground, at one of the country’s finest industrial monuments, the Mariendahl Brewery.

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                                                                        Image: Ryan Abbott

Table Mountain majestically towers over the well-preserved white-walled buildings and the tall brewery, dating from 1859 and nowadays part of the Newlands Brewery Tour, the oldest remaining relic of an industry which had its local origin just over two hundred years earlier.

The steady expansion of a settler community from the mid-17th century prompted Jan van Riebeeck to establish a brewery at the Fort as early as 1658 - beating the first wine production by six months – and in the same year Pieter Visagie brewed the first beer from the waters of the Liesbeeck River.

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However, the majority of beer was still brought in by ship and the Dutch East India Company retained control of the supply of the beverage up until 1795.

After control of the Cape changed hands to the British in the early 1800s, the principles of free trade were implemented, and this ushered in a new breed of entrepreneurial brewers, such as Letterstedt at Mariendahl Brewery and Ohlsson at the Anneberg Brewery – key figures in the annals of our beer-making history.

Letterstedt set up Mariendahl Brewery in the 1840s and making use of the natural spring water from Newlands Spring and modern updated equipment he brewed much better beer than what was previously available.

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Ohlsson came to the Cape in 1864 and by 1881 bought up a mill at Anneberg –not far from the Newlands breweries. He leased the Mariendahl Brewery from 1886, producing Lion Lager, and by1889 consolidated most of the breweries in the area under the Ohlsson’s name.

Around the time that Ohlsson was consolidating his interests in the Cape, a new brewery was launched upcountry after the discovery of gold and the subsequent establishment of Johannesburg. South African Breweries was founded in 1895, and Castle Lager was launched the same year.

In 1956, Castle Brewery bought out Ohlssons and Chandlers Union Breweries and the company, for the first time, became known as the South African Breweries, now part of the Anheuser-Busch InBev group.

Award-winning SUV

Soon after his company was consolidated Ohlsson’s beers in 1892 won awards at an international exhibition in Kimberley, putting his produce on the map. In much the same fashion Volvo’s new XC40 has already created a stir by winning the title of 2018 European Car of the Year.

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Design-wise the XC40 brings a breath of fresh Swedish air to the premium compact SUV segment with optional elements like a contrasting black or white roof, white mirror caps and wheels, Oxide Red leather and ‘Lava’ carpets, made from 100% recycled materials, that allow customers to express their individualistic style.

Our D4 Geartronic AWD model with Momentum trim (plus an array of options, including a sunroof, charcoal leather seats, sport steering wheel and Harman Kardon sound system) looked fantastic in its Fusion Red metallic jacket with white contrasting roof, fog lights in the front spoiler and 19-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels.

On pictures the XC40 may appear compact, but at almost 4 metres long, with the same height and width as the XC60, it isn’t small. It also has 211 mm of ground clearance and all-wheel drive, making it quite suitable to take off-road.

By now we were on our way out of town, and on the smaller roads leading to the N1 it was clear Volvo has struck a good balance between luxury and sportiness with the X4C0.

The 2.0-litre 4-cylinder forced induction diesel engine from Volvo’s DriveE series with 140kW and 400Nm of torque was lively, yet quiet, and the SUV was surprisingly agile, the shifts of its 8-speed Geartronic ’box barely noticeable.

On the highway it glided along effortlessly, but the engine became quite audible when punished up the inclines of Du Toitskloof Pass. Still, the driving experience was pleasant, and the steering quite light. Ride comfort was great, even over rutted surfaces, mostly due to the sensible 19-inch rubber on stylish rims.

From the R43 leading out of Worcester we turned off on to the old road (now on private ground) leading to the barren dam, and no road was showing on the crisp and clear digital display of the Volvo Sensus infotainment system.

Some other ingenious features in the cabin, such as a mobile phone cradle (with wireless charging pad), plastic bag shopping hook, removable bin and storage compartments under the seats was welcome, and while rear legroom was a little tight, it is on par for the segment.

Road revealed

We followed the coarse concrete road for about 2km, but then had to divert through deep sand and gravel, deposited over its surface by four decades of wind. The all-wheel drive system of the Volvo was up to it, and soon we were on the 8 km stretch of road covered by water for nearly 43 years.

It was quite eerie to think it was submerged for so long, but despite this the road surface, constructed with big concrete blocks, was still in an acceptable condition.

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Some interesting artefacts were unearthed by the low water level, including old number plates, hubcaps and even some old penny coins, 
We now approached the “wall” that divides the Brandvlei Dam, finished in 1983, and the Quaggaskloof Dam.

Normally submerged when the dams are full (impounding a massive 458 million cubic metres of water), it now stuck out like a rampart, and it took some careful manoeuvring to cross it.

The road still carried on in the direction of Rawsonville, but we had to turn back as we were now on the property of the Brandvlei Correctional Centre, where the hottest spring in South Africa, with temperatures up to 45°C, is found.

This spring gave rise to the name Brandvlei, because it looked like the marshland was “burning” due to the steam rising from the rivulet flowing into the dam.

Mountain brew

To end off our tour that started in Newlands, we visited the Mountain Brewing Company (or MBCo for short), situated in the Klipbokkop Mountain Reserve overlooking the Brandvlei Dam.

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With its ample low-down torque, the Volvo skipped up the winding road leading to the MBCo brew house high up in the mountain. Here we were met PG Groenewald, owner and brewer of MBCo, Worcester’s first and finest craft beer brewery established three short years ago.

Gaining inspiration from the mountainous surroundings and beautiful fynbos, MBCo has in this time already been awarded six national gold medals for five of its beers – first receiving gold in 2015 for its Cape Kraken Belgian amber ale.

Other beers brewed on the premise include its signature Loadshed Lager – conceived and refined during the dark days of power load-shedding, hence the name –  Black or White Vanilla Porter, Copper Dawn Lager, Madala’s, a strong Belgian golden ale, and other ales including Fynbos (yes, made from fynbos), Cherry Stumpie and Red Ale.

In collaboration with Klipbokkop Mountain Reserve the brewing company also offers an exclusive venue for conferencing with full catering and accommodation for groups up to 40 people. Snacks ranging from biltong or salami sticks to the premium cattciatorini sausages, as well as burgers and steaks, are available at the Klipbokkop pub.

After sampling some of the MBCo beers it was clear that, much like two centuries ago, beer brewing in South Africa is still of high quality and has a bright future.

The same applies the new Volvo XC40. It may face stiff competition from the likes of the BMW X2, Jaguar E-Pace and Mercedes-Benz GLA, but if initial sales are taken into account, plus the fact that production has been increased in an effort to keep up with demand, it seems the Swedes have another winner on its hands. 

I’m sure Anders Ohlsson would have been pleased.

This article first appeared in the July 2018 edition of RoadTrip magazine. Subscribe to RoadTrip here.

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