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Roadtrip: Three-legged cheetah meets VW’s new Golf GTD

2017-12-28 15:00

Ferdi de Vos

Image: Ryan Abbott - TCB Media

South Africa - She was the star of a hugely successful TV commercial for VW’s Golf 6 in 2009. Now, eight years later, Lucky the three-legged cheetah still resides in Namibia. Ferdi de Vos took a new GTD to N/a'an ku sê Wildlife Sanctuary to introduce her to the latest Golf generation.
Lucky the Cheetah captured the hearts of South Africans in the Volkswagen Golf television commercial back in 2009. The TV ad told the touching story of the three-legged cheetah whose hind leg had to be amputated due to irreparable damage caused by a gin trap she was caught in.

Thrill of speed

Under the loving care and tuition of Marlice van Vuuren, co-founder of N/a'an ku sê Wildlife Sanctuary, the three-legged cheetah learnt to move again despite her injury. At the end of the advert Lucky can be seen perched inside the fast-moving Golf – reliving and experiencing the thrill of speed again.

Lucky’s initial plight made the commercial even more real. “When we found her, we were faced with the difficult decision whether to amputate or euthanize,” remembers Marlice. “Fortunately, the option of euthanasia was quickly discarded, because after all would you end the life of a human who lost a limb? Lucky was given a second chance and her name reflects and embodies this…”

The interest generated by the commercial was enormous. Lucky’s story resonated with many, according to Matt Gennrich, general manager of communications at Volkswagen South Africa, as she was viewed as the iconic symbol of never giving up and making the most of life. 

The advert also brought the plight of cheetahs to the attention of the public, and Lucky became an iconic ambassador cat, emphasizing the vulnerable status of her wild counterparts.

Read the original article in RoadTrip magazineSubscribe to the online magazine portal here.

Image: Ryan Abbott - TCB Media

The new GTD

With all this in mind, we decided on a road trip to N/a'an ku sê – a sanctuary primarily committed to relocating problem animals as an alternative to farmers shooting them – to introduce Lucky to the latest Golf “7.5”, the recently facelifted seventh generation of the iconic hatch.

After her experience with the Golf 6, what better derivative to do this with than the recently introduced GTD – essentially a diesel version of the hugely popular GTI – bringing together the fastest ever diesel-powered Golf and the fastest animal on the planet…

The facelifted Golf, the first time VW did a midcycle upgrade on its popular hatch, has redesigned bumpers front and rear, new LED rear lamps and LED headlights, extended chrome striping front and rear, and new wheel designs.

The GTD also receives GTI treatment with a sport suspension, bolstered sport seats, climate control and 18-inch Sevilla alloy wheels. Our gunmetal grey model was kitted with options worth more than R76 000, including a panoramic sunroof, numerous safety systems, a radio and sat-nav featuring gesture control, and an upmarket DynAudio sound system.

Image: Ryan Abbott - TCB Media

Dash up the N7

With our gear neatly stashed in the Golf’s 380-litre boot we were ready for the first leg of our journey on the N7 from Cape Town to the border post at Vioolsdrif. With 130kW under foot, and a hefty 350Nm of torque available from as low as 1 500r/min the GTD scooted up the West Coast.

We blurred past Clanwilliam. Klawer and Vanrhynsdorp, crossed the Knersvlakte in a flash and reached Springbok in time for tea. With its adaptable sport suspension the Golf just loved the long sweeps descending into the arid Fish River Canyon towards Vioolsdrif. Border procedures was a breeze and by lunch time were well on our way to Keetmanshoop.

On the long tar stretches of the B1 between Marienthal and Rehoboth it proved difficult to keep a tight rein on the boisterous diesel, and even with a low ride-height and low-profile tyres it handled unexpected undulations and broken tar patches with aplomb.

Reaching Windhoek at sunset, we negotiated some snaking dirt roads outside the capital before we arrived at the main gate of N/a'an ku sê. From here the gravel road really turned rough, forcing us to tippy-toe our way towards the imposing main building.

Image: Ryan Abbott - TCB Media

A true sanctuary

Here we were met by a very surprised Colette Massier, our liaison at the sanctuary. She clearly did not expect us this early, and even after our 14-hour odyssey we felt fresh and relaxed – testimony to the GTD’s smooth ride and its comfortable seats.

After a sumptuous supper, the engaging Colette showed us to our luxurious chalet, casually mentioning that this was Angelina Jolie and her kids (and apparently Brad’s too – in happier times) abode when they visited N/a'an ku sê.

So, for quite some time Ryan and I tried to figure out which of the four rooms was Angelina’s…

We again had an early start the day, and after a quick breakfast joined Colette and some other guests for a walk with the young cheetahs being rehabilitated at the sanctuary. It was an unbelievable experience walking with the lithe felines, and I was mesmerised by the nimbleness and gracefulness of their movements. And who could have guessed they purr harder than any housecat!

We them visited the sanctuary where we were cordially received by Marlice. As she showed us around the cages her passion for conservation was palpable and her compassion with the animals in her care so obvious it was slightly contagious.

She invited us to join a troop of young baboons on their daily outing, and this turned out to be a unique experience. It was interesting to watch the behaviour and social interplay within the troop, and how they approached us newbies… While they quickly adopted the females in our group, engaging with them while chattering away, they were quite wary of the menfolk. However, by the end of the outing I had a tough time convincing the youngster pretending to be asleep on my head to get off…

Image: Ryan Abbott

The reunion

It was time to visit Lucky, and en route to her large pen, Marlice filled us in on the eight years since her TV debut:  “While Lucky doesn’t have cubs of her own, she has intrinsic surrogate qualities, and we put this to good use during this period.

"She became a surrogate mum to many cheetah cubs and young cheetahs that came here due to various conflict situations,” she said.

“Lucky brought a calming and nurturing presence looking after the often traumatised cubs, and some of them has since been released back into the wild.”

By now we have reached the enclosure, and after some coaxing Lucky appeared, looking watchful and alert. She looked at the parked Golf as if to say: “You look quite different from the other vehicles I see every day, but I’m sure I’ve seen a car with a very similar shape before…”

Notwithstanding her handicap and age Lucky showed how adept she still was at the “Cheetah Run”, a lure system used to stimulate cheetahs in captivity to run as fast as possible. It was clear she loves the chase, running so fast and effortless that the absence of her hind leg was not even noticeable. Twice she trapped the lure at speed…

Her energy spent, Lucky showed more interest in the titbits luring her to the Golf, and soon she was in the car with Marlice. The reunion was complete. But then she showed interest in the GTD’s soft Vienna leather-cladded seats, and we had to let her out…

We finished our shoot with some of the younger cheetahs we met earlier in the day, Marlice looking dazzling in new designer bush wear, and rounded off an interesting and insightful day around a campfire, meeting and talking to some of the overseas volunteers doing internships at the sanctuary.

We left early the next morning, and reminiscing about our experiences at N/a'an ku sê while the Golf purred along like a content cheetah, the road to the Mother City felt much shorter.

Our average consumption for the 3 000km round trip was just under 7 litres/100km, and the only tell-tale signs left of the GTD’s meeting with Lucky was a few tufts of cheetah hair on the backseat. Oh, and a nice round toothmark in the right rear headrest.

Read the original article in RoadTrip magazineSubscribe to the online magazine portal here.

The vehicle: Volkswagen Golf GTD 
Engine: 1 968cc, 4-cylinder turbodiesel
Power: 130kW @ 3 500-4 000 r/min 
Torque: 380Nm @ 1 750-3 250 r/min
Transmission: 6-speed DSG
0-100km/h: 7.4 seconds
Top speed: 230 km/h
Economy: 6.8l/100km (on 3 000km round trip)
CO2: 129g/km
Price: R506 700 (R583 700 as tested)

Read more on:    roadtrip  |  south africa  |  hatchback  |  new models  |  diesel

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