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RoadTrip: Toyota C-HR on the Diamond Route

2017-12-18 14:15

Ferdi De Vos - RoadTrip

Image: Ryan Abbott - TCB Media

South Africa - To celebrate the discovery of diamonds in South Africa 150 years ago, Ferdi de Vos undertook a journey on the byways of the country’s Diamond Route. His road trip companion? Toyota’s C-HR crossover with its diamond-inspired design…

On the banks of the Orange River near Hopetown, with the parked Toyota C-HR glistening diamond-blue in the Northern Cape sunshine, I pondered the event that would momentously shape the course of South African history.

You see, it was in this vicinity 150 years ago where 15-year-old Erasmus Jacobs found a transparent rock on his father’s farm, De Kalk. Having no idea what this particularly shiny pebble was, he took it home for his sisters to play with.

'The star of Africa

Some sources state that young Erasmus found the pebble in December 1866, others maintain that it was January 1867. 

Of importance, though, is that a neighbour, Schalk van Niekerk, identified the “rock” as a diamond. This “rock” would later be named “Eureka”, and weighed an impressive 22 carats. 

Then, in 1869, an 83.5-carat diamond, which became known as the Star of South Africa, was found nearby. This discovery – as well as diamond deposits found by the cook of a prospector named Fleetwood Rawstorne and his group of fortune hunters (the Red Cap Party) near Kimberley – sparked a diamond rush.

The famous “New Rush” saw nearly 50,000 prospectors flock to the Kimberley area to seek out their fortunes. During the course of the next decade and a half, South Africa produced more diamonds than India had in the past two centuries. 

                                                              Image: Ryan Abbott  - TCB Media

The rush also led to the formation of the largest man-made hole on earth, which had been dug out in the search for diamonds. This hole, with a perimeter spanning nearly 2km, yielded roughly three tons of diamonds, and during the mining process, over 20 million tons of earth was excavated.

Nowadays, it is one of the Northern Cape’s (and, ultimately South Africa’s) biggest tourist attractions – The Big Hole. And, after leaving Jozi earlier that morning, this was our next destination…

On the quite rutted tar road from Hopetown to Kimberley I could again appreciate the link between the exterior and interior design of Toyota’s brand-new C-HR.

“Sensual Speed-Cross” – Toyota’s new design language which combines a diamond architectural theme and facetted gemstone-like shapes with fluid surfaces and elegantly integrated detailing – distinguishes the C-HR from its humdrum stablemates.

This distinctive styling combines powerful lower body lines and a raised ground clearance with a slim and sleek coupe cabin profile; and – like a well-cut diamond – it creates a delicate balance of precision and sensuality.

This diamond motif is also visible on many interior parts, including switches, the door trim pattern, the headliner, and even the needles of the analogue dials in front of the driver.

The design concept, which combines high-tech functionality with fashion, is reinforced by the layered architecture of the instrument panel. It continues through to the door trim with stylish ornamentation and a piano black panel. I could also appreciate the driver focussed detail – with all the operating switchgear and audio touch-screen angled slightly towards the driver seat.

Speaking of which, the unique two-tiered front seat design – which combines the slender, sporting upper section with a strongly bolstered lower area – was very comfortable on the long road.

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

                                                                     Image: Ryan Abbott  - TCB Media

The Big Hole

By now, we were in the bustle of mid-town Kimberley, and we had to rely on the navigation system – part of the standard Multi-Information Display (our Plus model had a full-colour TFT) – to lead us to The Big Hole.

Kimberley, eventually named after the then British Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Kimberley, was the first city in the Southern Hemisphere (and the second in the world, after Philadelphia in the USA) to have electric street lights. It also housed the first Stock Exchange in Africa, as early as 1881.

Yet, the largest and capital city of the Northern Cape Province is still world-renowned for the hole that used to be the Kimberley Mine, which actually used to be a flat-top hill called Colesberg Kopje. 

After diamonds were found on Colesberg Kopje in 1871, thousands of prospectors descended on the hill. Within a month, 800 claims were cut into the hillock. From mid-1971 to 1914 the kopje was carved away completely.

Once at The Big Hole, we headed for The Old Town; a collection of historic Kimberley buildings from the time when it was the second largest town in South Africa. These buildings have now been restored and feature shops and food outlets open to the public.

Here, one of the knowledgeable guides told me that the hole is 463metres wide and was excavated to a depth of 240 m. Under the surface, the Kimberley Mine was mined to a depth of 1097 metres underneath the Big Hole.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not, in fact, the largest man-made hole on the world; the Jagersfontein Mine appears to hold this record.

Lime Acres

Having finished out photo-shoot in Kimberley, we followed the R31 over Barkly West to our destination: the Finsch diamond mine belonging to Petra Diamonds at Lime Acres.

This diamond mine is South Africa’s second largest diamond operation by production (after the De Beers’ Venetia mine). The mine, opened in 1967, has supplied over 130 million carats of diamonds in its half century life-span, and plans to produce 2 million ROM carats per year by 2018.

It is an impressive operation, but the little town of Lime Acres was even more impressive – neat as a pin and obviously well-run by the mine management.

From here, it was still a 3-hour long trip to Upington, so we decided to stay on tarred roads and the N14 highway in order to make up some time. Even with only a 1.2-litre petrol engine under the bonnet, the C-HR easily kept up to speed on the long, flat stretches of tarmac.

The small turbocharged unit, that delivers 85kW and a constant torque curve of 185 Nm between 1500 and 4000rpm, gains from advanced technology that allows it to change from the Otto-cycle to the Atkinson cycle under low loads. Direct fuel injection, a water-cooled turbo, and VVT-iW (Variable Valve Timing - intelligent Wide) enhances its performance and efficiency further.

Even at high revs, the small mill was smooth and quiet; and, in Sport mode (normal and eco modes are also available) it was surprisingly keen. However, with the six-speed iMT (intelligent manual transmission) one needed to get used to modulating the clutch against the small engine’s revs, otherwise it bogged down.

In this sense, the CVT model is probably the better option, since it automatically synchronises the gear ratios with engine speed, but I quickly became accustomed to the manual ’box.

We arrived in Upington quite late, but were still cordially welcomed at River Bank Lodge, our overnight accommodation, ideally situated on the banks of the Orange River.

After a hearty breakfast next to the lodge’s swimming pool the next morning, we set off again – a long stint with many rutted and dusty dirt roads en route ahead of us.

Our initial plan was to visit the diamond mines in Port Nolloth and the Alexander Bay region, but we soon realised it would entail a 600km detour, so we decided to take the R27 rather and head for Cape Town.

While on the open road, we had time to take a closer look at the C-HR. Toyota maintains it redefines the crossover segment, but the truth is it was developed in response to Nissan’s Juke, which was already introduced in 2010.

Why did it take so long to develop the C-HR? Well, according to the Japanese car-giant, the delay was due to a decision to wait for the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform before the product was finalised. It may have given other rivals, such as the Honda HR-V, the Mazda CX-3, the Suzuki Vitara, the Peugeot 2008, and Opel’s Mokka X a head start, but it was in all likelihood the correct decision.

As the second model on the GA-C platform after the Prius, the C-HR does benefit from this platform’s lower centre of gravity, as it ensured better drivability, more balanced handling and less body roll.

Still gleaming clean, the C-HR’s striking styling was very noticeable. Its striking headlights house LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL) in a prism shape, while the shoulder axis running from front and rear emphasise its flowing geometric design.

Its coupe-like styling is enhanced by disguised rear door handles in the C-pillar and the sweeping roofline that extends into a large rear spoiler. The eye-catching design is aimed squarely at millenials, and it should find favour in this market.

However, its 377 litres luggage space was limiting, yet still better than that of the Juke (354 litres), but unlike the Nissan, its rear seats cannot fold completely flat. We also found that vision to the rear is impaired due to the coupe-like styling, and the small rear side windows makes sitting in the back feel claustrophobic, while small kids might battle to reach the high rear door handles.

                                                                             Image: Ryan Abbott  - TCB Media  

Tankwa Karoo

At Brandvlei we tackled the R357, a rather challenging piece of dirt road. Here, the C-HR impressed with its good build quality and rattle-free interior. Even without four-wheel drive, the small crossover felt stable and solid on the loose gravel surface.

Soon we were in Loeriesfontein, and with newfound confidence in our small steed – a real little diamond in the rough – we aimed for Nieuwoudtville and Vanrhynsdorp.

In the sweeping passes after Nieuwoudtville, the C-HR showed off its sporty side. With a low centre of gravity and a specifically designed strut suspension in front, and wishbone suspension at the rear, it felt solid and planted in corners; and, even with a ride height of 160 mm, there was virtually no body roll.

After an exhilarating descent down the Ouberg Pass, we were in the home straight after a more than 2000km trip all the way from the diamond town of Cullinan where the local launch of the C-HR took place.

During the trip our average fuel consumption was 7.1 l/100km, and not once did the small Toyota falter, even on some demanding roads not really suitable for 4x2 vehicles.

Apart from millennials, the C-HR will find favour with an older generation who are still young at heart. Its pricing is competitive, and it is a breath of fresh air in Toyota’s line-up. It will shine like a well-cut diamond on the sales charts for sure. 

Specifications: Toyota C-HR 1.2T manual Plus
Engine: 1197cc four-cylinder petrol turbo VVTi-W
Power: 85kW @ 5600rpm
Torque: 185Nm @1500-4000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual iMT
Tyres: 215/60 R17
Suspension (front): McPherson type with anti-roll bar
Suspension (rear): Double wishbone with anti-roll bar
Brakes: Disc brakes
Fuel tank capacity: 50 litres
Ground clearance:  200mm
CO2 emissions:                141g/km
Fuel consumption: 6.3 l/100km
Warranty: 3 year /100,000km
Service plan: 5 year /90,000km
Service intervals: 15,000km
Price: R350 000

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

Diamonds: A short history

The global history of diamonds dates back to around 3.3 billion years ago when these treasured stones were first formed by high pressure and heat deep within the earth’s crust.

Diamonds may have been discovered much earlier by people who never put them to commercial use, but for South Africa, the story began in 1867 when the first diamond was discovered on the banks of the Orange River near Hopetown.

This year, 2017, is the 150th anniversary of the discovery of diamonds in South Africa, an event which radically modified not only the world’s supply of diamonds, but also the conception of them. 

The diamond finds in South Africa also led to the establishment of what is today the largest diamond company in the world – De Beers. Founded by Cecil John Rhodes, De Beers currently controls around 50 to 60 percent of diamond production worldwide. 

South Africa’s diamond treasure-trove did not end in Kimberley. Only 35 years after the discovery of the first South African diamond, rich diamond Kimberlite pipes were discovered in Cullinan, near Pretoria. Three years later, it produced the world`s biggest diamond to date. Known as the Cullinan Diamond, it weighed in at 621g - translating into 3,106 carats – and, today forms part of the crown jewels of the British Royal family.

Currently, South Africa contributes about 5 percent to the global diamond production, and ranks seventh in the world in terms of rough diamond production. Diamonds are mined across South Africa, with mines in five provinces.

Additionally, diamonds are also mined offshore near the mouth of the Orange River in the Northern Cape.

The discovery of diamonds in 1867, and the subsequent discovery of gold in 1886 in the Witwatersrand, has shaped and influenced the future of South Africa and its people by helping the country to become one of the economic powerhouses in Africa.

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