Subaru XV Cross Trek Local Trip
“Our return journey on a very busy N2 made us again appreciate the convenience of the Front View Monitor and the award-winning EyeSight Driver Assist technology …”
A padrão excursion in a Subaru XV
A decade ago, Subaru introduced the XV Crosstrek in North America. Known as the XV locally, we celebrated ten years of “Crosstrek” (and cumulative production of 20 million Subaru all-wheel-drive vehicles) by visiting seven Portuguese padrãos along the spectacular South African coastline …
Updated recently, the XV has become a mainstay model in the local Subaru range. Known as the Crosstrek in North America, the subcompact crossover became the successor to the Outback Sport in the United States when it as first introduced in 2012.
An announcement from Subaru Corporation last year to celebrate the cumulative production of 20 million all-wheel-drive (AWD) vehicles (incidentally, the Subaru Leone 4WD Estate Van, the first mass-produced AWD passenger car from Japan, was introduced 50 years ago), also caught our attention.
All this inspired us to do our own “cross trek” – a lengthy journey of more than 2 000 km – in the latest XV 2.0i S ES CVT model to visit all the Portuguese crosses (known as padrãos) along the magnificent South African coastline. (We also contemplated visiting the Dias Cross in Lüderitz, Namibia, but ultimately decided against it.)
During the Age of Exploration from the 1400s through the 1600s, Portuguese seafarers reconnoitred the African coastline in their quest to find a sea route to Asia. On these journeys they erected stone pillars to record significant landfalls and establish primacy. The explorers Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama erected a number of these crosses around the South African coastline.
Dias left Portugal in August 1487 an after an eventful nine-month journey, erected his first cross on South African soil at Kwaaihoek on 12 March 1488. Although this first padrão was erected in the Eastern Cape, we decided to first visit St Helena Bay on the West Coast, where Da Gama first set foot on South African soil, and work our way from there to Cape Point, home to two crosses to commemorate their exploratory journeys.
We collected our XV, with new Horizon Blue Pearl body colour (replacing the old Quartz Blue Pearl), from Subaru Somerset West and were immediately impressed by the subtle, yet noticeable changes to the grille design (with added contours around the fog lamps and bumper trim elements) and new 18-inch alloy wheels.
Once inside, we welcomed the steering-wheel activated Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI Drive) that has now found its way into the compact crossover, the camera-linked Front View Monitor (part of the Vision Assist suite), and the user-friendly eight-inch touchscreen infotainment interface with easy-to-use navigation.
St Helena Bay
On the West Coast-road we enjoyed the comprehensive spec level on our ES model, with sunroof, X-Mode, Voice-command, four USB ports, and a memory function for the driver seat. By now we were close to St Helena Bay, named Bahai da Santa Elena by Da Gama (after the Religious Mother of Constantine the Great) when he reached the bay in November 1497.
Da Gama went ashore here but it is not clear whether he erected a cross. The landing, however, is commemorated by a monument in the form of two sculpted stylised granite padrãos on an exposed granite rock dome near the beach at Stompneus Bay. The monument was donated by the Portuguese government to South Africa and was unveiled on 8 November 1969.
From here we turned back onto the N7 towards Cape Town and with the accurate speed control set at 120 km/h, the XV, still sporting a direct injection 2.0 litre Boxer engine delivering 115 kW of power and 196 Nm of torque mated to a Lineartronic CVT (with seven speed manual option), thrummed along nicely, returning a consumption of about 10 ℓ/100 km.
However, cabin noise was quite intrusive, more so with the aircon fan on high in the extreme mid-day heat. It was mostly due to tyre and road noise entering the cabin (amplified on dirt tracks), and the XV can certainly benefit from more underbody sound insulation.
“The XV again impressed us with its quality interior finishes and the revised suspension and spring rates assured good roadholding, also on gravel.”
By now we were at the Cape Point Nature Reserve. The admittance fee is rather expensive but if you own a Wild Card, you enter free of charge. It is well worth a visit, as you can stay for the full day to enjoy the beautiful beaches and spectacular views.
Dias erected a padrão at the Cape of Good Hope in 1487, but it is not known exactly where, or what happened to it. The stone crosses standing at Cape Point today in honour of Dias and Da Gama were erected by the Portuguese government in the mid-1960s. They also act as navigational beacons as, when lined up, they point to Whittle Rock, a large, submerged shipping hazard in False Bay.
After overnighting in Worcester, we tackled the final leg of our trip: traversing the Garden Route towards our first stop – the Bartolomeu Dias Maritime Museum in Mossel Bay. The VX again impressed us with its quality interior finishes and the revised suspension and spring rates, combined with the all-wheel-drive system, assured good roadholding, also on gravel. However, legroom at the rear is cramped, and the boot (385 ℓ) is small …
We found the museum hugely informational and well-maintained, with lots to see inside and outside. Aside from the impressive replica of the Dias caravel filling the majority of the hall, the different levels hold extremely valuable information about both Dias and Da Gama.
Here you can clearly see the dates and historic replicas with original pieces in glass boxes that was discovered on the different sites. Dias landed at Mossel Bay on 3 February 1488 to find fresh water and food. The original freshwater fountain is still active and protected inside the museum grounds, as well as the Posklip Boom, probably the oldest “postal service” in Southern Africa.
St Croix Island
From Mossel Bay we headed for Gqeberha to see the replica of a cross manufactured in the same quarry as the original Dias Cross and gifted by the Portuguese government to South Africa. This cross is situated in Market Square next to the Town Hall, but we unfortunately could not get close as the whole area was cordoned off for a council meeting …
This cross also commemorates the wooden padrão Dias planted in 1488 on a small island now called St Croix or Santa Cruz Island in Algoa Bay (a replica cross was erected here in 1988 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of his voyage). He named the bay “Bay of the Rock” but this was later changed to Bahia de Lagoa or Bay of the Lagoon, and eventually to Algoa Bay.
The first cross
From Gqeberha we drove towards Alexandria and Boknes Bay to visit the first cross erected by Dias – the oldest European monument in South Africa still in existence. The original cross was discovered by Prof. Eric Axelon in 1938 in the gullies beneath Kwaaihoek Point and was taken to the University of the Witwatersrand for restoration. It is still on display in the Wits library.
We followed a minor road past Boknes that turns off sharply from the main road (luckily the XV has 220 mm of ground clearance) and leads to Bushman’s River Mouth where it ends near the coast. From here it was a gruelling 1.5 km hike through the sand dunes to reach the replica cross.
The cross was brought out on a replica caravel from Mossel Bay and erected in 1988 as part of the 500th anniversary of the voyage of exploration. This area is also known for its hickory farms, used in the production of instant coffee. Oh, and on your way back to Gqeberha, do visit the Nanaga Farm Stall for the best pies we have ever tasted.
Having visited the sites of six crosses – at St Helena Bay, Cape Point (two), Mossel Bay, Gqeberha, and Kwaaihoek – we set course for the Mother City. Yes, we would have liked to visit seven crosses to complete the Pleaides as depicted in the Subaru logo but with the last cross (in Luderitz) now inaccessible, we view it as the seventh, virtually invisible star in the cluster.
Our return journey on a very busy N2 made us again appreciate the convenience of the Front View Monitor and the award-winning EyeSight Driver Assist technology in the XV – and again left us in wonder of those ancient mariners that circumnavigated the globe without the most basic of tools …
Our vehicle: Subaru XV 2.0i S ES CVT
Engine: 1 995 cc four cylinder, boxer petrol
Maximum power: 115 kW @ 6 000 rpm
Torque: 196 Nm @ 4 200 rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed Lineartronic CVT, AWD
0 100 km/h: 9.6 seconds
Top speed: 194 km/h
Fuel capacity: 63 ℓ
Fuel economy: 7.3 ℓ/100 km (claimed)
CO2 emissions: 168 g/km
Warranty: Five years/150 000 km
Service plan: Three years/75 000 km
Price: R520 000
Text: Ferdi de Vos/Gerhard Groenewald
Images: Elmarie and Gerhard Groenewald