‘Going Polo against fracking’

2015-07-01 06:05
The revitalised VW Polo GTi on-route in the Karoo on a cold day.

andlt; The revitalised VW Polo GTi on-route in the Karoo on a cold day. Photo: MARISKA SPOORMAKER

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From the sky it must have looked like a giant dust snake crawling along gravel roads near Graaff Reinet, winding through valleys and past the mountains of the Karoo.

That’s what you get when the revitalised Polo GTi pumps adrenaline with its 141kW engine, heading on the Dassiesfontein road towards the farm Rietpoort close to Nieu- Bethesda.

It’s not just a test drive (what a pleasure!), it’s also to meet Rietpoort’s Douglas Stern, a well-known voice against the fracking of the Karoo.

The new well packaged hot hatch Polo, powered by a 1.8 litre TSI engine (its predecessor had a 1.4 litre TSI 132kW engine) and 7-speed DSG transmission, hums its way so effortlessly, that the novice might think the Karoo boasts tarred roads. The Polo GTi manual 6-speed transmission version will soon be available in South Africa. Sliding open the sun roof one smells the crisp early morning Karoo air, indigenous plants like the kapokbos (wild rosemary) and katbos (wild asparagus), interspersed with smell of sheep and cattle manure.

The aromas, the majestic mountains and the vast plains of this arid part of South Africa, begs the question why shale gas should be fracked here of all places where underground water reserves are the essence of life.

Thanks to the heated leather seats the crisp Karoo air is neutralised. But the hot seat in which dynamic anti-fracking farmer Douglas Stern places the government and oil companies, remains. He is well-known for his fearless comments on fracking:

) “We don’t know who is running the country, the government or the gas and oil companies.”

) “Reclamation is not restoration, we must protect what we have”

) “You can do without gas, you can do without electricity but you cannot do without water. It’s the stuff of life.”

Back on the road, the turbocharged all-new 1798cc Polo GTi, which Volkswagen for the first time offered with electronically adjustable dampers, is favoured for its “Sport” select suspension to enjoy the engine to its full capacity.

This option however, is as life-threatening on the gravel road as fracking is to the Karoo. Thankfully the new Polo GTi’s handling was refined and the electronic stability system offers a smooth and stable ride. This contributes in the new Parabolicca 17 inch alloy wheels staying on the track.

In his farmstead, Douglas explains that the Karoo basin is thickly laced with dolerite, a magmatic rock with a pinkish colour when viewed on satellite photos. Cracks in these dolerite formations allow underground water to seep to the surface, forming fountains which provide the Karoo with its liquid gold: water.

“Groundwater collects around dolerite pipes. If you are looking for water in the Karoo you have to drill in the vicinity of dolerite.”

As the pinkish colour is proof of the essential Karoo dolerite, the strategic touch of classic GTi red insignia is distinctive in the new Polo GTi. It can be seen in the GTi logos, red strips in the radiator grille and interior design and features.

Heading back home, the drive in the Polo GTi is exhilarating. I turn on the volume of the re-conceptualised infotainment system, equipped with CD-player, USB port, MP3, auxiliary and SD-card input for external audio source. The sound from its six loudspeakers is powerful and calms my thoughts, yet Douglas Stern’s concerns about fracking and water pollution mill through my head “Water…..it’s the stuff of life...”.

A little bit more about the VW Polo GTi:

. 0-100km/h 6.7 sec

. Top speed 236km/h

. Fuel consumption (combined)

5.6 litres/100km

. CO² emissions 129 g/km

. Price R326 400

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