RoadTrip | Visiting the 'J-Cubs' with an Eclipse Cross Turbo


There are distinct similarities between the turbo-equipped 1.5-litre Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross and a cheetah: they are sleek, sexy, and get up to speed quickly. However, once they have got there, they run out of gas equally fast. 

I know this about the cheetah because, tragically, I once saw a handsome specimen of 'Acinonyx jubatus' ambushed on an impala he had pulled down a few moments before and killed by a lioness simply because he did not have the energy to flee.

A hunting cheetah – there are only about 350 left in the wild in South Africa, scattered over 50 game and nature reserves – is at its most vulnerable. Any sustained chase not only taxes the lungs but also severely depletes its 'radiator.' An unsuccessful hunt leaves the animal dangerously dehydrated. (They top up their water levels from the fluids of their prey.)

I have learned more about the most endangered of Africa's big cat species in the past six months than in four decades of reporting on and photographing wildlife, thanks to Gerhard de Lange, Chantal Rischard, and Marna Smit. 

Read the original article here.

Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross 1.5T 4x2

2020 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross 1.5T 4x2. Image: Jim Freeman

'Place of glory'

De Lange is reserve general manager of Kuzuko ('place of glory,' a 15 000ha private reserve in the Karoo bordering on the Addo Elephant National Park), while the two women are co-owner and sanctuary manager respectively of Ashia, an inspirational conservation project based in Paarl.

In a nutshell, Ashia sources captive-born and -raised cheetah from around the world and takes the first steps in preparing them for successful release into the wild. Kuzuko is where animals that are deemed fit for release take their first steps to freedom.

The two main objectives of their partnership are not only to increase cheetah numbers but also to improve the genetic diversity of the species. Small, concentrated populations result in inbreeding, which soon gives rise to birth defects that dramatically increase an already high mortality rate in cheetah cubs.

READ: Mitsubishi adds new turbo model to boost Eclipse Cross range in SA

In the wild, reveals an information board at the sanctuary, 90% of cheetah cubs die within three months of birth. About half fall prey to lions, hyena, jackal, and large birds of prey, while another 40% suffer from a lack of genetic diversity. This means that many cubs are born with weakened or under-developed immune systems; with common infections often resulting in death.

De Lange says: "In human care, cub mortality is significantly lower, with over 70% of cubs reaching adulthood. To conserve the less-represented genetic lineages, ethically managed captive cheetah breeding programmes use strict DNA testing. This responds to the urgent need to reintroduce new bloodlines onto protected land to supplement the wild population and strengthen DNA."

Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross 1.5T 4x2

Josh, the cheetah. Image: Jim Freeman

Meeting Josh and Jade

The Endangered Wildlife Trust endorses the Ashia/Kuzuko project. I rode to Kuzuko in November 2019 with an Ashia team. With them were two young siblings, Josh and Jade, who it was believed was suitable and ready to be wilded before release.

I returned (the day before President Ramaphosa announced lockdown) in a candy-apple red Eclipse Cross GLS 1.5 Turbo GLS CVT 4×2 to see how the two – dubbed by the Kuzuko team as the 'J-Cubs' – were getting on.

I had once before headed into the Eastern Cape interior in a 1.5-litre SUV, the compact Renault Duster, and frankly, I would still set this as the benchmark vehicle in the category. Albeit the Frenchie had all-wheel drive and was diesel-powered, which the Mitsubishi was not.

READ: Mitsubishi's all-new Eclipse Cross arrives in SA

Fuel-frugality apart, I need to tell you there is little to separate the two vehicles in terms of performance, and, as far as all-round comfort is concerned, the Mitsubishi just shades the Renault. Its direct-injection turbocharged engine was a godsend on those long legs of the journey – and there were several of them – when there were steep gradients, continuous lines of crawling trucks, and a shortage of places where one could overtake legally. 

Provided I was directly behind the slow-moving vehicle, and there was no oncoming traffic, the turbo kicked in immediately as I put my foot down, and the SUV would whip out and pass without a hint of complaint from the engine. 

Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross 1.5T 4x2

2020 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross 1.5T 4x2. Image: Jim Freeman

'Work on 700'

Naturally, any sustained driving in this fashion makes nonsense of the stated fuel consumption claim of 7.7-litres/100 km. With a sizeable 63L fuel tank, I told 'RoadTrip' editor, Ferdi de Vos, the day before setting off from Stellenbosch, that the vehicle should have a range of around 800 km. "Work on 700," he said, presciently. He was right, at least for the first leg of the journey on the N2 along the Garden Route.

I left home at 04h00, thus encountered very little traffic. There was lots of mist along the way, so I rarely reached – let alone exceeded – 120km/h. By the time I refueled (59.36 litres) at Humansdorp, I had covered 695km and recorded the best consumption of around 8.3-litres/100km for the 2500km trip.

The easiest way to get to Kuzuko is to drive from Port Elizabeth to Paterson, then North on the N10 over the Olifantskop Pass before turning left onto the R400. Follow the highly visible Kuzuko signs to the reserve reception, where you will park your vehicle and be shuttled to the lodge.

Read the original article here

Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross 1.5T 4x2

2020 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross 1.5T 4x2. Image: Jim Freeman

Nimble, responsive

Keen to test the gravel and rougher road abilities of the Eclipse Cross, I made prior arrangements with Kuzuko Lodge general manager Catharina de Lange, and she allowed me to bring the vehicle onto the reserve. It gave no problems, being nimble (like a cheetah), responsive to the throttle at low revs (thanks again to the turbo), and possessing a high ground clearance. While I gave it a bit of a workout, I did not try anything too challenging. Nonetheless, what I  did do was not flattering to its fuel consumption. 

Kuzuko comprises 22 consolidated farms that were bought up by holding company INQO Investments, starting in 1992, with the purpose of re-wilding the area. The reserve is best known for the presence of "Sylvester the wandering lion" who twice escaped from the Karoo National Park near Beaufort West before being relocated to Kuzuko.

On one of our afternoon drives, guide Alex Bezuidenhout received a cryptic radio call from one of his colleagues. He looked at me, smiled, and turned the viewing vehicle around. Half an hour later, we found the "J-Cubs" lazing under a tree on the top of a kopje. Bezuidenhout told us that, within two days of moving from the release boma onto this intermediate 600ha section (free from other predators but well-stocked with antelope), each one had pulled down a springbok. 

Some things stay in your DNA, even if you are born and raised in a cage.

2020 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross 1.5T 4x2

Josh and Jade. Image: Jim Freeman

Our vehicle: Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross 1.5 Turbo GLS CVT 4×2

Engine                 Transverse inline-four direct injection petrol-turbo

Displacement         1499cc

Maximum power         110kW @ 5500rpm

Maximum torque         250Nm @ 3500rpm

Transmission         six-speed CVT (eight-step Sport mode)

0-100 km/h         9.3 seconds

Top speed          200km/h

Luggage space         341L

Ground clearance 180mm

Consumption         7.7-litres/100km (manufacturer's claim)

CO2 emissions         174g/km

Base cost         R459 995

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