The worldwide craze for SUVs of all sizes continues unabated and while many question the whole ethos of owning such a vehicle in an urban environment, some people actually do need off-road capability for their work or leisure pursuits.
If you live out in the sticks where tarmac roads are not always a given, four-wheel-drive and good ground clearance are important, especially when it rains. Towing is another area where a big SUV comes in handy and if you have a horsebox, trailer, or caravan, then a full size SUV with a high towing capacity is just the ticket.
However, the vast majority of SUVs never get their tyres muddy, and therefore have become objects of derision in some quarters, since it appears their true raison d’etre is not being fulfilled.
Keen to prove that their new Touareg is fit for purpose and excels in the rough stuff as well as on normal roads, VW invited us to take part in a cross-country drive in Morocco, North Africa. Following the launch on normal roads in Austria back in summer, this would now endorse their flagship SUV’s credentials as a serious off-road tool.
Situated on the western part of North Africa the Kingdom of Morocco borders the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. In 1912 it was divided into French and Spanish protectorates and in the Marrakech area where we were was in the French part, hence the fact that locals speak French as well as Arabic. This also accounts for the large number of battered old Peugeot and Renault cars we saw on the roads, all bearing the scars of life in a tough environment.
Our 200km foray began at the Selman Marrakech, a hotel steeped in traditional Moroccan design, but replete with modern conveniences. From there we headed south for about half an hour before turning off the main drag and heading into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains.
On the way, we passed through small villages and local towns where it was clear that the inhabitants were on the cusp of modernity, but late 20th Century levels of modernity.
We stopped for a break at the Aurocher hostel/restaurant, which sits at the confluence of three valleys near Oukaimeden and the ski resort. Situated 1,600 metres above sea level, this establishment is built on a historic boat-shaped rock and offers amazing views across the valley.
From there we climbed further into the Atlas Mountains until we reached the highest point that you can go by road, which is about 2,600 metres above sea level. From there you can see the distant peaks soaring, with a snow capped Jbel Toubhal, “The Roof of North Africa” at 4,167 metres.
Continuing south we began to slowly descend through some spectacular terrain, but the roads progressively became more primitive, and soon degenerated into little more than dirt tracks wending their way across the sides of the mountains. Some of these tracks quite literally skirt cliff hangers, albeit with breathtaking views into the valley below.