Sunday , July 21 2024

Morocco road trip: Mazda CX-60 rises to the challenge

Mazda CX-60, Morocco

Gareth Herincx puts this big family SUV through a gruelling 800-mile test of some on the best driving roads in the world…

Not a lot of people know that at its shortest point, Morocco is just 8.9 miles off the coast of Spain. In fact, on a clear day you can see Spain from Tangier.

About 1.8 times bigger than the UK, it’s a land of dizzying diversity, complex layers of history, epic landscapes and ancient cities.

I was among a group of just eight journalists selected to take part in the ‘Mazda Epic Drive’ to Morocco. Past #EpicDrive destinations have included Iceland, Turkey, the Arctic Circle and Kazakhstan.

Souk, Marrakesh

Our journey began in Marrakesh, which is about three-and-a-half hours from London Heathrow. Also known as the ‘Red City’ (many of its buildings and ramparts use clay infused with a natural red ochre pigment), at its heart is the Jemaa el Fna, a huge open space playing host to food stalls abd entertainers.

Souks selling everything from leather goods to spices branch out from the square, mostly in a labyrinth of narrow alleyways.

Gareth Herincx driving a Mazda CX-60 in Marrakesh

Day one of our journey took us out of the city and up through the High Atlas Mountains, down to the Sahara plain, before turning north-west towards Ouarzazate and a remote ecolodge for the night.

The challenging nine-hour drive carved through the dramatic landscape on the R203, taking in the renowned Tizi n’Test – a high mountain pass about 2,100 metres above sea level.

Morocco after the earthquake

We passed ample evidence of the devastation caused by last year’s 6.8 magnitude earthquake which levelled whole villages throughout Morocco. Families still living in tents and other temporary accommodation, collapsed buildings, rockfalls and ruined roads littered with rubble punctuated our drive.

Not for the faint-hearted, the Tizi n’Test revealed just how capable the Mazda CX-60 is when the going gets tough. Praise indeed in a region where the Toyota Landcruiser seemed to be the go-to 4×4.

Mazda CX-60, Morocco

For miles the road surface was just loose rocks. In some places there was barely enough space for two vehicles to pass, with a sheer drop on one side.

Our CX-60 was shod with road tyres, yet still provided plenty of traction on the poor surfaces. Thankfully, it was also equipped with Mazda’s newly-developed i-ACTIV all-wheel drive system, which prioritises rear-wheel drive for handling and stability, yet can transfer up to 50% of its power to the front wheels when required in slippery conditions.

Gareth Herincx -Mazda CX-60 in Morocco

What’s more, it works in tandem with the CX-60’s Mi-DRIVE Intelligent Drive Select system which offers drive modes covering a wide range of driving scenarios.

In addition to the everyday Normal mode and the increased responsiveness of Sport, there are also Off-road and Towing options.

Gareth Herincx -Mazda CX-60 in Morocco

We stopped off for a coffee at the Restaurant La Belle Vue, which is located high up on a Tizi n’Test hairpin bend and boasts stunning mountain views.

The route then heads down towards the Sahara desert where the terrain gradually becomes more arid and vast plains open up before you. For much of this section of the trip, it was just miles and miles of straight road, sandwiched between nothing but sand and rocks.

Further along, we drove through towns and villages, and passed the occasional oasis, switching to the N10 (National route 10) just beyond Tajgalt and Tafingoult.

Morocco after the earthquake

We then turned off the N10 on to the P1743 before following the N12 near Tissint, headed towards Ouarzazate – also known as the ‘door of the desert’.

After a night in a Berber tent at the Ecolodge Ouednoujoum, which is hidden away in a remote canyon about 12 miles south of the city, we set off for another route highlight – the Dadès Gorge.

A series of separate gorges carved out by the passage of the Dades River, it’s reached via a road known locally as the Road of a Thousand Kasbahs. Along the way, we spotted camels, sheep, goats and a massive stork’s nest, high above us in a chimney.

Dades Gorge, Morocco

We stopped off at the Panorama Dades Hotel for a coffee and to take in its breathtaking views of the Dadès Valley.

Then it was on the Dadès Gorge itself – an amazing road culminating in the famous switchbacks, best viewed from the café-restaurant Timzzillite Chez Mohamed.

Dades Gorge, Morocco

We’d also recommended stopping off at a rock formation known as Monkey Fingers, found along the road at Tamlalt. As the name suggests, the rocks look like the digits of a monkey’s hand.

We then headed back to Ouarzazate, which has become the centre of Morocco’s film industry. Taking the N9 back to Marrakesh you pass the studios where movies including Gladiator , Prince of Persia and The Mummy, plus scenes from Game of Thrones, were filmed.

Camel, Morocco

The N9 is the main highway crossing the High Atlas between the two cities, topping out about halfway at the 2,260-metre Tizi n Tichka pass.

Another rollercoaster of a road, it gave the CX-60 a chance to stretch its legs. Fitted with Mazda’s smooth new e-SKYACTIV D diesel engine, it offers lower emissions, improved fuel efficiency and high levels of torque.

Mazda CX-60, Morocco

Its big 3.3-litre straight-six is paired with a 48V mild-hybrid system, which allows the engine to switch off and coast to improve efficiency. Pushing out a decent 251bhp, it’s potent and refined for the most part. For the record, it’s capable of 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds, fuel economy as high as 54.3mpg, while CO2 emissions are a decent 137g/km.

Again, the CX-60 was well up to the job. Coming up behind slow trucks is not an uncommon experience, so swift overtaking manoeuvres are a necessity. Once you get used to the initial hesitancy from the eight-speed automatically gearbox, there’s an impressive kickdown, while smoother sections of the N9 were a refined cruise.

Marrakesh

The road gets busier the closer you get to Marrakesh, becoming nothing short of chaotic in the city centre.

After a second nine-hour day of shared driving, there’s no doubt that our Morocco Epic Drive was an unforgettable experience.

Now, I’d like to do it all again, but spread out over a week so there’s more time to stop off, see the sights and immerse myself in this multi-faceted gateway to Africa.

Mazda CX-60, Morocco

Mazda UK

About Gareth Herincx

Gareth is a versatile journalist, copywriter and digital editor who's worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online. After long stints at the BBC, GMTV and ITV, he now specialises in motoring.

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