It’s a tough life, but someone has to do it. Barry Green reaches new heights as he tackles a trio of cracking NSW roads in a rorty warm hatch, cool coupe and frisky Labrador lugger.
Car: 2012 Hyundai Veloster
Drive: Thunderbolt’s Way (290km)
We’re at Glen Innes, the Veloster SR and I, about a quarter of the way into a return trip from the Queensland capital to the New England area of NSW. And despite the proliferation of dust streaks and bug smears, Hyundai’s sportiest number (to the time) continues to look pretty cool.
With Sport mode enabled, I’ve been sending the Veloster in search of its 6000 rpm redline, maxing out the sweet-shifting, six-speed manual cog by cog.
Keeping the little 1.6-litre turbo four on the boil, the SR skips from corner to corner with a just-right blend of grip and slip on its under-tyred 215-Series, 18-inch rubber.
Technique is simple – trail brake to turn-in, point the nose, wind off some lock and roll on the throttle.
Halo road of our drive is the fabled Thunderbolt’s Way, a 290km drive linking Gloucester, Walcha, Uralla and Copes Creek.
Named after bushranger Fred Ward, alias Captain Thunderbolt, who lived, roamed and died (gunned down by police) in these parts in the 1800s, it serves up a tasty smorgasbord of driving challenges and scenic delights crossing the Great Dividing Range.
Family on my paternal side came from around here. My grandfather worked on the historic Salisbury Court property outside Uralla.
My father, who grew up with his five brothers and sisters in a slab-timber, earth-floor hut in the early-1900s, used to regale me as a youngster with bold tales handed down about Thunderbolt.
The drive named after him is not to be missed, but there’s also another much less-known beautie too.
On visiting Gostwyk, a little bit of Scotland transplanted complete with handsome, 1800s bluestone church in the middle of nowhere, we chanced upon a crossroads of well-maintained, decomposed granite roads.
Picking one, we headed off, dust plume trailing behind, Hyundai in flight.
I doubt if anyone has rallied a Veloster SR, but it proved well up to the challenge, broadsiding through sweeping bends as if it were part of the design brief.
Occasionally a bump intervened; the suspension would run out of travel and/or I’d take some kickback through the steering wheel, but that just brought the Veloster alive in my hands.
Moral of the story – take the road less travelled, preferably in something peppy.
2012 Hyundai Veloster SR
Basic price: $31,990
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo DOHC inline 4-cyl
Power: 150kW @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 265Nm @ 1500-4500 rpm
Transmission: 6-spd manual
0-100km/h: 7.1 secs
Car: BMW 135i Sport
Drive: Alpine Way (125km)
“Aah, I love the smell of hot brakes in the morning,” declares my motor-noter colleague, stretching back his arms and opening his chest to draw in the big ones.
He is, of course, partly-parroting Lt Col Bill Kilgore’s famous line from Apocalypse Now. Cliched it might be but given the context, entirely appropriate.
Here we have a fast fleet of BMW 135i coupes, pulled off the road, some with acrid blue smoke wafting from their front stoppers.
We’ve just made a rapid descent of Tooma Road, from Cabramurra down to Khancoban.
It’s not a case of the Bimmer brakes unable to cope, but more the caning they’re enduring.
It’s that sort of drive alright, the Australian launch of the new 3.0-litre, twin-turbo six 135i taking us in search of the Alpine Way and its 126km of fiendish fun.
The indulgence started on the run from Albury, across Bethanga Bridge, a circa-1930, 752m long, steel truss structure, skirting the eastern edge of Lake Hume, along Murray River Road down to Granya Road.
The Murray Valley Highway (B400) then conveyed us to Corryong and, ultimately, the Alpine Way at the Victorian/NSW border.
The twists and drama ramped up as the road skirted Mt Kosciusko before peaking 1579m above sea level at Dead Horse Gap, the crest of the Great Dividing Range, just south of Thredbo.
From Khancoban to Thredbo, the going was steep, narrow, winding and, following heavy rain, prone to rockfalls.
After overnighting at Crackenback, just south-west of Lake Jindabyne, we awake to frost crackling underfoot.
First, a riotous run up the fabulous Tooma Road from Khancoban to Cabramurra, Australia’s highest town at an altitude of 1488m above sea level. And down again.
The 135i handles everything asked of it. Okay, so the ride on low-profile, run-flat rubber feels a touch coarse on anything other than smooth surfaces and suspension travel a little short, but predictable — but accomplished handling and effortless poke delivered smoothly and linearly more than compensates.
That’s what happens when you take a big engine, small car and rear-wheel drive dynamics and throw it at a cracking road like the Alpine Way.
2008 BMW 135i Sport
Basic price: $71,400
Engine: 3.0 twin-turbo DOHC 24v inline 6-cyl
Power: 225kW @ 5800 rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 5800 rpm
Transmission: 6-spd manual
0-100km/h: 5.3 secs
Car: Subaru Levorg
Drive: Oxley Highway (360km)
The Oxley Highway’s renown as a great driving/riding road runs far and wide.
So, when an invitation landed in my inbox from Subaru to attend its Levorg sports wagon launch in coastal Port Macquarie, driving the Oxley inland to Walcha and return, the response was instantaneous and affirmative.
In convoy, we depart the coast in a 2.0 GT-S Spec. B and head west, passing Wauchope.
After Long Flat, the ascent (some 45km of it) begins in earnest as the road works its way up the Great Divide, climbing spectacularly through tall timber forest.
It’s now that the stepped CVT – tuned with six pre-set ratios in Normal drive mode and eight in Sport and Sport Sharp – and its relationship with the Boxer’s torque band are tested.
Paddle shifters go to work and we haul uphill nicely.
Mid-corner, the Levorg holds line flat and true. Of course, with Subaru’s all-symmetrical AWD underpinning things, grip and traction are never in question.
There’s reassurance and other positive messaging being transmitted through the tiller, too.
On smooth hot mix, the Levorg rides well on its stiffly-set Bilstein shocks, but hit a bump or patched pothole and the going gets fidgety – heavy rainfall and logging trucks knock the road surface around.
About half way up the range is the strategically-placed Gingers Creek Café, dispensing hospitality for the weary traveller – great food, great coffee and great atmosphere. Except on Tuesdays, when it’s closed!
The Oxley is a road that beckons persistently, though, and we’re soon back into the bends.
Then, almost by sleight of hand, rainforest gives way to mountain plainland dusted with herds of contented cattle and nary a tree to be seen.
Walcha welcomes us. Lunch is taken at a circa 1856 homestead, Old Greenwells.
It looks on to the fertile plain of the Langford Valley, through which the Apsley River carves its path, enclosed by a steep range.
The hearty fare, glowing open fireplace and historic surroundings create a convivial setting in which to reflect and enthuse about our drive up the Oxley.