To the Sahara and back: Driving in Morocco

Floods, desert trails and the chaos of Marrakech in rush hour – the A3 Sportback e-tron dealt with all of this and more as Destination: Audi travelled across Morocco in search of the world’s most remarkable solar power plant.

Driving from Tangier to Marrakech and Ouarzazate

Getting to Morocco isn’t hard. Set your sat nav for the Spanish port of Algeciras and stock up on your preferred travel sweets. And then, after two days on French and Spanish autoroutes, you’re standing on the deck of a ferry crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, able to see both Europe and Africa at the same time.

   The car we’ve chosen for this journey is Audi’s A3 Sportback e-tron, the brand’s first plug-in hybrid model. You would think that hybrid cars are best left in the confines of busy city centres, but the e-tron is different. It combines electric and petrol powertrains – a 1.4 TFSI engine that is capable of both driving the wheels and recharging the battery pack. This can also be topped up by plugging the car into any electrical socket.

   Arriving in Morocco isn’t quite the culture shock we were expecting. Signs are written in Arabic, but we travel from Tangier to Marrakech on a modern, super-smooth motorway and arrive at the hotel with the surrounding roads quiet. Things couldn’t be more different the next morning, with the streets filled with traffic. For the most part it’s well-mannered, just very noisy and chaotic.

   The e-tron has been charged overnight, so we leave the city in near silence, travelling in the pure-electric EV mode. The scenery changes as buildings give way to yellow grasses then, soon, to outright desert. Darkness has long since fallen by the time we reach Ouarzazate, home to the Noor complex, one of the world’s largest solar power plants. Phase 1 of the facility opened recently, while Noor-2, Noor-3 and Noor-4 are expected to be completed over the next two years. Once finished the facility will be capable of creating up to 2000 megawatts of electricity purely from the sun. The most impressive bit is the sheer scale of the place. Altogether there are 537,600 mirror elements, which all need to be kept clean to maintain efficiency.

   Ouarzazate averages just six days of rain a year, but as we arrive at the Noor-1 site the overcast sky stops threatening and starts delivering fat drops of a proper shower. The rain continues to come down so heavily that we end up stuck in Ouarzazate for four days, every road flooded and every bridge submerged. When the waters finally clear, the A3 Sportback e-tron carries us home with as little drama as when it brought us here. The weather hasn't delivered on its half of the deal, but the e-tron certainly has.

Written by Mike Duff. Photographs by John Wycherley.


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