Taking the Legendary Jimny on a Suzuki Safari |
Klein Pella, Aggeneys, and Kleinsee. Ever heard of these spots? What about Noup? While they may be unknown to many of us, those familiar with the northernmost extremes of the West Coast and Northern Cape will understand the rugged beauty of one of our country’s most disregarded landscapes. This was the scene for the inaugural Suzuki Safari ‘Jimny Edition’, where Driven had the opportunity to put South Africa’s favourite compact off-roader through its paces.
Dotted along the northernmost border between South Africa and the vastness of Namibia, and along the Orange River to the Skeleton Coast just below Namibia’s infamous Sperrgebiet (no-go zone), is a string of some of South Africa’s most desolate towns and villages, the last line of civilisation before the encroaching Namib devours the landscape.
Besides the locals, miners, and a few adventurers, this part of the country is desolate, yet it formed an ideal backdrop to put South Africa’s cutest off-roader through its paces. Of course, I’m referring to the inimitable Suzuki Jimny, the little 4×4 with a big heart and an even bigger reputation.
Compared to more traditional Overlanding vehicles – you know those overblown-on-vehicular-steroids-types from the movies – the Suzuki Jimny seems diminutive, almost ridiculously so. That’s why, when Suzuki South Africa invited us to trek up north and spend four days in the wild, with nothing but a convoy of Jimnys for company, I had to see for myself exactly why the Jimny is widely considered to be the “giant killer” of the 4×4 world.
The Far, Far North
Our adventure began as a fly-in safari to the Northern Cape town of Upington, followed by a brief stopover at the Pofadder Inn for lunch and the first briefing of our tour by event organiser Johann “JJ” du Toit of African Expeditions. Travelling in convoy, the tiny village of Pella was our next stop, where Sister Johanna welcomed the group to the Immaculate Conception Cathedral – the only Afrikaans Catholic Church in the world. After that, Charlie’s Pass, and the little Jimny’s first challenging terrain, beckoned.
Two of the many factors that make the Jimny an ideal off-roader are its lightness and ground clearance. These traits came in quite handy on the alternating rocky and sandy terrain we crossed between Pella and the Orange River, eventually arriving at our camp for the evening – a wild set-up complete with chemical toilets and hand-held showers – where a welcome campfire and traditional braai signalled the end to a successful first day.
Towards the Coast
Day two began with breakfast at South Africa’s largest date farm, where 28,000 date producing palms deliver approximately 2,240 tonnes of dates for the export market annually.
Heading south towards Aggeneys, the N14 took the convoy through Springbok (try a Mesklip Milkshake at the Springbok Lodge) and over Spektakel (Spectacle) Pass – apparently so named by Simon van der Stel as he witnessed the Namaqualand flowers in bloom while scouting to build the pass.
Soon we arrived at “De Houthoop” guesthouse on a working sheep farm just outside Kleinzee for our second overnight stay. With its eclectic mix of bric-a-brac and modern amenities, De Houthoop is a fascinating stopover for travellers to this region and an ideal launchpad from which to explore the shipwrecks along the coastal route from Hondeklipbaai.
Due to continued diamond mining activity along the upper stretches of the West Coast, one needs special permission to explore the shipwrecks that dot this coastline. Thanks to his good relationships built over many years, JJ made the necessary arrangements for the convoy to travel up a section of the coast, where the Jimny made light work of the sandy conditions.
While we visited several sights along the route, the Piratiny (which ran aground in 1943 during the Second World War) was by far the most spectacular. Rumoured to have been hit by a German U boat, the cargo ship deposited many tonnes of textiles and other supplies for salvage, which the locals put to good use for some years. One such tale is of how, not long after the Piratiny ran aground, everyone in the community miraculously acquired new Sunday bests, all “surprisingly” made from the same material.
Hey Jimny, What’s New?
While the Jimny consistently proved its worth across varying rugged terrain, it fared particularly well in the sand, its lightness being the key to keeping it from getting bogged down.
This was proven in abundance back at De Houthoop, where we headed to a red dune section of the farm. Here we spent some time exploring the Jimny’s capabilities and learning about a few new tricks that Suzuki has up the Jimny’s proverbial sleeve.
The Jimny has been an extremely popular choice for buyers since the fourth-generation car launched in 2018. Somewhat a victim of its own success, the waiting list for a new Jimny was extensive (at least six months) for most of the first year or two of sales. This can be both a blessing and a curse for any brand, as, eventually, buyers might end up looking elsewhere instead of waiting for months for their new cars. With Suzuki’s factory in Japan already manufacturing at full capacity, the company had to find another solution to increase Jimny production.
To meet demand, Suzuki’s Japanese parent company commissioned Maruti Suzuki – India’s largest automaker – to henceforth assemble Jimnys meant for export from parts imported entirely from Japan. With its spare capacity, Maruti Suzuki has already begun assembling Jimny’s at a rate of 700,000 units per year. Suzuki surprised us with this news while we played with the cars on the dunes at De Houthoop and announced that a third Jimny derivative would be joining the local line-up during the first quarter of 2022.
Suzuki currently offers the Jimny in two trim levels, GA and GLX, but a GL model will now be made available with most of the GLX’s toys, albeit without cruise control, automatic headlights, a touch screen information system, and the utility drawer beneath the boot floor.
Also announced while we played in our giant sandbox was the availability of a limited edition ‘Rhino Edition Kit’ to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Suzuki’s iconic rhino logo. Developed in 1981 by Japanese designer, Osamu Namba, the Suzuki rhino symbolises the Jimny’s rugged strength and go-anywhere ability and is the centrepiece of the decal and accessory kit that will be available from Suzuki dealerships from March 2022, at a recommended retail price between R13,000 and R15,000 including VAT.
Only 40 Rhino kits will initially be made available in South Africa, each consisting of a spare wheel soft cover featuring the rhino logo, a rhino decal on the rear door, red mudflaps all-around, a limited edition ‘Real Off-roader’ sticker set on the sides and bonnet, wind and rain deflectors, and a distinctive retro ‘Heritage’ grille to set the Rhino Edition apart from other Jimnys.
After four days of traversing some of the wildest, and most unforgiving terrain for any vehicle, the inaugural Suzuki Safari eventually ended where it began, at Upington Airport, after a morning spent on high-speed gravel and highway sections, underscoring the Jimny’s versatility. This boxy little off-roader may not be the biggest, fastest, or roomiest around, but for couples seeking adventure, even over vast distances and unfriendly terrain, there is hardly anything technically more proficient or more fun.
Report & Images by BERNIE HELLBERG JR