Space, Trekkies tell us, is the “final frontier”. Yet, two centuries ago, you didn’t need to travel so far, says Jim Freeman, who boldly took the new Suzuki Fronx to South Africa’s own Frontier Country.

If there’s one thing people are taught today that they weren’t 200 years ago, it’s not to trust advertising: if something sounds too good to be true, chances are good it sucks.

When Richard Gush boarded a ship in England bound for South Africa as one of what would become known as the 1820 Settlers, I’m sure that never in his wildest imagination did he envisage one day trying to dissuade an enraged amaXhosa army from attacking his community.

Wild animals, disease and interminable wars were definitely not in the fine print of pamphlets circulated throughout Britain in the early 19th century, inducing families to take up a life of farming in the distant Cape Colony. A far prettier picture was painted entirely.

But 30-year-old Gush was raised of stern and pious Devon stock – his family were pacifist Quakers – and his group, led by Hezekiah Sephton, trekked by wagon after landing at Algoa Bay (Gqeberha) to a fertile plain about 20 kilometres south of Grahamstown. 

The settlers thought they were on their way to the land of milk and honey, but everyone else in the Cape Colony called it Frontier Country due to a series of wars that had been waged with the amaXhosa nation since 1779. The settlers provided a buffer between the indigenous people and the genteel folk of the colony.

Fast-forward 15 years, said local historian Alan Weyer as we sat at the bar of the Albany Club, to January 1835 when the Sixth Xhosa – or Frontier – War was in full swing. The club, located in downtown Makhanda (previously known officially as Grahamstown), is not far from the Rhodes University campus.

“The settlement had been named Salem and was built in typically English fashion with the church, prep school, and cricket field clustered together. My family farmed pineapples and cattle in the Salem district, and I grew up there in the late Sixties and early Seventies,” recalled Alan.

Richard Gush’s headstone in the Salem graveyard reveals that he lived 23 years beyond the morning when the community retreated into a laager around the Methodist Church because Maqoma’s warriors had appeared on the kopje overlooking the village.

Gush rode out alone, unarmed and dressed in a top hat and coat, to ask what they wanted. “We are hungry,” said their leader, obliquely expressing fury at the settlers’ continued appropriation of the amaXhosa’s traditional farming lands.

With that, Gush returned to Salem, collected whatever spare food and tobacco was going, and offered this to the amaXhosa. They accepted the gift and left, never to return with hostile intent, even though the Frontier Wars continued for another 34 years.

Then, in the early twentieth century, following World War One, author and adventurer Sir Percy Fitzpatrick compiled brochures and advertisements in the British press aimed at luring ex-servicemen to become part of the Eastern Cape’s burgeoning citrus farming industry. They were illustrated with orange orchards in California because there was nothing in the Sundays River valley but bush. Nor were there any dams.

Today, Frontier Country is called the Eastern Cape. However, the past is never far from the hearts and minds of the province’s people, as my travelling companion Peter Voigt and I discovered on a recent journey through its districts in a new Suzuki Fronx GL.

Our presence there – both men and machine – was no coincidence. Pete and I both spent years of our respective boyhoods in East London. Suzuki Auto SA, in turn, believes the new Fronx is imbued with the same blend of adventure, individuality and rugged style that characterises the province. 

Towns and municipal districts might have been renamed in the past decade, but the inhabitants remain intensely proud of the simple “Frontier Country” signs that periodically punctuate the roads leading to Makhanda, and finding an appropriate example of such a sign was a specific purpose of our 1,000-kilometre trek from the Western Cape to the crucible of the region.


According to Suzuki, the name Fronx is derived from “Frontier”, which refers to how the vehicle crosses a frontier in this market segment and how its design crosses a frontier between SUV and coupé. The second term is “X”, pointing to the crossover nature of the Fronx.

Slotting in below the new Vitara and effectively replacing the Vitara Brezza, four versions of the Fronx – all with higher specification than on other Suzuki models – are now available. While it shares its design DNA with the new Grand Vitara and Suzuki Baleno, the Fronx pushes the boundaries with some completely new styling elements. 

The result is an attractive coupé-like crossover with grille treatment as first seen on the Grand Vitara, attractive dual-layer front lights, a swooping roofline, bolder wheel arch treatment, larger alloy wheels, and LED taillights. 

Inside, the instrument layout is similar to the Baleno but with a higher level of specification, with amenities such as a fully adjustable multi-function steering wheel as well as air-conditioning with rear-seat ventilation, central locking, and dual rear-mounted USB charging points. Luggage volume in the Fronx measures 304 litres, including a 16” spare wheel, growing to 605 litres with the rear seatback folded. 

However, the most apparent aspect is the higher trim quality compared to other models and the discernible lower noise and vibration levels in the cabin – a certain indication of Toyota’s influence regarding quality control starting to take effect. This translates to a level of quietness on the road and fuss-free driving we have not yet experienced in an India-sourced Suzuki. 

Its road manners are further enhanced by the 170 mm ground clearance thanks to the larger diameter wheels and tyres on the Fronx. Like the Baleno and Jimny, the Fronx is powered by the sprightly K15B 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, delivering a useful 77 kW and 138 Nm of torque. Still, its relative lack of torque meant the engine became buzzy when accelerating or overtaking.

The ratios of the five-speed manual ’box are well chosen in terms of driving dynamics, although we suspect the auto derivative will most likely prove more popular amongst buyers, and average fuel consumption remained steady at 6.6-l/100 km, no matter how we tried to tweak it more favourably.

Also impressive was how the improved dampening was discernible after we switched the roads of the Western Cape for those of its eastern neighbour, and the Fronx also has an array of safety features, including front side airbags and curtain airbags, ESP (electronic stability programme), hill hold control (HHC), ABS with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), and ISOFIX child seat anchors.


The Fronx may, in essence, be a Baleno on steroids, but with its attractive shape, standout interior quality and lower levels of noise, vibration, and harshness, and competitive price, this SUV coupe delivers more than what is promised – in stark contrast with the misleading information that lured unsuspecting settlers to what is even today still called Frontier Country.

Report & Images by JIM FREEMAN

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