Text: Danie Botha
Photography: Jannie Herbst
Hai! A Japanese word not to be mistaken for a greeting, or a shark spotting. Instead, it means “Yes!”
Ninja. A Japanse word not to be mistaken for describing a bunch of hooligan-type, mutant turtles. Instead it is the name of Japanese motorcycle manufacturer Kawasaki’s famous supersports machines, as well as the name for a covert mercenary of feudal Japan, specialising in unorthodox methods of war.
Sake. A Japanese word not to be mistaken for that jovial guy you met one night at the local pub (called Sakkie), but rather an alcoholic beverage made from rice.
Sushi. A Japanese word not be confused with your little sister (sussie), but rather refers to a Japense delicacy of cooked, vinegared rice which is commonly topped with fish or seafood, or put into rolls.
And Yokohama? no wait, that’s a Japanese tyre manufacturer.
And? domo arigato. A well-known Japanese frase not be mistaken for describing a person of little brain in South Africa. Instead, it means “thank you very much” in Japanese.
These are but a few of the more simple Japanese terms and words of a language that it not very simple at all. In fact, Japanese is apparently one of the most difficult languages to learn to speak, never-mind write. If you’ve ever seen some of the complex network of characters used for writing in the Japanese language, you’d know what we’re talking about!
Yet the design and execution of Japanese cars are generally contradictory to the complex Japanese language system.
In fact, Japanese cars have become renowned for offering real-world, real-people transport solutions to the world – in a high quality and straight-forward, if not always very exciting package.
The Suzuki Grand Vitara compact SUV we had picked up on a sunny and warm winter morning in Windhoek, Namibia, fits this bill perfectly.
You need to be very imaginative to call the Grand Vitara’s exterior design exceedingly modern, daring, or cutting edge. The interior could hardly be described as an award-winning design, fusing only the latest technology, design trends and back-in-fashion tricks such as liquid crystal display (LCD) instrumentation. Nevertheless, all the luxury and safety features one would expect are standard.
Seen through the glasses of someone like Peter Schreier, the former Audi designer who is now churning out one stunning Kia design after the other, the Grand Vitara must seem like a bit of a, well, Plain Jane. And okay, so the Suzuki’s cabin is not exactly a place where a Peter Schreier would find inspiration either, even if it is a climate controlled environment. Instead, it is all very functional and practical, with everything where one expect it should be. It’s all very Japanese.
But function over form is not a bad thing, especially in a place such as Namibia. This is a harsh place. A place where machines are faced with extreme heat, extreme 4×4 conditions, and thousands of kilometres of dirt roads – no place for a form-over-function kind of vehicle.
Meanwhile, we are heading to the town Karibib, on the main B2 road between the capital Windhoek, and the coast. The annual WesBank Karibib Vasbyt 4×4 competition is taking place just outside Karibib, and we are going to meet Willem and Gawie Baartman there. Willem is the co-owner of the Suzuki dealership in Windhoek, and together with his brother Gawie, who also works at the dealership, have entered a juiced up Suzuki Jimny in this tough 4×4 competition.
As the Grand Vitara 2.4 eases past Okahandja, we are keeping a closer eye on the trip computer than the speedometre. We drive a similar Grand Vitara in Johannesburg, but ours is the four-speed automatic version.
Around town, where our Suzuki spends most of its life, average fuel consumption has settled around the 12 litres/100km mark. But on the open road, in the five-speed manual version, driving at a steady 120km/h, Willem’s Vitara was drinking only 9,5 litres/100km!
The outside temperature read-out is situated right below the average fuel consumption display, so we had inadvertently also kept a close eye on this reading. It had started off at 17 degrees Celcius, just outside Windhoek. At Okahandja it read 27 degrees Celcius, and by the time we reached Karibib, it was pegged at 34 degrees Celcius. It’s a warm place, Namibia.
In Karibib we follow the directions of local restaurant owner, to a quarry just outside the town. Turning onto a dirt road we come across the “Vasbyt”, and an interesting assortment of 4x4s.
Stofkokkerot (or dust cockroach), the Jeep with the Land Rover engine; Mighty Mouse, the Nissan Safari with a few 100 000km under the belt; Klipdrift, another Jeep with a V8 Landy heart; Hakuna, the Land Rover with a? V8 Land Rover engine; Crazy Frog, yet another Jeep/Landy hybrid; And Chevromog, the Mercedes Unimog with a Chevrolet V8 engine under the bench seat. Like we said, Namibia is a tough place, requiring some hardy and unique machinery!
Willem and Gawie are actually taking part in the competition in a Suzuki Jimny. A special one, which has been lifted, winched, bull-barred, free-flow exhausted, roof-racked? kitted to the hilt. And it was doing exceedingly well, running rings around some of the V8 entries with their eccentric but rather apt names.
We can’t stay very long. But we gather enough evidence in the quarry to corroborate our theory that Namibia is not a place for sissies, or for form-over-function vehicles. You need something hardy and tough.
Something like Stofkokkerot, or a Suzuki Grand Vitara.
We hit the B2 again. After Karibib the Namibian landscape’s metamorphoses becomes more apparent. From grasslands framed by plentiful trees and a mountain range, to grasslands with very few trees and only the occassional, seemingly lost little koppie, to a barren landscape with no grass, and lined with massive but bare mountains on the horizon.
As we draw closer to Swakopmund and the coast, and with the outside temperature now hovering at 17 degrees Celcius, we make a left turn, towards the dry Khan river – and the area’s famous moon landscape.
We were scouting for some photographic opportunities, and soon Jannie’s camera started clicking away. But the conditions are tough. Thick sand, rocks, steep climbs, dongas? it’s not the kind of place for an SUV which is only a 4×4 because the badge on the tailgate says it is.
It’s the kind of place where a real 4×4 is required. A real 4×4 like the Suzuki Grand Vitara.
Not that we initially need the low-range transfer case, or the Lock function in high range (which splits the power 50/50 between the front the rear axles). Instead the permanent four-wheel drive Suzuki’s default setting where it sends power between the front and rear axles as needed, proves sufficient in the sandy tracks.
Some of tracks are covered in rocks, but the Vitara’s compact size and 200mm ground clearance, along with a circumspect approach, ensure that the Suzuki’s underbelly never connect with terra firma. Finally, the rocky patch makes way for long uphill section, covered in deceptively sticky sand.
Time to call up some of the Suzuki’s heavier artillery. Selecting 4H Lock via a dash-mounted rotary dial, the power is now distributed 50/50, front and rear. More importantly, the Vitara’s standard traction control system can now also be disengaged via another button, also living on the centre dashboard. In sand, where momentum is key, you don’t want an electronic brain to close the power tap when a wheel starts spinning.
The 2,4-litre engine delivers 122 kW of power at 6000r/min and 225 Nm of torque at a relatively high 4000r/min. So clearly this 16-valver has a bit of an affinity, and a need, for higher engine revolutions, to really perform. And so it proves, as the tyres start clawing their way through the soft sand, and the Vitara’s four-cylinder engine spins towards the rev counter’s red zone.
It makes it up, no trouble at all.
The sand now makes way for a deep, slippery donga – low-range kind of terra
in. So that’s what we select, again via the rotary dial, on the dashboard. We edge the silver Vitara down, and into the donga. The front wheels start dragging the Japanese 4×4 out of the donga. But with both axles now at peculiar angles, one of the front wheels lift off the ground, and the opposing rear wheel spins? the Vitara grinds to a stop.
But only for a very brief moment.
In less time than it takes to blink an eye, the Suzuki’s standard traction control system takes charge of the situation, braking the spinning wheels, and sending more torque to the wheels with traction. And out of the donga the Suzuki climbs – no sweat. This is one traction control system that works in an off-road environment. And works really well.
Finally, we head back to the B2 tar road, and cover the last few kilometres to Swakopmund. The trip computer now claims an average consumption of 9,3 litres/100km.
Swakopmund is where the rich and famous hang out, and the tourists and local holidaymakers flock too. It’s the place to be in Namibia, it seems. The 30km stretch of beach and sand dunes between Swakop and the more industial but increasingly touristry Walvis Bay used to be barren and void of any permanent structures.
This stretch is now lined with housing developments, filled with massive new mansions. If real estate is your thing, this is the place to be, the locals say. But this is also not a place where you will readily find Jeeps with Land Rover V8 engines called Stofkokkerot running around. This is tourist valley, so the streets are dominated by tourist double cabs, tourist buses and tourist overland vehicles. And if the tourists are not ensconced inside one of said vehicles, they are exploring the deserted, Saturday afternoon streets.
We decide to take the short drive to Walvis Bay and the much talked-about Raft Restaurant, situated literally on the Walvis Bay Lagoon, where it presides on stilts.
Later that evening, after a truly memorable dinner, we conclude that it is only fair that the Raft is much talked about.
We pack it in relatively early, at the Alte Br?cke Resort in Swakopmund. We will fly back to South Africa the next afternoon, and we still had to lot of places to see, people to meet, and 4×4 to drive. So early the next morning there was some more exploring on the menu. And lots more rough dirt roads, rocks, and sand.
Lovely. In the Suzuki Grand Vitara we have found an awesome partner to do exactly that. One that really fits into the harsh Namibia environment and is a 4×4 by reputation, and not by badge. One that is clearly built to last the distance. In a harsh place such as Namibia, and the Namib desert, that’s one heck of a good reputation to have.
And maybe this is the reason why Suzuki in Namibia can’t import enough vehicles to satisfy demand? the Vitara’s reputation, and the Vitara’s ability to so successfully combine the world of luxury, safe and spacious compact SUV with the world of a highly capable 4×4. If one also throws affordable into the mix this Vitara, selling for R322 000, certainly makes a lot of sense.
Hai! It certainly does.
Five things you (probably) didn’t know about Swakopmund, and Namibia
* Swakopmund was founded in 1892 as German South West Africa’s main harbour. At the time Walvis Bay, stituated 30km south along the coast, was in British hands.
* The average annual rainfall in Swakopmund is less than 15 millilitres. Thanks to the Atlantic ocean’s cold Benguela current and its moisture, which mixes it up with the Namib desert’s hot climate, fog can stretch as far as 130km inland. Much of the fauna and flora from this area has apparently adapted to survive on the moisture the fog brings.
* Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt, daughter of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, was born in Swakopmund, in 2006. She holds a Namibian passport.
* In 2000 the governments of the People’s Republic of China and Namibia entered into an agreement to build a satellite tracking station at Swakopmund. The station was completed in 2001, and cost R12-million.
* The Namib desert covers an area of about 81 000 square kilometres, and stretches about 1600km along the coast of Namibia. The Namib has some of the biggest sand dunes in the world, at higher than 300 metres.
* The Raft Restaurant, Walvis Bay Lagoon: Surrounded on three sides by the Lagoon’s waters, this restaurant offers seating for 165 guests.
More information: Tel. +264 64 204-877l e-mail [email protected]; visit www.theraftrestaurant.com
* Alte Br?cke Resort, Swakopmund: Situated within easy walking distance of the Atlantic ocean, and the centre of town, this resort offers a wide variety of accommodation options. From camping, to luxurious family units.
Suzuki Grand Vitara 2.4 AT
Engine: 2 393cc, four-cylinder, petrol
Gearbox: Five-speed manual, with low-range transfer case
Power: 122 kW @ 6000r/min
Torque: 225 Nm @ 4000r/min
4×4 system: Permanent, with 4H Lock (50/50) and 4LOW
Traction aids: Lockable centre differential, traction control system
Fuel consumption on trip: 9,6 litres/100km
Price: R322 900