A Tough challenge
In retrospect, some of the 4×4s in this test should probably have not have made the trip to the Riemvasmaak 4×4 trail. But all the vehicles pulled through in the end, with nary an issue. Even the soft-roaders, with some careful planning, got through.
The latest Trailblazer really surprised friend and foe in the Kalahari. Not only did it handle the tough conditions in its stride, it also became the first (of only three) 4×4s to scale the Mother of all Dunes, which we have christened Heartbreak Hill. The refinements to the interior and the better-looking exterior lines have certainly helped improve the overall package, too.
The Fiat bakkie battled the rocks and sands like a gritty old Roman soldier. Thanks to its tough, well-proven underpinnings, it made light work of the challenges. However, if you thought the Italian company would let this rebadged Japanese bakkie grace the world without a few Italian quirks, you’d be mistaken. There certainly are some… like the alarm system that goes into a panic if you leave the bakkie’s headlights on, and then locks the vehicle. Si signore, this one has some Italian flair!
The Everest, armed with the powerful 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel engine, was one of three 4×4s that made it up Heartbreak Hill. Spacious, luxurious, plush and loaded with standard kit, the Ford proved to be one of the more comfortable rides over the rocks. With its electronic terrain response system and with the six-speed automatic gearbox taking the tough out of the driving experience, the Ford provided an impressive all-round performance.
This Tunland was beefed up with an LAS Profender suspension system, a bull bar and a snorkel. So with the increased clearance and the grip from the Cooper STTs, the Foton had very few issues on the rocky tracks. In fact, thanks to the accessories, the driver could literally pick a line and just drive it. On the sand, the lorry could probably do with a few more horses, but overall it handled itself well in the Kalahari.
Hyundai Santa Fe
The poor Sante Fe was really up against it on the rocky Riemvasmaak trail. But the low-slung soft-roader, with its all-wheel-drive system locked in a 50/50 split between the front and rear axles, managed to get through the rocks, albeit with plenty of planning and a good helping of patience. On the sand, the limited clearance made the challenge all the more taxing, but with plenty of horses under the bonnet, the Hyundai team conquered this test, too. Kudos to the Hyundai.
What an amazing job the Isuzu KB did to get through the rocks and some sand. In case you didn’t read the KB’s story, someone at the Port Elizabeth factory inadvertently sent a 4×2 Isuzu to the Kalahari, instead of a 4×4! This bakkie completed the Riemvasmaak trail in 2WD, and it had virtually no trouble doing so (thankfully we went down most of the tough rock challenges, and not up). In the sand, it was obviously trickier, so the KB skipped the bigger dunes. But what a performance from the 4×2 bakkie (with a rear differential lock).
Like its cousin the Santa Fe, the Kia Sorento was certainly facing a mountain of a challenge in the Kalahari. With some planning and road building, it got through the rocks in one piece. And in the sand, with the Kia team quickly adapting to the traction-control-off, full-steam-ahead approach, the Sorento scaled some of the more daunting dunes. Both the Kia and Hyundai (wisely) opted to watch the action at Heartbreak Hill from the sidelines. Sometimes it’s okay to bring a knife to a gunfight… but at this hill, it was not a good plan.
We know one thing for sure: the Mahindra Scorpio S10 is tough as nails. With its driver utterly convinced that the 85kW Scorpio can go where the Fortuner couldn’t, it took some shots as it stormed Heartbreak Hill, getting airborne more often that not. Yet the Indian SUV soldiered on regardless. In the rocks, the Mahindra also fared well, even though it’s a bit lower than some of the other 4×4s in this group. Overall, it put together a solid performance.
The Pajero is no longer the new kid on the block, but it still handled itself most admirably in the Kalahari. On Heartbreak Hill we all willed the Pajero on, and it came so close to cresting that dune. For the rest, it did everything, every time, without drama or fuss. It just got on with the job. And it’s this quality that makes it such a great overlander-cum-4×4: it doesn’t do drama, it just gets the job done.
Ah, this was the one everyone was keeping a close eye on. With the new independent rear suspension set-up, we were all curious to see how the Navara handled itself. And what a job it did. As one of only three 4×4s that made it up Heartbreak Hill, the Nissan really came to the 4×4 party. Will the independent rear suspension revolutionise the double cab bakkie segment? From this early look, it may very well, yes.
Suzuki Grand Vitara
The Grand Vitara, like the Mitsubishi Pajero, did everything the Suzuki crew threw its way in a very nonchalant, ‘whatever’ kind of way. There was no drama, no flying through the air, no major undercarriage bashing on the rocks… it just got the job done in a most unassuming, typically Japanese manner.
The new Fortuner certainly comes with an impressive array of 4×4 kit. From the advanced traction control that really works well in an off-road environment, to the powerful 130kW/450Nm engine that barely has a hint of turbo lag. It handled the rocks in its stride and in the sand, fared pretty well, too. It didn’t make it up Heartbreak Hill no, but if the Toyota team had some previous sand-driving experience… well, who knows. Overall, it ticked a lot of ‘yes’ boxes.
The Volkswagen Amarok’s eight-speed automatic gearbox, combined with the off-road setting for the electronics, made the rock climbing challenges a relative walk in the park. On the sand, the Amarok was impressive, but alas, Heartbreak Hill was one hill too far for the luxurious Volksie. On the run-up to the start of the climb, it lost too much speed as the bak bounced over the corrugations. Overall though, the Amarok is one classy package.