Jimnys in the Namib: Small 4x4s vs big dunes

Suzuki’s small little Jimny, powered by a 1,3-litre four-cylinder engine, is a perky little city runabout. As a bonus it can even tackle some 4×4 trails, thanks to its small size and pukka low-range gearing. But the Namib desert’s dunes, some standing 300 metres tall? Surely it can’t do that!

They are stark raving mad. There I was, in Namibia, just outside Walvis Bay, next to one of the Namib’s smaller dunes. And there was our tour leader, Namibian Marius van Zyl, aiming for the dunes in his big and powerful Toyota Land Cruiser. Not that I had any worries about tackling the dunes – my Suzuki Grand Vitara 2.4 makes light work of a bit of sand, courtesy of its pukka 4×4 drivetrain, and a 122 kW, 2,4-litre petrol engine. But it was the line of other Suzukis that was the issue. Nine Suzuki Jimnys, with mostly inexperienced off -road drivers behind the wheel. In the Namib Desert. With its inti midati ng, challenging and someti mes impossible-to-conquer dunes, some standing 300m high. Really… what was Marius smoking when he agreed to lead this convoy into this inhospitable place! But let’s back-track some. The convoy had left Namibia’s Hosea Kutako Internati onal airport, situated about 50km from the capital city of Windhoek, the previous aft ernoon. Nine Suzuki Jimnys, one Suzuki Grand Vitara, and tour leader Marius van Zyl and legendary special forces soldier and nowadays tour leader Koos Moorcroft in the passenger seat of the Toyota Land Cruiser 80-series wagon. We had taken the C26 gravel road, and later the C14, also a gravel road. Our target was the Gobabeb research station in the Namib, about 85km south-west of the harbour city of Walvis Bay. It was an eventf ul and long journey on the gravel road, which was excellent in places, and not so great in others. Two tyres were destroyed along the way, as the Suzuki convoy wound its way through the beauti ful Gamsberg Pass, and the spectacular Kuiseb Pass. We arrived late at the Gobabeb research stati on, but Walvis Bay jeweller-cum-4×4 tour guide Rolf Schmidt’s excellent gemsbok braai, along with some ice-cold liquid refreshments, soon had us perky again.

And so, the next day, we were ready for those dunes. Well, we were, driving the Grand Vitara. I wasn’t so sure that the drivers of the Jimnys shared my senti ments, as Gobabeb disappeared in our dust. The real Namib dunes, which had the potential to make our gravel road-drive seem like a night at the sevenstar Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai compared to sleeping in a two-man tent in the desert sand. Which brings us to the point where we were about to enter the actual Namib dunes, near the settlement of Rooikop. It was the moment when Mr Reality gave me a sucker punch in the stomach, and said: Well, well, well… do you really think you can pull this off ? Like in… really?” Even the local chief of the Rooikop area came to pay his condolences, smiling in a compassionate manner, and shaking the hands of some members of the Suzuki group as he would shake the hands of the relatives of the deceased at a funeral. While the Jimny drivers were deflating the tyres of their vehicles to 0,8bar, I was getting the snatch-strap ready, making sure we had enough water for at least a week, and doublechecking with Marius that his satellite phone was indeed serviceable. And so it began. We entered the Namib Desert proper. With its soft sand, carefully arranged in big heaps that look quite beautiful, but in reality are deadly traps set specifically for Suzuki Jimnys. It wasn’t long before the first Jimny sank into the sand, up to its axles. Rolf Schmidt, driving his super-duper Land Cruiser, was quickly on the scene, and extracted the little Suzuki. Mr Reality was just warming up too: “Hope your life insurance is in order,” he whispered, sitting on my shoulder. We didn’t have to wait long for the next recovery exercise, as another Jimny got stuck. Rolf had him out in a jiffy too. Meanwhile, Marius was on the radio, giving some driving advice as we forged ahead towards certain disaster. Mr Reality was getting rather annoying too: “I can picture the newspaper headlines: Desert consumes Suzuki group. And “I was the last man to see them alive, says Rooikop chief.” And “They went looking for trouble, says 4×4 expert.” Interestingly though, quite a bit of time and quite a few kilometres went by before the next Jimny got bogged down – and was retrieved in a speedy fashion by Rolf. Curiously, Mr Reality was rather quiet too. And so the convoy advanced, deeper into the desert – and the Jimnys, with their 1,3- litre engines screaming, were getting up the steep slip faces, over the crests, and down the other side, as the inexperienced drivers got to grips with the specific driving techniques required for sand such as the sand of the Namib desert. High-range four-wheel drive and a whole lot of right foot combined with a healthy dose of revs work wonders in the sand, they discovered. And that “when in doubt, floor it” is a good motto to drive by. I was beginning to think that maybe Marius wasn’t quite as mad as I thought he was. In the sand the Jimny’s compact size and a kerb weight of only 1060kg counted in its favour. In sand, the less weight you have to heave along, the better.

The eager-to-rev 16-valve engine was also doing its bit. The 1328cc four-cylinder delivers 63 kW of power at 6000r/min and 110 Nm of torque at 4100r/min – which clearly is not a massive amount of power and torque. But combined with the Jimny’s weight of just over a ton, and the nimble handling, the little engine displayed all the character in the world and lugged those Jimnys up and over all the dunes in their path. Finally, after several hours, and with the dunes comprehensively conquered and the convoy heading out of the sand on the way to Walvis Bay, another Suzuki got bogged down. But it wasn’t a Jimny. It was the Grand Vitara! And I can’t even blame the Vitara, either. It was just me, myself to blame. In a lapse of, er, diligence, I underestimated a sharp crest – and managed to beach the Suzuki so comprehensively that we couldn’t even open the doors. There I was, believing that the little Jimny did not have what it takes to conquer the dunes. And there I was, in the 122 kW Vitara, in the process of being recovered after getting stuck – while the occupants of several Jimnys watched from a close vantage point, very not stuck. I swear Mr Reality was having a chuckle too, here on my shoulder.

Co-pilot Margaret du Plessis and I burst out laughing too, recognising the irony of the situati on we found ourselves in. So, what’s the moral of the story then? Never underestimate the capabilities of a Suzuki Jimny. Like in… never.


The group consisted mainly of Suzuki dealers from around South Africa. They represented the cream of the crop of SA’s fast expanding Suzuki dealer network. The ones that performed exceedingly well in the tough economic ti mes of 2009 and 2010, and have helped maintain Suzuki’s amazing run and track record in the local market since the Japanese company’s return proper to local shores in 2008. The touring party also included members of Suzuki Auto South Africa, as well as Deon de Jager from WesBank Mobile Finance, who co-sponsored the trip. The jovial, vibrant and dynamic group represented the Suzuki lifestyle, and the Suzuki way of life ethos, to a tee, says Suzuki Auto SA’s manager of product planning and marketi ng, Francois van Eeden. “Suzuki is an unpretenti ous brand, and an honest one. What you see is what you get, and our dealers and the people who work for Suzuki are exactly the same. Like the dealers on this trip, for instance. They are real people, selling real cars. They like to play hard, but also work hard. Which is perfect, really, because this is what Suzuki’s range of vehicles is all about: Play hard, and work hard,” he says.



Suzuki’s small little Jimny, powered
by a 1,3-litre four-cylinder engine, is a
perky little city runabout. As a bonus
it can even tackle some 4×4 trails,
thanks to its small size and pukka
low-range gearing. But the Namib
desert’s dunes, some standing 300
metres tall? Surely it can’t do that!