Driven - March 2016

Suzuki Vitara meets a Tzaneen road trip.

A different holiday with a different car:

Is it just us, or does it feel like the last three months have gone by quicker than one can say the word  “holiday”? Yes it feels like a mere few weeks ago when the Johannesburg roads were quiet, the Durban roads were congested and the Cape Town roads were riddled with “Vaalies”. Fast forward three months later and we’ve hit another holiday season, one that is even more stressful than the one that precedes it, simply because of time constraints. The Christmas holidays give us enough time and money to spend numerous Rands on plane tickets, accommodation, and car hire. Whereas the Easter holidays are only a few days, there is no salary bonus and the school holidays are much shorter.

So where does this leave one in terms of choosing the right holiday destination? Especially in an unstable economic climate? Well a few months ago, we decided to embark on an alternate weekend getaway plan, one that did not involve the coast and peak season flights. Instead, we opted on a three-hour road trip to the ever so green town of Tzaneen located in the Polokwane region. The car used for this trip? Again we didn’t opt for a luxurious German SUV or a British seven seating vehicle. We got behind the wheel of the newly launched 1.6 litre Suzuki Vitara and proceeded to loaded the boot with the following items: Five sleeping bags, four tog bags (filled with all the necessities), numerous pillows, an espresso maker and of course, a burr grinder.

And off we went:

Now you may think that the 86kW engine of the Vitara would barely cope with a fully loaded boot and five humans, one of them who has not seen a gym in months. Surprisingly on the very straight road to Polokwane, the Vitara comfortably cruised along at legal (and not so legal) speeds. With a car full of humans, the air-conditioner and seating comfort play a vital role on the joy/annoyance levels of the occupants.

In the case of the Vitara, the air-conditioning proved so effective, we had to turn it down in the dead of summer, mind you this was amidst high energy car karaoke. When the endorphins from the chocolate finally abated and drowsiness came into play, our back seat occupants slumbered away like well-fed babies whilst the co-pilot and I chatted away about life, the economy and teenage heart breaks (you know, road trip stuff). Meanwhile the frugal Vitara steadily carried on silently, not disturbing our deep conversation or our dreaming passengers.

After driving a straight road for hours, we finally entered into Polokwane, our destination was now only 70Km’s away. This is where things got interesting because on route to Tzaneen is one the most stunning roads in the country, the Magoebaskloof pass. How would our humble friend do on this twisty road? The first few corners awakened our sleeping passengers, sudden silence filled the vehicle as I tried my best to get the most out of the Vitara without causing car sickness.

How did it do?

Dynamically the Suzuki Vitara does not disappoint one bit, as a compact SUV it’s fun, responsive and playful. The small engine did require a higher gear during the mountain pass and yes I did wish for more power but the car was fully loaded with passengers and luggage. Eventually we arrived at our accommodation for the night, the real test was happening the next day, driving to a camp site which required going through ten kilometres of gravel road.

The next morning our local friends had this look of worry in their eyes. Eventually they tried to convince me to leave the Vitara at our previous nights stop over, simply because they were unsure if the “cute” little car would make it. I reminded them of the lineage of this car and its sibling the Jimny, which has embarrassed many larger SUV’s on the dirt. They agreed and told me it was at my own risk. So off we went, a Toyota Hilux, a Toyota Prado and us in our the Suzuki Vitara in tow. A few kilometres in, my friends remarked at how each time they looked in their rear view mirror, all they saw was a red little car keeping up. Some spots required careful planning, with the bigger cars taking their time.

We simply sang along to our Bluetooth streamed music and gently got over whatever obstacle was in our way, similar to how the Jimny clears most off road obstacles. The thing about these Suzuki’s is that they have size on their side and extremely capable off-road abilities. By the time we reached our camp site, our Toyota Hilux driving friend could only sing the Vitara’s praises and any car person will know how difficult it is to convince a Hilux a driver.

Home time:

A few days later, we were on our way home. Once we reached Johannesburg, only having used a tank and a half of fuel, we all looked proudly at the Vitara. Not only had we not damaged a single thing on the GL+ we drove fitted with the Rugged Package, we all had a comfortable trip to and from our destination. We didn’t spent tons of money, we didn’t travel for long hours and we had lots of fun.

In the current economic climate, many are looking at buying down to save costs. Many are also looking at cutting down on expensive holidays. Stunning areas like Tzaneen and cars like the Suzuki Vitara give us hope that it’s not all doom and gloom. For a few thousand rand one can have a great weekend away. Similarly at a starting price of R239 900, one can get a great looking, capable and reliable compact SUV. If buying down for you means getting into a car like the new Vitara, then all we can say is happy savings.