As revised travel regulations have domesticated our vacation itineraries, South Africans are rediscovering what a fantastic country they live in.
Our “tourism capital”, Cape Town, is perhaps the best place to experience the new trend toward “localisation” tourism.
Budget gravel travel with the Suzuki Ignis
In an attempt to familiarise ourselves with the terrific abundance of activities and natural splendour available an hour or two beyond Cape Town, we used a vehicle ideally suited to budget gravel travel: Suzuki’s latest Ignis.
The Japanese brand has a storied history of producing great adventure vehicles. Its Jimny is rightfully regarded as one of the world’s most capable 4x4s and its Vitara SUV, is a proper all-terrain family vehicle.
Suzuki’s Ignis is a great deal more affordable than the company’s all-wheel drive vehicles and delivers notable gravel road exploring ability at a more attainable price.
Before Suzuki re-entered South Africa back in 2008, there was a commonly held perception that our gravel roads and adventurous driving routes were simply too rugged for a compact vehicle to survive.
The Jimny radically altered that perception and Suzuki’s technical expertise, when designing very robust and durable compact cars capable of all road surfaces, has endured.
Unlike some rivals, the Ignis has meaningful dirt road driving ability. This is clear by its purposeful stance and 180mm of ground clearance – a great deal more than any conventional hatchback.
Although it is a delightfully compact car to navigate through heavy inner-city traffic (which remains a thing in Cape Town), the Ignis also has a significant adventure driving potential. And in South Africa, that means routing along gravel roads.
Suzuki Ignis eats some Malanshoogte gravel
To experience the hidden gems outside of Cape Town, it helps to slow your driving pace and divert onto a rural farm road, at your first convenience.
Leaving Cape Town city centre, we did just that, rolling onto the Malanshoogte gravel road, which forms the northern border of Durbanville, after just 20 minutes.
One of South Africa’s oldest and most established farm regions, it has seen an enormous surge in mountain bike infrastructure over the last 10 years. Many of the farms are now interlinked with some of the world’s best mountain bike trails, all of which offer #instaworthy viewpoints of Table Mountain.
Small car…but not inside
Where the Ignis surprised us, was the quality of its cabin architecture and how useful the 260-litre core luggage cavity actually is. We managed to fit a dual-suspension mountain bike inside, by folding down the rear seats and removing the wheels, bracing them against the car’s c-pillars.
South Africa’s West Coast is one of the world’s least populated geographies. If you feel the need to discover and explore some pristine beaches which are virtually guaranteed to be uncrowded, you only need to head an hour north of Cape Town.
This is exactly what we did. Routing north on the R27, known colloquially among locals as the West Coast road, we had the opportunity to test the highway cruising ability of Suzuki’s Ignis.
Although its higher ride height — a benefit on gravel roads — should theoretically make the Ignis a touch busier to steer in a straight line at speed, this was not the case.
Suzuki’s engineers have found the sweet spot with this little car’s castor and camber angles, at all four wheels. It tracks with wonderful confidence at 120km/h, generating very little wind noise.
The electrically steering system might feel a touch artificial (as they all do), but the Ignis never wandered off its directed line.
Small cars can often be nervous at highway speeds, when passed by a large truck in the opposite lane and being exposed to aerodynamic wake. But the Ignis was unaffected by even the largest 18-wheelers coming from the other side.
Journeying on the West Coast road, we also had time to appreciate the Ignis GLX’s improved infotainment offering, which now uses a large touchscreen format.
Podcasts, playlists or fielding incoming calls. The Ignis infotainment system is preloaded with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which made paring a smartphone effortless.
Getting right to the water’s edge
Our mission exploring the west coast, was to experience some of its splendidly isolated beaches and catch some uncrowded waves. We took a detour at Grotto bay, again using the little Suzuki’s dirt road ability to explore some of the cliffs in that area, resplendently covered in Cape floral kingdom flora.
The Ignis again impressed with its ability to roll over uneven terrain and safely guide us in and out of the coastal viewpoint trail. Although the view were spectacular, the surfing conditions were not ideal. We opted to merge with the R27 highway again, and venture to Yzerfontein.
Upon entering the uncharacteristically hilly West Coast village with its signature harbour, there was a sense of reward waiting to be uncovered. Ignis rolled with aplomb over Yzerfontein village’s speedbumps, as we routed past the harbour to the more exposed beaches on the southern side.
Ideal conditions awaited and we sampled some grinding West Coast waves in the best cold water surfing tradition.
Transporting surfboards inside small hatchback configuration vehicles, is often agony. But Ignis surprised yet again, with its capacious nature. The largish 7”2 surfboard glided into the Ignis so easily that we could easily have taken an even bigger one along.
After an exhaustive but rewarding surf session, we dried up and routed home.
The next day we concluded our localised road trip adventure, with a wine estate visit at DeMorgenzon. On our way driving there, we started considering Ignis as a complete compact adventure vehicle solution.
Suzuki’s engineering heritage is inarguable with this car.
It is remarkably light, at only 860kg, which makes it very agile. Especially at low speeds. The 61kW engine and five-speed manual gearbox are a tidy combination, delivering a very drivable compact adventure vehicle, which you can confidently tour around with, at highway speeds.
At R216 900, the Ignis GLX manual is a great little adventure touring vehicle for those buyers on a budget who value Suzuki’s all-terrain credentials.