2021, with all its Covid-19 related challenges, made it a tad difficult for automakers to launch their new vehicles in South Africa. Still, they persevered and did all they could to make the best of a difficult situation.
So, it’s a bit difficult pinpointing just which was the most memorable in a year full of events. Of course, the chosen events are a personal choice and appealed to my nature a bit more. An honourable mention must go to Lexus launching their LC 500 Convertible in the Kruger National Park. The team hosted us at Kruger Shalati: The train on the bridge. It was memorable and amazing at the same time, with views over the Sabie River and the animals, including crocodiles, in and around it.
And though the LC 500 is one of my top events of the year, the ones below hit home.
Ford Ranger FX4 – Wild Coast
The FX4 nomenclature returned to the Ranger in early 2021, and Ford opted for the Wild Coast as launch venue. After arriving in Durban, we made our way to the outskirts of the city, where we hopped on a small charter plane. From there, we flew to the Wild Coast and landed on a mountain just outside Port St Johns. It was something else flying towards this massive mountain and then landing on it as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
Under the watchful eye of Gideo Basson, the event got underway, and we headed down to the coastal town before hitting the open road. In all, we didn’t drive too far – less than a few hundred km – but we explored the bushy areas, had a traditional seafood lunch on a hilltop overlooking the ocean, and drove through heavily guarded reserves. Thankfully, Basson, a seasoned tour guide with a wealth of knowledge on South Africa and our neighbouring countries, ensured that we got the necessary permissions to go where no one is allowed.
The FX4 is based on the Ranger XLT and uses the same 2.0-litre single-turbo diesel engine that produces 132kW and 420Nm. Available with only the 10-speed automatic transmission, the bakkie can be specified in both 4×2 and 4×4 configurations. The Ranger FX4 formed part of the Wheels24 long-term garage for several months in 2021. You can read our long-term report here.
Suzuki Safari – Northern Cape
When Wheels24 editor Janine van der Post asked if I’d want to spend four days driving a Suzuki Jimny around the driest province in South Africa, I said yes without even knowing what the event would entail. The reasons for the quick yes were simple: Jimny and explore. Exploration is what the Jimny was built for, and it is one of the most capable 4x4s ever made. The current fourth-generation Jimny arrived in 2018, but it is still as popular as when it was launched.
After JJ du Toit from African Expeditions acquired his Jimny earlier this year, he got in touch with Suzuki South Africa. He pitched the idea of a Suzuki Safari, and, according to Suzuki SA, they were sold just minutes into the telephonic conversation. The expedition leader is now a devoted Jimny fan and had the perfect trip in mind for this all-conquering SUV.
The safari started at Upington Airport, followed by a trek to Pofadder. From there, we made our way to Pela and scaled the mountains until we were next to the Orange River. We spent a few hours driving through some harsh conditions until we got to the overnight spot. Day 2 was relatively easy, but on the third day, we headed towards Koingnaas but made a right for Noup. Here, Du Toit, with his extensive network, got permission for the safari-goers to drive on this stretch of private beach. We learned so much about the area, its history, the shipwrecks along the coast, and the inhabitants of the area.
Not once did the Jimny fall short of anything and did it underline, again, just why it is such a phenomenal vehicle. In all, this has been my most memorable event of 2021 and one I’d hope to do again if the opportunity presented itself.
Ford Ranger Stormtrak – Baviaanskloof
One of the most iconic areas in South Africa must surely be the Baviaanskloof. The area is vast and stretches over a substantial area that includes farmland, mountains, and corrugated roads that require the utmost care as you traverse it. Ford South Africa opted for this area to launch its new Ranger Stormtrak this past September, another special edition bakkie to help close out the current Ranger’s production run.
The Stormtrak is based on the Ranger Thunder, which, in turn, is based on the Ranger Wildtrak. It also makes do with the 157kW/500Nm 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel engine, but adds a few visual enhancements to set it apart. Most notably, the electric roller shutter over the loading bay is its biggest attribute.
Basson was again pulled in to take care of proceedings and pitched a brilliant concept to the automaker: Meet at Port Elizabeth Airport and spend night one in Storms River, drive over the Baviaanskloof the next day and spend the night in Steytlerville, and return to Gqeberha by late afternoon on Day 3.
Days two and three were terrific, traversing – at a leisurely pace – the Baviaans and taking in all the majestic elements hidden in it. The convoy didn’t rush through the mountainous areas, but instead took it in while the bakkies, in 4×4 High, cleared the obstacles without any hassle. Once out of the Baviaaanskloof, we hit the Karoo gravel roads and pushed the bakkies towards Steytlerville.
This was definitely one for the books and still one of my most talked-about events.
Source: Charlen Raymond (www.wheels24.co.za)