It may only be 9 km long, but Sani Pass, the notoriously dangerous, steep and twisty gravel mountain pass linking KwaZulu-Natal to the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho has long been considered a serious test for off-road vehicles.
For exactly that reason, Suzuki Auto Club SA's Jaco Nel decided that driving up Sani Pass would be a worthy test of the versatile Suzuki SX4 hatchback's all-terrain talents. And while conquering Sani Pass would be the key objective, the trip would entail driving some 1 350 km over varied terrain, including crossing Lesotho from the top of Sani Pass to the border post at Ficksburg.
The SX4's odyssey started in Centurion, and after following the national route to Villiers, Nel and his crew opted for the road less travelled, traversing mostly rural gravel roads all the way to the town of Himeville, at the foot of the Drakensberg. The SX4 took the ruts, rocks and washaways in its stride, while demonstrating the benefits of its all-wheel drive system to good effect.
But the real test was yet to come. Arriving at the South African border post, located at the bottom of Sani Pass, the SX4 was dwarfed by all the large, so-called "serious" off-road vehicles waiting to tackle the pass.
Needless to say, the presence of the compact Suzuki, which admittedly looks more like a sporty hatchback than an all-terrainer, evoked much shaking of heads. It was obvious that there was some serious doubt about the ability of the SX4 to reach the top of the pass.
Intent on proving their critics wrong, Nel and his team set off from the border post, opting for the car's 4WD Auto mode to provide the necessary traction. The SX4 made it look all too easy, coping with the often treacherous conditions with consummate ease.
The last few corners near the top of the pass proved to be the most challenging, as the very steep gradient would normally require switching to low range. However, the SX4 wasn't going to be intimidated by that fact, and bravely soldiered on, with Nel opting for 4WD Lock mode to optimise grip.
Much to the surprise of several onlookers, the Suzuki SX4 arrived at the top of Sani Pass without so much as a scratch. But the challenge was by no means over. Some of the roads leading from Sani Top to the main road were even rougher than the pass itself.
Undaunted, the SX4 took the conditions in its stride, and didn't miss a beat onthe long and often challenging route to the Ficksburg border post. After a welcome respite and overnight stay in the cherry capital of SA, the SX4 was saddled up for the final leg of the journey, this time on tar.
Showing off its versatility, the SX4 swapped roles from talented all-terrainer to comfortable cruiser, cosseting its occupants in climate-controlled luxury as it covered the final 400 km to its home base.
The SX4 covered just more than 1 350 km in three days, of which 500 km was on gravel roads. Fuel consumption averaged approximately 8 litres/100 km, and the entire trip was completed without a single hitch: no punctures, no body damage, and no mechanical ailments.
"Our trip proved emphatically that the Suzuki SX4 is a great all-rounder. It coped with a wide variety of road conditions, conquering the iconic Sani Pass in the process, while delivering on the comfort, performance and safety fronts, too," Nel concluded.