JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – The belief that small and inexpensive entry-level cars are only good for city use as runabouts and commuters has been thrown out of the window by a couple of globe-trotting guys from Finland.
Vesa Eskola and Jarmo Kymenlathi chose a little Datsun Go for an African adventure that took them 9800km through South Africa, Namibia and Botswana in their 1.2-litre, 50kW car.
The drive took 16 days.
It followed other trips through Indonesia, Russia and India; this time they drove for eight to 10 hours a day to average more than 600km a day in a Datsun Go, made in Chennai, India, and so expected to handle some pretty tough tarmac – or indeed no tarmac at all.
Vesa, a journalist, had already done more than a million kilometres on roads around the globe since punting the concept of such long-distance trips to Datsun’s global head, Vincent Cobee a few years back.
The African odyssey went out of Johannesburg to the Kruger Park then headed off to follow the east coast to Durban and then Cape Town before pointing the little Go’s stubby nose due north to Namibia, the target being Etosha Pan and the trans-Kalahari highway.
to Durban. From Durban, he travelled south and then west via the Garden Route to Cape Town then up the west coast ito Namibia. Then it was up to Etosha Pan and back along the Trans-Kalahari highway.
This trip, Vesa said, followed other drives through Europe in various small, light, cars during the 1970’s and 80’s.
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“Nobody thought twice about making long journeys in cars that today would be regarded as ‘city cars’.” he said. “Today, people are obsessed with larger cars – SUVs and the like – and wouldn’t even think of tackling a long road in an entry level vehicle such as the Datsun Go.
“Even though the engine is small, the car cruised happily at 140km/h on the long open stretches of road across Namibia. Fuel consumption averaged only 6.9 litres/100km and the car’s strongest points were its (ride)height – an advantage in areas where there were support during the hours we spent on thepotholes – and the seats that gave us great support for all the hours we spent in the car.”
He said the only maintenance required during the near 10 000km journey was to two tyres that punctured on the flinty roads in the Namibian desert.
“South Africa is very beautiful with landscapes that keep changing. The diversity is wonderful and the roads are good.”
The best things about the trip? “The Kruger Park; being surrounded by a herd of 40 elephant in Etosha; the winelands of the Western Cape. Most important for Finns away from home was the quality of your coffee and South African coffee shops.”
“Biltong, though, was not so lekker.”
The trip, he added, was “challenging” but the roads way better than those of India where one stretch of 270km took nearly 11 hour to cover. The Go returned to Johannesburg undented, unbroken and unbowed – “though it was very dusty” – where Des Fenner, Datsun SA’s general manager. said the long trip brought to motorists’ attention something often overlooked by car buyers.
“The Datsun Go, introduced to South Africa as a car for ‘Risers’ – young people looking for an affordable first car – is a very capable vehicle.
“As Vesa demonstrated, it can tackle long journeys and cruise happily and economically at the speed limit for hours. While it is unlikely that many local buyers would drive an average of 613km a day for days on end, but the vehicle has proved that doing so would be a breeze.
“South Africa is a land of wide-open spaces, ideal for long-distance driving. Many of our roads are superb, so there is no reason that we shouldn’t see Datsun Go units everywhere.
“With its competitive pricing, styling, quality finishes and willing engine, there is little question that it will continue to be a South African success story capable of leading the Datsun challenge on its mission to reinforce its position as an iconic brand – just as Dasun was from the 1960s through to the 1980’s.”