Exploring Namaqualand in a little Ignis that could
The small Suzuki is a capable explorer for those with tighter budgets
Even though it is classed as a crossover, the Suzuki Ignis tends to be seen as a city car, consigned to the urban ramble and rarely something that ventures out onto the open road.
When Suzuki Auto invited us to partake in a 1,600km expedition through Namaqualand in the Ignis, we relished the opportunity to test the little car’s adventure credentials.
Our journey started in Cape Town, and as we headed north to the overnight stop in Vanrhynsdorp 300km away, it became clear the 1.2l petrol engine had enough open-road oomph for longer journeys. It has a modest 61kW power output but the car is a real flyweight at 850kg, giving the Ignis a useful power-to-weight ratio that makes it feel surprisingly peppy.
With two of us aboard and our luggage stuffed into the small boot, the tiny Suzuki reminded me of the old children’s book The Little Engine That Could, about a little locomotive that beats the odds and manages to pull a long train over a high mountain. The folk tale is used to teach children the value of optimism and hard work, and similarly the Ignis seemed to punch above its weight on the open road.
It comfortably cruised at the 120km/h speed limit — and was capable of considerably more with a rated top speed of 165km/h — and was able to muster some spring in its step when trucks needed overtaking.
Its biggest problem is that other drivers don’t tend to take this diminutive “Noddy” car seriously, and very few vehicles moved over from the fast lane when we appeared in their mirrors. Or was that just Cape Town drivers living up to their reputations?
Notably, the car didn’t sound like it was working hard on the open road. One expects small engines to sound buzzy but the Ignis is refined, with no high-revving histrionics even when downshifting to overtake or to climb hills.
The following two days took us into the heart of Namaqualand on gravel roads as we explored the Northern Cape’s famous flowering fields. Apart from its wild flowers during spring, the region is famed for its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and its wealth of minerals. Our route took us through regions of the diamond-rich “sperrgebied” (prohibited area) which was formerly closed to tourists.
The front-wheel drive Ignis is no off-roader, but what separates it from a regular hatchback is its elevated 180mm ground clearance and this proved useful at keeping the car’s belly out of harm’s way on rutted gravel.
With tyres slightly deflated we were also able to traverse sections of soft sand, and only one of our convoy of five cars briefly got stuck on a high “middelmannetjie”. There was a Jimny on hand to tow it out of trouble, the personal car of Johann du Toit of African Expeditions who led our group. African Expeditions is the brand’s official adventure partner, and Johann and his son Justin host Suzuki owners on safaris to Namaqualand, Namibia, Botswana and other far-flung adventure spots.
The safaris are usually in Jimnys but the Namaqua Wildflower Safari was a chance for the cheaper, smaller Ignis to prove its mettle, and it did so impressively.
The little Suzuki has a surprisingly comfortable ride, without feeling excessively choppy as you’d expect from a short-wheelbase car. Its high-profile tyres soak up bumps pretty well, minimising the jittering that can cause driver fatigue. After several hours driving on gravel exploring Namaqualand’s colourful vistas, we emerged refreshed at the end of each day.
The high-specced Ignis 1.2 GLX manual we drove has comforts such as climate control, electric windows, a reverse camera and an easy-to-use touchscreen infotainment system that pairs with smartphones via cable or Bluetooth. There’s only a single USB port, however, and it charges phones very slowly.
The safety fare includes dual front airbags and ABS brakes. The manual Ignis GLX costs R236,900 and there is also an automatic version for R253,900.
The Ignis has been around since 2017 and won a number of awards, and might easily be overlooked as a member of Suzuki’s SUV/crossover family. Our Namaqualand wildflower safari proved it is more than a city car and isn’t afraid of open road or rough gravel tracks.
While the all-wheel drive Jimny and Vitara are the more adventure-focused vehicles in the line up, the Ignis is a capable little explorer for those with smaller budgets. And it runs on the smell of a fuel rag — we averaged 5.4l /100km over the journey.
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