by Gugu Lourie
Apart from a wonderfully laid back lifestyle, the Western Cape Province has wonderful views that make driving in open spaces a genuine pleasure – more so when one is driving an all-new Nissan Navara pick-up.
My co-driver and I travelled along one such scenic road that passed through a small country town of Citrusdal in the Olifants River Valley and then onto Lamberts Bay – a tiny fishing town situated 280km north of Cape Town.
Both towns, which provide a sense of romantic isolation, are situated at the base of Cederberg mountains.
I was not the only one trying out the new Nissan Navara pick-up. It was raining lightly early in the morning when we left.
From the Protea Hotel in Durbanville, we drove in a convoy of the new Nissan Navara’s to the top of the Kanonkop.
The name Kanonkop is derived from a “kopje” (small hill in Afrikaans), from which a cannon was fired in the 17th century to announce the arrival of the Dutch East India Company’s trading ships at Table Bay, according to the CapeClassic.com. “Upon hearing this signal, local farmers would load their waggons and set off for the harbour to barter their produce.”
Nissan pulling a canon trigger
The kopje is situated on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg in Cape Town, at elevations of 195-395 feet above sea level with mostly south-west facing slopes.
As we drove to the kopje, I couldn’t help but wonder silently whether Nissan was pulling a canon trigger with its new Nissan Navara pick-up, which could set it apart from its competitors – Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux.
Pity that at the foot of the Kanonkop, it was drizzling and couldn’t experience the beauty of Cape Town. We passed Signal Gun Estate on our way to the top of the hill.
Driving up further, the road became hard to navigate, but this gave us an opportunity to fully test the new Navara, described by Nissan as a “Rugged Redefined” pick-up.
Being driven by my co-driver of the day, Jason Brown – a young intelligent Capetonian, who was thrilling and awesome. It was our first time to drive up to the top of the Kanonkop.
It was as if we were driving in the dark – just like in the old classic Clint Eastwood cowboy movie, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Trying to make small talk, I reminded Jason of a famous Clint Eastwood quote : “I have a very strict gun control policy: if there’s a gun around, I want to be in control of it.'”
I quickly added: “Clearly, my man, you are in control of this tough pick-up or is in charge of your senses”
Jason smiled, wryly.
When the Navara was first launched in the 90’s in South Africa it was a crowd pleaser and the makeover seems to be focusing on delighting the customers even more.
Even though the terrain was rough, we did not feel the bumps – we had a relatively smooth ride.
I later found out that the new Navara has a semi-independent rear suspension, intelligently designed to reduce wobble to bring a smoother and more refined ride.
The set-up combines traditional pick-up load carrying capabilities, with the benefits normally associated with an SUV with a similar suspension set-up.
These include better road grip, comfort even over gravel roads and better tracking through high-speed corners.
Our hosts, Nissan, were not fazed by the drizzle and we were soon requested to move to our next destination – the Hillcrest Estate.
New Navara story in Africa
As expected the Navara did a sterling job. Going downhill was smooth we could not tell we were driving on a bad road.
At Hillcrest Hill, we were told about the new Navara’s capabilities and improved features by Wonga Mesatywa, Nissan’s director of corporate and general affairs at Nissan southern Africa.
Mesatywa said this is the beginning of the new Navara story in Africa.
He also revealed that Nissan South Africa was in advance talks with the holding company in Japan to produce the new Navara’s in South Africa.
If the talks succeed it will be a massive vote of confidence in South Africa and the expertise of local car builders.
After the briefing, we continued with the test drive.
We drove about 137km to Velddrift – a small town north of Cape Town that is situated near the point that the meandering Berg River flows into the sea at St. Helena Bay, an estuary with about 30 000 bird’s habitats.
As we left the Hillcrest Estate, we decided to use the Navara’s navigation system.
Disappointingly led us the wrong way.
The Tom Tom navigation system wasn’t user-friendly and Jason even suggested that perhaps Navara needs to change or upgrade it.
Driving along the R27 to Velddrift, we could navigate potholes through the Navara’s new suspension technique. The Navara proved to be economical on fuel consumption.
Once we arrived safely at Velddrift’s Riviera Hotel we decided to take a break.
When it was time to go, I took over driving duties from Jason. We headed for the popular Dunes 4×4 Venue, near Lamberts Bay.
Off-road is hard to fault the Navara
I was lucky to put to test the new Navara on the scenic drives in Dwarskersbos dirt roads. The Navara handled the roads very well like a true ‘rugged redefine”.
I was able to avoid few tortoises along the route. I must say the car was strong like them tortoises. Tortoises are shielded from predators by a shell.
As I drove through the gravel road, I realised that the new Navara is benefiting from the new suspension and drivetrain, which are set-up to enable the pick-up to have a lateral tilt angle of up to 50 degrees.
The suspension provided an on-road stability on the gravel road. Fortunately, the new Navara wasn’t slow moving like the tortoises. Off-road, it was hard to fault the Navara.
We continued to experience superior road comfort and arrived at Lamberts Bay.
We are now at the Dunes 4×4 located 10km outside Lamberts Bay.
Although I was a novice of playing with a 4×4 in the dunes, I enjoyed myself. There was no better way to conquer the dunes than with a new Navara’s five-link coil suspension – a first for a volume -selling bakkie in South Africa.
Nissan seems to be ready to fire its heavy artillery to the competitors that continue to use an outdated conventional leaf spring suspension setup at the rear.
The drive in the dunes was lekker.
The suspension enabled the car to handle the sand dunes perfectly without any hustle.
Nissan has outdone itself with this vehicle.
Dining in the bush
After we conquered the dunes, we headed to the famous Bosduifklip restaurant for a veld-dining.
Bosduifklip is situated 4km from Lambert’s Bay and is surrounded by ancient rock formations and concave cliffs – the whole caboodle.
Here you will be encircled by illuminated rock formations and views that will set your heart ablaze.
I must say the food was sumptuous and the owners were marvellous.
From there we drove along the Jakkalsvlei gravel road with ease.
As we get into the tar to Marcuskraal towards Citrusdal and Kardoesie, we encountered quiet and scenic beauty – an environment I felt embraced the new Navara.
The views of Marcuskraal were charming. Inside the pickup, it felt like driving a luxury passenger car complete with unique luxury features.
Nissan has borrowed from its vast SUV playbook to deliver one of the most luxurious interiors to be found in any pick-up.
The new cabin features larger doors for easier ingress and egress, a 23-degree slanted rear bench for greater comfort and more rear legroom and a host of creature comforts, such as the first in a class dedicated rear air vents and even an electrically operated rear cab window.
Behind the steering wheel, a brand-new cockpit design welcomes the driver. The design centres on the touch-screen infotainment and navigation system that is standard equipment across the range.
This is a great move by Nissan to attract connected car users, mostly in urban areas.
We drove to the N7 and Jason started talking about the upgrading of infrastructure in the Western Cape.
“The transport system is being updated, the roads are becoming better. Look at this stunning road.”
Nissan Navara has been truly refined
I parked at Kardosesie, not far from the famous Piekenierskloof Mountain Resort to relax for few minutes.
From Kardoesie, our route continues to Paarl to complete our journey at Rhebokskloof.
Jason took over the driving and we were headed for Porterville.
The drive necessitated that we deal with port holes along Portreville/R33 and the Nissan Navara navigated them with ease.
We arrived at Rhebokskloof. Quickly ushered to our place to lay our heads for the night, which were “beds under the stars” in our tent like rooms.
We refreshed ourselves and came back for dinner and drinks.
The others, among them, Danine Naidoo, Siya Sangweni, Justyn Spinner, Carly Ritz, Jason, and myself had a time of our lives.
Carly was the lead singer, singing off key, but that didn’t deem the obvious – Nissan has truly re-engineered its Nissan Navara.