One of the persistent disadvantages of being tall, and I mean really tall, is that there are few cars with enough legroom for a comfortable ride. The problem is compounded if the has to carry four or five people. Worst, if the boss is around and he happens to be short, but insists on sitting at the front. Now, you have to sit at some obtuse angle at the back.
For tall people like me, you have to push the seat as far back to fit in most cars, and if there are people behind, you have to compromise on your comfort. So, if you are tall, you only have one choice: get rich by all means and buy a SUV, or continue to suffer the indignity of folding your knees to squatting position in nearly all cars, save for a few Hondas.
Yet, as a regular traveler, who is increasingly averse to matatu travel, every time I have a long-distance journey, I must make a choice. Whereas most people go for fuel efficiency, my first consideration is legroom.
Early in the month, one of my grandfathers, last born of my maternal grandfather died, having licked salt for 93 years. I had to attend his funeral. As it happens with most of these things, you go as family. We had two cars to pick from: A RAV4 or a Suzuki Swift.
Vanity of course elected a RAV4. But practically, with the prevailing dire economic situation, we had to go for something that will be pocket-friendly at the pump. Life is about compromise, and I had to trade comfort to save a coin. I know several Suzuki cars, most recently and notably their Suzuki Altos that became ubiquitous with Uber, but I had never paid attention to a Swift.
We were three of us, my Uncle, Shem and Albert ‘Banana Peddler’ Nyakundi, who was also bereaved and we happen to come from the same neck of the hood and myself. Three well-fed men. We sat comfortably, without anyone complaining or hiding pain in silent. I didn’t hear the car squeak in pain when I applied all my 100 kilos on the seat as it is the norm with some small cars.
.At 9.45 a.m. we were at the University of Nairobi Roundabout, about to cruise down, South-West Kenya. Our aim was to be in Kisii town in time for lunch.
Did I say that my fear about legroom proved to be grossly unfounded? For a small car, I was rather comfortable. And inside the car, it was rather cushy, and despite being a 2013 model, the vehicle was in such a rude shape, you will be forgiven to think that we had driven it out of the showroom. I loved the rigor and panache of interior with the finishing touch of putting the music control dial on the steering. The speakers were perfect for the 315- kilometres journey.
Waiyaki Way is presently under construction and there are annoying diversions. So, I rarely count the distance between here and Mahi Mahiu, because you can’t test the car, lest you end dry humping a truck. But once we made for the escarpment, I enjoyed the compactness of the car. The car oozed so much power, and we ate up pretty much every car in the vicinity.
Officially for me, the journey to Kisii starts from Mahi Mahiu town. And here is where I realised the magic of the car. In fact, the faster it gets, the firmer it holds to the ground. At 140 km/h, the car felt more comfortable, than it felt at 80 km/h. Not to say that 80Km/h it feels as awful as say, a Vitz that starts to fly by 90 km/h.
Comparisons can be hyperbolic, but we did try 170km/h in some stretch and it felt like 100, but we are not daredevils and certainly not young to prove anything. We averaged 100 much of the monotonous stretch. The comfort and stability were as good as any heavy car out here.
The stretch between Narok and Sotik is the most boring for me, passing through nameless small markets, and the road goes on and on. But the boredom was cured by holding Prados and other big cars to their game. Sometimes, big men in big can be spiteful, and when you have a normal saloon, you can be embarrassed, but the Swift kept them in check and for some, we did relegate them to the disappearing horizon.
Within two and half hours from Mahi Mahiu town, we were in Sotik, and that is the fastest and safest I have ever done in that stretch.
At exactly 2.15 p.m. we were in Kisii, having taken 4 hours and 30 minutes on the road. We were lucky not to be stopped, as the police are a bit lax lately with confusing directives as to whether they can erect roadblocks or not.
At Kisii, we had lunch at Diplos, the most famous lunching joint in Kisii. Did I say that the beef fry was well done, and their managus were finger-licking good, how I like them? After lunch we were to join the procession taking the body home, some 40 kilometres away. They had left much earlier, so we had to play catch-up. Whereas the road is tarmacked to our doorstep, there are some six or seven kilometres of a diverted dirty road, that is presently being used as the nasty bits of the old road is being fixed.
And here, my respect for the Swift grew multifold. It chewed the small bumps, like it is the most natural thing. And since we had two funerals to visit, as soon we reached home, we took Albert to his home, some four kilometres up a steep hill, up on Emanga, the famous hills that define and divide Kisii and Nyamira County.
When coming back to Nairobi, we were joined by our two aunts and we all fit in. The only trouble we had is that the boot is rather tiny, and we could not carry all the food that our grandmother gave us.
Going up the hill proved to be a good test for the car. The hill is so steep and the road so bad, I thought we could not make it. I know several cars that would have heaved in pain and give up altogether. But with skill, endurance, and grace, the Swift climbed the mountain effortlessly properly and we only got caught up at the top, where it sandy bit of the road proved a bit slippery, less a test of the car’s strength and more about the treachery of the loose soil. But when two people alighted, it finished off the remaining stretch, of ten metres without much struggle.
There was yet another test. Albert’s home is off-the-road, down the other side of Emanga. And as dusk was settling, it rained like it always does in Kisii, when I am there, and that portended a problem for us. Roads easily become impassable.
And true, once the rains were done, and we were going back to Kisii town for some entertainment and to spend a night, we noticed that most cars were resorting to using a longer route. But we took a risk, of climbing the one kilometre to the main road. The road was as muddy and as slippery it can get. Time to check how much the car could kick.
On its own, it swallowed bumps and bits of the road, because of the decent ground clearance. But it needed some bit of pushing. And pushing a car in Kisii mud, can make you easily give up. But, our little nudging, we got through some treacherous muddy bit, as the car to zig-zagged its way up..
In our three day stay, this was pretty much our trip, we made as many off-road trips as possible and the rains were unrelenting, but at no point did we have to suffer the indignity pushing the car in the mud, save for that one incident. Never dealt with a notoriously sturdy car like this one. I loved it.
The vehicle is like six months old and there have not been the noisome trips to the mechanic. Nothing has been touched, not even spark plugs.
When coming back to Nairobi, we were joined by our two aunts and we all fit in. The only trouble we had is that the boot is rather tiny, and we could not carry all the food that our grandmother gave us. Luckily, the long-distance buses lately deliver food to Nairobi. And that was easily solved.
The exterior of the car takes a break from the Vitz and Demio shape that make a car feminine, unnecessarily. The Swift has a unisexual, stylish and sporty feel. And when speeding, it is a monster. I loved the curves too, as they give the car an impression of a standard saloon, you that minimalist tough. You can’t easily dismiss easily as “just any small car”. Honestly, the car offers some decent break from the cliched smaller car we see around. And year, it was pocket friendly at the pump, with a full tank at about Sh 4,700, we were able to get to Kisii, do several trips with Kisii and only managed to add some Sh 2,000 on our way back.
I can buy it, without thinking twice. For those obsessed with spare parts, I noticed (what is it about life that once you notice something for the first time) it becomes extremely ubiquitous), meaning that spare parts may not be a big issue soon.