Not many cities in the world can boast a more spectacular setting than Johannesburg. In the last few decades, Joburg (as its people call it), has been transmuted from a colonial outpost to one of South Africa’s most vibrant cities. Like most teeming metropolises such as Bombay, NYC or London, driving in Johannesburg, especially the city centre, could be bit of a task, what with all the traffic and parking woes. Naturally, a small car that’s easy to drive and see out of, is ideal and here in South Africa, it cannot get much smaller than the 2018 Datsun Go. Having said that, small doesn’t have to mean flimsy or perilous. There is more to this new hatchback than its diminutive size, light controls and fuel efficiency.
First some facts: Datsun, as a brand, dates back to the earliest days of Japanese car building, however, it wasn’t until 1958 that the company entered South Africa with their new sedan called the 1000. Datsun went on to become the market leader between 1976 and 1978 just a few years before it was phased out in favour of Nissan. Fast forward to 2012 and Nissan made it official that they are bringing back Datsun as a budget car brand and the rest, as we know it, is history.
The Go is to Datsun what the Alto is to Maruti Suzuki or what the Innova is to Toyota India – it’s their bread and butter model, one that’s actually made in India and exported to South Africa. Having driven it locally a month ago (click here to read our review), we sampled the Go in sunny and vibrant Johannesburg this time around. Here’s how it went.
Our drive began in the balmy and relaxed suburbs of Sandton. Those of us who had never been to South Africa before were suitably flattered, especially seeing the quality of roads and some of the local cars, as we headed onto the freeway in a convoy of bright and colourful Go hatchbacks. Our group predominantly had Indian motoring journalists but also a few from Indonesia and Russia. It was great being with them throughout the trip, getting a few insights of their local automotive scene.
We took the M1 freeway to get to our first pit stop (a shopping centre in Soweto) and as we cruised along the high-speed road network, I found the Go to be decent on the freeway. The little car kept up with traffic although I will admit I had to work the engine and gearbox a fair bit. After all, there is only so much you can do with a small capacity vehicle over speedy pavement.
After bypassing the city centre and driving towards the Southern end of Johannesburg, we arrived at the Soweto shopping centre, Maponya Mall, which was officially inaugurated by former South African president Nelson Mandela. Said to be the first black community-owned shopping mall in Soweto, it is one of the largest shopping centres in South Africa and a big attraction in Johannesburg.
From thereon, it was a short drive to the FNB Stadium and as I drove along, in the middle of the pack, I couldn’t have been further from my thoughts. November is midsummer in South Africa and it’s a great period to explore Johannesburg, with the weather getting pleasantly chilly at night while sunny skies dominate the day.
Next up, the FNB soccer stadium. With a seating capacity of over 94,700, it is undoubtedly the largest stadium in South Africa. To say that it’s enormous would be an understatement and even though we parked our cars at quite a distance, the Go seemed hilariously tiny next to that behemoth of a structure.
The FNB stadium has been the venue of both delight and sorrow, hosting several landmark events in the history of South Africa. To its credit, it has hosted the opening and final matches of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. As the main venue, it needed to undergo major renovations to be ready for the world cup. More importantly, it has been the centre of historic events, starting with the first iconic speech from former president Nelson Mandela in 1990, a few days after he was released from prison, where he served 27 years. It’s fair to say that it is not just a stadium, it is a place of celebration, mourning and triumph.
Speaking of celebration and mourning, the good folks at Datsun gave us a brief tour of Soweto which, at one point in time, was a symbol of poverty and oppression on the one hand and bravery and sacrifice on the other. Formerly developed for the black community from the 1950s, Soweto is now one of South Africa’s largest cities. It has also spawned many political and social luminaries, including Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu – Nobel peace prize laureates, who once lived in the now famous Vilakazi Street in the western part of Soweto.
I was particularly chuffed as we went through Orlando as the township is home to Nelson Mandela’s first house. Mandela stayed there with his then wife, Winnie, before he was imprisoned and jailed for 27 years. He came back to the house after his release from 1990, despite suggestions from government officials that he find a safer home. At a rally welcoming him home to Soweto his opening words were, "I have come home at last."
Our final escapade for the day took us to the Orlando Towers. Originally the site of a coal fired power station, the twin towers have become a landmark of sorts as the location of the world's first bungee jump between two cooling towers. What’s more, they are finished in brightly coloured murals, one of which depicts scenes and images from Soweto’s rich culture and the other with the corporate colours of South Africa’s FNB bank.
On our way back we stopped for lunch at a place near to our overnight stay. Over there we indulged in some really good chicken steak, lemon salad and Sparletta (a local cream soda soft drink). After that it was a quick drive back to the hotel and get some rest.
Unfortunately, we were on a constricted schedule and could only explore so much of Johannesburg in one day. That said, this city has left a deep and perpetual imprint on me. It is just as lively as I imagined, full of gleaming skyscrapers and deep-rooted art. What made this short road trip even better was the car that we were driving. Sure, there were times when we were flabbergasted, cruising in the midst of high-riding pick-ups and SUVs but as a budget hatchback, the much improved 2018 Datsun Go makes for a great daily driver and if this trip is any indication, it works well as a weekend escape pod as well.
Click here to read our first drive review of the new Datsun Go.