What a machine! Driving SHERP's ATV on water is the closest thing to a Biblical experience

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• SHERP is a Ukrainian company that specialises in all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).

• The N 1200 is one of four models in SHERP's portfolio.

• SHERP is readying to sell its vehicles in South Africa and Africa.

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When it comes to no-nonsense 4x4s, we South Africans only have a few true options we'd consider: Suzuki Jimny (a wolf in sheep's clothing), Toyota Land Cruiser, Jeep Wrangler, and Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon. Obviously, there are other options, too, but these machines have carved out legendary status for themselves.

But what if these vehicles are not enough? What if you want something more robust and with a genuine go-anywhere attitude? Ukrainian automaker SHERP seems to have the answer to that question, and it looks unlike anything you have probably encountered before. However, there is a catch or two, but it should be of little concern when the vehicle is used for its intended applications.

The N 1200 is one of four models in SHERP's portfolio and has finally been cleared by South African Customs. Following the clearance, the Ukrainian team made their way to a location in Cape Town's Northern Suburbs where members of the public could experience this unique and different 4x4.

What is it?

It's not that difficult talking about the SHERP N 1200, but explaining it is a tad trickier. See, the SHERP (let's call it that for ease of understanding) takes what we know about 4x4s and dials it up to 11. The vehicle's dimensions are not crazy either, as it measures 4002mm in length and 2530mm wide.

The vehicle's block shape houses everything in a compact setting, with the engine and gearbox all fitting in the body. Keeping everything afloat is a set of tubeless 25-inch tyres, all of which can be inflated and deflated from inside the cabin. And while on that topic, the SHERP uses engine gases to inflate the tyres again.

The automaker says that the SHERP uses about 5-8 litres of fuel every hour, which results in a driving range of more than 500km on its 95L fuel tank. Oh, and those massive wheel arches? They can each hold an additional 58L fuel tank.

The SHERP weighs in at 2400kg and has a payload capacity of up to 1200kg.

Engine and gearbox

One would think that a large capacity engine powers the SHERP, but it's not. Doosan, the South Korean engine builder, is the official engine partner to the SHERP project and the automaker opted for a turbocharged 1.8-litre diesel engine. But before we call this a mistake, the SHERP is not made for performance. Remember, the term 'slow is faster' is an age-old adage for off-roading, which is evident in the SHERP.

The three-cylinder engine offers 41kW and 190Nm of torque, allowing the big vehicle to run a 40km/h top speed in top gear. And speaking of gears, a Renault-sourced six-speed manual gearbox transfers power from the engine to the wheels.

SHERP N 1200
SHERP N 1200

Driving experience

The SHERP team ascended upon the off-road track, ready for action, but first-hand driving experiences were not on the cards. Instead, guests got a front seat experience as the instructor piloted the big-wheeled machine through various terrain.

To operate the SHERP, says the team, you'd need about two days for them to give you the full lowdown on driving operations. And after seeing what goes for what, we understand why. There is no steering wheel in the N 1200. Instead, two levers next to the driver are used for braking either the left or right wheels. When it happens, the SHERP will turn on its own axes.

There also isn't a brake pedal. The throttle acts as both an accelerator and brake pedal, but drivers still have to press the clutch to operate the gearbox. An array of buttons are placed next to the driver, allowing for various functions to be activated, including the in- and deflation of tyres.

Though we did not put the SHERP through difficult challenges, the vehicle can scale and descent an incline up to 35-degrees and can tilt up to 30-degrees sideways. Ground clearance is 600mm, and, thanks to its design, it can wade water that's more than 2m deep. On water, it can run at a 6km/h top speed.

SHERP N 1200
SHERP N 1200

Who'd want to buy this?

This is the big question surrounding the SHERP. The vehicle is not is not for use on public roads, and the tyres will be ripped to shreds when you venture on non-off-road surfaces for too long. The SHERP group, therefore, targets the local mining industry, emergency services, forestry, etc. However, private customers who want to own their own SHERP can do so, as well.

The SHERP representatives said that they are in the process of establishing a solid South African network, which will soon enter the final phase 

of establishment. The Ukrainian team will be in South Africa for at least another two weeks, with Johannesburg next for these driving experiences. They will also meet with several stakeholders regarding the vehicle's future in South Africa.

SHERP says that it rates the South African market as an important one, as it is the ideal entry for business on the African continent. North America is currently SHERP's most valuable market, accounting for about 64% of sales, but the time is ripe to expand its global footprint that already includes Australia and Europe.

The SHERP N 1200 retails for $115 000 (about R1 636 425, excluding taxes and import costs) and comes with a 2-year or 1000-hour warranty.

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