Small,simple– and broadly adored by all. But what is it liketo live with Suzuki’s tiny 4×4 in a Big Sky country?
Allow me a meerkat automotive metaphor. Everyone adores the meerkat. Fearless. Family-oriented. But you wouldn’t really wantone as a pet. And, in some way, it’s a similar scenario with Suzuki’s Jimny.
Nobody pours any scorn on Suzuki’s tiny 4×4. Land Rover and Land Cruiser owners respectfully acknowledge Jimny drivers in trafficand fellow owners wave at you (a Defender tradition –now passed on to Suzuki Jimny owners).
The Jimny’s adulation is universal and not difficult to understand. It is designed to look cute – but not at the cost of its core competency. Everyone knows that beyond its charming Kei-car proportions, the diminutive Suzuki offersgenuine off-road ability and durability.
Suzuki’s Jimny is a complete antithesis to the crossover vehicle segment.Crossovers are made to look as if they have genuineall-terrain ability, but they certainly don’t – it’s a woefully dishonest image.
But the Jimny isn’t perfect – as I discovered, after spending the festive season with one. It does some things very well… and other things, very poorly.
I have notableexperience with these little Suzuki off-roaders. Some years ago, I ran a Jimny manual for nearly a year. It was an experience textured with frustration and reward… and not in equal measure.
There is no other vehicle this small, that can get to remote vantage points.
Good in the city – but terrible between cities
The Jimny might have a new design and more potent powertrain, but it hasn’t really grown. Those Japanese Kei-car roots remain in place.
At only 3.48 metresin length, it is a tiny vehicle. Combine those city-car dimensions with 210 mm of ground clearance and Jimny becomes a vehicle that is unrivalled in any urban driving environment. Forget about the Smart Fortwo or even Suzuki’s Celerio. The Jimny has Messi-like agility, which you use to effortlessly navigatethrough any inner city.
Suzuki’s lilliputian 4×4 is terrific at flowing in and out of the most challenging parallel parking spots. It might not have rear parking sensors or a reverse-viewcamera, but you have such a great all-round field of viewthat electronic parking aids are hardly necessary.
When you venture onto crumbling urban roads or even need to roll over some pavement infrastructure to make a turn, the Jimny’s long-travel suspension works a charm. With most compact city cars, bumpers and side sills are scratched or dinged to ruin when the pavement becomes a necessary part of your driving or parking experience… not so in this Suzuki!
The Jimny is wonderful at very low speeds, such as on a short journey to the store or coffee shop. However, any trip thatrequireshighway driving exposes its weaknesses. The Kei-car size, modest engine specification and a very troubled aerodynamic profile become very apparent atspeeds approaching 120 kph.
I assumed Suzuki’s 75 kW 1.5-litre engine would drastically improve the asthmatic cruising performance I remember from the previous-generation Jimny. I was wrong. The truth is, you can’t journey in the far right lane of any dual-carriage road or highway with confidence. You can try, but the fuel-consumption consequences are severe.
There is no question that a 4-speed automatic transmission might work fine for driving duties under 80 kph,but the lack of a 5th or 6th ratio limits the Jimny’s acceleration spectrum to around 120 kph.
With a kerb weight that’s half of those of its rivals,the Jimny is a delight to place and navigatein off-road terrain.
On any longish journey that involved highway driving, the Jimny was a chore to pilot. The steering wanders, which is not unusual for a ladder-frame-basedvehicle with a short wheelbase and high centre of gravity,but it’s made a lot worse if you live in a city with potent wind climatology.
The Jimny has a lot of proportional side surface area in relation to its wheelbase and ride height. In strong winds, it requires assertive steering responses and anticipation when driving at highway speeds.
I don’t know how you solve Jimny’s highway cruising issues. Kei cars were never designed to do 120 kph– that’s just not a thing, in Japan.
Although the Jimny is now a global product (and a very successful one), one must remain mindful of where it comes from and the experiencesof those Suzuki engineers and product planners that developed the diminutive off-roader. Theycommute in Hamamatsu – they are highly unlikely to undertake journeys comparable to Johannesburg to Cape Town via the N1.
The current Jimny might be nearly 19% more powerful than its predecessor, but it needs even more power to overcome the drag created by that near-vertical windscreen, short roofline and blunt rear.
I imagined how much better the Jimny would be with about 85 kW of power, but that in itself creates another issue. This is a vehicle with very low cornering limits. You edge your way through roundabouts. The slightest tightening of steering angle or increase in throttle inputgenerates tyre screech.
Simply put, the Jimny’s uncompromised compact off-roader platformisn’t reconcilable with more potent highway cruising performance. The need to developenhanced traffic awareness and frequently changelanesare part of the ownership destiny with any Jimny. To compensate for itslackof lane assist or blind-spot monitoring, it has an even better and more reliable solution: enormous wing mirrors.
Despite being a tiny vehicle, the Jimny has wing mirrors that would not look out of place on a Land Cruiser 79 double-cab bakkie. And that means each time you need to dive into the slower lane there is no anxiety in doing so, a quick glance at that massive left-wing mirror will giveyou complete lane-changing confidence.
Large and heavy objects fit securely in the back. But normal luggage can slide around, a lot.
It’s not a family vehicle
For solo adventurers and couples, the Jimny has a usable cabin architecture. It helps if you have sober comfort expectations, too.
Its seats are underpadded and not shaped to the best ergonomic standards. Especially those rear seats – which aren’t suitable for anything beyond an hour’s driving for most passengers.
Suzuki’s interior designers have done some clever things with Jimny’s available seat manipulation. The front passenger seat can be foldedflat and slide way forward tocreatea sleeping surface. It’s genius and true to Jimny’s purpose as an occasional overnight venue for overlanding adventurers.
With the rear seats in place, there is so little cargo space,Suzuki’s doesn’t even bother to equip the Jimny with a parcel shelf.
Carrying mountain bikes inside? Not really a great idea.
For a vehicle that triggers so much anti-FOMO and instils a sense of adventure, the Jimny can be heartbreakingly frustrating to load up. I dislike external racks. And although Jimny’s roof gutters (yes, it has roof gutters), make it very convenient to mount a roof rack, that only exacerbates its centre of gravity instability and aerodynamic drag issues.
Your best option is having those rear seats permanently folded down, which creates a hard plastic-lined flat load surface. It’s not grippy, though, which means that cargo tends to slide around annoyingly.
I admire those Jimny owners who tour Botswana and Namibia in their vehicles. They deserve all the conscientious packing accolades.
Despite often frustrating my ambitions relating to the transportationof mountain bikes or people, the Jimny deserves credit for its blockiness, however. Thanks to its very square proportions, you can fit quite a large furniture box in the back of a Jimny, which isn’t that easy with many compact crossovers that have tapered rooflines.
When you look at the Jimny from this perspective. You realise that it is most definitely not aerodynamic.
Small vehicle – big fuel numbers
After a year of significant fuel price increases, some may look upon the Jimny as an adventure vehiclewith more tolerable costs regarding its energy consumption. But that’s a misplaced perception. You’ll never get close to Suzuki’s claim of 6.8L/100 km.
The Jimny might be small and light, but it’s no fuel fairy. Not even nearly. We averaged 8.5L/100 km and most of that was due to Jimny’s poor aerodynamics.
If the automatic transmission had 5or 6speeds, instead of only 4, that would help reduce the fuel burden a bit,but the most debilitating influence on Jimny’s fuel economy is its boxy shape, especially at cruising speeds.
Would a turbodiesel engine be better? Possibly. But nearly 9L/100 km is the kind of real-world consumption that edges toward that of a mid-sized turbodiesel SUV.
Heritage grille. Ready for adventure. Try and resist the charm. You’ll fail.
Why does everyone else like itso much?
The rap sheet is long: too small inside to function as a passenger vehicle;too slow for confident highway cruisingand too heavy on fuel, considering its weight, engine specification and performance.
TheJimny has all these issues, so why did people give the Jimny envious glances during the vacation season, when I was driving it? Could it have been those red 1990s WRC heritage mud-flaps? Maybe.
The reality is that Jimny is one of the very few double-take vehicles still in production… and that is a concept worth explaining.
Fewer and fewer cars make me look back at them once I have completed a locked-up journey and walked to my venue. I found myself irrationally staring at the Jimny from my apartment’s living room window. Or from inside a coffee shop. Part of the deeper charm, I guess, is that you drive a Jimny, instead of being insulated from the driving experience – which is the case with most modern cars.
Rhino graphics might be a sensitive issue locally. But they are true to Jimny’s marketing heritage. Red mud-flaps? Terrific.
The Jimny isn’t cheapand, for many consumers, a compromised crossover will be a much more practical option. Most new compact crossovers will be much better at highway driving and should roll along mild gravel roads without bother. Crossovers in the Jimny’s price rangewill also have usable rear seats, not to mention a useful cargo area.
But crossovers are about compromise. The Jimnyisn’t. Its off-road potential is limitless, although long-range desert driving can require some careful planning due to its heavy fuel consumption/tiny tank.
If you intendto buy one to make a statement, don’t do it – there are more sensible ways to spend your money. However,suppose you commit to planning a few long weekends away each year, during which you will navigateinto some properly challenging terrain. In that case, the Jimny is a terrifically analogue adventure driving experience.
There is something to be said for a 4×4 that makes you part of the terrain conquest – as opposed to being merely a passenger and allowing traction control systems, huge tyres and a flood of torqueto roll you over technical off-road terrain.
The family vehicle caveat is very real. I had passengers that were only 1.5-metres tall in the back, and they complained about seating comfort after only a few minutes. If you don’t have kids and want to use Jimny as an all-conquering urban runabout, it excels in that role. But this remains a two-passenger vehicle – something worth remembering.
Tyres are much smaller and narrower than other low-range enabled 4x4s. And a lot cheaper to replace.
At R377900, the Jimny 1.5i GLX automatic is not a bargain, but, if you consider the total ownership experience, it is a value proposition. You’d need to spend double or triple that price to acquire a vehicle of matching off-road ability (unless you can deal with the harshness of a Mahindra Thar).
The only true rivals for a Jimny are Jeep’s Wrangler Sport (R787900) and a Land Rover Defender 90 on steel wheels (R1095 600).
Jimnys are highly durable, with a low threshold of electronic complexity. Mechanically, the engine is relatively unstressed, too. Interestingly, the design change from centre console buttons to a traditional floor-mounted low-range shifter has made the latest Jimny even more reliable.
Deeply annoying at times,but also deeply rewarding as a long-term ownership experience – with excellent residual value –the Jimny is a forever vehicle… something that will last generations and generate many unforgettableadventures. And those are ownership values that can’t be applied to many of today’s new vehicles…
The Suzuki Jimny bounces about all over the road and the ride isn't particularly comfortable. There's also a lot of engine, wind and road noise inside the car, which becomes very intrusive, particularly at motorway speeds.
Suzuki Jimny: ideal car for bearded lads in lager ads. It's tiny, it's boxy, it has no infotainment screen, it's full of brittle plastics, it's noisy, and on the motorway it often feels like it's going to be dragged into the slipstream of a passing articulated lorry (it's not, by the way!).
The Jimny is wonderful at very low speeds, such as on a short journey to the store or coffee shop. However, any trip that requires highway driving exposes its weaknesses. The Kei-car size, modest engine specification and a very troubled aerodynamic profile become very apparent at speeds approaching 120 kph.
The Jimny's most important characteristic is its durability and capability. It can keep up with the big boys when they venture off-road. There is plenty of content on YouTube proving the might of the little Jimny. AMG G63 v Suzuki Jimny v Jeep Wrangler - Up-Hill DRAG RACE & which is best OFF-ROAD!