By Wayne Gorrett
It received a light cosmetic makeover for 2013, but while the
third-generation Jimny remains dated, the dinky but rugged Suzuki offers world-proven off-road capability – a car for bruising, not for cruising.
We took a shining to….
* Enormous fun to drive * Cute, dinky looks * Great price-point to enter 4×4 lifestyle *
* Tough, fuss-free interior * Willing engine * Proven off-road ability *
…but noted that…
* Still no diesel option * Poor on-road driving dynamics * Lacks safety kit *
* High emissions * Dated throughout * Rear seats space inadequate *
But still, if ever there was a car that perhaps attracted more criticism, bordering on condemnation – and doesn’t have ‘Multipla’ somewhere in its name – it’ll be the Jimny, Suzuki’s diminutive 4×4 off-roader.
Suzuki has been making small, sturdy and capable 4x4s for many years. The Suzuki Jimny celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. The little 4×4 combines rear-wheel drive (remember that?), chunky looks and off-road ability with city car dimensions. The cute but dated 3-door design will be familiar to most, as the car has been around since 1998.
Surprisingly, there’s still no diesel option and only the one previous engine is available – an 85bhp 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol unit. On-road, it needs working to achieve reasonable progress. At speeds over 60mph with the rpm reading 3,800, the willing but inefficient engine is noisy, gruff and harsh, rendering cabin conversation difficult.
The Jimny has three drivetrain settings, conveniently changed at the push of a button:
* 2WD for normal on-road use with all engine torque going to the rear wheels.
* 4WD apportions equal torque to both front and rear wheels for normal off-road conditions or driving on excessively wet or snowy surfaces.
* 4WD-L engages low-ratio gears for maximum, true off-road performance when needed.
Buyers can choose from two trim levels, SZ3 and SZ4, although neither has an especially long inventory. The former has ABS with brake-assist, only two front airbags, CD-tuner, lockable cubby, electrically-heated and adjustable door mirrors, remote central locking, immobiliser, fog lamps, black roof rails, 15” steel wheels and a hard external spare wheel cover.
SZ4 adds faux-leather seats with Jimny logo, manual air conditioning, leather steering wheel, 15” alloy wheels and rear privacy glass, plus body-coloured door handles and spare wheel cover. And that’s pretty much your lot.
We trundled the Jimny along several official ‘green lanes’ around Hampshire and as expected, it performed exceptionally well and its low-ratio ‘box is a gem to use with confidence. It’s off-road capability is unquestionable as the dozens of YouTube videos of the Jimny in action around the world, will attest.
(With acknowledgement and grateful thanks to our friends at http://www.4x4travelclub.eu/en )
However, compared with an average modern car, the Jimny’s on-road driving dynamics are well below par. The steering is unnervingly light, is late to react and has too much play at the dead-ahead. In an urban environment the ride is poor and the car feels agitated on even slightly imperfect road surfaces. When you do eventually get up some speed – 62mph arrives in a narcoleptic 14.1 seconds – the ride doesn’t get any better. Due to the Jimny’s tall, narrow body and short wheelbase, the ride is ‘buoyant’ through dips and over crests, with excessive body lean. Coupled with vague and dull steering, it inhibits confidence to take sweeping corners with any degree of sure-footedness.
However, these are well-documented issues with the Jimny and buyers are usually well aware of its idiosyncratic shortcomings.
Off-road is where the Jimny feels truly at home and its well-engineered infrastructure comes into play. There’s an excellent 190mm of ground clearance that will tackle most landscapes. Short overhangs provide confident angles of approach (34deg), ramp-breakover (31deg) and departure (46deg). Braked towing capacity is an impressive 1,300kg.
The Jimny appeals to a broad, international user base. Like Land Rover’s Defender, updating such a popular car can be a serious head-scratcher: Complete and total change will drive away loyal owners or do you continue to conservatively tweak a proven formula to keep the waters calm?
The recent updates to the MY2013 Jimny are entirely cosmetic with its solid mechanical base remaining unchanged. As such, the Suzuki faithful can breathe a sigh of relief. Its maker has done well to resist radical change to key elements of the car and its off-road performance adequately demonstrates the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ maxim.
However, the day looms large when the bullet will need to be bitten and an all-new replacement will need to be developed. Sources at Suzuki UK inferred that this is already under way.
So while the car is cute and fun, it can’t disguise its age and limited everyday practicality. It is outclassed by 4×4 versions of the Nissan Juke, Fiat Panda, Skoda Yeti and even the SsangYong Korando but none of those can beat the Suzuki stalwart on price. That torch has now been passed to the UK’s new upstart, the Dacia Duster AWD in ‘Access’ guise.