Cute but tough, old-school but new, fun but infuriating… at least there’s nothing dull about Suzuki’s reborn icon.
WHAT IS IT?
The Suzuki Jimny first appeared on the scene in 1970, and became an instant classic with off-road enthusiasts, thanks to its small stature, and giant-killing ability off the beaten track. This all-new generation Jimny hopes to emulate its forefathers, while fostering a new love affair with the next generation of 4x4 nutters.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
After what seems like an eternity, Suzuki has finally released a fourth-generation Jimny. The popularity of this plucky 4x4 rivals some supercars with readers, so we jumped at the chance to get behind the wheel of the Japanese cult classic – in Germany of all places.
A Jeep Compass Trailhawk is the next-smallest rival with proper off-road chops, so maybe a well-trained mountain goat, or a personal Sherpa.
THE WHEELS REVIEW
THERE’S a highly evolved enthusiast scene for the previous-gen Jimny – a car that went on sale two decades ago and to this day remains in a class of one: a tiny, ladder-frame 4x4 with proper off-roading talent, at the expense of on-road manners.
But now there’s a new one. Or perhaps a very heavily updated one, since that chassis retains its design, albeit strengthened with extra bracing to improve torsional rigidity. This two-door seats four, but only if you don’t need boot space, because its 377 litres of volume is only available with the wipe-clean, plastic-backed rear seats folded flat. With perches vertical the luggage room drops to nearly nothing.
Still, ferrying friends isn’t really on the agenda here. The Jimny is built to appeal to professionals who need its terrain-tackling talents, but Suzuki also wants to push it in the direction of young folk whose lifestyle requires go-anywhere ability. That’s why it’s styled somewhere between a Jeep, an old BJ Land Cruiser and a mini G-Class.
Our test drive near Frankfurt soon highlights the Jimny’s limitations. Barrel into a bend too quickly and you get comical bodyroll. The electrically assisted recirculating-ball steering set-up – combined with the long-travel suspension – can make for unpredictable body control even at quite modest speeds.
To get properly under its skin, you need to leave the tarmac behind. Pull the pleasingly agricultural transmission selection lever rearwards one click and you’ll engage the front wheels as well as the always-working rears, and you’ll be able to make full use of the impressive approach, ramp and departure angles. When stationary, push that lever down and pull back another click to engage the low-range transfer box for more accurate control scaling the steepest slopes.
There’s no centre-locking diff here but rather an open one on each axle, with torque-vectoring by braking making a decent fist of simulating an LSD. The 1.5-litre naturally-aspirated engine’s torque is enough to keep the Jimny moving through the relatively tame mud, rock and dust of our test route, and it feels as though we’re only scratching the surface of what this rugged 1.1-tonne mountain goat can do.
Gearbox options are a five-speed manual or four-ratio auto. We’ve only tried the manual, and wish it had a sixth gear to cut out some of the noise that intrudes if you make it to the giddy heights of motorway speeds. Otherwise, however, refinement is considerably better than the old Jimny.
A pity, then, that the sat-nav (fitted on top-spec cars) is woefully slow, and that the NCAP rating is a paltry three stars. Still, you’ll either love the Jimny – and join the ranks of smitten enthusiasts – or ignore it altogether in favour of one of the countless softer SUVs on sale.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
While the Suzuki Jimny excels at its intended purpose, it isn’t a car for everyday use, thanks to its poor on-road manners both on twisty roads and highways. Trade bitumen for dirt however, and it shines brighter than a giant star on the edge of implosion. We will need to wait for a local drive to properly challenge the Jimny’s off-road ability, but what we saw in Germany left us impressed.
Plus: Go anywhere ability, low-range gearbox, rugged styling
Minus: Woefully slow sat-nav system, poor three-star NCAP safety rating, not suited for big highway drives
Read next: 2019 Suzuki Jimny off-road footage
Model: 2018 Suzuki Jimny
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder
Max power: 75kW @6000rpm
Max torque: 130Nm @ 4000rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
0-100km/h: 12.0 sec (estimated)
Price: sub-$30,000 (estimated)