You would naturally expect that the replacement for a 20-year-old car would bring significant improvements in, well, EVERYTHING, but the fourth-gen Suzuki Jimny achieves that fine balance of bringing things up to date without destroying the very qualities that made the previous three generations so beloved in the first place.
WHAT IS IT?
An ultra-compact, three-door, four-seat, four-by-four with live axles at front and rear and styling that harks back to beloved Suzuki offroaders of the past.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
Because not only is it the first all-new Suzuki Jimny in two decades, but because it’s easily one of the most hotly-anticipated new-car releases of 2019.
Are there really any rivals for a pukka offroader that costs under $26K brand-new? Arguably not. You could look to the upcoming JL Jeep Wrangler for a similarly-configured dual-live-axle 4x4, but that’s a couple of price brackets above the Jimny. Comparatively-priced small SUVs exist in a different dimension to the Jimny, possessing none of its off-road nous or retro charm.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The essence of a true offroader, distilled into a pocket-sized, value-packed package that’s so affordable it makes the perfect weekend adventure machine. For many, the Jimny will be hard to go past for its styling alone. However, those who elect to point its round-eyed snout down a muddy, creviced trail will arguably extract the most joy from Jimny ownership.
PLUS: Greatly improved refinement, offroad talent, cute/tough retro styling, feature-rich
MINUS: Not spacious, not comfy, bouncy highway ride
THE WHEELS REVIEW
FOLLOWING up a much-loved classic is a tough act, and even though the third-generation Jimny racked up a full 20 years in production before the stop button was hit on its assembly line, there was still no shortage of members in the Jimny fan club – and even more looking to join. No big surprise, considering its combination of seemingly unkillable mechanicals, off-road talent and beer-budget pricing was the perfect recipe to endear it to any self-respecting 4WD enthusiast.
But the ingredients were long past their use-by. A successor was needed, but would it be Suzuki’s ‘New Coke’ moment? The instant the first images of the fourth-gen Jimny were leaked, the answer was obvious: no. Hell no.
Flat sides, an upright two-box silhouette, retro-tastic design cues, a big side-hinged rear door, and a five-slot grille flanked by two cheerful round headlamps got car fans salivating – the new Jimny was cool. What’s more, it was finally going to be modern as well.
Now on sale in Australia in just a single spec, there’s up-to-date mod cons like a touchscreen infotainment system, satellite navigation, climate control, Bluetooth, Android Auto/Apple Carplay, a USB charging port, AEB and cruise control. All standard, along with 15-inch alloys and cabin furnishings that boast just as much retro cool as the exterior.
Subtler differences can be found in the front seat mountings, which permit 45mm more travel to help accommodate taller folk (though the steering wheel still doesn’t adjust for reach, just rake), and there’s 53 litres more cargo space when the rear seats are folded flat.
Given their flat cushions and general uselessness, you’re probably better off keeping them folded. As for the front seats, there’s no height adjustment and the narrow cabin doesn’t engender it well to long-distance comfort, but the elevated viewpoint and generous glasshouse are just the thing when trying to pick your line off road. It's still built for the jungle, it's just a smidge more civilised now.
The greasy bits don’t stray far from established Jimny doctrine. Three-link live axles at both front and rear are retained for peerless offroad articulation, steering is by recirculating ball and a drop-link – not a rack and pinion – and the engine, at least in Australia, remains a small-capacity naturally-aspirated petrol, taking drive to all four wheels via either a five-speed manual or a four-speed auto, plus a dual-range transfer case.
There’s still a ladder-frame chassis too, though with more cross-bracing for a 150 percent improvement in torsional rigidity, along with optimised body mounts for improved refinement.
There is, however, a layer of new tech to help those old-school mechanicals along. There are no fancy traction-enhancing locking differentials in the new Jimny, however the car can now mimic their effect by using the stability control system to brake diagonally-opposed spinning wheels. We exploited that to good effect at its local launch, which saw the tiny Jimny cock a wheel or two in free air plenty of times, only to quickly regain forward progress as the brakes did their thing.
But losing traction should be a rare event. With 210mm of ground clearance (more than its predecessor) and shorter overhangs, dragging the Jimny’s guts over rocks won’t be a frequent occurrence, while even the standard all-terrain rubber isn’t challenged by dry dust, gravel or sand. Its 1075kg kerb weight (manual transmission) means it treads incredibly lightly, which gives it an offroad advantage that most other 4x4s can’t come close to matching – especially once low range is selected via the stubby and endearingly traditional transfer case selector nestled between the front seats.
On-road performance is, of course, where the Jimny experience falls a little flat. With 75kW and 130Nm the new Jimny makes 12.5kW and 20Nm more than the old, but it still feels fairly asthmatic when asked to run up to highway speeds from a standstill. If you opt for the manual, you’ll be making plenty of use of the gear lever whenever an incline – even molehill-grade ones – present themselves. If you opt for the automatic, get ready for wide gaps between each ratio that will leave you wishing there were six ratios rather than just four.
At 110km/h both variants will sit around 3250rpm, where the 1.5-litre engine (an all-new motor for the Jimny that weighs significantly less than the outgoing 1.3) actually emits a pleasant, muted thrum rather than a buzzy droning. And, while there’s plenty of vertical movement from that soft suspension, the impact harshness has largely been dialled out. Overall refinement, bar some wind noise from the blocky sheetmetal, is actually not as terrible as you might assume, and the steering has also lost the wooly on-centre vagueness of the preceding model. It’s still numb as far as feel and feedback are concerned, but it is at least a lot more accurate now.
On the whole, the new Jimny is the David to a Landcruiser’s Goliath, and the Jimny’s formula of compactness, agility and lightness endow it with trail-conquering qualities that are, at times, hard to believe. Not because it’s difficult to comprehend how a car so affordable could negotiate offroad obstacles that would defeat much bigger rivals – that was a hallmark of older Jimnys as well - but because of how easy the fourth-gen Jimny makes it. Despite its flaws, the new Jimny has all the makings of an instant classic.