Most people who know me think that I’m loud, brash and overly confident. Little do they know that this is merely a front for the self-conscious me that lurks just below the surface.
So imagine my alarm when I’m handed the keys to this ‘look-at-me’ Suzuki Jimny. Painted as it is in a tennis-ball-like Kinetic Yellow, the diminutive 4WD is about as introverted as Donald Trump at a ‘Make America Great’ campaign rally. At least it’s not furry. Or rocking a comb-over.
Nevertheless, I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to drive a car that had been causing such a fuss around the Wheels office, so I flicked the self-conscious Me the bird and suited up for a set with the Slazenger-inspired Suzi.
Measuring just 3645mm from nose to tail, the little off-roader may be pint-sized, but its boxy, retro-inspired styling – characterised by those circular headlamps and blacked-out five-slit grille – punches well above its division in the head-turning stakes.
And judging by the vigorous scramble each arvo for first dibs on the road-test key jar, it appears I’m not the only one who has fallen for the little Suzi’s utilitarian charm.
Beneath its lightweight bonnet is a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine, punching out 75kW and 130Nm. Those outputs might seem modest, but they’re fully 12.5kW and 20Nm more than the previous 1.3-litre unit, yet still only hauling around 1075kg.
Under the fur, I mean skin, is a five-speed manual gearbox, a ‘proper’ ladder-frame chassis, and what Suzuki calls the AllGrip Pro 4WD system. The latter features a low-range transfer case that enables switching between 2WD-high, 4WD-high, or fair dinkum 4WD-low. Add live axles front and rear and you have the same recipe that has been rendering Suzuki Jimnys unstoppable for decades.
It’s not all old-school cool, though, as inside there’s a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, with mod-cons like sat-nav, Bluetooth, and Apple and Android compatibility. Other little luxuries include reversing camera, climate control, a USB charging port, AEB, cruise control and auto headlights.
The interior plastics aren’t the best quality, but everything is logically laid out and easily reached. The seats have no height adjustment but the high seating position and large glasshouse provide great all-round vision.
Rear seating can be a bit tricky to access for adults and is best reserved for kids, or people you dislike. Hit a speed hump with any vigour and those in the rear can get some serious air.
That rear space is best used with the seats down, allowing 377 litres of luggage space from a laughable 85 litres with the seats upright. One flaw already apparent is a need for fabric or rubber lining on the seat backs – a drive with Heidi the Burmese mountain dog had her sliding from side to side through every direction change.
Being small helps keep rear-seat moaning to a minimum
Patience is a virtue – a phrase someone far wiser than me once stated, and it’s one I try to follow. Such has been my experience this first month with the Jimny, biding my time as it does the rounds fulfilling everyone’s curiosity and starring in segments for WhichCar TV. The attention it garners is ridiculous!
GALLERY: 2019 WhichCar Auto Games
Now, with all the limelight subsiding, I’ve finally been able to spend some quality time in the tiny Suzuki.
As a daily, the Jimny would certainly not be my first choice. Far from it, actually. While being able to accommodate two adults in the front, the rear is pretty much useless for full-sized humans.
Lucky for me, then, that the only two passengers I have to chauffeur on a regular basis are both under five feet tall.
When I finally introduced the car to my little girls, it was met with cries of delight and plenty of inquisitiveness. Its bright colour, toy-like shape and dimensions ticked several boxes for them. As did the high riding position, thanks to the booster seats, and the large windows.
It’s now been labelled “the bouncy car” by the girls, due to the softly sprung suspension. The kids quite happily clamber in and out without much assistance other than clipping on seatbelts.
Full review: 2019 Suzuki Jimny review
The one thing that has become a nuisance is swapping the booster seats in and out of the Jimny – there’s no graceful way of reaching for them and installing/releasing the seats. The anchor points are on the edge of the cargo space, compromising access. Not that there’s much to access – a satchel and coat is probably all you’re going to be able to fit in with the seats up. Taking the girls to school and day-care sees us storing backpacks on the front passenger seat, which limits the distance it can be moved forward.
The girls do miss out on air-con vents, but having such a small cabin hopefully equates to quick heating going into the colder months.
I have to admit, I was apprehensive about how the Jimny would cope with my daily driving requirements. But thus far it’s done a great job running around our neighbourhood, with the only sour point being the girls trying to decide if it’s yellow or green. I’m letting them sort this one out.
Kirby gets a lesson in off-roading from the 'tennis ball'
It was during my first weekend with the Jimny, which I had pried from the hands of Wheels’ art direcotr, Felipe, while he was busy sharpening his crayons. I had decided to get some dust in the treads, and escape the urban jungle for some good ol’-fashioned off-roading, with Wheels crew member Tom Fraser along for the ride.
The problem is, I have about as much off-roading experience as a toddler does with theoretical mathematics. But there I sat, looking out the windscreen, desperately trying to figure out where the road had gone. I was perched on the edge of a drastic descent, which was transformed by my anxiety into what was quite clearly the biggest hill in the world, and it dawned on me that I had no idea what to do if things started to go sideways – literally.
I ushered the mental maelstrom to the back of my mind, and carefully crept forward, and then downward. The invisible hand of gravity was held at bay by the Jimny’s hill descent control, the system taking care of ensuring speed was contained while I did my best to keep everything pointed in the right direction.
By the time I’d reached level ground, the Jimny’s faux-leather steering wheel felt like it had spent the night in a tropical rainforest. But I did find the hill descent control rather abrupt and jerky, so I turned the Tennis Ball around, pointed the nose skyward, and headed back for a second go. The ascent was a simple enough affair, with the Jimny’s modest kerb weight allowing it to scrabble upwards without a care in the world. No low-range needed today.
Time for descent number two, and this time I’d be in charge of both the brakes and steering. Taking back my independence from the machine was liberating, and I felt more at ease while in control of all inputs. Despite the mountain I had built up in my mind, the reality was that I was pretty much tackling a molehill.
After the billy goat action, Fraser and I headed deeper into the surrounding bush. We cruised over rocks and ditches, snuck through gaps in trees, and had repeated attempts at kicking up as much sand as possible on a banked turn. So confident was the Jimny that I had banished all mental queasiness completely, allowing Fraser and I to laugh and cackle at the frankly ridiculous ability of the Jimny. Nothing seemed to faze the thing.
With a couple of hours of bush bashing under our belts, which was raucous fun, we came crashing back to droning, monotonous reality for the schlep back to inner-city Melbourne, with the Jimny’s short gearing meaning the tachometer was reporting 3500rpm at 110km/h in fifth. I’ll be avoiding longer road trips in the future, then.
There wasn’t nearly enough mud and dirt on the panels for my liking once the day’s shenanigans had ended. Round two should rectify this egregious error, and hopefully bring with it a more rigorous challenge.
Update 4 - Total lightweight can still scare other motorists off the road
I’ve always loved John McEnroe, the friz-haired American tennis star with the short fuse and titanic dummy-spits. And I’ve long wondered how he approaches driving – could be quite the spectacle, I imagine.
Ol’ John would no doubt constantly lose the plot, dropping F-bombs, bouncing between the horn and flashing the headlights. But while incidents of road-rage are well documented, I can’t remember witnessing anyone going full McEnroe recently, or even flashing their lights. Until the Jimny came along.
Now well into our tenure of the Suzuki, young Kirby and I have had plenty of time to get familiar with its pros and cons. While we have much praise for the mini-wonder, a few minor chinks have begun to appear.
Recently while cruising to work on the freeway, a driver ahead suddenly freaked out and bolted to get out of the way. I wasn’t charging along or tailgating, and surely the diminutive Jimny isn’t that intimidating, is it?
The same scenario played out a few more times before I twigged as to what was occurring – the automatic headlight sensor was flashing the lights every time I passed under an overpass, of which there are plenty. Even the two-lane bridges were setting the damn lights off. That level of flashing would have made George Michael proud.
Now the auto lights are kept off in the day, but occasionally I’ve forgotten to kill them in the morning and the shade of trees has set them off again.
Something else we’ve become mindful of is how easily the car is affected by road and weather conditions. A combination of being light-weight (1075kg), high-riding, softly sprung and on small tyres make it a victim of the elements. Road imperfections can unsettle its trajectory, as can strong wind gusts. It certainly keeps you on your toes, even more so in wet winter conditions.
There is also a bit of wind and tyre noise to contend with, plus the sound of the 1.5-litre engine droning at just over 3000rpm at 100km/h. Another gripe is the placement of the cup holders, which sit almost behind the seats – blindly reaching for a coffee gets tricky.
What the Suzuki does have going for it are its elevated position and great 360-degree visibility. And there has been much joy in how easy it is to get through small gaps on congested roads and while the manual gearbox can get tedious in heavy traffic, it’s definitely the pick over the four speed auto.
We’ve had plenty of new metal come through the Wheels garage lately, but it’s always been a delight jumping into the Suzuki. Even its tennis-ball hue has grown on me. McEnroe would approve.
- Felipe Ubilla
Update 5 - Lessons in tough love
When the honeymoon is over, can the relationship move to the next level?
Just like songs, there are cars that are slow burners; the ones that don’t instantly forge a strong connection, but take time to steadily worm their way into your affections. Then there are the catchy automotive hits that have you tapping along and singing the chorus before the door locks have even clicked open.
For me, the Jimny falls into the latter category. It instantly sets out to win you over with its retro-box styling acknowledging its preceding three generations, and the whole ‘junior bushie in the big city’ vibe it gives off. It’s virtually impossible not to fall for its charms – at least initially. The challenge for cars like this is to back up their immediate appeal with real substance in the daily grind, and it’s here where my early limerence for the lil’ Suzy is starting to fade.
This realisation arrives right around knock-off time at work, when the keys are handed out for the drive home. Almost subconsciously, I find myself checking out other options, manoeuvring myself into newer – actually, easier – cars.
On a rugged trail, there’s no doubting the Jimny’s credentials. We know it’s capable of shaming almost anything this side of a Jeep Wrangler when the terrain turns hostile.
But urban life really does expose the inherent compromises in its design. The suspension is prone to crashing over sharp imperfections, yet the need for axle articulation means it rolls and wobbles when hustled through corners.
And the downside of the tall, two-box design means it’s susceptible to stiff crosswinds on the freeway, where it can take a steady, corrective hand on the wheel to keep it on line.
Then there’s the engine performance. With just 75kW/130Nm from the 1.5, reaching highway speeds in the space of an on-ramp requires full throttle, and as the tacho climbs, so does the loud buzziness coming through the firewall.
You snap an upshift to again be reminded that the lever’s action demands a lengthy throw, and the notchy gates require finesse, particularly at low speeds.
Considered as a whole, it’s really not the Jimny’s fault that the bromance has cooled. This junior 4x4 craves a remote, ruggedly isolated destination plugged into the sat-nav to shine. Using it as a sole form of urban transport takes a hardier, less critical soul than myself. But if you already have a comfortable daily driver in the garage, adding this pint-sized off-roader as an affordable weekend toy makes perfect sense.
Update 6 - Shifting perception
It’s not so much what the Jimny has, more what it allows you to do with it
- Price as tested: $24,490
- This month: 902km @ 7.1L/100km
Sad panda – that’s the best way I can describe the way I felt last month when I sold my ’05 Mazda 3 SP23. I get to drive some amazing cars for Wheels but I never hated jumping back into it. The fact it had a manual ’box made it a lot more of an engaging drive than some of the newbies I get to steer.
This is where the Jimny comes in and fills that gaping hole in my life. Yes, the shift throws are long, 75kW isn’t stunning, and it’s damn noisy, but having the ability to control the revs and holding gears as long as possible makes the driving a lot more fun. Sneaking into small gaps through traffic is incredibly easy and rewarding, too.
Other positive aspects of the Jimny became a lot clearer recently. In the August edition of Wheels, we ran a comparison featuring the Suzuki Swift, which I figured would be cut from a similar cloth. I was far off the mark.
Read next: Japanese students build monster Suzuki Jimny
The clutch felt vague and the accelerator unresponsive compared to the Jimny. I only spent five minutes in it, but it felt worlds apart. While the Jimny has an extra 9kW and 10Nm, making the power-to-weight ratio similar, the delivery of those numbers feels more urgent in the Jimny.
Despite its diminutive dimensions I’ve even explored the Jimny’s more practical side. We’ve begun clearing all the old kids’ gear, plus random junk we don’t need, and the Suzuki has been handy for the task. While the back seats are genuinely useless for full-sized humans, dropping them down takes the teeny 85 litres of cargo space to a handy 377. The huge side-hinged door makes access easy – perfect for box-Tetris.
After the tip run, I dropped in on the second Highball Cars and Coffee meet in Melbourne, which hosted a huge range of stunning metal, including a Porsche 911 Turbo 3.3, a Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R V-Spec and a De Tomaso Pantera GT5. In the midst of all this exotica, the Jimny still managed to attract several curious onlookers.
Surprises – that’s one thing the Jimny continues to deliver. And now we’re overdue to get the lil’ Suzie filthy. Off to the dirty stuff we go!