2019 Suzuki Jimny review

First Australian drive

The Suzuki Jimny competes in a field of one. It's not designed with the masses in mind, but for a small clique, this hardcore 4x4 is everything they demanded and more.

There’s a certain homogeneity in the car industry today, which is why an unashamed throwback like the Suzuki Jimny has elicited such a strong response.

Not many cars launch to the media with one-third of the first 12-months’ supply already sold out, but that’s exactly the situation Suzuki finds itself in.

I mean, just look at it. It’s hilarious. Moreover, unlike every other small SUV out there, the Jimny remains a hardcore 4x4: body-on frame, rigid axle, low-range gearing, zero overhangs, heaps of clearance… all still present.

You realise how much of an outlier this car is when you consider the price tag of $23,990 before on-road costs (it’s $28k in the UK, when converted from pounds). That’s half the price of the bigger, but conceptually aligned, Jeep Wrangler. That said, it's $2000 more than the old one.

Of course, we live in an era where small SUV buyers prefer car-like monocoque crossovers with road comfort, crash safety and ergonomics at the forefront, which are areas where this loveable box falls over. Figuratively.

We have to toe the line here, knowing full-well the target buyer probably cares not one iota about this, but also cognisant of the fact many people may be teasingly cross-shopping this with something like the Mazda CX-3. Which they shouldn't do.

This is the first all-new Jimny since 1998, given its predecessor’s 20-year life span. This pair both hark back to the SJ (Sierra) sold between 1981 and 1998, which in turn followed the LJ sold between 1970 and 1981.

Elements of the Jimny’s styling reflects all three of these, specifically the LJ headlights, SJ bonnet and Mk1 Jimny grille. It looks sensational and I frankly don’t see how anyone could disagree with this sentiment.

There are six colours to choose from: Kinetic Yellow (black roof), Brisk Blue (black roof) and Chiffon Ivory (black roof), or Jungle Green, Medium Grey and Superior White with matching roofs. Too bad there’s no silver! The two-tone paint is $1250 extra, eep.

This new model is in fact 30mm shorter (3645mm) than before on the same wheelbase (2250mm), reducing those pesky overhangs even more and giving it approach (37 degrees), departure (49 degrees) and break over (28 degrees) angles few can match. Clearance is also up to 210mm, and body width is up by 45mm.

The boxy body still sits on a ladder frame, replete with a few more cross-members and an x-shaped brace to improve torsional stiffness. Every other small SUV at this price point is a monocoque.

Fittingly, the Jimny also has an old school three-link rigid axle suspension system and a 30 per cent stiffer axle housing than before. A rigid axle gives you ample articulation and lets a wheel drop nicely into a deep hole or divot, making the Jimny more flexible off the beaten track.

It also has a part-time four-wheel drive system with manually-engaged 4H and 4L (low-range) gears, operated not by dial or button as per the modern fashion, but instead using a separate gear shifter right out of the 1990s.

In lieu of a locking differential there’s a brake limited-slip differential function that stops wheels spinning freely and redirects torque to where traction is possible. We didn’t have issues with this, but a few more slippery ascent challenges are in order. There’s also hill-descent control and a hill-hold system for the manual versions.

What all of this means is, the Jimny is made like an old school 4x4, as it always has been. Other small SUVs might take on a gravel trail or sandy beach, but the Jimny will cruise past anything this side of said Wrangler, or a 70-Series LandCruiser.

As well as the engineering, it’s the 1075kg kerb weight sitting in the Jimny’s favour. Where a bigger adventurer will sink into mud or sand, the Jimny just cruises over.

We tackled some suspension-stretching moguls, a water crossing, a gnarly rocky drop-in (mostly to test that approach angle), a slippery ascent, a soft sandy trail and more, and cruised through without breaking a bead of sweat. About the only time we found reason to fret was when getting that tall and narrow body on a rather steep sideways angle.

Absolutely nothing remotely near this price point will go half as far as a Jimny off-road. In this sense the Suzuki competes in a class of one, and bless the brand for sticking to its roots.

Of course, a lightweight and narrow frame-based car with a high drag coefficient for its size and soft suspension, built with four-wheel driving top-of-mind, is going to have drawbacks on the bitumen.

There’s more road noise, body roll and pogo-ing than any car-like crossover out there. You can't both have cake and eat it, remember. On the other hand, the high sidewall all-rounder tyres isolate you from sharp inputs like cobbles pretty well. And kerb hopping clearly won’t be an issue!

Engine-wise, the old Jimny’s 1.3-litre petrol engine has been flicked in favour of a multi-point injected 1.5, making 75kW at 6000rpm and 130Nm at 4000rpm. This is matched to either a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic, both of which look a little like throwbacks.

Clearly it’s no rocket ship, though the kerb weight means the engine doesn’t have much mass to move around. Fuel consumption is a claimed 6.4L/100km for the manual and 6.9L/100km for the auto and the fuel tank is 40L.

On the upside, the initial ratio on both the manual and automatic is super short, meaning you can just coast down steep embankments with engine braking, and the clutch disengaged. The little drivetrain also has a nice little whirring note, lending it character.

On the downside, with either transmission you’re sitting at 110km/h with the engine spinning at more than 3000rpm. That’s not great for noise, vibration and harshness suppression, clearly. Nor are the A-pillars and big side mirrors.

The upright interior sports front seats with 70mm wider cushion frames, that slide back 45mm further than before. That said, there’s no seat height adjustment or steering column telescopic adjustment. I couldn’t get the wheel high enough to see the analogue instruments in full.

Naturally, front headroom is outstanding, though knee-room is limited. The big side windows give you enviable outward visibility, building on the benefits of that ride height. There are also two rear seats, which fold flat to take cargo space from a frankly pointless 85 litres to a Volkswagen Golf-matching 377L.

The cabin design is pretty cool, with plenty of retro touches. The plastics are typically hard, but it’s safe to guess they’ll hold together forever. Suzuki’s reputation for reliability precedes it.

Equipment levels are reasonable for the outlay, including a 7.0-inch touchscreen with reversing camera display, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, satellite navigation, cruise control, LED headlights, 15-inch alloy wheels and rear privacy glass.

Safety-wise, beyond the unflattering three-star ANCAP crash score, there are six airbags, autonomous emergency braking controlled by camera/laser inputs (though you should watch this video), lane-departure warning and aid, and automatic high-beam headlights.

From an ownership perspective, if you service the Jimny at a Suzuki dealer, you get capped-price servicing with six-month intervals (we’d like to see these stretched out to 12 months), and a five-year warranty. The service costs at each visit are, respectively: $269, $175, $175, $459, $175, $175, $175, $499, $175 and $175.

To be honest, this launch review of the Jimny sort of writes itself. As you’d expect, its genius off-road impedes its abilities on it, though compared to previous generations it’s a veritable limousine.

But what we’re happy about is that pricing, the equipment and of course, the fearlessly fun design. Suzuki clearly had a whale of a time creating this car, and just like the Wrangler, 70-Series LandCruiser and Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen, we should be glad it exists at all.

Full disclosure, I’ve put in an order for one myself. Not as a press car, but as my own car. It’s certainly not a car for everyone, but for the small subset Suzuki is targeting, it’s truly fantastic.