The 2019 Suzuki Jimny has been widely lauded (globally, not just here in Australia, mind you) for its sense of retro kitsch and old-world adherence to the ‘two-box design’ principle.
The new Jimny story needs to be a lot more deeply embedded than that, though. Especially if it is to be considered a modern success story.
Aside from its funky design, the Jimny has to appeal to a whole new group of enthusiasts – and its appeal must last well beyond the initial launch excitement. We’ve seen other vehicles fail when trying to appeal only to already rusted-on buyers. And we know that’s a surefire way to the bottom of a dry well.
We’ve also seen the ‘new’ Beetle end production recently, and the retro Mini become more of a Maxi, thus moving well away from its initial design principles. There’s always the Mustang if you’re looking for a retro success story, though…
Early Jimny sales will no doubt be bolstered by existing Jimny owners looking to update, or even add to their small 4WD collection. After that first wave, though, Suzuki will need, and indeed want, a whole raft of ‘new to the brand’ buyers to pile on and keep Jimny sales rolling along.
It’s what manufacturers refer to as ‘conquest sales’, and marketing guff aside, all brands need to focus hard on bringing new buyers into the fold. I reckon that is the primary area the Jimny needs to succeed, too. Attracting new buyers to the Suzuki brand will be absolutely paramount.
Given the sharp pricing and its proper off-road chops, the Jimny can potentially open up off-road exploration to a whole new breed of buyer also. And whenever Aussies are out exploring off-road Australia, that is no bad thing.
Affordable off-roading is still something budget-savvy punters can aim for, then, despite the rising price of proper off-roaders like the Jeep Wrangler. Whereas the Wrangler was once an affordable option for the first-timer, it’s now significantly more expensive than the Jimny.
The Jimny (or Sierra) has always fed that affordable off-road desire, and despite pricing not being as cheap as it might once have been, it can continue to do so with Suzuki determined to sharpen the pencil as much as possible.
However, we know all too well how impressive the Jimny can be off-road. Our various tests since launch have proven that clearly, and there will be more to come. You can read those across the CarAdvice landscape, and the Jimny has universally impressed us off-road.
What I’m doing here is testing the Jimny around town. Around town specifically, in fact, which makes the automatic we’re testing here a little more sensible. I noted recently that the World Car of the Year awards had given the Jimny its gong for ‘Best Urban Vehicle’.
As an aside, if ever you needed an example that awards can be self-serving tripe, surely that’s it. Best urban vehicle? It’s a rugged off-roader with a less than adequate safety rating. There should be nothing urban about it. Certainly not anything award-worthy anyway.
Still, many buyers will drive their Jimnys around town, and many of them never venturing off-road at all. We see exactly that happen consistently with Wranglers and Defenders, and it’s a reality that even dyed-in-the-wool off-roaders have to accept. It’s a shame, too, to deprive a vehicle of the very discipline it is so competent at.
Regardless, that’s the reality for many Jimnys in Australia. As such, I had been looking forward to testing the auto around town to see whether it actually makes any sense as a daily driver. I guess you can explain some of the urban use away by saying that when you buy a vehicle like a Jimny, you’re buying into the legend and the styling, as much as you are the vehicle’s ability to tackle off-road terrain.
We certainly love the look of it – and winning the kerb-side-attention war is half the battle in the city anyway, isn’t it? So, that’s a big tick there. Everywhere we went in the Jimny over the course of our week with it, people wanted to ask questions and talk about it.
Even now, months after it was first released into the wilds of the Australian urban landscape, a Jimny still gets just as much attention as it did before it had broken cover.
I’d driven the manual, and I liked its marriage with the punchy little engine, light clutch and short shift throw. The combination actually felt a bit sporty, if you can believe it. A bit like small cars used to feel back in the day before they got weighed down with technicality and safety inclusions.
A relative that jumps to mind is the early ’90s Swift. Punchy little naturally aspirated four-banger, lightweight, and a responsive five-speed gearbox. I couldn’t quite reconcile how much fun the Jimny manual was to drive.
I’m pretty much over manuals in day-to-day traffic, though, and they are now proven to lag behind a good auto off-road, too – both factors strengthening the case for the self-shifting Jimny. I do plenty of bombing around town in the CarAdvice 79 Series, and believe me, as lazy as that big diesel V8 is, you still get tired of working through the ratios in stop/start traffic.
So, here we have the automatic Jimny priced from $26,990 before on-road costs. The manual is two-grand cheaper, starting from $24,990 before on-road costs. It’s hard to argue that the Jimny is anything other than affordable, despite the fact that it is more expensive proportionately than it used to be.
You can’t get into anything this capable for anywhere near this pricepoint, but again, I’m focusing here on what it is like to live with around town, on-road.
The cabin is excellent. The seating position especially is near perfect. Getting into and out of the Jimny is as easy as it gets, too, thanks largely to the almost neutral setting of the seat base.
The Jimny is one of those vehicles that older buyers will love, along with those of you (like me) who have recurring back issues. There’s no climbing, or falling, into the Jimny cabin, and no falling out of it either. Big tick there.
I like the main infotainment controls. They are simple enough without being dopey, and Apple CarPlay worked well for the duration of our test. A quick test of Android Auto also worked nicely, too.
The screen resolution is clear, and the graphics it displays are neat, too. Like most things about the Jimny, there is a tough utilitarian feel to the cabin and the controls, and you get the sense it will be long lasting.
The front section of the cabin is excellent unless you’re super tall. If you’re around that six-foot mark, it’s perfect and there’s heaps of head room, too. Knee room is where it starts to get ugly for tall drivers. The second row should be viewed as occasional, and with them folded down it creates a step in the floor that makes it difficult to load items in smartly.
The ride is excellent around town, and manoeuvrability is small-hatch standard really. Thanks largely to the short wheelbase, sharp steering and excellent visibility, you can work the Jimny into and out of tight parking spaces, laneways and underground shopping centre carparks with comical ease. Crowded carparks at Christmas time will be no match for the Jimny’s nimble abilities.
Some of the roads on our urban network are so bad you almost need a 4WD, so the Jimny fits the bill nicely in that sense with its aforementioned ride quality. Really nasty bumps will unsettle it at the outer edges, but aside from that, it cruises along nicely.
The engine (1.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol) and gearbox (four-speed automatic) work together as well as can be expected. The engine makes just 75kW at 6000rpm and 130Nm at 4000rpm, so you need to work in that meat of the rev range to keep it cooking.
Against an ADR claim of 6.9L/100km, we used only 7.8L/100km around town – not bad at all in the real world. While the auto could undoubtedly do with an extra ratio, the four you do have are smooth and precise enough that they don't detract from the drive experience.
Since October 2019, capped-price servicing moves to 12-month/15,000km intervals. Service pricing also moves compared to earlier versions: $429 for one major service in that five-year warranty period, one at $239, and the rest at $329 each.
So, despite my best efforts to find reasons not to love the Jimny around town, it actually works quite smartly as a city runaround. Strange though it might seem, its strong points – seating position, visibility, short wheelbase and punchy engine – make it a joy to use.
It looks cool enough to get around any number of shortcomings, too, and most of which we’ve covered at CarAdvice.