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There were chuckles going around the CarAdvice office in early May when the 2019 Suzuki Jimny was awarded 2019 World Urban Car of the Year. Let’s be clear. We love the Jimny. We love its unashamed retro styling, its unapologetic off-road focus and capability, and its sharp pricing. We love that cars like this exist at all. But Urban Car of the Year? Cue chuckles.
So, what better excuse for putting the Jimny to the test on the mean streets of inner-city Sydney – a canvas of traffic mayhem, shitty roads and nightmare parking options – to see how it stacks up against the judges’ claims.
We’ve previously given this very Jimny an off-road belting through Victoria’s High Country, where it held itself aloft with its single-minded focus. You can read about that adventure here. For this test, though, it’ll spend a week purely as an urban assault vehicle.
To make it even more fun, we’ve plumped for the manual Jimny – no Millennial-friendly auto ’box for us – which has a starting price of $23,990 plus on-road costs. If you want an auto Jimny, you’ll need to stump up an extra $2000.
Options? None, other than paint. It's $500 for either Jungle Green or Medium Grey, and $1250 a pop for a smattering of two-tone options: Kinetic Yellow, Brisk Blue, and Chiffon Ivory, all with black roofs. Our test car is finished in military-spec Jungle Green for an as-tested price of $24,490.
So, what do you get for your money? Let’s be clear… If you value comfort and convenience, the Jimny probably isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you value rugged yet utterly charming looks with a utilitarian outlook on life…
There’s not a lot going on inside the Jimny, and that’s probably exactly how the intended buyer likes it. The seats, finished in cloth, are comfortable enough, although lack any height adjustment. The multi-function steering wheel frames some very cool-looking retro-styled analogue dials.
Chunky switchgear abounds, as do solid-looking exposed bolts that underline the Jimny’s rugged all-over looks – so too the dash-mounted grab handle for the passenger. It’s all very cool and functional. Solid too.
The 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, while not the latest and greatest, is perfectly serviceable. There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, in-built satellite navigation, a rear-view camera, and Bluetooth connectivity. Like the rest of the car, it all works well, and if you’re familiar with the system from other Suzukis, you won’t be surprised by this one.
There’s a decent amount of room in the front, and visibility is excellent thanks to the Jimny’s upright driving position and tall stance on the road. Again, all very utilitarian.
Sliding in to the second row, however, presents its challenges. The opening for ingress and egress isn’t great and requires a level of contortion. Once plonked on the rear bench, it’s not the last word in comfort, either. It’s tight back there. The caveat here: this ain’t no family hauler, nor does it purport to be one, despite the presence of a pair of ISOFIX points. Besides, you’ll need those back seats if you plan on hauling any gear on your adventures.
With the back row in use, there’s a minuscule 85L of cargo space. That’s barely enough for a week’s worth of groceries (actually tested). Fold the seats down (50:50 split) and the boot area expands to 377L – a lot more serviceable.
The solidity of the interior transfers to the drive experience, which is, in short, pretty fun. There’s a certain character to the atmo 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine. Sure, its meagre outputs of 75kW at 6000rpm and 130Nm at 4000rpm aren’t Earth-shattering. But remember, that little unit only has to haul 1075kg of kerb weight. And that makes for a pretty spirited little Jimny.
The five-speed manual isn’t the last word in engagement, but the longish throw is light and easy. We spent a lot of time in third gear, which seems to be the Jimny’s sweet spot around town. Fourth is too tall to extract any meaningful torque, thanks to its 4000rpm band, and fifth is best left for highway cruising.
There’s a characterful hum from the engine, which needs you to work it to extract the best from it. That’s no bad thing – instead, a throwback to another time when motoring was simpler. It’s simply delightful.
The Jimny takes its time getting up to speed on the highway, and once at the posted 110km/h, it doesn’t so much hum along, but rumble. With the tacho needle sitting at 3000rpm or thereabouts at cruising speed, you can’t help but think a sixth gear might be a welcome addition in future Jimnys.
Fuel consumption? Suzuki claims a miserly 6.4L/100km on the combined cycle. After a ton of enjoyment from the little urban warrior, letting the revs happily run out to extract maximum torque and engagement, we saw an indicated 7.9L. Sitting on the motorway at 3000rpm doesn’t help in this regard, we’d venture.
The Jimny’s probably at its happiest in the inner city, where its diminutive stature comes to the fore. The streets around my ’hood are tight and narrow; a maze of one-way streets and tight parking spots that can confound those with larger vehicles. Not the Jimny. Parking is a cinch, the steering light if a little twirly. A tight turning circle of 9.6m helps, too.
A word to the wise when parking, though. We love the Jimny’s swinging barn door out back, complete with its full-size spare. But, it requires a decent amount of space behind to be fully functional. Park too close to someone – or have someone park too close to you - and you’ll need to hop back behind the wheel and inch forward to gain some clearance. Likewise, if you reverse into a shopping centre carpark. It’s a mildly annoying thing, but you soon learn to mitigate for it.
One thing the Jimny can’t be accused of is providing a comfortable ride around town. Thanks to its unapologetic off-roading credentials, and the soft coils and dampers that underpin its body-on-ladder-frame chassis, the little Suzuki tends to wobble around on Sydney’s mean streets.
It’s not crashy or jarring by any stretch, but everything that makes the Jimny such a great off-roader – coil springs, live axles, radius control arms front and back, and a Panhard rod and an anti-roll bar at the front – count against it in an urban environment. Tackle a speed hump and the Jimny will take a while to settle back to stability. Tip it at a corner at anything more than crawling pace, and the level of body roll is almost laughable. It’s as if the chassis wants to go one way, the body another.
And therein lies the compromise you’ll need to live with if you want a capable and rugged little off-roader, with charming styling and plentiful character for circa $25K.
You’ll also need to compromise on safety, the Jimny scoring a below average three-star ANCAP rating for some shortcomings in occupant protection during crash testing. Yes, there is the obligatory safety tech – six airbags, autonomous emergency braking, and lane-departure warning. But Euro NCAP testing found the AEB wanting in that it applied the brakes mid-corner on roads lined by metal guardrails.
Suzuki covers the Jimny with a below-par three-year/100,000km warranty. That can be extended to five years and 140,000km if you service your Jimny at a dealership for five years. Be aware, though, that servicing is required at ungenerous six-month/10,000km intervals. The total cost over five years under Suzuki’s capped-price plan is $2452.
There’s no question the Suzuki Jimny is a fun little thing. In both the way it looks and the way it – mostly – drives, the little off-roader is brimming with character. But its undoubted off-road chops compromise its urbanity. It’s slow, ponderous in the way it handles city streets, and largely impractical in terms of storage. But, its small size is a boon in inner-city confines and its retro-chic styling oozes charm.
Urban Car of the Year, though? Hmmm.