I’ve spent all my years in this gig focused on road cars, and knew I needed to learn new skills. And wanted to put my money into it.
But sometimes life gets in the way. So, when we decided as an editorial team to test a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and Toyota LandCruiser Troopcarrier together in the rugged NSW Tablelands (read that story here), I knew my recently procured mountain goat had to join in.
It may not be a direct competitor, but why should that stop me? Especially since the long waiting list on Jimnys has made content featuring mine all the more interesting.
Colleagues on the test, Defender-owner Sam Purcell and ex-Suzuki Sierra owner (and old Wrangler fan) Dom Wiseman, have forgotten more about off-roading than I have ever learned, so clearly I was shoehorning my way in with the right crowd. The perks of being comparison editor…
A plan was hatched for me to drive up to Sydney, from my home in Melbourne, the day beforehand and meet the crew the next morning. Would I keep up with two more 4x4-experienced colleagues in their hardcore loaner vehicles or drag the chain?
The near-1000km drive up was without drama, though the need for a sixth gear is glaring. I spent nine hours at 110km/h with the 1.5-litre engine at 3600rpm drinking through its little tank every 350km or so. The final word in refinement, it is not.
I also noticed a slight issue with the wheel balancing that I’ve since sorted out with my tyre shop, though thankfully the wheel vibrations buggered off above 70km/h and below 60km/h. That really could have been annoying…
To the tests at hand. The neck of the woods out the back of Lithgow, comprising Mt Walker, threw a solid challenge our way. Yet, I have to say the Suzuki acquitted itself brilliantly once we got off the beaten path, as the brochure promises punters it will.
There were few rock-laden climbs, muddy paths, shallowish river crossings (the high-mounted intake meant the filter stayed dry, even with the odd bow wave kissing the bonnet lip) or obscenely rutted trails that defeated the Jimny. Its excellent clearance and negligible overhangs mean it cleared things that some bigger competitors will not.
The old-school part-time 4x4 system with transfer case proved its worth. The separate low-range gearing (which naturally switched off the ESC) meant I could tackle slopes in first, sans throttle, without stalling.
Up hills, the atmo 75kW engine needed a lot of welly, but felt happiest when singing at 4000rpm.
Downwards, the hill-descent control isn’t particularly subtle or speed-adjustable, but does allow you to stay off the anchors, simply braking each wheel and keeping momentum controlled of its own volition.
There’s nothing overly sophisticated going on, yet I never once bemoaned the absence of things such as a switchable diff locker. Partly because its lightness meant it never bogged down, and its grippy tyres let down to about 18psi snatched on without much drama after only a few circulations.
The key really was to just choose a line, keep steady throttle on, and let the Jimny do its thing. There were occasions where it clambered up slippery and rocky hills better than the heavy Troopie did.
More importantly, its smallness and simplicity mean it’s incredibly engaging to pilot: you can see where your wheels are at all times, feel the tyres catching or slipping, and hear the driveline whining when off throttle. And unlike the Wrangler where the suspension does all the work, you get thrown around all over the place in the Suzuki, with its little body like a cork in the ocean. It’s basic fun.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, of course. The steep Firetruck Hill was so muddy that the tyres rapidly filled up with the stuff and lost all traction, meaning even the Wrangler was defeated. And said Jeep had the articulation, thanks to a decoupling swaybar, to climb the final bouldered stretch up said Mt Walker, unlike my Jimny.
But for an almost out-of-the-box 4x4 costing less than 30 grand ($28K drive-away with a tub liner and mats, plus $1445 for the wheels and tyres from Bob Jane), it’s beyond reproach.
Next plan? I need to rethink the shocks, and add some stiffness given how much harshness and thumping the extra wheel/tyre mass adds. I’ll speak to Pedders about this soon, I think. Otherwise, it’s simply perfect for what I intended it to be. I haven’t even had issues with the AEB (yet).
Think of the Jimny like this: it’s 85 per cent Wrangler off-road but half the price. What’s not to enjoy? Even the blokes in their 70 Series and Defenders begrudgingly tip a cap (right, Sam?).
Moreover, I’d encourage anyone keen on this to join a 4x4 club or go exploring in convoy. We’ve got so much beautiful country here, and thousands of miles of dedicated tracks and trails. Once I focused on track driving to get my kicks, but now I think the slower, muddier path is the one better travelled.