From its inception in the 1970, Suzuki Jimny – the subcompact 4WD – has earned quite a reputation as a capable and robust off-road vehicle.
The use of the Jimny by the Japanese Self-Defence Force, as an agricultural and mine vehicle in Japan is a testament to its toughness. And after 20 years Suzuki has released the long-awaited fourth-generation Jimny, which became available in Australia in January 2019.
Don’t let its looks fool you – Suzuki Jimny is as real a 4WD as they come. Body-on-frame construction, live axles front and rear, part time 4WD and low range. Think of it as a mini version of a 70-series Land Cruiser or a 110 Defender and you’ll start to understand the design decisions that went into this car.
But first, the basics. Unlike Skoda Kodiaq, Suzuki Jimny is tiny. In fact, the JDM version without fenders is compliant with the kei-car dimensions. The export version (the one sold in Australia and internationally) is slightly larger with thicker bumpers and fenders. It is 3645 mm long, 1645 mm wide and 1725 mm high, with a wheelbase of 2250 mm. That’s smaller (but taller) than a Mazda 2. Jimny has a kerb weight of 1100 kg and a GVM of 1435 kg. The ground clearance is around 210mm unladen, with a fairly clean bottom – the lowest points are the diff pumpkins, but not by much.
If you’re familiar with the old Suzuki Jimny, the new interior is a huge improvement. 7” touchscreen with satellite navigation and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and climate control! Otherwise, it won’t impress you. Hard plastics are practical and easy to wipe down. Seats are fabric and could offer a bit more leg room. The rear seats are … there. Just keep them folded down and enjoy the extra boot space. With them down, you get 377 litres, and 85 litres otherwise. The good news is the rear seats are resin-coated from the back so you won’t have to get the mud and sand out of the carpet every time you fold them down. The front passenger seat also folds back, so you can transport longer cargo.
Just like the 70-series Land Cruiser I compared it with, the Suzuki Jimny is filled with antiquated engineering decisions in the spirit of reliability and off-road performance. I already mentioned the ladder frame (which got some extra cross-members over the last generation, making it more rigid) and live axles, on coils. When was the last time you saw drum brakes on a car? Suzuki Jimny has them on the rear. While ideal for tough terrain, the on-road performance, safety, handling and fuel consumption all take a hit.
Suzuki tried to compensate by adding six air bags, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and other driver assist technologies, but the all-steel frame construction and limited rear passenger protection only got the Suzuki Jimny 3 out of 5 stars in the ANCAP rating. Still better than the one star the new Jeep Wrangler got, but they clearly had to compromise.
Now, the fun part. The transfer case (controlled with a nice old-timey lever and none of those little knobs and buttons) switches between 2H and 4H on the fly, at speeds up to 100 km/h, and 4L (2:1 ratio). Hill hold and descent control are standard for both auto and manual. Approach angle is 37 degrees, breakover is 28, and departure 49, thanks to its small bumpers. Plastic skirts all-around will help minimise panel damage. Skinny 195/80 15” tyres on alloy wheel are standard, and a full-size spare is on the rear door. One downside is it lacks axle locking differentials, with only a limited-slip on the rear.
A number of accessories are available from the factory, and ARB has already announced a set of bars and accessories for the new Suzuki Jimny. Suzuki offers front and rear diff guards, roof racks, bike carriers and some loading edge protection.
The powertrain suits the rest of the car. An upgrade over the third generation, the 1.5L straight four is nevertheless fairly old. It makes 75 kW at 6000 RPM and 130 Nm at 4000, which isn’t bad for a car with a kerb weight of 1100 kg. Coupled with a 4-speed auto or 5-speed manual, it sits at around 3700 RPM on the highway, making it a bit noisy. The square body doesn’t help either. Fuel consumption is 6.4-6.7 litres on the highway and 7.4 litres per 100 km in the city. The 40-litre fuel tank won’t get you across the Nullarbor, so you’ll probably want to bring some jerry cans when touring.
Suzuki went through a lot of trouble to fit so much 4WD into such a small package. Some things had to be left out. But in the end, it is simply without competitors in its segment. Anything even remotely as capable will either be much larger, much older or much more expensive. Huge launch interest in Australia and long waiting lists are quite telling in that regard. Driveaway, the Suzuki Jimny will cost you around $29,000 for the manual and $31,000 for the auto, but with such a high demand you might have trouble finding one that cheap.