It’s in old pots that Suzuki makes Jimny well
When I saw the launch of the new Jimny I thought to myself, “Ohh no, they dared”. They dared to make a mini SUV that looks like a mini Mercedes G-Class. In fact, almost every automotive media has automatically nicknamed it as « Mini G ». As a result (and as you can imagine), I wasn’t really thrilled to see hundreds of thousands of mini SUVs all over Europe. Why? Because automotive manufacturers used to produce horrible cute cars in recent years. But I was mistaken.
Suzuki Jimny: facing the little monster
At first glance the Suzuki Jimny has a 70-80s 4×4 look. It looks like both a Class-G (yeah, that’s good, we understood) but also old Suzuki 4x4s productions like Suzuki Samurai, Suzuki Vitara or the famous Suzuki LJ produced since … 1970. In 1965, HopeStar developed a small four-wheel drive vehicle that gave birth to the On360, which was launched in 1968. Suzuki then bought the manufacturing rights from a small Japanese firm, HopeStar, and started selling 4x4s. Based on the HopeStar On360, Suzuki developed their very first 4X4, the LJ10 (LJ for Light Jeep). So let’s put things in context: having been produced since 1979, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class is actually inspired by Japanese 4x4s and not the other way around. Voilà voilà.
Back to the subject, we don’t really remember every 4×4 Suzuki made, but we can easily remember the Jimny III, launched in 1998. A competitor of the Toyota RAV4 that we used to see everywhere in the city (thanks god it’s over, it wasn’t very beautiful). But Suzuki didn’t really take inspiration from this Jimny (good idea), they played the neo retro card instead.
The edges are prominent, the lines are angular and the headlights round. It looks like a modernized Jimny 1 (SJ20). Don’t you know the first Jimny? We do, but we’ve never seen it in person. When you compare the two cars, you immediately understand the relationship. Jimny 1 is definitely a kind of light and modern Jeep Willys.
As a result, the Jimny 4 (2019) has wide side windows, a flat hood, a roof with grooves, a straight trunk and a spare wheel attached to the back (sooo badass). On top of all that, it remains compact with only 3.64 m long (including spare wheels on the rear door) and 1.64 m wide, which is 7 cm longer than a modern Fiat 500 (or the same if the 500 has a wheel on the back). To be honest, its small wild 4×4 proportions make it very cute. In fact, it’s a “Kei car” (Japanese light automobile category), so very small to sneak around town and tp charms everyone you meet. That’s the whole concept. And indeed, all my fellow travelers (mostly girls) wanted to give it a hug during the test (since then, I know that when I’m dead I’d like to reincarnate as a Jimny). Anyway, it’s time for the Japanese brand to return to its roots.
Back to the Jimny’s basics
I’m getting into the Suzuki Jimny, and even if I’m tall you really have to ride inside (the floor is 21 cm high for a total height of 1.72 m). I slap the very thin door and I hear a rustic metallic sound that reminds me of most of the old 4x4s I’ve ever known. I also have a real key in my hands. So I do what we’ve always done in a car, I enter the key in the ignition and I turn: miracle, the engine starts! This Jimny has three pedals and two gear levers, like a real car!
At the first turn of the wheel I feel that crossing the city will be a pleasure (for once). Relatively short and rather precise gearbox, fairly responsive accelerator (nothing unpleasant), rather light and blury steering, quite communicative front axle, and incredible visibility (except at the rear because of the optional spare wheel on the trunk door but so cool that I would rather lose visibility). However, the clutch is too soft. After a few kilometers you start to feel it under your foot anyway. Driving a Suzuki Jimny, even in town, is already much more enjoyable than many of the regular cars I’ve driven recently, thanks to a minimum size and a perfect turning radius. The sensations felt are also much purer than any modern car. Do you know why? Because this Jimny has a rustic and vintage side which is super rare today and so absolutely irresistible.
Behind the steering wheel, you’re high up on the seat, very steep too. From the very straight driving position you can see this flat, short and rectangular hood that gives the impression of being able to do everything with this car so solid is it. And then the first speed bump comes along. In my head I say to myself “if the Jimny is designed for city dwellers, it’s going to be all soft and not so comfortable, it’s going to be terrible”, “but if it’s a real 4×4 it’s going to absorb that like no other car would ever do”. Drum bearings… With its ladder chassis, three-link rigid axle suspension with coil springs, and 15-inch wheels only (no risk of scratching a rim with such a thick sidewall), the Jimny is the most comfortable city car I have ever tried. There are suspension movements, but they are contained, nothing hits, nothing rubs and it feels just good. In fact, I think the best city car, or at least the most practical and comfortable, might be a small 4×4.
Obviously, don’t expect a rocket, it’s not a sports coupe, nor a furious GT, as we all know. It’s rather a really cool city car that’s well adapted to today’s city tastes and needs. With a contained weight of 1090 kg (13 kg less than the A110 Première Edition for example) and a small 1.5L four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine with twin cam, featuring 102 hp. It’s indeed not a supercar but the engine does the job very well and is surprisingly pleasant. Well designed, the VVT Variable Valve Timing engine offers torque at very low rpm and power up to high rpm. We owe this technology to Fiat, but it was Alfa Romeo and its 2.0 Twin Spark 4-cylinder engine inaugurated on the 75 that brought it to market first.
From the outside, the Jimny is so light and flexible that with one hand on the roof I can make the car jump from right to left on its suspensions. It’s very funny to see, we even had fun jumping in the car at the traffic lights to see people’s faces. What a laugh (and you can see that in Instagram stories)!
On the road, rock, mud, sand, fire or whatever you actually want
You will have understood it, onboard the Jimny and with its 4×4 settings, we are on a small flying carpet. On the other hand, when you drive on small winding roads, you have a quite different perception of the car. When starting, downshifting and shifting gears, it feels light, almost lively. When you finally place it in a curve and try to follow the best trajectories, you feel body movements that are characteristic of flexible cars with a too high centre of gravity. Accompanied by a rather well-stepped gearbox, the Jimny still allows you to have a little fun and take some pleasure in constraining the small 4×4 in the turns and playing with the rolls. Kind of like an old GT car. Anyway, everyone suspected that this little 4×4 was not a reference in this exercise and that’s good news. I think Suzuki tried to do what they knew how to do: a good little off-road vehicle (well, I guess, since we haven’t put the wheels off the road yet).
Too often nowadays, automotive production is designed to respond to marketing studies that distort cars trying to make them efficient and effective in all areas. Here the Jimny shows us a fancy 4×4 physique, which could lead us to believe that it’s a pretentious SUV, while no, it’s a 4×4, a fully assumed 4×4. Its proportions and style have simply been updated to better reflect the mindset of new customers.
Now that we’ve done a lot of driving, it’s time to go on paths. It’s on a rocky path that the car takes on a completely different flavor. I quickly feel that as I had expected, the Suzuki Jimny is a real little 4×4. Holes, small rocks, puddles, the Jimny goes everywhere and always with fun and serenity. With its rather direct steering and its tiny size, we’re not afraid of getting the pretty little 4×4 dirty. On the contrary, it’s a real pleasure. In a communicative laugh, we jump from bump to bump, from puddle to puddle: the mud suits him so well (especially with its beige « Chiffon Ivory » color). I even allow myself to take slightly curved paths at a fairly high speed and there the suspensions absorb almost all the movements of the car, leaving only a few very funny jolts.
During this test we didn’t have the opportunity to make any real crossing. Tested and approved on rocky path, mudy path, we’ll try to drive it off road, on sand (and maybe fire as suggested by the paragraph’s tittle) next time. Indeed, this Jimny has made us want to go further, to explore and try new automotive adventures… snow, ice, pebbles… to mistreat it a little, to dirty it, to put it in difficulty. And I’m sure nothing will stop it.
Suzuki Jimny: inside view
When you board the Jimny you immediately notice a real contrast between the image it reflects on the outside and the one it gives on the inside. On the outside it’s fancy and badass, on the inside it’s rought and minimalist. Indeed, we know right away that we’re entering a 4×4: the dashboard is very vertical, as in all 4x4s. You can even notice a handle on the passenger side to hold firmly during a rough ride over bumps (like in a G-Class). At a time when cars are over-equipped, it’s absolutely genius to get back to basics. The seats are simple but comfortable, the fabric with small lines patterns is simple and beautiful. If you’re lucky enough to be Swiss, you can treat yourself to a little something more and buy camel leather seats. Indeed, there is no official Suzuki Switzerland, so it’s an importer who is responsible to sell the models while allowing some extra.
Sat facing the road, we notice two small old-fashioned speedometers. They are round, in a glossy black plastic case which is with very rustic but charming among other things because of visible black screws. Inside the counters there are real orange hands with numbers of the same colour. The whole thing works very well, it reminds me of military equipments and especially modern Bell & Ross watches design. Special mention for the real hands, that are becoming rarer and rarer in today’s cars. In terms of technological equipment, we have a USB plug and a touch screen. That’s all! In fact, that’s all we need. I’m lying, there’s also a small digital screen between the two dashboard counters to indicate some information from the 21st century. On the touch screen side we have the Apple Car Play and Android Auto embedded services and that’s all we’re asking for. The design and ergonomics of the OS is easy to use and that’s also what you expect from an automotive digital service. The less time I waste with a screen, the better I feel, or more poetically: “less is more” as the architect Mies van der Rohe used to say. However, there are lane warning, cruise control, heated seats, air conditioning and other stuffs I don’t really care about but that make Jimny a car of the future.
When I turn around I discover two small seats glued together that almost form a bench. Placed on the rear wheel arch, the seats are higher than those at the front. I also notice that the wheel arches are visible inside the car as in a Jeep Willys (in which I spent much of my childhood). In short, the seats are not very large but they deserve to exist. From the trunk, or the rear glove box (cause the trunk is really anecdotal), you can tilt the seats back to offer a very correct trunk volume (for a city car). Oh yes, you also have an electrical plug, a real plug, in the back! How cool is that? Perfect to charge your computer, install a mini beer fridge, a waffle iron (what?) or whatever you want.
Why is the Suzuki Jimny a great poker move?
The Jimny in its philosophy and feeling, has remained a simple and functional car as we have always loved them. The best example being (in another category) is the Austin Mini (not the new Cooper one) or the Renault Twingo 1. These cars were incredibly well adapted to their function.
Today, everyone is thrilled by the slightest crossover, the slightest SUV. Not us. Indeed, a SUV is a heavy and gentrified 4×4 that’s as comfortable as a bad sedan, as dynamic as a bad coupe and as spacious as a bad truck. In truth, it doesn’t really meet all these requirements because you can imagine it, it’s impossible to obtain such a versatile car.
#FunToDrive Score: 76/100
And now Suzuki is offering us something else. Instead of wanting to produce the perfect car, a car that fills all the boxes, they decided to take risks. The choice is simple: they propose a city 4×4, a mini 4×4, but they don’t take anything away from what makes it a real 4×4. And we’re not adding anything either. Which is just fabulous. I think the best SUV (not to mention the Super SUVs) is a 4×4. I sincerely believe that for the price, from 17.220€, you get the most comfortable, most versatile, most practical SUV to drive, with the advantageous size of a today’s small city car and with which you will be able to have a lot of fun off-road.
To sum up, the Jimny is not the best car in the world, but it’s probably one of the most honest, rational, and one of the few that has kept it simple (in the good sense). How could Suzuki improve its Jimny? First option, they could remove the roof, windows and doors to make it the coolest beach car. Second option, they could sacrifice a little bit of its smoothness on path to give it a little more sporty character. A Jimny Sport could be a great idea. More horsepower, harder suspensions and it would make this cute little 4×4 into an irresistible little rocket. But be careful to keep it simple, that’s what makes it so charming.