Jumping Jimnys: five first-drive impressions of Suzuki's quirky SUV
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It's 2019, and everything that was once old is now new again. Weezer's releasing albums of cover songs to surprise acclaim, Jaguar are putting electric powertrains in iconic E-Types, and the Suzuki Jimny is back with more people showing a keen interest in the little SUV than ever before.
Driven attended Suzuki's launch late last week for both the Jimny and the refreshed 2019-spec Vitara. The latter included a drive around a damp Pukekohe road circuit, while the former was driven purely off-road through Kariotahi Beach's technical off-road course.
Our full debrief on both models is coming soon, but in the meantime here's five of our first impressions of the so-hot-right-now Jimny.
1. It's an off-roading beast
Believe the hype; the Jimny is incredibly capable off-road.
Kariotahi Beach is a common venue for off-road launches, but the course that we used for the Jimny showcase was one of the longest and most challenging there.
Engaged in four-low for the duration, the little Jimny was able to scramble out of all sorts of different scenarios. From times when it was tilted so far onto its door-handles that grass was strumming the windows, to climbing sheer wet clay hill faces and teetering on three wheels with a front wheel hanging over a metre in the air.
2. Simple doesn't mean unsophisticated
The Jimny's off-road skills aren't down to a big muscular engine or meaty tyres. The 1.5-litre K15B four-cylinder naturally aspirated engine makes 20 per cent more power than the last model, but that's still just 75kW all up. The tyres meanwhile are little 195/80R15s that, from the rear, look like they wouldn't be out of place bolted to one of those micro electric Barbie cars.
So, why's it so good off-road? There's a plethora of reasons including its old-school transmission choices, dimensions, and approach/departure angles ... but perhaps the biggest reason is its AllGrip Pro four-wheel drive system and suspension set-up. Along with the retention of a traditional ladder chassis.
Of particular note is the Jimny's brake limited slip diff traction control's ability to adjust power not just side to side, but also diagonally, depending on what corners have grip and what corners don't.
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3. The 'mini G-Wagen' comparisons are ... limited
Along the way, the little Jimny has often been quoted as looking like a mini-me version of the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen.
But, unsurprisingly, the comparison is really only limited to styling inside and out. The Jimny is very small (front occupants have ample room, while those in the rear aren't so lucky), which combined with the narrow tyres makes it easy to drive at low speeds. Also worth mentioning is that the boxy shape gives supreme front and rear visibility to the driver.
Naturally, the plush materials inside the G-Wagen are worlds apart from the Jimny's cabin. Hard plastics are everywhere, although this is what we've come to expect with Suzukis through our experience with the fun-loving Swift. What we've also come to expect is sturdy build quality, and despite taking plenty of tough knocks the Jimny's cabin didn't rattle or creak all launch.
The low-rent materials also mean a low price. $25,990 buys you the manual Sierra model, with $27,500 enough to net the automatic.
4. Deceptively clever
Not only is everything inside bolted together well, but all of it is designed to be easy to use while wearing gloves. This includes the infotainment screen, which is infrared on the Jimny.
Space the boot grows rear space by 16.4 per cent to 377 litres with the rear seats up, with a flat floor helping that growth and the positioning of the brake lights on the rear bumper helping make for a bigger boot aperture.
Although the dashboard is cheap to the touch it's also scratch and stain resistant, and the front seats skimp on shoulder bolstering to allow drivers more lean-with-it flexibility while tackling off-road conditions.
These are only a handful of the little details Suzuki have packed into the Jimny to make life easier for those using it as a work utensil or gravel basher.
5. Appeal, but not as we know it
Don't pretend for a second that the Jimny plays in the same sandpit as other sub-30k small SUVs like its big-brother Vitara. This is a unique, characterful, and weird little critter perhaps better positioned to take on those who want a Jeep Wrangler but don't have the budget.
Suzuki describes the typical Jimny buyer as being either 'professional users' who need rugged and capable wheels for their daily jobs, 'enthusiasts' who have been loyal to the Jimny over the years, and 'casual users' who want something that can help with treks to the beach and the like.
My personal theory? The popularity of the Jimny is a reaction to a vehicle that's more pure than most. There's few frills here, unlike the kick-activated electronic tail-gates, sound-cancelling interiors and other flashy gimmicks used to market other SUVs.
Maybe that makes the Jimny a bit of a simpleton. But, the fact is that Suzuki New Zealand sold out of their first shipment of Jimnys in just a week (with pre-sales all accounted for until November). It's clear that they're onto a good thing.
Check out our full first-drive debrief in this Saturday's Driven edition.