Daring to be different: we go bush with the new Suzuki Jimny
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Consider for a moment everything that supposedly makes the typical, new-age compact SUV so popular in 2019; the new-found refinement, the car-like handling, the perceived comfort and spaciousness.
Now, if you take all of those findings and throw them in the trash, you can begin to understand the new Suzuki Jimny.
And no, that's not a criticism.
First launched in the 1970s, the plucky off-roader was a quintessential entrant to the SUV landscape — although its tiny dimensions helped define it next to the Jeeps and Range Rovers that dominated the segment at the time.
In its fourth generation, the Jimny ironically stands as an almost anti-SUV next to the popular city-focused, unibody products that rule entry-level off-roader sales.
Just think Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, and Mitsubishi ASX; a group of SUVs all eating together at lunchtime, while the little Jimny sits in the corner by itself, silently churning through its homework.
That drive against the grain to be loyal to its roots is paying off for the Jimny. More than 400 New Zealanders bought the outgoing model last year; despite it being old enough to smoke, drink, and vote.
It’s not surprising then that the new Jimny has proven to be incredibly popular — not just with Kiwis, but around the globe. But that success has brought with it a sea of new problems.
New Zealand’s supply until November is sold out, with marmorated stink bug blues delaying the arrival of the first Jimny shipment by months, and overwhelming demand in Japan and Europe depleting the amount of Jimny sent to markets like ours.
The inevitable question to ask is; does the pocket-sized SUV deliver on all the off-road hype?
We attended the national Jimny launch last week at a soaking wet Karioitahi Beach to answer the question. And, despite us only being behind the wheel for an hour or so off-road, the new Jimny gave a fairly emphatic answer.
But first, a numbers dump.
Kiwis get only the one Jimny body-shape; the relatively high-spec Sierra. Pricing subsequently starts at $25,990 for the manual, with the automatic slotting in at $27,500. The two-tone black roof-option is another $500.
This high spec includes technology such as a 7in touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satnav, cruise control, and Suzuki’s Dual Sensor Brake Support safety suite that includes six airbags, lane departure warning and autonomous emergency braking.
The cabin is relatively crude on the surface, but a lot of attention has been paid here. Everything has been engineered to be usable by people wearing gloves — including the aforementioned screen, which is infrared. The surfaces too are scratch and stain resistant.
Consider the boot, too. Which gains 16.4 per cent in capacity (to a total of 377 litres) thanks to the engineering of a flat floor, while shifting the taillights to the rear bumper means Suzuki could make the tailgate opening larger, too.
It is 30mm shorter, 50mm higher, and 45mm wider than the outgoing model. Wheelbase remains the same, at 2250mm. These combined with ground clearance of 210mm lead to impressive approach, ramp over, and departure angles of 37, 28, and 49 degrees respectively.
Just one engine is offered; the latest generation-naturally aspirated 1.5-litre K15B petrol unit, developing 75kW at 6000rpm and 130Nm at 4000rpm. It comes linked to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed auto transmission. Power is sent to all four corners via Suzuki’s AllGrip Pro four-wheel-drive system, which is complemented by standard hill descent and hill hold.
Underneath the charming retro bodywork is a ladder chassis based on the underpinnings of the last Jimny, but features two new cross members and a new X member for added rigidity. These are complemented by eight new rubber body mounts that reduce ride harshness and road noise.
We wouldn't really be able to test for harshness and road noise, given that this Jimny launch was a purely off-road affair. Not that any of us complained, given that this rugged terrain is what the Jimny is made for.
The assortment of crags and dips overlooking Karioitahi Beach are a regular location for New Zealand off-roader launches. But the route that we followed with the Jimny was more technical and challenging than any I’ve experienced before with other manufacturers.
Included in the mix of already vicious terrain were two or three set pieces that looked set to test the Jimny’s absolute limits. The first was a steep incline with numerous deep dug-outs that would stress the cute off-roader’s articulation and traction, while the second was a sharp chicane dogleg angled so acutely that it would almost tip the Jimny onto its door handles.
But, to the utter surprise of nobody, the Jimny managed to take every one of these challenges in its stride. In four-low it would happily scamper up hills, completely unshaken by having a front wheel hanging a metre in the cold Lake Puketi air.
While the 195/80R15 tyres look like they were ported from an RC car and none of the power figures looks flash on paper (especially when combined with old-school four- and five-speed transmissions), all of it adds up to a package that feels simply unbeatable off-road.
Through the brief glimpses we had with what the Jimny is like to drive when you're not hoofing it up hills, things were predictably lacking in gloss. The tiny tyres and dimensions mean an incredible turning radius, but otherwise the Jimny feels like a trip backwards in time. We'll explore this further when we get the chance to take one out on open road, however.
The Jimny’s 1095kg featherweight figure probably has something to do with its off-road skill (the auto adds 15kg to that weight figure), but the AllGrip four-wheel drive system and suspension set-up probably plays the biggest role of all.
The 3-link rigid axle and coil-spring combination on each corner allows for plenty of articulation, and critically the AllGrip system comes with brake limited-slip differential — based traction control capable of adjusting power not just side-to-side, but also diagonally, according to which wheels have traction. In practice, it makes the Jimny an off-road star capable of shaming all sorts of expensive tech-laden SUVs.
This raises a point in relation to the Jimny’s sub-par three-star NCAP and ANCAP safety ratings.
While those tests make an important point for on-road safety, when the road turns to gravel and mud, the compact Suzuki is more capable, more versatile. Does that, arguably, make it one of the safest SUVs to take off-road?
One could say that it’s a question for the buyer to decide. But, given the incredible sales worldwide so far, maybe it’s a question that goes without saying.
Ride, refinement, and comfort? They're nice things to have, but without trying to sound like to cliché, so often in today's motoring age they compromise the honesty and purpose of the few true motoring icons that still drive among us.
The Suzuki Jimny dares to be different by chasing its own trends. And the tsunami of orders and interest is just reward.