Saying goodbye: a final verdict on Suzuki's giant-killing Jimny
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It started with a simple but loaded question; could a Suzuki Jimny be a competent daily vehicle?
To attend day-long launches for Suzuki’s tiny and somewhat crude off-roader out in the middle of picturesque nowhere is one thing, but being able to use one as a primary form of transport is something different entirely.
A long-term Jimny tester was sought in pursuit of the answer. Over six weeks, Driven took it on various day-trips, introduced it to the concrete jungle of Auckland City, and got it airborne (mostly voluntarily) just off the dunes of Muriwai.
And now we’ve handed it back. So what did we learn?
As we discussed in our last update, the Jimny ($25,990 starting, $30,045 as tested) is a vehicular mountain goat off-road. But perhaps the biggest surprise was how handy it was as an urban run-around.
I’m happy to eat my words here, having questioned just how heavily intoxicated the World Car of the Year panel was when they crowned the Jimny 2019’s World Urban Car of the Year back in April.
Long-termer report, part one: Can the Suzuki Jimny be a good daily vehicle? Meet Driven's new long-termer / Long-termer report, part two: Surf & turf — life with our mud-loving Suzuki Jimny long-term tester
After we doused it from head to toe with mud, it seemed fair to give the humble 4x4 a final quiet few weeks of city driving. We’ve already noted how the Suzuki’s diminutive dimensions and light steering make it a parallel parking warrior, but it’s only when you trade it for something like our current long-term tester — a Jeep Compass — that the size and visibility difference become truly apparent.
It’s also one of the few cars fitted with a powertrain that can actually be fun in tight metropolitan confines. The 75kW/130Nm four-cylinder petrol is objectively slow, but makes for a great laugh when paired with the five-speed manual and aggressive rev-hunting gear changes.
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The marshmallow-soft suspension will grate with some, but around town it gives the Jimny a playfulness that never lost its novelty.
Economy ended up slipping down to an impressive combined 7.2L/100km in the end — a number reflective of the Jimny’s lightfootedness. I suspect that figure would be even better if the manual had six cogs instead of five.
The lack of a sixth gear is one of the Jimny’s few proper shortcomings. A lack of rear leg-room and a more upright than average driving position are things people know that they’re signing up for. The same goes for the roly-poly ride quality, loud engine, and hard plastic interior.
Reverse parking sensors would be handy, since the high ride height and spare wheel mean parking bollards and the like can easily disappear from vision. And the plastic-backed second row of seats can become an impractical slip-and-slide for anything placed in the back. Never have I seen my dog’s eyes open so wide. It didn’t take him long to clue up and clamber into the front seat.
Perhaps the biggest issue of them all is the Jimny’s 3-star ANCAP safety rating. The organisation cited “structural weaknesses” and a driver airbag that’s slow to inflate in its eventual verdict. It’s undoubtedly a blight on Suzuki’s shining reputation for safety (every Swift boasts a 5-star ANCAP rating by comparison), and consumers should expect better from a new car in 2019.
However, the Jimny wasn’t the only off-road specialist to disappoint in crash testing. The new Jeep Wrangler limped to a dismal 1-star ANCAP safety rating in May, with similar structural concerns (albeit to a higher degree) raised by the organisation. A lack of safety tech was also noted.
Jeep’s response to the test was sharp: “The Jeep Wrangler is engineered to deliver superior performance […] under the most demanding conditions. Testing protocols that apply exclusively to urban scenarios may not align with such a vehicle.”
There are differences between the Wrangler and Jimny of course, but it raises the question of whether poor safety ratings in adventurous vehicles are what consumers should expect.
At the end of the day, the best course of action for buyers is to know the balance between risk and reward.
And to avoid crashing, of course.
In my case, after six weeks of laughter and thrill, I’ve made up my mind on the Suzuki Jimny.
So many car companies spend the majority of their existence producing square cars designed to fit perfectly into square holes that they forget the legacies of ingenuity and creativity that elevated them to success in the first place.
To that, the Jimny is an abrupt, rough counterpoint. Mountains of charm created through purity and absence.
“So bad, it’s good” isn’t entirely wrong, but it ignores how effortless and earnest the little off-roader is. It’s a joyous, silly (and ... slightly unsafe) little car. No matter the circumstance, it will put a smile on your face.
Suzuki deserves to sell every last one.
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