The styling is an amalgamation of all the off-road icons like the Hummer, Defender, G-Class and Wrangler but compacted into a Suzuki-sized package Pic: SUPPLIED
The styling is an amalgamation of all the off-road icons like the Hummer, Defender, G-Class and Wrangler but compacted into a Suzuki-sized package Pic: SUPPLIED

It’s easy to love boxy cars like the new Suzuki Jimny. The fourth generation’s retro aggressive styling offers a welcome break from the stagnancy of mostly rounded modern vehicles. The Jimny entered the Japanese “kei” car market (the category for the smallest passenger vehicles allowed on highways) in 1970, some nine years prior to Mercedes-Benz introducing its renowned G-Wagen. At 1,715mm high and 3,625mm nose-to-tail, it’s dwarfed by almost every other SUV, yet it beats many on sheer off-road capability.  

Ask yourself what the latest Suzuki Jimny is and you may end up with “fashion accessory” — the Mini Cooper of SUVs, so to speak. Under normal crossover circumstances, and thanks to cuteness and vibrant colours, many are tempted to view it as such; however, the Jimny is not a normal circumstance. Underpinned by a ladder-frame chassis and part-time four-wheel drive, as well as a low-range transfer case, it can do stuff in the rough like no other vehicle in its price bracket.

There’s just one engine and two gearbox options: a four-speed auto and this five-speed manual unit on review. Though the cabin features plenty of exposed metal, it isn’t far removed from modernity thanks to a neat-looking dash layout made from good materials, a decently sized digital touchscreen command centre, electrically operated windows, remote steering wheel buttons and dual airbags. It’s also got clear-feedback Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, and though nowhere near awesome, the onboard entertainment plays back USB, Bluetooth and SD card — all the stuff coveted by urbanites.

Lack of a usable boot is the only Achilles’ heel to an otherwise superb vehicle pic.SUPPLIED
Lack of a usable boot is the only Achilles’ heel to an otherwise superb vehicle pic.SUPPLIED

However, many will likely be put off by the impracticality of it all. Aside from its two-door, four-seater shape, the rear luggage area is a mere 85l, which increases to 377l with the rear seats folded down. If it’s any consolation, that’s 53l more than the previous-generation car.

Vast improvements in driving dynamics, comfort and technology also mean the Jimny is no longer a physically tiring drive. The gutsy and naturally aspirated 1.5l petrol four-cylinder engine uses its improved 75kW and 130Nm outputs to haul the Jimny around with a welcome verve, giving it respectable power to keep up with highway traffic.

In standard configuration only the rear wheels are driven but the fronts can be called up for all-wheel grip via a secondary gear lever. It’s largely a civilised thing in flight, with a fair amount of body control and a little waywardness only arising in cross-winds or when caught out by dodgy road fractures. The steering is light and communicative and works well with its size, particularly in tight spaces where this diminutive vehicle can be easily threaded into parking spots.

But where the Jimny comes into its own is when you select 4-LOW on its transfer case and leave the tarmac to enter off-road tracks. The combination of its small dimensions and hardware, which in this new iteration includes a button-activated Hill-Descent Assist and Brake LSD (limited slip-differential) traction control, results in a peerless breadth of beaten track-driving ability.

It’s such a giggle to drive as every obstacle where you line its 195/80 R15 rubber becomes an invitation for more engagement from the driver than in larger, more torque-rich off-roaders. Also, because of its slender dimensions it escapes the brunt of wallops by overhanging and over-reaching bushes. 

Present day sophistication meets beaten track hardiness. Pic: SUPPLIED
Present day sophistication meets beaten track hardiness. Pic: SUPPLIED

Unleashing it at Gerotek’s merciless vehicle off-road testing facility, the Jimny took on most of the gruelling terrain of the rally track with pleasing ability.

The 210mm ground clearance is usable, as are its generous approach angles of 37 degrees, break-over/departure angles of 28/49 degrees and incredibly elastic axle articulation. It straddled deep ruts, and clambering up rock-filled and slippery inclines were impressively dealt with thanks to the off-road traction control that electronically mimics a traditional diff-locking mechanism.

Drawbacks? The manual gearbox is only a five-speed, resulting in a somewhat constant high-pitched engine drone at higher speeds. Keep it below 100km/h and it quietens down a notch. Thankfully, the shift-action across the gate is short and sweet and the clutch nice and light for urban usage.

The 40l fuel tank also means regular top-ups, but driven with a light foot the Jimny is claimed to return 6.3l/100km, of which I attained marginally worse at 6.9l/100km.

I also don’t imagine it can tow much.

The overall test verdict is of a vehicle that remains true to the 49-year-old DNA of affordable, genuine utility. Its polished drive quality and the addition of modern amenities opens it up to a trendy new crowd who very well may not have discovered the joys of a mud-filled life. 

 

Tech Specs

ENGINE

Type: In-line four-cylinder

Capacity: 1,500cc

Power: 75kW at 6000 r/min

Torque: 130Nm at 4000 r/min

TRANSMISSION

Type: 5-speed manual

DRIVETRAIN

Type: 4WD

PERFORMANCE

Top speed: 145km/h (claimed)

0-100km/h: N/A

Fuel Consumption: 6.3l/100km (as claimed) 6.9l/100km as tested

Emissions: 146 g/km

STANDARD FEATURES

Air conditioning, Power steering, immobiliser, ABS brakes, BAS, ISOFIX, dual front airbags, low range, brake LSD, ESP, Hill Hold and Hill Descent Control, full-size spare wheel, electric windows and mirrors, automatic climate control, 15” alloy wheels, remote central locking, auto LED headlamps, front fog lights, touchscreen infotainment system, multifunction leather steering wheel, cruise control, 12V socket in luggage area, 50:50 folding rear seats 

COST OF OWNERSHIP

Warranty: 5-year/200,000km promotional warranty

Price: R299,900

Lease*: R6,466 per month

* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit

 

Suzuki Jimny 1.5 GLX M/T

WE LIKE:

Styling, features, refinement, off-road capability

WE DISLIKE:

Lack of cargo area

VERDICT:

A hybrid of cuteness and off-road tenacity 

MOTOR NEWS

Star rating

 

*****Design

***Performance

****Economy

***Ride/handling

***Safety

*****Value For Money

****Overall

Competition

King of its own hill