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First drive: Suzuki Jimny. Image by Suzuki.

First drive: Suzuki Jimny
The Suzuki Jimny has always had a cult following, but is it now worthy of critical praise, too?

 



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Suzuki Jimny

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

In the pantheon of 'cult' cars - where 'cult' often stands for 'complete dreck, but weirdly likeable regardless' - there can be few vehicles that challenge more strongly for the overall crown than preceding models of the Suzuki Jimny. Incredibly talented off-road but appallingly primitive on it, Japan's shrunken mash-up of a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen and Land Rover Defender nevertheless has built up a diehard following that has seen 2.85 million of the things shifted globally, across three generations and 48 years on sale. But here's an all-new Mk4 Jimny, looking cooler than a leather-coat-wearing block of ice being kept at absolute zero in the farthest reaches of deep space - so can it find more widespread appeal in 2018 and beyond?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Suzuki Jimny SZ5
Pricing: expected to start from c.£16,000
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: five-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Body style: three-door 4x4
CO2 emissions: 154g/km* (VED Band 151-170: £515 in year one, then £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 41.5mpg*
Top speed: 90mph
0-62mph: N/A
Power: 101hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 130Nm at 4,000rpm
Boot space: 85-377 litres
* figures quoted are NEDC

What's this?

Right, if you're going to make any sense of the review that's about to head your way, you're going to need to realise that occasionally - and it is just occasionally, mind - we critics sometimes... wobble a bit in our objective appraisal, and let our hearts rule our heads. Well, we're only human, aren't we? Oh, and anyway, it's common knowledge that the whole car-buying process is an emotive purchase, when all's said and done.

And 'emotive' is a good word for the all-new Suzuki Jimny. Come on! Look at it! LOOK AT IT! It's about as perfect as perfect can be. We've only really officially had one vehicle sold with the Jimny nameplate here, which was the immediate predecessor that soldiered on for nigh-on 19 years following its launch in 1998, but this tiny off-roader can actually trace its lineage back through the SJ410/413 (1981-1998) and LJ10/LJ20 (1970-1981) machines too - so Suzuki has raided the style cupboard from top to bottom, taking cues from each of the aforementioned alumni for the fourth iteration... and the resulting creation is a little stunner.

The Jimny Mk4 has round headlights and separated indicators at the front, like an LJ10. It has a boxy shape, a clamshell bonnet, small horizontal side strakes (they're on the A-pillar bases here) and clustered combination lamps in the rear bumper that are all lifted from the SJ410. There's a five-bar radiator grille and a general visual polish to the bodywork that ties it in with the Mk3. It's shorter than its predecessor, measuring just 3,645mm from nose to the back of its rear-mounted spare wheel. It has a contrast roof and black wheel arch spats and gunmetal alloys (on the SZ5, at least) and little water gutters atop the doors and that S-shaped front window baseline and a side-hinged tailgate (that's ideal for right-hand-drive markets, not left-hand drive, given its Japanese origin) and it can be painted in the extraordinary Kinetic Yellow paint, which is designed - like a hi-viz vest - to stand out on building sites and in the deepest, darkest scenery.

It is, in short, just epic to look at. A wonderful antidote to the conservative, boring B-segment crossovers to which it is undoubtedly - and erroneously - going to be compared. A slice of genuinely characterful, identity-rich and magnificent edginess. We adore it. It could only look better if you could option it up with roof rails, red mud flaps and a 'heritage' front grille that writes the brand name 'SUZUKI' in small capitals on a mesh backgrou... what? What's that, Suzuki UK? You *will* be offering all these things, as cost options? Oh goodness. Oh, goodness gracious us. Will someone please fan at our face a little bit, we're suddenly feeling quite flushed?

Ahem. Anyway, moving on. The interior cannot hope to match up to the sheer haymaker punch of the Jimny's fantastic exterior appearance, but despite that, the quality has taken a significant upswing from what went before. It's still finished mainly in wipe-down, hard plastics, yet there's a pleasing solidity to everything and the layout is impressively attractive - especially those cubic pods that house the analogue dials of the instrument cluster, the seven-inch touchscreen for the infotainment and the use of clean, intuitive climate control dials.

And then we come to the equipment levels. Two trim grades will be offered in the UK, which are SZ4 and SZ5, and though prices will not be confirmed for a while yet (ahead of the car's on-sale date of January 1, 2019), some gentle prodding and prying for information with Suzuki's UK team suggested a £16,000 entry-point wasn't a million miles from the truth, while the SZ5 would be more like £18,000. All cars will be fitted with at least auto headlights with high-beam assist, Dual Sensor Brake Support (DSBS) safety kit, air-conditioning, a CD player with Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control and front foglamps, while taking the circa two-grand price walk to the SZ5 brings in those gunmetal alloys (SZ4 fans, don't despair - the base Jimny wears super-cool 15-inch black steelies), LED headlights with washers, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, climate control, full satnav with smartphone link on the central touchscreen, rear privacy glass, heated front seats and body-coloured door handles. Fully 70 per cent of customers here are expected to 'go big' and order the SZ5, so plush luxuries are not a deterrent to Jimny owners.

Perhaps the main talking point in the Jimny's cabin is not how it is finished, which is admittedly brazenly robust in an era when pointless soft-touch dashboards seem to be some people's only barometer as to whether a car's passenger compartment is any good or not, but rather how it utilises its space. For such a short car, it's incredibly roomy onboard for four people. The front seats have been reshaped to offer more comfort and support - and they fulfil their design brief on that score, too - the driving position is excellent (but the steering wheel, lifted straight from other cars in the Suzuki range like the Ignis micro-SUV and evergreen Swift, only adjusts for rake, not reach) and two adults will definitely have enough headroom and legroom in the rear, even if it's a faff to clamber in there through the two main passenger doors.

Rear-seat passengers will also enjoy plenty of elbow room, because the two back chairs are mounted inboard of the fronts, but behind them is a boot that rates at a mere 85 litres - and even that meagre figure looks exceedingly optimistic. The cargo area, such as it is, appears as if it would swallow only a sheet of A3 card, at best, with a full complement of humans in the Jimny, so don't go imagining a chilled-out jaunt to Cornwall with the 4x4 loaded up with three mates and all your gear... unless you've gone for the top-rails option and a full roof box set-up, you bloody hero, you.

In truth, the 377-litre maximum boot capacity comes about when you fold the two rear seats down; this is easy enough to do and the backs of said seats are cleverly covered in tough plastic to prevent damage from any loads, but that does mean items can slide around willy-nilly if you start driving like Fangio. Indeed, practicality is not the Suzuki's strong point, as the cupholders in the front are small and the door pockets are laughably slender - you'll get a smartphone in them, and nothing more.

How does it drive?

Don't call this thing an SUV - it's not thrusting for that sort of buyer in the slightest. And also don't, god forbid, append the title 'crossover' to the Suzuki Jimny - it shares nothing with its relatives and isn't just a Heartect-based Baleno on stilts, nor a more rugged version of either the SX4 S-Cross or Vitara.

No, despite its diminutive cubism, this is a pukka 4x4. It has a body-on-ladder-frame chassis construction that speaks volumes of its serious off-road bias. That platform, repurposed from the Mk3 Jimny, has been reinforced with one central x-shaped and two straight cross-members, which serve to increase the off-roader's torsional rigidity. The Jimny comes with Allgrip Pro, Suzuki's meatier four-wheel-drive system, which equips a proper transfer 'box set-up that blesses the vehicle with 2H, 4H and 4L ratios, all accessed by the stubby lever mounted on the floor. The axles are solid and are coil-sprung all round, while the suspension also employs a three-link arrangement. Bushes mounted between the body and the ladder-frame aim to improve the Jimny's notoriously bouncy ride quality and bolster its on-road stability at speed. Bridgestone Dueler all-terrain 195/80R15 tyres are fitted and the 1,145kg Jimny has 211mm of ground clearance, as well as mighty approach, ramp breakover and departure angles of 37, 28 and 49 degrees, respectively. Both Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control are fitted, as is a clever torque-distributing brake LSD traction control system.

Thus, you shouldn't get this thing stuck off the tarmac, you really shouldn't. On a test course that was moderately challenging but which would have been so far beyond the remit of your painfully average B-segment crossover, such as the Kia Stonic, as to be comical, the Jimny just gaily romped around the course and felt like it could have taken on far tougher terrain without breaking sweat. It clambered up and down rocky slopes, it forded a stream strewn with some pretty formidable rocks, and it waded through a long, deep and boggy puddle like it was splashing through shallow standing water in a Tesco car park. Yup, the green-laning brigade who so revere a Jimny on a lift kit, telescopic dampers and some properly chunky rubber have an extraordinarily talented base vehicle to build upon here.

So that's the off-road fanatics satisfied. But the best news comes on metalled surfaces. Now, we are not about to say the Jimny is perfect here - in fact, it's a long way from perfect. It features recirculating ball steering, which is vague around the dead ahead but quite pleasantly weighted and moderately accurate once it is loaded up. There's a lot of body roll - and we mean 'a lot'. Cornering fast is simply not an option with the Jimny, because you'll run out of nerve long before the tyres start squealing, and they start squealing almost immediately. Large compressions in the road surface that are taken at speed betray the Suzuki's basic underpinnings, because its body control gets all out of sync in such situations and the 4x4 becomes momentarily bouncy like its forebears. The Jimny, in brilliantly perverse fashion, is rear-wheel drive when it's in 2WD high-ratio, so with its microcosmic 2.25-metre wheelbase, 1.6-metre width and 1.7-metre height, it can feel somewhat nervous in high-speed sweeping bends.

The so-so report card continues. The new 1.5-litre engine, which is 15 per cent lighter than the old Jimny's 1.3, might have received gains of 16hp and 20Nm, but quick, the Suzuki ain't. Thrash it through all four of the lower gears of the standard-fit five-speed manual (a four-speed auto is an option expected to be taken up by fewer than one-in-ten Jimny customers here - good) and you'll be struggling to breach 60mph in anything less than 12 seconds; presumably why the brand won't even quote an official 0-62mph time for the chunky little beauty. The top speed is 90mph and, on a German autobahn, with a whoppingly long run-up and a healthy dose of brave pills, we got within a few numbers of that... at which point the Jimny started to wander about alarmingly. Braking reasonably stiffly from said speed was also a hairy affair that caused us to involuntarily gibber, but don't worry too much about that, because if you hold 75mph on the motorway in fifth then the four-pot powerplant will be holding a rasping 3,750rpm, so you'll slow down purely for the sake of your ears.

And then, two days after we drove the Jimny, Euro NCAP announced that for all its DSBS - which includes Autonomous Emergency Braking, Traffic-Sign Recognition (a first for any Suzuki), Lane Departure Warning and Weaving Alert Function - it could only garner a three-star crash-test result. So, while it might be rugged in terms of its off-road prowess, it most certainly isn't massively rugged when it comes to adult occupant safety. It also doesn't have the best CO2 or taxation figures, considering its outputs of 101hp and 130Nm.

If all this sounds terminal to the Jimny's health... well, it isn't. Because you merely need to reattune to it, and stop trying to boot it down the road like it's some sort of tautly-sprung hot hatch. Don't ever bother revving it beyond 3,500rpm and the 1.5 stays admirably quiet and vibration-free. The five-speed gearbox has a really long throw, but the shift action is pleasingly mechanical and precise, so stirring it about the gate is a really enjoyable process. The weighting of the clutch, brake pedal and throttle are all absolutely ideal for the resources you're given. And the ride quality is excellent.

It's this last facet that wins the day. While it's not as refined as a crossover, only the most hard-hearted individual would say that the Mk4 Jimny was still deeply uncomfortable to travel in. Because it plainly isn't; in fact, it's hugely improved from the old one and no worse to drive on tarmac than any of the current crop of massive one-tonne pick-ups. As long as you don't get too exuberant with corner speeds or drive along truly abysmal road surfaces day in, day out, you should find the Suzuki's ride quality extremely palatable. It has good damping and supreme town-speed comfort, while at 60mph on the open road it's more than capable of loping along as if it were a 4.5-metre long executive car weighing more than 1,500 kilos. Even the wind and tyre noise, noticeable though they both are, have to be commended, because it's only at 75mph and above that the cabin of the Jimny becomes properly rowdy.

With its brilliant seating position, unbeatable visibility out in all directions, small footprint and decent suite of major controls, driving the Jimny smoothly at a pace that won't hold up every bit of traffic you encounter is as easy as pie. Indeed, the way to really appreciate this compact 4x4 is to wind down the window, plonk your elbow on the door, set the cruise control to 56mph and just amble along with one hand on the wheel, cheerfully revelling in an immense feelgood factor that no crossover or SUV we can think of could ever hope to match.

Oh, and if the Suzuki is just a boil-washed Defender, or the Borrowers' version of a Geländewagen, then it's miles better than either of these widely revered machines - think of it as a small version of the Land Rover, only with far more positive controls, much better ergonomics and a price tag that's ultra-attainable. Oh... and, almost certainly, a much better reliability record.

Verdict

If you coldly judge the Suzuki Jimny with your head alone, it'll still not be a car you opt for, over and above similar rivals like the set-square Renegade or the bargain basement but brilliant Dacia Duster - and that's even factoring in its likely sub-£20k price tag.

But not everyone is going to buy solely with their heads. And, clearly, the Jimny already has a lot of love in the buying public's hearts - 3,100 expressions of firm interest have been taken by Suzuki UK so far, ahead of its appearance in showrooms, and that demonstrates that the Tonka-Toy-writ-large looks have got people's attention.

No, the Jimny is not the most refined thing you could use as a daily driver - but it's more than amenable to ride in if you keep it smooth and it still has bags of off-road talent to spare. And it looks just how it looks. Flawed? Yes. A serious improvement on its predecessors? Yes. One of the best, most adorable cars we've driven in a year full of searing automotive talent? Yes. Without a shadow of a doubt.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

3 3 3 3 3 Luggage Space

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 22 Sep 2018









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