Suzuki hasn’t dropped the ball with its fourth-generation Jimny. In fact, it might be the best small 4×4 we’ve ever driven
What we liked:
• Tonnes of character
• Fantastic off-road talents
• Much better on-road than before
Not so much:
• Slightly vague steering
• Unusual cornering manners
• 1.5-litre engine can get loud
How do you reinvent a legend? That was enormous task Suzuki had to tackle when it came time to create its fourth-generation Jimny 4×4. So the Japanese company looked to all three of the Jimny’s predecessors, dating right back to 1970, for inspiration – and come up with a hugely appealing box-on-wheels that is both suitably retro and charmingly modern. Best of all, advancements in onboard and chassis technology mean that not only is the new Suzuki Jimny as ridiculously capable off-road as it has ever been, it’s now also a whole lot better to drive on the road too.
‘Legend’ might seem like a strong word for a small, affordable 4×4 from one of the world’s niche car manufacturers, but it somehow seems wholly appropriate for the Suzuki Jimny.
Accompanied by the dusted-off Sierra badge in Australia these days, the Jimny nameplate has been widely used since 1998 and can trace its roots right back to 1970 and the LJ10/LJ20 (1970-1981), followed by the SJ410/SJ413 (1981-1998).
That’s nearly 50 years of Jimny production, during which time 2.85 million units have been sold worldwide over just three generations.
Whereas the vast majority of car models these days last five or six years at most in any given generation, both the Mk2 and Mk3 Jimnys had at least 17 years apiece to win friends and influence people.
The long-standing appeal of the little two-door, four-seat Suzuki 4×4 has always been its simplicity and charm. Think of it as a shrunken Land Rover Defender or Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen and you’re on the right track to appreciating the ladder-frame Jimny a whole lot more.
There has never been any pretension to comfort or ‘lifestyle’ choices with this vehicle, or pandering to the now-widespread idea that 4x4s don’t need four-wheel drive, low-range or a separate chassis, and don’t necessarily ever get their tyres dirty.
This is a rugged off-roader, albeit a tiny one, which means that to append the terms of either ‘SUV’ or – perish the thought – ‘crossover’ to the Jimny would be tantamount to insult.
However, there’s little doubt the Mk4 Suzuki Jimny is sure to win wider appeal with customers than just the sort of people who need a vehicle that can handle rough-trail driving; the chief weapon in its arsenal here being the way it looks.
Blimey, Suzuki has got this about as spot on as spot on can be. Ever since images of it leaked ahead of the launch, it has been clear that the designers had smashed it out of the park by going for a set-square approach to the Jimny’s appearance.
And, when you’re up close and personal with it, the cubist form of the Suzuki is impossible to fault.
It’s also cleverly self-referential in terms of the Jimny’s heritage, without ever coming across as a lazy rehash of what went before.
So the round headlights and separate indicators are a feature it shares with the original LJ10. The clamshell bonnet and the twin horizontal side-strakes that sit just aft of its shut line at the base of the A-pillar, are pure SJ410.
Its five-bar grille and generally less utilitarian looks are where it clearly demonstrates touches of the Mk3’s DNA.
And yet the Mk4 Suzuki Jimny has a strong, loveable identity all of its own, neither being too cute to discourage the off-road brigade nor too boringly rugged to dissuade tarmac drivers to give it a swerve. It is, in short, just about perfect aesthetically.
Inside, it’s a functional interior in harder, wipe-down plastics, but it’s certainly not without appeal.
The Jimny’s driving position, for instance, is excellent, striking the balance between sitting high above the road for maximum visibility without feeling like you’re teetering around on a bar stool when you’re negotiating corners.
The key tactile points, like the leather-bound steering wheel – lifted from the Swift – and the column stalks, are excellent and the 7.0-inch touch-screen infotainment on plusher models is fine, too.
We particularly like the cubic housings for the instrument cluster dials. You’ll also notice there’s a grab bar on the passenger side and plastic-backed rear seats, which can be folded down to give the Jimny 377 litres of boot space in two-seat configuration — 53 litres more than the old one.
Standard equipment levels have also been ramped up, so all Australian models should gain at least Suzuki’s Dual Sensor Brake Support safety system (including autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, Weaving Alert Function and, in a first for the marque, Traffic Sign Recognition), plus air-conditioning, Bluetooth and cruise control.
Climate control, LED headlights 15-inch alloys and full sat-nav should all feature on the higher grades.
The oily bits
Before we come to the on-road driving experience, which has traditionally always been the Jimny’s weak spot, a word on the 4×4’s rock-climbing capabilities.
First of all, it doesn’t sit on some variant of the Heartect platform that underpins its more refined siblings like the Swift, Baleno and Ignis; rather, it uses a development of the ladder-frame chassis of the old Jimny, only now with the addition of two further cross-members and an ‘x-member’ at its centre.
This gives the new Suzuki Jimny increased torsional rigidity, which should improve on- and off-road handling, as well as refinement and safety.
Suspension is provided by a pair of three-link rigid axles with coil-spring suspension all round, while a brake LSD traction control system means slipping wheels are automatically controlled by the stoppers to redistribute torque across an axle and help the Suzuki maintain traction.
It’s also equipped with both Hill Hold Control and Hill Descent Control, to ensure that steep inclines and hairy descents conducted away from metalled surfaces are dealt with in an easy manner.
Even accounting for the added electronics that might look like a sop to off-road duties rather than truly useful hardware, many of you will no doubt be relieved to hear that the Jimny is still packing some serious 4×4 kit and stats.
This includes a proper transfer ‘box for the part-time Suzuki Allgrip Pro four-wheel-drive system that allows for shifting on-the-fly between 2H (two-wheel drive high-range) and 4H (four-wheel drive high-range) at speeds of up to 100km/h, while there’s a proper 4L (4WD low-range) crawler arrangement to play with too.
All-terrain tyres are skinny 195s with a chunky 80-profile sidewall, while the short, boxy looks mean the Jimny achieves approach, ramp breakover and departure angles of 37, 28 and 49 degrees, respectively. Ground clearance is rated at 211mm.
While we’re on the mechanics, Suzuki has launched a new 1.5-litre ‘K15B’ normally-aspirated 16-valve four-cylinder petrol engine for the Jimny.
It delivers 75kW of power at 6000rpm and 130Nm of torque at 4000rpm, which are useful increases on the old 1.3-litre model’s 62.5kW and 110Nm, but nevertheless they’re not exactly ground-breaking numbers in this forced-induction age.
However, despite being physically larger, the 1.5-litre unit is actually 15 per cent lighter than the 1.3 it supersedes and so the fuel economy and emissions of the 4×4 are improved.
Power is transmitted to the wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic and if the Jimny is running in 2WD mode then it’s the rear wheels providing the driving force – as on the old model.
That extra structural rigidity in the chassis we mentioned earlier should mean the Jimny is far more pleasant to deal with on the road than it was before, while eight rubber body mounts positioned between the ladder frame and the upper body have been significantly retuned to improve both ride comfort and stability. And, by jingo, it has worked.
On the road
While it is by no means perfect on the road, or even anything like as refined as a similarly-sized crossover, the Jimny is so much more palatable to drive.
Ride quality is the big winner, although big compressions in the road will still have the two-piece construction of the Jimny bouncing up and down in an uncontrolled fashion.
But these events are fewer and further between and the new Jimny is never harsh, nor particularly wayward, tracking a true line with little need for regular steering corrections as in the old model.
Talking of which, the recirculating-ball steering is somewhat imprecise and vague but, again, it’s nothing like as imprecise and vague as the worm-and-roller set-up of a Defender and it’s leagues ahead of the horror-show equipment that Mercedes used to fit to the old G-Wagen.
Put it this way, the steering is the new Jimny’s main dynamic weak point on tarmac, but it’s no worse than what you’d find in most one-tonne pick-ups, to be honest.
The 1.5-litre engine isn’t quick – Suzuki won’t even quote a 0-100km/h time for it, although we’d be mighty surprised if it can get anywhere near 12 seconds – and it gets very loud in tone up at and beyond 4000rpm.
But it doesn’t actually transmit any vibrations into the cabin and it’ll rev out cleanly to 6000rpm if you need it to.
Better is the crisp throttle response; this allows you to drive the Jimny really smoothly, bolstered by a five-speed gearbox that might well be long of throw, given how high above it you sit, but which has a lovely, precise and mechanical shift action.
Yes, there’s a lot of body roll. Yes, at freeway speeds it’s geared to do about 3700rpm in top. Yes, the bluff front-end car means wind noise is elevated (albeit not appalling). Yes, it can get a bit squirrelly under hard braking. And yes, at-the-limit handling is rather, um… unusual.
But these are minor gripes for a small 4×4 with big off-road capability. In truth, the key to enjoying the Jimny is never to hurl it into bends and never to go beyond 3500rpm. Instead, short-shift your way up to 100km/h and then just stay there. You’ll adore it if driven in such a fashion.
Off-road, the new Suzuki Jimny is sensational, but while our test route was long and involved some decent axle articulation testing and a bit of serious mud-plugging, it felt like the Jimny could have taken an awful lot more punishment.
That’s testament to its ability, as we employed both 4H and 4L for various scenarios, while also sampling the excellent Hill Start Assist and the tried-and-tested Hill Descent Control.
The Jimny’s foursquare dimensions and large glasshouse mean it is a cinch to place it with millimetre accuracy, so the off-road diehard fans of this car should not be put off by its vastly improved on-road manners.
Now the bad news
Two things hold us back from singing the Jimny’s praises all the higher than we already have. The first is the car’s safety rating.
While it is fitted with more driver-assist toys than ever – both for on- and off-road driving, leading Suzuki to claim it is the most technologically-advanced version of its iconic 4×4 yet – the Jimny recently picked up a very middling three-star crash safety rating from Euro NCAP.
The stiffer chassis and more active and passive safety gear undoubtedly make it a safer vehicle than its predecessor, which was never tested by NCAP, but the new model’s sub-standard Euro NCAP safety rating is likely to continue under Australia’s ANCAP regime.
The second question mark is the price. Australian pricing is yet to be announced before the new Suzuki Jimny arrives in local showrooms in late January, so we don’t yet have an accurate indication of where it will be positioned.
But we do know it will be more expensive and more limited than before. Expect a higher starting price than the old model’s ($21,990) and perhaps two equipment grades, with the auto again adding $2000 and topping out closer to $30,000 (plus on-road costs).
And expect supplies to be limited, given the massive pre-launch interest both in Australia and globally.
So the new Suzuki Jimny will command long waiting lists and won’t be the bargain it was before, but that’s no real surprise because the first full remake in almost two decades is easily the best generation of all so far.
Totally unlike any compact SUV – not only in its appearance, but its chassis and drivetrain configuration – Suzuki’s newest model won’t be for all tastes.
But it’s clear the new Suzuki Jimny will find a much wider audience than any of the previous generations that have been sold for nigh-on half a century and we simply can’t wait to test is back here in Australia.
Legend? Yeah, it’s a strong word. But if any 2019 car is deserving of such an epithet, this unapologetic, no-nonsense little machine is it.
How much does the 2019 Suzuki Jimny cost?
On sale: January 2019
Price: From $27,990 (estimated)
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Fuel: 6.8L/100km (NEDC)
CO2: 154g/km (NEDC)
Safety rating: Three-star (Euro NCAP)