Driven: Suzuki Jimny

The Suzuki Jimny might well be the most eagerly anticipated new car of 2019. This is certainly the case for those of us who hold the old model, which had been in production for a whopping 20 years, in such high esteem.

It was worth the wait because the new Jimny is utterly gorgeous. It’s a brilliant blend of retro and modern, taking its styling cues from the various Jimny models that have spanned the past five decades, along with the Mercedes G-Wagen and Land Rover Defender.  It doesn’t have a bad angle and is the perfect incantation of a modern, compact 4×4.

Nor is there much to criticize about its paper specification, either. Usually rear-wheel-drive, it features Suzuki’s ALLGRIP PRO transmission, which brings selectable four-wheel-drive to the party, along with a low-ratio gearbox for serious off-road use. All of which are selected via a proper, floor-mounted lever. None of your namby-pamby switches here.

Because, make no mistake: this is a vehicle that is aimed at the professional user who needs the Jimny’s impressive off-road competence in order to do their job. While Suzuki has made a nod to the rural driver for whom all-season mobility is important, anyone more used to a modern-day hatchback or SUV will find the Jimny something of an acquired taste.

Damning with faint praise? Possibly, but then neither the G-Wagen or Defender will appeal to anyone who’s looking for a fast, quiet motorway cruiser; they’re just as single-minded as the Jimny and both cost considerably more. While the Defender is now obviously only available on the second-hand market, a new Mercedes will set you back ten times more than the Suzuki.

Which brings us neatly to the matter of cost. The base model Jimny, the SZ4, costs £15,499 and is only available with a five-speed manual gearbox. Equipment levels are generous with air conditioning, cruise control, dual sensor brake support, CD player with DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity, and front foglamps as standard.

The top-of-the-range SZ5 costs £17,999 and adds alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, climate control, a decent navigation system that includes a smartphone Link, and heated front seats. The four-speed automatic gearbox attracts a £1,000 premium.

Available in six colour schemes, the metallic and two-tone paint options are extra too, so you could spend almost £20,000 if you had a mind to, which is quite a lot of money for something that isn’t terribly good on the motorway.

How bad is it? Well,  70mph is more comfortable than 80, but 60mph is probably the optimum cruising speed because the wind and mechanical noise is subdued enough at that point to let you chat with your passenger in relative comfort.

Who you’ll be sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with because the Jimny isn’t very wide. But two hefty motoring journalists found it comfortable enough when travelling together although it might be optimistic to view it as a four-seater; rear legroom is very tight and boot space is minuscule with the rear seats upright, although it does rise to 377 litres with them folded. I suspect most people will view the Jimny as a two-seater with a huge boot rather than as viable family transport.

For what it’s worth, I admire Suzuki for sticking to its guns and keeping the Jimny so small; too many great cars have been ruined over the years in the race to provide unnecessary internal volume. The Jimny’s diminutive size is one of its strongest suits, if for no other reason than it is a hoot in the city, where its absence of bulk and easily visible corners make it a doddle to fire through traffic and park in awkward spots.

However, the Jimny really shines when the tarmac stops and the mud and ruts start. In low-range and four-wheel-drive, the Jimny will crawl up almost any incline quite literally on tickover. Should a wheel start spinning, the sophisticated electronic limited-slip differential brakes it, seamlessly transferring torque to the wheel on the other side to ensure forward momentum isn’t interrupted.

It’s very effective, and we ambled over every obstacle Suzuki laid on for us without breaking sweat: this is where the agricultural ladder chassis and twin live-axle design really come into their own, allowing decent axle articulation when the going gets twisty.

Having the wheels positioned at each corner not only gives more interior space, it also gives the Jimny excellent approach and departure angles, allowing it to creep up and down some very steep slopes. If creeping up a hill on tickover is easy, descending is simplicity itself: simply engage Hill Descent Control and sit back with your feet planted firmly on the floor. The Jimny will amble its way slowly down even the steepest hill with no input from you bar the steering.

The new 1.5-litre, 100bhp petrol engine (no diesel is, or will be, available) is a nice enough thing, offering noticeably better performance than the outgoing model’s 1.3-litres. Performance figures weren’t available when we went to press but expect a (largely theoretical) top speed of around 90mph and a 0-62mph time that will have to be measured on a calendar rather than a stopwatch.

That the new Jimny’s compromised on-road performance ensures that it is something of a niche vehicle hasn’t stopped more than ten thousand people registering their interest in it already.

Yet, most of those people are going to be disappointed because only 600 have been allocated for sale here when it goes on sale in the first half of 2019. This means discounting will be unheard of and residual values should be rock-solid.

Suzuki puts the shortfall down to an unprecedented level of demand worldwide but also acknowledges that the car’s high CO emissions will leave it vulnerable to huge fines in 2020 when EU targets must be met; even if the supply problems could be overcome, the scale of the fines that could be levied means that the Jimny will never be sold here in the UK in anything like the volumes it probably could be.

But that’s by-the-by because those of us who crave a Jimny are going to do everything we can to get our grubby little mitts on one because it is sensationally good. Not objectively, where it would be easy to pick holes in just about every area of its on-road performance, but subjectively.

Subjectively, it’s the best new car you can buy for less than twenty grand, and those among you who were astute enough to put a deposit down sight-unseen deserve nothing but our admiration.

Carlton Boyce @motoringjourno

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Happiest in the snow, Carlton is an ex-police officer and prison governor who has migrated to the world of adventure travel via motoring journalism. Carlton drives boats and pickups with more enthusiasm than skill, and is currently working on his first novel in addition to his prison memoirs.

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