The Suzuki Jimny will be replaced in the near future – not, you might be forgiven for thinking, before time. It has been around in more or less its current form since 1998, and it wasn’t exactly at the cutting edge of automotive development even then. By today’s standards it’s in many ways a terrible car. Having just lived with one for three weeks, I can happily say there is almost nothing on the market I want to own less.
I would guess that this is a majority view, but it’s not a universal one. The Jimny has been worth persevering with in the UK because Suzuki can still shift over a thousand per year.
Okay, it takes Ford about four days to register the same number of Fiestas. That’s not the point. The point is that the Jimny has maintained, over two decades, a fan base whose members will certainly miss it when it’s gone.
There are two good reasons for this, and we’ll come to them in due course, but there’s plenty of space here to point out the car’s deficiencies before that. First of all, it’s taller than it is wide, which is a dynamic disaster. The Jimny feels unsure of itself on corners, as well it might, and with those slab sides it is badly affected by crosswinds.
Of almost all the cars I’ve driven, it’s the one in which I have felt most concerned about having a crash, and also about the consequences thereof. The Jimny has never been crashed tested by Euro NCAP, and if it had I suspect it would have become the first car to be given a zero-star rating long before the Fiat Punto did. It just doesn’t feel as if it would be able to withstand a major impact.
There isn’t much room inside. I can fit in the front okay, my right knee is almost constantly in contact with the driver’s door, as it used to be in Land Rover Defenders. Room in the back is very limited, while the luggage capacity, with all the seats in place, is just 113 litres. That’s 17 short of what you get in a Mazda MX-5, though of course folding down the rear seats brings the Jimny’s figure to a more respectable 816 litres.
The interior less than plush, though in the SZ4 you do get synthetic leather upholstery, which cheers the place up. The Pioneer radio, which can also play CDs if you still have any, has such small buttons that it’s almost impossible to use while you’re driving, which I suppose is a good thing in a way. Air-conditioning is standard on this model but not on the cheaper SZ3, which also has steel rather than alloy wheels.
The only engine available in the UK-spec Jimny is an 84bhp 1.3 petrol. It’s reasonably quiet when not being pushed, but pushing it is often required. The very unaerodynamic shape restricts the top speed to 87mph (or 3mph less if you go for the automatic transmission option) so even if you stick to the legal limit on a motorway you’re already using most of the potential performance.
Noise levels are not helped by the gearing. Fifth is low enough for you to be able to go up fairly steep gradients at 30mph, but it’s also the gear you need on the open road. At 70mph the engine is spinning round at 3600rpm and, because of the aerodynamic issue mentioned above, you need to use a lot of throttle, so as you can imagine it can sound a bit frantic.
(Incidentally, other road users may assume that the car can’t even go that quickly. People can become quite cross if you overtake them in a Jimny.)
I tell you what, though – visibility is splendid, perhaps even miraculous by 21st-century standards. Suzuki dropped the catch a bit by widening the lower part of the central pillars for no sensible reason, but even that doesn’t spoil the view entirely. If visibility is important to you and you bought almost any other car designed within the last twenty years, you made a big mistake.
That’s not enough to justify the Jimny on its own, of course. So far, this review has not mentioned anything that would do this. Why, then, do people still buy it?
I think there are two reasons. Possibly the more important is that it’s a very good town car. The height, which causes so much trouble when you’re driving in the country, makes the Jimny extremely easy to get into for people whose freedom of body movement isn’t all it might be.
It also means that, once you’re in, you have a good view. Reversing is a simple matter partly because you can see where you’re going and partly because the lack of length (the Jimny being not much over 12 feet from bumper to bumper) makes it very manoeuvrable at low speed.
The other major plus point is off-road ability. A few years ago I drove a Jimny – not exactly the same as this one but identical in all relevant respects – over a course designed for Land Rovers, fully expecting to have to call for assistance within the first two minutes. In fact it coped brilliantly. In a fanciful moment I almost thought it was asking me to try something more difficult.
Again, the fact that it’s so short is a big help here, as is the considerable ground clearance. Even more crucial is the part-time four-wheel drive system.
This is controlled by three buttons on the dashboard. One gives you two-wheel drive, another four-wheel drive and a third four-wheel drive with lower gear ratios. Only the first is practical for tarmac use because there is no central differential, and if you try to turn a very tight corner on a grippy surface with the axles linked together the car will grind to a standstill.
On mud or what have you, the system works very well, and makes the Jimny a cheap and effective off-roader for people who need a car like that, or a merely enjoyable one for the rest of us. As stated above, it can also suit the elderly or infirm who never drive anywhere with a speed limit above 30mph.
There is no place in my life for a car of which these are the best things that can be said. Then again, other people have different lifestyles, and I can quite see how a thousand of them decide every year that what they really need is a new Jimny.
Engine size 1328cc
Top speed 87mph
0-62mph 14.1 seconds
Fuel economy 39.8mpg combined
CO2 emissions 162g/km
Euro NCAP not tested
Information correct at publication date