Whether hobbyhorse, or workhorse, the Suzuki Jimny (SJ) is an unique mode of transport, highlights Iain Robertson, that has created a remarkable reaction in comfortably less than a year, to become the ‘must-have’ off-roader of choice.
Would that there were as many ancillary inventors these days, as there were during the advent of the earliest Jeeps and Land Rovers. In reality, the numbers available from Suzuki are about the same as both the US and British 4x4 makers managed to introduce together and there was a not dissimilar reaction to them during the late-1940s and throughout the 1950s. Enterprising Scotsman, James Cuthbertson, had already developed the endless rubber belt, before turning his hand to developing a ‘caterpillar’-tracked version of the Land Rover in 1958 that could tackle waist-deep muddy marshland and deep snow, let alone otherwise impassable terrain. I knew his grandson very well.
It was one of many intriguing developments, including lightweight military versions that could be parachuted into trouble-spots, or off-road ambulances, forestry management vehicles and replacements for age-old Austin Gypsies capable of reaching the remotest farming locations. In fact, an entire industry grew up around the original Land Rover that could equally support the SJ in all of its potential roles. Yet, with the rapid growth of the 4x4 leisure scene, whether towing boats up slippery slipways, serving the needs of the outdoor sports sector, or carrying out competitive safaris, both Land Rover and Jeep have percolated to the top of the 4x4 charts…with SJ following like a naughty schoolboy, compete with shorts and peaked cap.
Always a popular little thing, the baby ‘Jeep’ that, through various SJ designations from SJ80 to SJ413 and latterly Jimny, has formed a vital pillar of Suzuki’s UK model presence really came of age at the end of last year, when making its most recent debut. Innumerable sneak previews had already warmed up the market to ensure that Suzuki could not deny the new model’s existence and thanks to an alluring blend of G-Wagen, Defender and, naturally, Suzuki design cues, to state that it performed an Usain Bolt off the starting-blocks would be an understatement.
In fact, the unceasing demand for Jimny, most of which has been remarkably patient, has led to an order bank for Suzuki GB that extends presently to October 2020! The company has performed all manner of logistical gymnastics in a friable attempt to place more models into the market from its allotted annual allowance but the list continues to grow. In many ways, had it been more freely available (the Japanese factory is working flat-out and is at its maximum production capabilities), Suzuki could have made a mint from the UK farming community alone.
As my first post-launch opportunity to drive the SJ, I have to tell you that it is everything that you would expect an off-road biased machine to be. Its on-road manners are best described as ‘acceptable’…the steering works but it wanders…the brakes are efficient but can be ‘grabby’…its stability is hindered by suspension ‘float’ (to provide a better off-road ride quality)…and its cabin is cramped. However, you soon forgive its idiosyncrasies, because SJ is charming to a fault and it has been a long time since any car that I have driven (even some ‘exotics’) has attracted so much attention, all of which has been positive.
Fitting easily into a sub-4.0m classification, SJ is small. However, with a ground clearance of 210mm and minimal frontal and rear overhangs that allow an obstacle approach angle of 37-degrees, a ramp breakover angle of 28-degrees and a departure angle of an amazing 49-degrees, limited only by its lovely 15.0-inch diameter light alloy wheels (clad in 195/80 section multi-surface tyres), anywhere a Landy, or a Jeep might venture, the SJ can follow suit and, thanks to a kerbweight of just over 1.1-tonnes, can overhaul and leave its bigger and heftier rivals floundering. Suspended purposefully on coils all-around and three-link located rigid axles, the SJ can be flicked between rear and all-wheel drive on the move, with a transfer gearbox (for selection of which the driver must stop, naturally) of significantly shorter ratios for the truly tricky stuff, its multi-surface credentials are underscored.
SJ’s carrying capacity is compromised but it feels more cabin spacious than the American Jeep Wrangler I tested earlier this year, an aspect enhanced by the relatively glassy upper body, with its stylish but practical dips in the door-glazing. The boot is briefcase manageable but the twin rear seats flop forwards and completely flat to create a two-bale capacity for outlying feed and shed comfort purposes. Jimny is an eminently practical little thing that is perfectly suited to serving the needs of agricultural, smallholding, or equine customers. That it is so easy, well-equipped and uncomplicated to drive, possessing a fabulously tight turning-circle and wondrously compliant suspension, is much to its credit. Its top speed is given as 90mph, with 0-60mph possible in around 11.5s, returning upwards of 40.8mpg and emitting CO2 at 178g/km (WLTP figures).
Interestingly, the normally aspirated and (frankly) bored-sounding 1.5-litre 16v petrol four-cylinder engine develops a modest 99bhp, allied to a peaky 95lbs ft of torque. Hooked up to a 5-speed manual gearbox, it has no difficulty in charging up hills in the higher ratios. Due to shortage of really tricky routes (insufficient rain!), I did not manage to test the lower set in the transfer ’box but I recall from a gruelling off-road ground test exercise held late last year that it is more than capable of that task too.
SJ can serve equally satisfyingly in either work, or fun modes and I would defy you not to smile every time you see it or drive it. It is one of those landmark motor vehicles that is tough enough to provide unerringly dependable service, while filling a space far larger than its dimensions insist is feasible. What’s not to love about the Suzuki Jimny, costing comfortably less than half the price of a Defender, or Wrangler? Displaying diminutive but practical dimensions in a delight-packed, off-road package, the Suzuki Jimny is the most affordable and purposefully competent 4x4 on sale today…it’s just that you might have to wait a bit for one to become freely available.