Despite reports to the contrary, some aspects of the UK motor industry are in a vibrant state, suggests Iain Robertson, not least the SUV sector, which, for Suzuki, means that its latest and potentially most exciting newcomer is simply unavailable!
Apart from McLaren, the British supercar manufacturer, only Suzuki, the Japanese compact carmaker, can boast a new model sell-out situation, which means that I might as well get my coat and ignore the car altogether. When the man responsible for the Suzuki brand in the UK, Dale Wyatt, bounds onto the stage (at the recent media launch exercise) and begs: “Don’t tell any more people about our new Jimny, because we cannot get enough of them!”, believe me, when I tell you that I was simply going to post some pictures here!
Unlike Suzuki GB, I am not going to make any excuses. The newest Jimny goes on sale in January 2019 but every single one of the first allocation of c.700 UK models has already been sold out. In fact, it is quite likely that the first year’s supply of around 1,700 examples has already found customers, even before they knew what they were buying. Therefore, it is fortunate indeed that the first handful of Jimnys was made available to members of Her Majesty’s Motoring Media, before they, too, are despatched to Suzuki’s UK dealer network for use as demonstrators (the cars, not the motoring writers).
While the new Jimny is not exactly an archetypal business vehicle, there are businesses that need an indefatigable off-roader. Some of them are used extensively by business people indulging in hunting, or off-road adventures. However, the agricultural community is a vital business sector that Suzuki ought to be working feverishly.
Thanks to an unprecedented worldwide demand for the new Jimny, the factory finds itself in both an enviable and an unenviable position: enviable, because any manufacturer would love to experience it; unenviable, because no manufacturer wants to upset its potential customers by not being able to deliver to demand. The ideal scenario is always to have a waiting list of one. Sadly, the factory cannot produce enough of them.
Just to remind you, the Jimny is only the fourth-generation model of a line that commenced in 1970 and has sold 2.85m examples worldwide. The outgoing Jimny has been on sale for twenty years (42,000 sold in the UK alone), which means that the latest version has enjoyed a two decades’ gestation period; the longest of any modern car.
Despite its relative modernity, Suzuki has refused resolutely to alter the premise for Jimny’s existence. Yes, it features (on top SZ5 versions) a comprehensive range of driver and safety aids, some of which are EU stipulations, with others that could become so. However, its unique stance, as the ultimate, lightweight, go-anywhere 4x4 vehicle has been polished to pinnacle levels. Every element has been pushed up a grade, although the Jimny retains essentially the same, simple, giant-killer capability that it has possessed since inception.
Quite how it can have become THE most-talked-about, THE most-pre-launch-publicised, THE biggest-Internet-sensation-in-automotive-terms is a genuine shock, not least to Suzuki. There is no denying its quirky appeal. There is no denying its indefatigable off-road competence, or its vastly improved on-road performance. Yet, in reality, it is one of the least technologically-encumbered motorcars in existence.
Its new fuel-injected, four-cylinder engine displacement has increased by 200cc to 1.5-litres, although it weighs 15% less and the power is up to 99bhp, accompanied by a 95lbs ft slug of torque. It drives through a five-speed manual transmission (or optional 4-speed automatic) that features a separate low-range transfer gearbox (complete with selection lever). Known as AllGrip PRO, this tradition is inherent to the serious off-roader’s need for better control and gifts the Jimny with an off-road, lightweight (1,135kgs) prowess that is unbeatable. It possesses NO rivals.
Taller and marginally wider than before, the new car is actually 30mm shorter, with a wheel-at-each-corner that enhances stability and gifts the Jimny approach, breakover and departure angles off-road to make a sorely overpriced Jeep Wrangler quake in its oversized boots. The dip in the leading edge of the side windows also improves outward visibility and enhances the flat bonnet and readily judged four corners of the car. I would have loved to supplement this with a Land Rover Defender equivalent but JLR deserted this segment a few years ago and is still wrangling with a potential Defender replacement.
While the manual version shone like a crazy diamond on Stoneleigh Park’s tortuously defiant off-road course, despite wearing road tyres and not chunkier M&S covers, I elected to drive the automatic version on-road. Whereas the previous generation Jimny is not a car in which you might relish longer treks, the new version, geared at 20mph/1,000rpm in top, is a more relaxed and roomier proposition. The performance figures (auto in brackets) remain modest: 90mph top speed (87mph), 0-60mph in 12.3s (12.8s), 154g/km CO2 under NEDC rules (170g/km), Official Combined fuel consumption of 41.5mpg (37.7mpg).
As a supplement to its vastly improved on-road manners, despite some criticism you may have read elsewhere about Jimny’s straight-line stability, it uses a recirculating-ball steering system, as opposed to a potentially more accurate rack-and-pinion type, but displays no waywardness, even at motorway speeds. The steering ‘box’ is far superior in an off-road environment, as it provides less kickback to the driver’s hands and improves the accuracy of intended travel. The ride quality on its standard friction dampers and coil spring set-up is satisfyingly smooth for a ‘puddle-jumper’, while the disc (f), drum (r) braking system uses its electronic traction control vectoring for good on-road and off-road reliance.
Driven by its innate sense of practicality, interior surfaces are tough and wipe-clean, while the offside-hinged, side-opening rear door (upon which the spare wheel/tyre is suspended) reveals a completely flat load deck, once the back pair of seats is flopped forwards (830-litres of space), capable of carrying a bale of straw and more besides. The dashboard features a solid grab-handle for the front seat passenger in a comfortable cabin, with space for a pair of rear seat occupants.
Despite the Jimny’s sense of purpose, its more emotive aspects include its cutesy design, which is painfully tidy and eminently desirable. It looks more like a downsized Merc Gelaendewagen (prices starting around £125k!), albeit with a hint of ‘fat-boy’ styling to its bold wheel-arches and an abundance of past Suzuki styling hints. Two trim levels are available, with list prices pitched at £750 more than the previous generation, reflecting a vastly improved specification, an SZ4 starts at £15,499, while the SZ5 is £17,999, the automatic variant adding a further £1,000. The colour palette consists of white, silver and black, with SZ5 variants available additionally in the vibrant Kinetic Yellow, Ivory and Brisk Blue with a contrasting black roof panel. Sadly, there is no red option but, as you cannot get a new Jimny in any case, it hardly seems to matter!
Seldom has a new car generated such a wave of fascination, as the latest Suzuki Jimny. It is a tough and largely uncompromising car, considering its on/off-road compromise stance. However, if you really desire one (and a lot of people do, it would seem), then you are just going to have to wait!