The Jimny is the archetypal mountain goat – hardy and able to go almost anywhere. Can the latest one continue the tradition and add some finesse?
On the road
On the road
It’s fair to say that the Suzuki Jimny is unique in the UK marketplace, because it’s a small, robust 4x4 with iconic boxy styling and go-anywhere ability to match the best in the business.
This is only the fourth generation of Jimny, which is incredible for a car that will next year celebrate a half-century since the first one was launched.
1. There’s no other car for even double the price that prompts so much conversation. Everyone seems to know what it is and wants to know what it’s like.
2. Our test car was a fairly subtle colour, but the Suzuki can carry off a bright yellow with ease.
3. An annoyance with many three-door cars also afflicts the Jimny – the front seat doesn’t slide back to where it was set after being tilted forward for rear access.
The new car’s remit is that it “crafts together simplicity, functional beauty and 4WD technology” for the benefit of both off-road professionals and city users. It’s a tiny, and lightweight little car that’s actually 30mm shorter than its predecessor, although it is 45mm wider and 20mm taller. The styling takes plenty of cues from past Jimnys, including the round headlamps with stand-alone indicators, vertical openings in the grille and the rear light combination, which has been moved down into the bumper to allow the rear door to open wider.
The looks are a real return to form after the more anonymous third-generation model, and the new car oozes character and likeability; it’s one of those rare cars that attracts universal enthusiasm. That overriding emotion seems to make some of the flaws more forgiveable in the eyes of many, with practicality and on-road performance below that expected of more mainstream models. But we’ll get to that shortly.
The range is very simple, in that there’s only one engine choice and just two trim levels, while there is the option of a four-speed automatic gearbox on the higher of the two, alongside the five-speed manual.
The power comes from a new 1.5-litre 101hp petrol engine that has an emissions figure of 154g/km on the manual. This compares well with the 85hp unit powering the previous Jimny, which emitted 8g/km more. The automatic gearbox adds 16g/km, as well as £1000 to the price tag, so is probably best left alone.
There’s a £2000 price difference between the SZ4 and SZ5 trim levels, although the latter adds a lot of kit for that money. All versions have air-conditioning, cruise control, automatic headlights with high beam assist, and selectable four-wheel drive with a low-ratio setting for serious off-roading. Stepping up to the SZ5 adds a stack of extra kit, including alloys instead of steel wheels, sat-nav, climate control, heated front seats and a leather steering wheel.
One less positive thing to note is that the Jimny was criticised by EuroNCAP when it crash-tested the car, awarding it just three stars. The crash test body had concerns that included the Dual Sensor Brake Support autonomous emergency braking system fitted as standard not working well in poor light or in terms of spotting pedestrians.
The range is option-free, apart from paint choices, of which there is a wider selection, including a two-tone with black metallic roof on the higher SZ5 trim, which also gets body-coloured door handles and mirror housing, though the wheel arches remain chunky black plastic. Which is good.
The look of the outside, which could be described as stylish in a very utilitarian way – follows through to the interior, where everything feels hard and durable. It’s tough, but forgivably so because it gives the impression it will put up with all manner of abuse. The seats are comfortable though narrow thanks to the car’s compact dimensions – the Jimny is 90mm narrower than a Ford Fiesta – and much of the interior feels almost like a car shrunk to three-quarter scale. Such as the inch-wide door bins, for example. The long-throw gear-lever with its rippled gaiter looks a bit like it’s come straight from the 1980s, and there is exposed bodywork in the rear. However, all of this seems to add to the charm rather than being a criticism.
The Japanese brand says all the switchgear is designed to be durable and is chunky enough to be operated while wearing gloves. It is all straightforward and workmanlike rather than elegant, but fits the context well.
But there’s no getting away from the compromised packaging if you want to run a Jimny as everyday transport. Firstly, there’s the basic choice of either rear seats or boot, because there’s a tiny 85-litre area behind the rear seats when you open the big rear door. Drop the rear seats, which have a durable rubber cover to protect them, and the space goes up to 377 litres to the top of the seats, or 830 to the roof. That’s plenty in terms of actual space, but because it’s not a boot in the traditional sense, anything small will roll around and end up falling into the gap between the folded seats and the front seats into the rear footwell. So it’ll be fine for bigger loads, but shopping bags may not be the easiest to transport.
With the rear seats folded up, which is a lightweight and simple task, there is plenty of headroom in the back, although shoulder and legroom are compromised. It’s not really a car for four adults.
The characterful workhorse image of the exterior and interior also translates to the driving experience. The 1.5-litre engine is fairly perky, but not the quietest under acceleration, and cruises happily but vocally at motorway speeds in a way that says it can do it, but long runs wouldn’t be the most appealing of prospects. The light steering and body roll dissuade from enthusiastic cornering, although the chassis is more secure and capable than the aforementioned features make it feel. Come in to a corner too fast and the shortage of steering feel makes it feel like something bad might be about to happen, but the Jimny takes it in its stride more than expected. Just don’t be in a hurry and it’s all more than fine, especially with the decent ride quality. Manoeuvring the Jimny is easy, because there’s a big glass area for decent visibility, light steering and, even for such a small car, a very tight turning circle.
But the on-road performance is only part of the story, with the car’s ladder-frame chassis retained to optimise off-road ability, helped by the compact dimensions and short overhangs. According to Suzuki, the Jimny incorporates the four “essentials for serious off-roading”: ladder frame, three excellent clearance angles, three-link rigid axle suspension with coil springs and part-time four-wheel drive with low-range transfer gear. It will switch from two- to four-wheel drive at up to 62mph, and into low-range at a standstill. And is capable of things a tiny 100hp car shouldn’t be able to do when it heads off-road.
The question of rivals is a tricky one, because there’s nothing quite like the Jimny. In the same way Mazda has carved a niche with its MX-5, the Jimny is unique in its mountain goat capabilities and Tonka toy looks. The Fiat Panda Cross 4x4 is another small car with all-wheel drive that, while not purpose-built for getting dirty, is as close as it gets to a rival, while Dacia’s new Duster is a cheap car with four-wheel drive, though nowhere near as capable off-road. The compact crossover camp could be represented by Citroen’s C3 Aircross, which can be optioned with the Grip Control system for £400 to give it some degree of off-road ability. But none is a very close rival.
The Jimny’s excellent residual values outpoint any of those rivals, although it is also slightly more expensive in this higher trim level, and there’s a big emissions gap to the 109g/km C3 Aircross and 130g/km Panda 4x4, even if the Suzuki is more efficient than the Duster. A slightly higher insurance group also pushes the Jimny to a cost-per-mile figure above the nearest things it has to a rival. Still, in some ways it’s in a class of one, and even though it’s flawed and compromised in many ways, for the tasks at which it excels, there is nothing that gets close to its abilities, style or all-round charm.
The Suzuki Jimny was first conceived as a four-wheel drive mini-car to get places cars couldn’t previously go.
Development began in 1968, and the process included dropping it from a metre high onto the volcanic sands of Mount Fuji to test durability.
This compact three-seater weighed just 600kg when it became the first mass-produced four-wheel drive model in Japan’s mini-car category in March 1970. The model known as LJ10 evolved to meet customer requests, with an LJ20 appearing in 1972, equipped with a water-cooled engine and an enhanced heater for use in snowy regions.
The second-generation Jimny ran from 1981 to 1998, with the SJ413 model in 1984 aimed at taking on the global market, with long-wheelbase, wide-track, pick-up and canvas-roofed models among the various developments.
The third generation (pictured) ran from 1998 to last year, and although it improved on-road behaviour, it lost a little of the Jimny’s individuality. Overall, the third-generation car hit 918,000 sales in its 20-year life, for a grand total over the past 49 years of 2,854,000 across 194 countries.
What they said
What They Said
"Suzuki GB is very proud to have the all-new Jimny land in the UK after the remarkable 20-year lifespan of the previous-generation model.
With its record-breaking residual value recently set by Cap HPI (the car was awarded 61% after 30,000 miles and 36 months), the new Suzuki Jimny will undoubtedly be in record demand.
The car and the response to it have taken us by pleasant surprise and with only around 1200 units coming into the country in 2019, demand is certainly set to considerably outstrip supply for the foreseeable future."
Graeme Jenkins, head of fleet, Suzuki GB
Need to know
Three things we like...
The styling manages to be attractive, purposeful and cute at once
Not many cars feature approach angles so prominently in its brochure
The gutter drip tray keeps rainwater out of the car when you open the door
...And one we don't
Luckily it’s rare to find a car where you have to choose between rear seats and boot
The Jimny is built with big-style off-road ability in mind, which compromises the on-road drive, although comfort is decent.
There’s only one petrol engine, and it can’t match the efficiency of more on-road focused rivals’. It isn’t helped by the 4x4 system.
Practicality is excellent – in terms of getting to remote places in bad conditions; getting four people and/or a week’s shop in is a different matter.
The higher trim level in particular is well priced, because it gets alloys, sat-nav, heated front seats, climate control and plenty more.
Suzuki has pitched its little 4x4 perfectly from a styling viewpoint. It looks great.
Comfort and refinement 6/10
It’s not the quietest engine under acceleration or at speed, and there’s loads of body roll, but it takes bumps pretty well.
It’s all hard, durable plastic, but it’ll stand up to a tough day as a result. The controls are designed to be used while bumping off-road or with gloves on, showing where Suzuki sees the Jimny’s home.
The system is fine as far as it goes, but having a volume slider to the side, rather than a regular knob is an unnecessary irritation.
Whole life costs 7/10
A mixed bag. Excellent residual value contradicts a high insurance group, and while efficiency harms fuel consumption, the SMR is good.
CCT opinion 8/10
A flawed car in many ways, and a peerless one in others.
Not a core fleet car, but one that is capable of doing what nothing else can at this price point in terms of accessing remote locations. While also looking like a cult classic.