The first time you go face to face with the new, boxy-is-badass Jimny, you can’t help but wonder if it may be more of an acquired taste, more of a toy, more of a niche proposition. Its predecessor certainly was. Much loved by enthusiasts and endowed with off-road capability beyond your average compact SUV, it went well anywhere; except on motorways, where anything nearing 120 km/h was a stretch. Nope, in many respects the new Jimny seems like it’ll proffer more of the same, but then why-oh-why, after our first drive, was Motor’s inbox filled with messages from anyone and everyone – from young adults in their first paying job wanting to buy a new car, to retirees looking to downsize to a compact runaround – saying they want one?
Despite appearances, it’s clearly not a niche vehicle at all. The new Suzi is one of those rare creations that doesn’t encircle itself by being what it is, instead its rugged looks and enhanced utility helps transcend boundaries. At the launch there was a six-month waiting list, at the time of writing that had grown to eight months, goodness knows how long it’ll be once the critiques verdicts are in!? After lots of time with it, we genuinely didn’t mind many of its foibles, because, all told, the Jimny brings to light the very best of Japan’s culture of miniaturisation and simplification.
The all-terrainer has undergone its first major overhaul in two decades (the last Jimny was already a decade old when it finally went on sale SA in 2007) and the overhaul is far from cosmetic. They’ve given the little 4×4 a sharper exterior presence and more comfort and style on the inside. Gone is the Kei-car air scoop and smoothed off edges, instead, a redesigned grille and totally square front bumper with clamshell bonnet to give quite the confidence boost. The LED lamps front and rear (on top-spec GLs) have also been repositioned to decrease the risk of damage whilst driving off road, and we particularly like the look of the base-spec GA’s 15-inch steel wheels with their dark colour and deeper J. The Jimny wears an exposed full-sized spare on the rear so people will be looking at them.
As for the cabin, it’s all new, and modeled on a kind of retro-meets-modern off-roader design. A big grab handle takes pride of place in front of the passenger pew and GL models get touchscreen infotainment with Apple CarPlay and phone mirroring. Smart cloth seats are more comfortable than its predecessor’s and ISOFIX child-seat anchor points make it more practical than before. Unchanged is manual air-conditioning instead of climate control, and the base GA model (R265k) goes without remote central locking, electrically operated windows and mirrors. We love a good pared-down offering, don’t get us wrong, but the GA has been de-contended to the extreme: wind-down windows, manual mirrors and door unlock with a key!? Come on, in a world where Renault Sanderos come with touchscreen sat-nav, that’s just not going to fly. So, in theory, you’re going to have to cough up extra for the GL (R300k).
Do so and there’s no denying the Jimny is a superb vehicle; a tool, and we’re not being derogatory when we say that. It’s mobile utility in all its simplified glory and there is something wonderfully refreshing about a tool that does its job with no fuss or hesitation. As before, it has a robust body-on-frame, box-section chassis, rigid front and rear axles with coil spring suspension, a low-range transfer case and on-the-fly four-wheel drive. That’s all the serious 4×4 stuff you’re ever going to need in your downsized urban runaround, but it gets even better. The old model didn’t have a locking differential, and if you knew what you were doing you could drive around that deficiency, but now the clever clogs at Suzuki have equipped it with a halfway-house solution, a brake-based LSD. It’s not as good as a mechanical locker, of course, but it’s something to tell your mates in the pub.
Another something is its astonishing approach, departure and clearance angles, giving off-road cred that’s off the charts. 37-degree approach, 28-degree break over and 49-degree departure angles, besting the previous Jimny in all departments; and the old Suzi wasn’t exactly a MyCiti bus if you recall. Now, I’m no off-road expert by any stretch, but this job comes with a fair amount of 4x4ing as it turns out, and I begrudgingly do what’s required of me. Having said that, taking the Jimny on an off-road playground didn’t just prove its astonishing talents, it is great fun. Involving, easy-going, there are very few obstacles you can’t negotiate thanks to its nimbleness. You just find yourself going further and further off the beaten track, over strange topography, through obscure farm gates, into restricted-access areas and onto people’s private property. As it turns out, the Jimny is a great way to get yourself prosecuted for trespassing.
Even the relatively measly 75 kW/130 Nm from its 1.5-litre naturally aspirated engine is a bit more versatile when it comes to getting you places. The engine is 15% lighter, more efficient and more powerful than its 1.3-litre forbear, so some solid engineering went into it, and it’s good at surprising you. From thick sand, to steep hills, to heavy mud and challenging rocks, you name it and as long as you maintain momentum you’ll overcome it all. The low-range transfer case, relatively low mass and superb clearances all ensure exceptional 4×4 capability.
As much as we all love to love the new Jimny there are downsides to all that off-road versatility. With its slab-sided styling it has the on-road rolling resistance of an 18-wheeler, with wind noise at the A-pillar to match. No wonder it takes a claimed 13 seconds to get to 100 km/h and tops out at 140 km/h (not that you’ll ever have the patience to try it for yourself, well, we certainly didn’t). The new engine doesn’t sound all that refined either but on the whole it’s more comfortable than the old car on the road thanks to improved NVH. And like before, its diminutive size and flat edges make it a doddle to park, like you have size on your side. In that respect it’s almost an ideal urban car, and kind of gives downsizing a cool rep.
There’s no denying the new Suzuki Jimny is a terrific and unique little car. Simple, versatile, full of character and with loads more to offer than first appears on the surface. Those who’ll want it for its cute, diminutive nature won’t mind the utilitarian feel, and alternatively, those who respect its 4×4 capabilities won’t mind that others underestimate it from the get-go in the bush. We just love it for its boisterous attitude. The little Suzuki 4×4 that could!
In a nutshell
In a nutshell
Affordable, the best thing since sliced bread
Slow, missing a few airbags
Engine: 1 482 cc, 4-cylinder petrol
Power: 75 kW @ 6 000 rpm, 130 Nm @ 4 000 rpm
Performance tested: 0-100 km/h 13.0 sec, top speed 140 km/h
Tyres: 195/65 R15
Economy: 6.8 l/100 km (claimed)
Transmission: 5-speed manual
CO2 emissions: 154 g/km
Price: (starting from) R 299 900