Features: 60 / 100
Look/Design: 60 / 100
Performance: 60 / 100
Safety: 50 / 100
There’s a saying that goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix.” Some car companies have taken this a little further to: “If it ain’t broke, refine it.” The Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus are perfect examples. The basic formula hasn’t changed much for the last three iterations, but has been refined immensely. Suzuki though, has taken the first saying to heart with the Jimny. In fact, after some research on the Jimny, I found that the basic formula has stayed the same since 1998. Although it has had a few minor enhancements over the years, the base of the Jimny is so old that it hasn’t even been tested by the NCAP system.
Most of the changes to the Jimny have been cosmetic, with the latest face-lift again just being a few touch-ups to the same base. The exterior styling is unique and the added air in-take on the bonnet helps add some muscular detail to the Jimny. The interior is a different story. It’s very staid and somewhat archaic, with some perplexing features. The seats can’t move up or down, the steering wheel can’t move either and there’s no modern connectivity like Bluetooth or USB. Yet, you can electronically adjust the side mirrors and the windows.
Having spent a week with the Jimny, I’ve come to 4 conclusions. I’ve also spent the week trying to figure out what the purpose of the Jimny is. Suzuki has been building the Jimny for more than 40 years, so there must be a reason for it, right? So, back to those conclusions:
1) The Jimny doesn’t like me
2) The Jimny doesn’t like tarred roads
3) The Jimny doesn’t do practical very well
4) The Jimny is awesome off-road
When I say that the Jimny doesn’t like me, I actually mean any full grown adult male. At 1.85m, I fall into the average height for men. I’m definitely on the tall side, but not ridiculously tall. Being that tall means that you simply cannot fit properly into the cockpit of the Jimny. The seat doesn’t move far back enough and cannot move up or down. Also, the steering wheel cannot move up or down. This left me with a blue knee after my week with the Jimny, as I literally had to wedge my right leg in between the steering wheel and the door. Both my legs sat upright against the steering wheel, which got very uncomfortable at times. With ample headroom and large windows almost all round, the tight seating arrangement never feels claustrophobic. You’d need to basically be a Japanese male or a woman though to comfortably fit into the cockpit of the Jimny.
The Jimny also, doesn’t like tarred roads. It takes the Jimny’s 1.3 litre engine a leisurely 15 seconds to get to 100km/h. That unhurried acceleration doesn’t translate into great high speeds either. The Jimny revs at a VERY high 4500rpm at 120km/h, and at a mere 200rpm less at 110km. The speedometer goes all the way to 180km/h, but I couldn’t get the Jimny to go more than 145km/h. The Jimny didn’t feel comfortable much over 100km/h and that is how I drove for most of my highway driving with the Jimny. Even at such a slow cruising speed, the fuel gauge dropped drastically, with the gauge dropping below half, with less than 200km driven with the tank. I eventually got around 400km on the tank, which translates into 10L/100km. That is not good for a 1.3L engine. Not good at all.
The Jimny’s suspension is also largely biased to off-road driving, and coupled with the short wheel-base, makes the vehicle very bouncy, especially over uneven tarred roads. The suspension also doesn’t help to make the Jimny very dynamic around corners. There’s a lot of body roll, which doesn’t help inspire confidence to drive fast. All of this combined meant that it felt like someone put my kidneys in a blender after longer stretches of more than 100km.
Reading the Jimny’s brochure, you’d think that it is an extremely practical vehicle. It is an SUV after all, even if it’s a small one. Unfortunately, real-life doesn’t do it any favours. For starters, the Jimny’s boot is near useless. A camera bag and a rucksack filled it. All my tripods and extra bags had to go on the back seats. We tried 3 men in the Jimny. It was comical to see all three trying to get a comfortable position, with no luck.
The Jimny having just two doors also doesn’t help the practicality along. With the higher ride height, it can get uncomfortable to try and get into the back seat. The Jimny does at least have ISO-fix points and some clever details with the utility spaces. It is not suited for more than two people. The Jimny would actually be a much better vehicle if Suzuki just dropped the back-seats, added extra room for the front chairs to move back, and used the entire space behind the front seats as the boot/utility/packing space. The current set up makes no sense.
After almost a week, I finally found where the vehicle excels. I decided to take it on a road trip into the Cederberg Mountains. Once in the rough stuff, the Jimny comes into its own. It’s not just decent on dirt roads and rough terrains, it’s excellent. The Jimny just feels right when the 4-wheel drive is engaged and it has to traverse terrains that other cars would deem impossible. Getting around nasty terrain and going through mountain passes with high difficulty ratings is fun and to a degree mind boggling, as you’d never think the Jimny would make it. Yet, it just keeps coming and conquering. This is also what gives the Jimny its appeal.
So, let’s recap. The Jimny is comfortable… if you’re not a man. It’s also pretty much the worst vehicle I’ve driven on tarred roads. It’s doesn’t have the refinement of the Swift. It doesn’t have the space of the SX4. And it for sure doesn’t have the practicality the Vitara has. With no idea what how safe the vehicle is, I wouldn’t want to crash it, and you better know where the gas stations are. Yet, it’s a tough little beast, that despite its average specs and bad road manners, seem to defy odds and truly come alive in the road less travelled. So if you plan to keep this one on the black stuff, rather give it a skip. Rather have a look at the Swift then. It’s much more refined, a lot more comfortable, has better road manners, more frugal and lively engines and better ride in the city and highways. If you do plan to get off the black stuff more often than not, you’d be seriously surprised at where the Jimny will take you.
All photography by Hein Schlebusch for Resolution Imagery