Suzuki Jimny Review
- Compact size
- Hilarious fun both on and off-road
- Proper low range
- Actually good off-road
- Good visibility
- Poor safety score
- Needs a fraction more ground clearance
- Suspension can be a bit bouncy on-road
“If you build it, he will come”.
It’s a line from the movie “Field of Dreams”. More often, it’s incorrectly quoted as “If you build it, they will come”. And that seems to be the approach for some car-makers.
They create a model based on what they think people want. And all too often, it falls flat because the company hasn’t understood its customers wants and needs.
Suzuki has done the exact opposite of that. It has listened to its customers, creating exactly the kind of machine they’re after. And as a result, it’s going to have a smash hit on its hands.
The Suzuki Jimny has been around in some form or another for almost 40 years. Since the original Suzuki LJ10 (which was itself an updated version of the HopeStar ON360) which hit the roads in 1970, through to the Suzuki Samurai of the mid-1980s, and the Sierra of the 1990s, the formula has always been the same: A four-wheel-drive kei car that could go where other cars couldn’t.
The 2019 Suzuki Jimny sticks to this same proven formula because it’s what people want. It’s basic, easy to drive but oh, so much fun.
There’s also a bit of history in its styling, too. The round headlamps continue from first-generation model, the LJ10. The hood design was inspired by the second generation, the SJ30. At the rear, the tail lights are a nod to the 1990s Samurai, while the new Jimny’s grille is a tribute to the third generation.
The new model is shorter than the last Jimny by two inches and taller by a quarter inch. It’s also just under two inches wider and sits around an inch higher. It has also been designed with more practical consideration for how people will use their baby off-roader.
The side sills, wheel arches, and bumpers are made from black plastic for easy cleaning, but they also project further out to prevent scratches to the bodywork from branches.
The front and rear bumpers angle upwards at each corner to stop the corners scraping while off road. The tail lights have also been mounted low to maximize the tailgate’s width and allow for wider door opening.
Look inside and you’ll find a simple and practical interior. The grab handle is there to give some stability to passengers being jostled about, and the rest of the layout is likewise functional.
The materials Suzuki has used is also quite practical, resisting stains and scratches. It’s not quite the hose-out interior of an old Toyota FJ or a Jeep, but it’s nearly there.
The instruments are always backlit, which is handy off-road, however it means that some customers may forget they haven’t turned on their headlights. Let’s hope they are educated by the dealer.
You’ll find a 7.0-inch infotainment screen in the center of the Jimny which gets both Apple Car Play and Android Auto. The standard issue sat-nav isn’t the clearest you’ll come across, but it is fast and accurate. Some markets will also get a reversing camera fitted as standard, and interestingly you can still wear gloves while operating the touch screen which uses infra-red sensors. Clever stuff.
The spec sheet isn’t super luxurious but all the basics are there: automatic climate control, cruise control, and Bluetooth streaming and telephony all make an appearance. There are power windows, but don’t expect electric seats which add weight.
Having manual seats means you can create a totally flat area inside. By flipping the rear seats down, you can align them with the wheel arches which gives you decent luggage space. But then if you then remove the front seat’s headrests, the front seats will also lay flat creating a sleeping area.
Open the hood and you’ll find a new 1.5-liter engine which has been created using lighter alloys. The engine’s outputs are modest – 56 hp and 96 lb-ft of torque (75kW and 130Nm) – and because it only weighs 2370 lbs (1075kg) in manual guise, there’s actually no need for any more grunt. In fact, it’s fun enough as it is.
Suzuki says the Jimny does 36.7 mpg for the manual (6.4L/100km) and 34 mpg for the automatic (6.9L/100km). That’s probably why it only has a 10.5-gallon fuel tank (40 liters). Hey, a small engine in a light car helps, right?
Underneath it gets more interesting. Like all heavy-duty SUVs, the Jimny gets a ladder frame chassis. In this configuration, though, it has two more cross members than previous and also an X-shaped cross member to lessen flex. There are two three-link rigid axles, each of which has been strengthened by 30 percent.
The end result is a tough mudder that can take a bigger beating than you’d expect, given its compact dimensions. Helping here is a body which has been coated in more zinc, perfect for resisting rust from beach crossings, and there’s high strength steel used throughout to make the Jimny’s outer shell a bit stronger.
Its design gives some credible figures: the approach, ramp break over and departure angles are 37 degrees, 28 degrees, and 49 degrees respectively.
Couple that with 8.3 inches (210mm) of ground clearance and it’s able to get itself into and out of many sticky situations.
And if you do find yourself trying to climb a hill that the four-wheel-drive won’t quite make, then you can shift it into low range – undoubtedly this is the cheapest car to come with a low-range transfer case. And, refreshingly, the new Jimny is manually shifted into low, rather than using electric switches. At least you know it’s never going to break.
To help with traction, there’s a brake LSD system (effectively a traction control) which will use the brakes to prevent wheel slippage, sending torque to the wheel that is gripping the surface.
In manual models, a hill hold activates for two seconds allowing you to start without rolling back and if you’re heading downhill, a hill descent function will brake the Jimny and prevent it from exceeding 6 mph if you’re in 4-High or 3 mph if you’re in 4-Low.
Okay, okay – all the specs are good, but what’s it like to drive, I hear you ask.
Well, the steering is quite light, as you’d expect for a small SUV, but it has enough feel which is lovely to experience in this age of numb steering systems. Disappointingly, the steering wheel only adjusts for height, but not reach. The seats, likewise don’t have quite enough adjustment, so very tall drivers may feel a little cramped. We’d like to see the seat squab angle get some adjustment, too.
When on the dirt, the ride is lovely. The body control is a bit loose, so the Jimny tends to bounce a fair bit, but there’s enough absorption that the suspension won’t break your back when climbing up hills.
Part of our off-road course included staggered moguls which had the little SUV rocking around at low speed and bouncing along at higher speed, but there was never any scraping or bottoming out – thank the very short wheelbase for that.
One challenge was to climb a 30-degree concrete incline, and there were no issues powering up in low range (it struggled to move forward in two-wheel-drive) and after ascending we turned around and used hill descent control to slow the vehicle on the way down.
On slippery surfaces where sand covered rocky gullies, the traction control takes a while to kick in, but when it does, it works reasonably well. We did find that it does let things spin up a bit too far, relying more on mechanical grip than emulated grip from braking.
Use a bit less of your right foot and it starts to realize what’s going on, and moving the steering wheel from left to right also helps the Jimny seek out more grip as it bounces from one rut to another.
Like the Wrangler, putting it into 4-Low deactivates the traction control. This requires some level of skill, unlike, say, a Land Rover which makes you look good no matter what conditions you’re in. But that’s kind of the point. The Jimny wants you to be involved, not to take over from you.
In 4-Low, it’s happy to give you masses of physical grip and you’ll be surprised how effectively it gets out of the slippery mire. Let the tires down and even more physical grip can be achieved. And yes, we’ll be experimenting with that in a later test.
The 2019 Suzuki Jimny is a very impressive machine and after sampling it for a day we can’t wait for some more time behind the wheel. Sure, there are negatives. The luggage space is ultra small, it’s only available with cloth seating and not everyone will find a completely comfortable position behind the wheel thanks to a lack of adjustment in seat height.
But this isn’t designed to be a luxury machine. It’s a no-frills, no-nonsense, four-wheel-drive that will take you anywhere your ability can take you – and a lot further, too.
You couldn’t hope to find a more honest, down-to-earth machine with such capability for this price level. If you can find one at a dealer, get one, because they won’t be hanging around for long.