FIRST DRIVE | 2018 Suzuki Jimny
The first new Jimny in 20 years has the 4x4 world in a buzz. There is a worldwide shortage on Suzuki’s little offroad vehicle with a waiting list of more than two-and-a-half years in Japan alone, while the first two South African shipments have already sold out.
It’s the styling that has grabbed attention, and the boxy, aggro-cute design gives it the look of a mini Hummer. When you stand beside this short, diminutive car you can hardly imagine that four large people could fit inside it. But they do.
Along with the cute-enough-to-eat styling and a dash of extra power, Suzuki’s ’lil offroader has taken an interior growth spurt with 4cm of extra rear legroom. With the rear seats up it still has the luggage space of a carrier pigeon, but where the previous Jimny’s back seat threatened deep vein thrombosis for any adults who ventured there, the new car is usefully spacious.
The Jimny 4x4 has earned a David vs Goliath reputation for its offroad skills, being able to scurry over most of the same obstacles as much more expensive SUVs. But it lacked one vital ingredient: the ability to get over axle-twisters. Now it’s fixed that by gaining Brake Limited Slip Differential and electronic stability control systems. The Brake LSD system sends torque to the wheel with grip if another wheel on the same axle starts spinning, ensuring that the Jimny will keep going over uneven terrain.
The system was successfully demonstrated at the Jimny’s media launch in Mpumalanga, where the new car was able to complete an axle-twisting course with more ease than a previous-generation Jimny (without LSD) that was brought along for comparison.
It adds an extra dimension to the Jimny’s trail-tackling prowess, along with the ground clearance being raised to 210mm for even better approach and departure angles.
Hill Hold Control and Hill Descent Control are standard fare on the Jimny, which as before is built on a rigid ladder-frame chassis (now with 1.5 times more torsional rigidity) and employs rigid front and rear axles with coil spring suspension for maximum wheel articulation in offroad driving.
The AllGrip Pro part-time 4x4 system allows the driver to switch between rear-wheel drive and 4x4 high and low range, old-school style with a second gear lever.
The launch drive included some rough gravel roads in the Sappi forests and the little Jimny scampered through the bumpy stuff like a mountain goat. Its undersides stayed safely out of harm’s way with the approach angle improved from 35° to 37°, the breakover angle from 27° to 28°, and the departure angle from 46° to 49°.
It felt very sturdy on those rippled roads too, with minimal body flexing. The ride quality was surprisingly compliant and not overtly choppy for such a short wheelbase.
There’s more thrust under the bonnet with the engine size growing from 1.3l to 1.5l. The 75kW and 130Nm won’t get you anywhere in a hurry but it’s a welcome improvement especially in open-road cruising. In five-speed manual or four-speed automatic guises it cruises without the engine screaming.
The slightly larger new engine is lighter and more economical than its forerunner, leading to a claimed 14% fuel consumption improvement.
Two grades are on offer: the few-frills GA which comes only with aircon and power steering; and the higher-specced GLX which also lays on electric windows and mirrors, a leather-covered multifunction steering wheel, 15-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, LED projector headlamps, front fog lights and split rear seats that fold flat into the floor.
The GLA also gets a fancier infotainment system in the form of a 17.8cm touchscreen smartphone interface with Bluetooth, Apple Carplay, Android Auto and Mirror Link.
Safety levels are identical on both the GA and GLX with ABS brakes, electronic stability control and dual front airbags.
The cabin draws on the original Jimny (which in past lives was called the LJ and the Samurai) with its exposed painted metal window frames and three-layer dashboard, but it has been modernised for more comfort with front seats that are longer and wider and have an improved sliding range to accommodate taller drivers.
Unlike so many SUVs that spend most of their time on the tar, the Jimny is a hardcore offroad vehicle for weekend warriors who view life through mud-splattered windscreens.
But I suspect even the non-mud contingent will be buying it as their commuter because it’s just so darn charming.
2018 Suzuki Jimny Pricing:
Suzuki Jimny 1.5 4x4 GA Manual: R264,900
Suzuki Jimny 1.5 4x4 GLX Manual: R299,900
Suzuki Jimny 1.5 4x4 GLX Auto: R319,900
All prices include a five-year/200,000km warranty. The GLX is standard with a four-year/60,000km service plan and the GA model with a two-year/30,000km service plan.