THE MOUSE THAT ROARED

SUZUKI HAS SHOEHORNED A BIGGER ENGINE INTO ITS LONG-SERVING JIMNY, AND THEN ADDED A COOL RETRO BODY AND HEAPS OF KIT. WE TEST THE AUTO VARIANT.

WORDS FRASER STRONACH

VERY FEW of today’s 4x4s can trace a line of ancestry back 50 years like the Suzuki Jimny. What started in 1970 with the LJ10 and its 360cc air-cooled twin-cylinder two-stroke engine, has culminated in this latest model complete with its 1.5L petrol four, the biggest and most powerful engine to ever Jimny, or a Sierra to use its other name.

1970 and today, plenty has changed things remain a constant over those 50 years, namely a separate ladder-frame chassis and live axles back and front. That puts Jimny in unique ‘old-school’ company, with the Toyota 70 Series and Jeep Wrangler as the only other 4x4s currently sold that are similarly equipped.

Compared to the previous generation model that arrived in 1998 this new Jimny not only has the 1.5L engine (replacing the previous 1.3) but is marginally heavier, wider and taller, and it rides on a wider track and skinnier tyres. More significant with this new Jimny is an allnew-but-still-retro body that harks back to the LJ10 and subsequent LJ20 and LJ50 models.

ON-ROAD

THE JIMNY’S 1.5L engine may be ‘new’, but it’s a long way from cutting-edge petrolengine technology where turbocharging, direct injection and variable valve lift, as well as variable timing, now define the genre. It makes a modest 75kW and an even more modest 130Nm, and both those maximum numbers are only achieved at high engine speeds: 4000rpm for peak torque and 6000rpm for peak power.

If none of that sounds encouraging the good news is that the Jimny only weighs 1100kg, so its power-to-weight ratio isn’t too bad and the Jimny is nippy enough and even relaxed at low and medium speeds. At highways speeds, where power-to-aerodynamic-drag ratio is more important than power-to-weight ratio, things go south and the engine needs to work hard to maintain highway speeds, even on lesser hills.

The five-speed manual is definitely better than the four-speed auto on-road, for the simple reason that it has one more gear to play with. Plus, manual control for a high-revving engine is always better anyway. The auto isn’t too flash in terms of shift quality, while the wide gaps between the four ratios can be momentum killers. Top gear with the auto is a bit taller than the manual’s, so the fact it sits at a slightly lower rpm at highway speeds is one benefit of the auto, even if the engine revs hard with both ’boxes. It’s a pity Suzuki didn’t junk them and replace them with six-speeders. The engine is agreeable, but gets noisy when revving hard, which is often on highway and country roads.

In terms of on-road dynamics the Jimny is nippy and fun to drive on tight roads and at slower speeds, but it isn’t as convincing at higher speeds where it can be upset by bumps and crosswinds. Still, the ride is surprisingly good and the potentially unsettling presence of the live axles at both ends is well-disguised.

OFF-ROAD

IF YOU think the Jimny is fun on-road it’s even more fun off-road thanks to its clearance, short wheelbase and very steep approach and departure angles, allowing it to go places where bigger, longer 4x4s can’t. Its light weight also makes it just the ticket in sand or mud; although, the overall small diameter of the 15-inch wheel and tyre package lets it down on rougher tracks, even if the live axles provide a decent amount of travel. Larger diameter tyres, even within the limited legal increase, is the first modification the Jimny needs for off-road driving. A snorkel wouldn’t go astray, either.

For off-road use, the auto variant comes into its own as its torque convertor gives a gearing advantage (and torque multiplication) for steep climbs, even if the manual’s crawl ratio is slightly lower. For the new Jimny, Suzuki has also gone back to a traditional transfer lever in place of the push-button transfer selector used previously, which is a welcome touch.

CABIN AND EQUIPMENT

THE JIMNY is small but deceptively roomy inside. It only seats four and the back-seat passengers need to be small, but the room up front is good for tall drivers.

Good vision, too, from the driver’s seat, but shorter drivers would be better off with seatheight adjustment. There’s no steering wheel reach adjustment, either – only tilt.

The Jimny is surprisingly well-equipped with a 7-inch touchscreen, sat-nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Active safety features include automatic emergency braking, lanedeparture warning and rear cross-traffic alert.

ENGINE

The 1.5-litre petrol four-cylinder is the most powerful engine fitted to a Jimny.

INTERIOR

The cabin is ‘oldschool’ upright and the dashboard and windscreen are both similarly old-school ‘flat’ (or flattish).

STORAGE

There’s a surprising amount of luggage space with the rear seats folded thanks to the boxy body shape.

SUM UP

THERE’S nothing else like the Jimny on the road, or indeed off it. Nothing else is this useful and convenient in the confines of the tightest city street yet equally at home in the bush, where it feels like it could just about go anywhere and is built tough enough to take it. It’s just a shame Suzuki didn’t see fit to add a sixth gear to the manual and at least two more gears to the automatic.