Review: Suzuki Jimny

The outline of the Jimny now resembles a small Mercedes-Benz G-wagen
The outline of the Jimny now resembles a small Mercedes-Benz G-wagen
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Suzuki UK is having its second-best annual sales in what has been a difficult year for all carmakers. Its much anticipated new Jimny is sold out. “Don’t write about it. We can’t meet the demand,” said Dale Wyatt, head of Suzuki’s UK car division.

So began the UK press launch of its latest baby 4x4. Britain will be allocated 1,200 in 2019. The first batch of 600 sold before customers had seen the boxy little thing in the flesh. Suzuki cannot increase the supply to meet demand. The factory in Japan is at full tilt.

Inside there is extra luxury at a price but the ride will never be that smooth

Inside there is extra luxury at a price but the ride will never be that smooth

The off-road destination was in the 1,100-acre Stoneleigh Park, Kenilworth, home to the National Agricultural Centre, the NFU and several dozen businesses. The wooded, topsy-turvy terrain had been created by Land Rover but was also suited to the compact, short wheelbase Jimny – lots of tight turns through trees, acute summits, greasy ruts and roots. It has a light tread so it doesn’t bog down like a hefty SUV and there’s little to touch it at any price until you meet deep water. Bridgestone’s popular Dueler tyres were taking care of grip.

Jimny and its ancestors date back to 1970 – the year of the first Range Rover. While we were going larger, the Japanese tax system favoured cars that were small.

Sales of the Jimny family are touching 2.9 million in 194 countries. At a hunch, it may be the most widely distributed 4x4. It is the smallest, a three-door, five-seater just 137 inches long plus the spare wheel on the side-hinged back door. As a size guide, that is 22 inches shorter than a Ford Fiesta, while in the small 4x4 category the Fiat 500X and Jeep Renegade are 30 inches longer.

This new Jimny has a starker outline than before, squared off in most facades, a practical shape for judging tight terrain, like a half-scale Mercedes-Benz G-wagen. Jimnys are often put to one side in summer and brought out in winter, a reverse hibernation. I have been seeing them for several weeks. This 2019 model has a chic style and colour range which will attract new buyers. The cargo area is larger and has wider access by moving the rear lights down into the bumper – where they are harder to see in traffic.

Older Jimnys were not comfortable for longer journeys, The suspension gave a bouncy ride. The new one still has solid front and rear axles on a ladder-frame chassis but is now better sprung and not too unpleasant. The selectable 4x4 drive with a low ratio selector and hill descent control take care of winter, country tracks, etc. This feature sets it aside from many SUVs which do not have a low ratio option to tackle slo-mo off-roading.

You could get the old 1.3 Jimny SZ4 for £14,299 – pricey for its size if you don’t need 4x4. The new 1.5 SZ4 is an extra £1,200 but as well as an improved and all-new car you get the bigger engine and more luxuries. Air conditioning, bluetooth option and cruise control are on the SZ4 entry model, plus a CD player. The SZ5 adds alloy wheels, LED headlamps, more colour choice – including lurid lime yellow which you may tire of and a calmer ivory – navigation, heated front seats and so on. It costs £17,999 or £18,999 as a four-speed automatic.

The 1.5-litre petrol engine delivers a modest 100bhp and 95lb ft, but enough to give this light SUV a nippy pace up to 50mph. Then it gets lazy and at motorway speeds is rather noisy. An old-school “worm and ball” steering assembly is a bit vague on the highway, but suited for off-roading. On-road the car does sway in bends. You’ll probably get used to it. It has a braked towing weight of 1,300kg.

For a small car it is frightfully “dirty” on the CO2 scale, rated at 170g with the manual gearbox in the latest “real world” tests. The automatic is even worse at 198g. Official mpg with the five-speed manual gearbox is 35.8mpg combined. The automatic is rated at 32.2mpg.

The new Jimny is brilliant in the rough, with adequate manners in town and country. Poor “green” rating figures and no longer a cheap thrill are an issue, but it’s immensely cute. However, unless you need its 4x4 skills it is not a cheap runabout.

Verdict: Tough little critter. Ideal for light forestry and farming use, even all-terrain shopping.