Suzuki Jimny Trumpton Riot Wagon
Cute but tough, old-school but new, fun but infuriating… at least there’s nothing dull about Suzuki’s reborn icon. By Gareth Evans
THERE’S A HIGHLY evolved enthusiast scene for the previous-gen Jimny – a car that went on sale two decades ago and to this day remains in a class of one: a tiny, ladder-frame 4x4 with proper off-roading talent, at the expense of on-road manners.
But now there’s a new one. Or perhaps a very heavily updated one, since that chassis retains its design, albeit strengthened with extra bracing to improve torsional rigidity. This twodoor seats four, but only if you don’t need boot space, because its 377 litres of volume is only available with the wipeclean, plastic-backed rear seats folded flat. With perches vertical the luggage room drops to nearly nothing.
Still, ferrying friends isn’t really on the agenda here. Jimny is built to appeal to professionals who need its terrain-tackling talents, but Suzuki also wants to push it in the direction of young folk whose lifestyle requires goanywhere ability. That’s why it’s styled somewhere between a Jeep, an old BJ Land Cruiser and a mini G-Class.
Our test drive near Frankfurt soon highlights the Jimny’s limitations. Barrel into a bend too quickly and you get comical bodyroll. The electrically assisted recirculating-ball steering set-up – combined with the longtravel suspension – can make for unpredictable body control even at quite modest speeds.
To get properly under its skin, you need to leave the tarmac behind. Pull the pleasingly agricultural transmission selection lever rearwards one click and you’ll engage the front wheels as well as the always-working ‘Are you quite sure this is Islington?’
Jimny nav is a curious beast rears, and you’ll be able to make full use of the impressive approach, ramp and departure angles. When stationary, push that lever down and pull back another click to engage the low-range transfer box for more accurate control scaling the steepest slopes.
There’s no centre-locking diff here but rather an open one on each axle, with torque-vectoring by braking making a decent fist of simulating an LSD. The 1.5-litre naturally-aspirated engine’s torque is enough to keep the Jimny moving through the relatively tame mud, rock and dust of our test route, and it feels as though we’re only scratching the surface of what this rugged 1.1-tonne mountain goat can do.
Gearbox options are a five-speed manual or four-ratio auto. We’ve only tried the manual, and wish it had a sixth gear to cut out some of the noise that intrudes if you make it to the giddy heights of motorway speeds. Otherwise, however, refinement is considerably better than the old Jimny.
A pity, then, that the nav (fitted on top-spec cars) is woefully slow, and that the NCAP rating is a paltry three stars.
Still, you’ll either love the Jimny – and join the ranks of smitten enthusiasts – or ignore it altogether in favour of one of the countless softer SUVs on sale.
Silly styling, serious engineering
H A T E
Irritating infotainment, motorway manners
V E R D I C T
Cute, capable, compromised
★ ★ ★ ★ ★