Before we can start going through the fine details that make up the off-road icon from the Land of the Rising Sun, I would like to offer the more demanding petrolhead with a selection of consumer advice: buying a Suzuki Jimny requires you to have the right mindset to make do with extremely few creature comforts.
Depending on the market, the current choice of cars made by volume automakers features an extensive list of standard equipment. Tons of airbags, air con, power windows, touchscreen infotainment, a rearview parking camera, you get the idea - apparently small things that make life behind the steering wheel a lot more pleasant for the driver.
Thing is, the third-gen Jimny comes with very few of the features listed beforehand as standard, making it a dinosaur compared to more modern offerings. If you’re not scared by this fact, the lack of legroom for the rear passengers or the poor soundproofing, then let’s proceed by peering through the Euro brochure of the mini-SUV
First surprise: the low fuel warning light, door open warning lamps and digital clock are “comfort” features. Not kidding!
Cutting straight to the chase, the Jimny JB43 is far from being an extensively equipped package. Truth be told, the nameplate can’t be appreciated in a simple manner. To get acquainted with what makes the Jimny a Jimny, you’ll have to look into the model’s upbringing.
Utilitarian and focused are the terms that sum up the Jimny best of all, but more on that later in our review, including why this archaic offroader has the power to make you chuckle from self-fulfillment every time you drive it.
In 17 years’ time, the outgoing iteration of the nameplate could only get two minor facelifts (2005 and 2012) and a selection of not-so-powerful engines. Curious what the most recent update is all about?
As our European readers may already know, November 1st, 2014 is the day that saw the electronic stability program (ESP
) become mandatory as airbags for every new vehicle sold on the Old Continent.
With the late 2014 update, the Suzuki Jimny received three add-ons: ESP, a tire pressure monitoring system and a gear-shift indicator to light the way to better fuel economy. Needless to say, a minor update in any other volume manufacturer’s offering is definitely more consistent.
Heck, the Suzuki Jimny 1.3 MT JLX we reviewed was manufactured in early 2014, so we didn’t get to assess the benefits of those updates. In any case, buying an all-new Jimny is sort of redundant because it’s too expensive for what you’re getting.
€15,590 is as low as you can go in Germany for the entry-level trim, £12,195 in the United Kingdom and, if Suzuki was still selling cars in the US, that would translate to $17,515.
Buying second-hand is more like it, especially if you take into account that the fourth generation of the Suzuki Jimny is set to debut in 2016.
Produced since 1998 and barely updated since then, the third-gen Jimny is like the proverbial bringing a knife to a gun fight. It has the aerodynamic properties of a brick, it’s as impractical as a clutch bag, agricultural to drive and more spartan than an Alcatraz prison cell. To top things up, it’s about 30 percent more costly than a Suzuki Swift.
With 85 horsepower and 110 Nm (81 lb-ft) of torque, the M13AA 1.3L four-banger petrol of our test car is just what you would expect from a naturally aspirated engine developed by the Japanese - dependable, rev happy, raspy and not potent enough for some off-road scenarios.
Coupled to the standard five-speed manual gearbox, you’re looking at a 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) stint of... wait for it... 14.1 seconds! Better still, if you go for the donkey old four-speed automatic, then expect to hit the same figure in 17.2 seconds.
Told you that the Suzuki Jimny is more outdated than Rocky and the 1970s disco fever. You could go to such lengths as claiming that performance figures is an oxymoron for this car.
But you know what? Yves Saint Laurent once said that trends come and go, but style is eternal. In the Jimny’s case, this saying fits like a glove because the little bugger boasts with the continuity of its overall shape and world-renowned off-road capabilities since forever.
From 1970 to this day, the popularity of the model spread like wildfire and it still does. The recipe was so good from the get-go, so why would Suzuki change anything? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies here.
To better understand how much Suzuki trusts the Jimny’s formula, you should know that our test car’s only option came in the form of metallic paint. Concentrating on its exterior design, the Jimny is tiny by modern crossover/SUV standards.
It’s no wonder why though - in Japan, the Suzuki Jimny JB23 is propelled by a peppy 658 cc engine mated to a CVT
transmission, which is enough to classify the diminutive off-roader as a kei car. Whatever your preferences in things with four wheels, don’t be tempted to give the Jimny a cute nickname over its diminutive dimensions. Few gearheads disagree with that no-nonsense approach to its exterior styling.
Starting with the squared-off front, you’ll find that the air intake bulging from the bonnet isn’t functional. Nevertheless, I can’t deny its importance into giving an edge to the Jimny’s aesthetics.
Fog lights or no fog lights, the front bumper looks tough and rugged, as do the five chunky slats up front which appear to be inspired by the Jeep Wrangler
’s face. Even the square-ish headlights were designed to look rough and ready. Tinted behind for better effect, the headlights are complemented by a black plastic grille positioned below those slats.
The Suzuki Jimny’s well-proportioned small stature is further enhanced by a generous glass house all-round, along with muscular wheel arches front and rear. The 15-inch steelies are wrapped in Bridgestone Dueler 205/70 section tires which are the best of both worlds.
Ask any serious Jimny owner about the tires and you’ll find out that many spent money on both off-road and road-going rubber for obvious reasons.
The first proper glimpse of what the Suzuki Jimny is all about comes when you look at the rear of this thing. Highlights include a hinged boot door that swings open from the side, a spare wheel bolted to the door with a wheel nut and a stumpy lower bumper which you can sit on.
Call it the antithesis of the curved modern crossover or an off-road star that’s well past its sell-by date, but there’s no denying the Jimny is one of the most interesting appearances on the road today.
Boasting 190 mm (7.48 in) of ground clearance, the Jimny trumps most high-heeled vehicles currently in production. But the extremely short overhangs and unbelievable approach & departure angles (34 inches & 46 inches, respectively) crown the Suzuki top dog in off-road capability.
Some say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. From my point of view, the Jimny is just right thanks to its perfectly-formed and full of purpose styling cues. On the other hand, the interior shouts “bring back the 90s!”
Everything you set your eyes upon is finished in the most outdated black & grey plastics imaginable, joined by exposed screws (and wires in the area behind the pedal box), a Lada-like rubber shift boot and seats that only know how to slide. What about infotainment?
Nope, a run-of-the-mill audio system such as this one can never be classified as infotainment by 2015 standards. No Bluetooth media streaming, no AUX or USB, this unit only does radio and audio CDs. Did I mention that only two speakers are wired to it?
I guess I proved my point. Even when you set the air con from normal to recirculation, you will be utterly amazed by the thumping sound of the operation.
Regarding the heated front seats, you’re only offered with an ON/OFF button. If you can get over the 113-liter (4 cuFT) capacity of the boot, I will be willing to bet my two cents that you can’t get over the exposed electrical contacts of the rear windshield defroster.
Every single aspect of the interior is humdrum and mechanical-feeling, the reason why it is such an event to drive the Jimny in an era when every new vehicle is burdened with electronics that water down the underlying personality.
Another element that doesn’t keep you at arms length from the overall experience is the three-button cluster under the HVAC
unit, buttons that read 2WD, 4WD
and 4WD-L. Keep 4WD pressed roughly two seconds and you’ll hear the satisfying click-clack noise of metal pieces clunking together.
That’s the Drive Action part-time 4x4 system switching from the standard 2WD (rear-wheel drive) setting into 4WD. Although it isn’t recommended to use 4WD at speeds higher than 100 km/h, I suggest to refrain from engaging it altogether when driving normally because there is no center differential to mechanically connect the driveshafts. Put simply, the engine sends drive through a five-speed manual connected to a 2-speed transfer case that gives part-time 4x4 to live axles front and rear.
Because of this layout, the front wheels cannot go faster than the rear wheels when cornering, which translates to major understeer or, in more extreme cases, transmission windup or breakdown. Furthermore, the high center of gravity of the ladder chassis, soft-sprung suspension and body-on-frame architecture make it a handful to drive on tarmac.
Don’t you ever take chances with a Jimny in the twisties because the risk of rollover is extremely high. Euro NCAP safety rating? Ha-ha! Only the Japanese New Car Assessment Program (JNCAP) crash tested the Jimny back in 2005 and let’s say that safety isn’t on this car’s agenda.
On a different note, the Jimny is frugal and pretty much bulletproof in terms of reliability. After completing our test drive, we were surprised that we averaged a combined 8.8 l/100 km (26.7 US mpg / 32 UK mpg).
Then again, the Jimny doesn’t like to be hustled around. The skinny tires have sidewalls so high and flexible that hitting a pothole will make the steering wheel violently turn left or right if you don’t grip it firmly.
Do not go over 110 km/h (68 mph) because it gets really scary from there on. With a top speed of only 140 km/h (87 mph), my self-preservation instinct told me better. I kid you not, it was such an immense adrenaline rush to see the speedometer showing 130 km/h (80 mph). In summary, this characterful bucket of bolts has an extremely packed and spartan interior, joined by... hairy-chested on-road driving dynamics and a testosterone-crazy exterior design.
Before we end this review, let’s find out how the anachronistic Jimny can hold its own off the beaten path.
In a word - marvelous! There is no center diff or viscous coupling. Engineers employed vacuum-locking hubs, the ideal solution for uninitiated customers that want to experience the off-road lifestyle.
After a mild session of playing on a muddy field and an extended showdown at higher altitude, the Jimny JB43 impressed. Those standard 15-inch Bridgestone Dueler tires are more than adequate for wrestling a soaked field embellished with sticky muck.
The 4WD high setting managed admirably in such a situation, never missing a beat or frantically searching for grip.
Besides the agricultural but trusty four-wheel drive system, another reason why the Jimny is better than many other SUVs at doing this thing is the vehicle’s feathery mass (1,060 kilograms / 2,337 lbs).
Snow, ice and rocks pose no problem for the Jimny either. What does pose a problem is the lack of grunt from that 1.3-liter petrol-fed motor.
When we tried to attack a bit of a gradient covered in powder snow, the engine couldn’t handle it and shut off. I’ve tried semi-declutching it gently while giving it some revs, I’ve tried again in second gear, but it didn’t matter - 110 Nm (81 lb-ft) doesn’t cut it.
If it weren’t for the snow, the Jimny would’ve conquered that gradient. It’s no longer a surprise why some owners enhance their cars with more torque and off-road tires.
Assessing the 2014 Suzuki Jimny 1.3 MT JLX using the traditional car review template is futile because let’s face it - the Jimny doesn’t have any real competitor and it’s lifestyle-oriented, not a point A to B kind of vehicle. The Jeep Wrangler, on the other hand, seems sophisticated in comparison to the Jimny.
For what it’s worth, I feel like the Jimny is a smaller Land Rover Defender without the British legend’s comically vague steering and woeful city-driving dynamics. As flawed and outdated as it is, I swear that this bucket of bolts is mesmerizing.
Those of you that live in the countryside and are occasionally required to go green laning, this mini-SUV is the perfect tool for that. As a second or third car in the household, the Jimny is suitable for amateur off-road fans and those people that live in places with harsh winters.
At the end of the day, Suzuki’s most senior model still in production has heaps of character and never fails at putting a huge smile on your face.