Suzuki Jimny: No-frills charmer

By Phil Hanson

Suzuki Jimny. Photo / Supplied
Suzuki Jimny. Photo / Supplied

What an odd little vehicle the Suzuki Jimny is - endearing, but odd. In a world of automotive electronics the Jimny is one of the few without electronic stability control (ESP) and only the top Sierra model has ABS braking.

It is a vehicle short on convenience and comfort items, with not even a centre console. With the rear seats unfolded there's little luggage room and when folded you're presented with an unhelpfully stepped cargo area, not a nice flat one.

The 63kW 1.3 litre motor is low on power and torque, 110Nm way up at 4100rpm, and geared low. At 100km/h it sounds too busy and the driver will almost certainly keep reaching for another gear - that isn't there.

If you're driving around town in too high a gear the plastic trim rattles and the windows start vibrating as a warning to change down and, no, I don't think Suzuki designed-in this handy feature.

Suspension comprises old-fashioned beam axles on coil springs, giving it a measure of off-road competence, and while handling is okay it rides harshly and manages to identify bumps you'd never have thought were there.

On the other hand, because of its compact size - 3645mm long and with 1600mm wide - the Jimny makes a superb urban runabout, complemented by a turning circle of less than 10m. It's the most economical 4WD with low-range gearing, and that includes diesels.

Overall consumption is 7.1 litres per 100km overall, although the gloss is taken from the figure by the engine's need for 95 octane.

Despite its shortcomings the Jimny is a charmer.

Learn its idiosyncrasies and this lightweight off-roader is heaps of inexpensive fun.

The Sierra version lists at $22,990 for the five-speed and $24,500 for the four-speed auto. A stripped-back JX lists at $19,990.

Six years ago I drove a Jimny press vehicle that had a particularly vague gearbox and abrupt clutch. Suzuki suspected it might have been subjected to some abuse before I got it but still, one had to wonder. The next one I drove, a 2007 model, was okay and I'm pleased to report this one's clutch and gearbox are also fine - almost sportscar-like.

The Jimny's serious off-road shortcoming, its modest 190mm of ground clearance, remains unaddressed. By comparison, the new Subaru XV crossover that you wouldn't really take anywhere serious has a genuine 220mm.

With electronic traction and stability control so widely fitted today, and presumably inexpensive at factory level, it really is time to upgrade the Jimny's off-road ability.

I can't think of any other 2012-model road-registerable 4WD that doesn't have at least a limited-slip rear differential as a traction aid.

The little wagon's light weight of about 1000kg gives it an edge on sand and muddy paddocks but it needs a wider portfolio of abilities.

And far too often the engine needs to be at full noise to make progress.

That's not something I like in an off-road environment where the adage "as slow as possible, as fast as necessary" are words to live by.

Still, I enjoyed the reunion. Jimny's fun factor is still 100 per cent.

Rivals?

Not one in sight. If pushed, maybe a two-door Jeep Wrangler or the two-door Suzuki Grand Vitara.

- NZ Herald

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