2009 Suzuki Jimny Sierra Road Test Review
SOMETIMES IT'S THE SIMPLE THINGS in life we enjoy the most. Case in point: the Suzuki Jimny Sierra.
It’s existed in fundamentally the same compact two-door layout since 1970. And although today’s third-generation model is far less utilitarian than its ancestors, we’d be way off the mark if we said the current Jimny was cutting edge.
It’s anything but refined, but curiously that’s part of its appeal.
We spent a week with an automatic-equipped Jimny to assess the pros and cons; by the seventh day - after resting and surveying our handiwork (and lo, it was good) - we didn’t want to hand the keys back .
We’ll explain why.
At 3.6 metres long and 1.6 meters wide, the 2009 Suzuki Jimny is, for want of a better word, rather diminutive for an off-roader.
At 1.7 metres high it’s also quite tall, and the result is a car that looks more like a supersized toy than an actual vehicle. The mini-Jeep styling certainly lends it a rugged air, but the Jimny’s proportions make it look like a cutesy caricature of a much larger four-wheel drive.
The Jimny might not boast the latest in off-roader design, but there are dollops of charm in its perky lines.
It is also full of personality; some will be drawn to it simply for its Bonsai dimensions and enduring style. But that's not the end of it: there is more behind the Jimny’s lines and styling features than mere aesthetic appeal.
Manoeuvrability is one. The Jimny’s compact size gives it the ability to thread a path through trees as easily as it traverses shopping centre carparks, and the short overhangs endow it with steep approach and departure angles.
The short wheelbase isn’t just an aid for parallel parking, but improves ground clearance and ramp-over angles. It does effect on-road dynamic behaviour, but we’ll touch on that later.
The Jimny is also designed to take light knocks and scrapes in its stride. The entire lower body is clad in colour-coded durable plastic panels, which deform and pop back into shape should a tree trunk or traffic bollard leap out maliciously as you pass.
And though diminutive, it is designed for utility... up to a point. The rear door-mounted spare tyre saves space inside the car (freeing up the back for groceries), and the standard-issue roof rack can carry outsized loads (canoe, St Bernard) up top.
Steel 15-inch wheels are standard, but our car came fitted with the optional five-spoke alloy 15-inchers.
There is also promise of adventure in those flared fenders, and the live axles with their diff housings hint at some serious off road potential. Venture inside, however, and things are a bit adrift of expectations.
Is the Jimny’s cabin spartan? Not entirely; there are some creature comforts but it's all a bit spare.
In a nutshell (like, really "in a nutshell"), it’s cramped. The Jimny's narrow body leaves little width to play with, putting the occupants shoulder to shoulder, particularly in the back seat.
Twirling the wheel also puts the driver at risk of thumping an elbow on the door trim. You quickly learn to adapt to the space and tuck the arms in when working the wheel.
What’s not so easy to adapt to however is the seating position. The steering column has no adjustment, so some drivers may find it difficult to get comfortable.
The driver’s seat is also mounted very high, and there’s no height adjustment. The upright seating position improves forward visibility when stuck in traffic, or peering over obstacles on a rutted track, but it feels like driving a tractor at times.
Rearward visibility, on the other hand, isn’t so great. The big headrests on the back seats block a lot of the view through the rear window, while the spare tyre overlaps a portion of the glass.
Vision over the shoulder isn’t bad, but in some situations the unusual shape of the B-pillars can hide low objects next to the car.
The front seats lack a little support - they're a bit thin - but they are reasonably comfortable. The hard urethane headrests, on the other hand, aren’t quite so cosseting.
The back seat comprises a two-person folding bench, which is easily accessed thanks to the sliding and tilting front passenger seat.
Rear seat headroom is tight and you’ll literally be rubbing shoulders with your neighbour. The rear seat itself is flat and hard and long trips can be uncomfortable for any adult passengers there. Having some speco scenery to gaze at will help though, as the large windows give a decent view outside.
Cabin quality leans more to 'tradesman's ute' than passenger car (by today’s standards). Anything that isn’t trimmed in fabric or carpet is moulded in either hard plastic or urethane, and the design isn’t the most cohesive you'll find.
The two alloy-finish trim pieces on each side of the centre stack are a visual link to other vehicles in Suzuki’s stable, such as the SX4 and Grand Vitara, but the interior styling is more about durability and longevity than it is about good looks.
Storage space isn’t exactly generous, but that’s no great surprise considering the Jimny’s compact dimensions. Both doors get map pockets and there’s a handy cubby hole above the glovebox, but aside from a small tray below the centre stack there are no other places to store your stuff.
Two cupholders are offered, but struggle to keep tall bottles upright.
Being a four-seat compact hatchback, boot space is small. There is just 113 litres of luggage room with the 50/50 split rear seats up, and a grand total of 816 litres when folded down.
Equipment and Features
The Jimny is undoubtedly modest motoring, but there are a couple of amenities offered to ease the time spent its small cabin.
Airconditioning is one of them, an AM/FM tuner with MP3-compatible CD player is the other. Power windows and mirrors are a given, as is a 12 volt power outlet in the centre stack.
It’s basic, yes, and buyers looking for fripperies like iPod-compatibility and chilled gloveboxes are bound to be disappointed. However the Jimny isn’t about mod-cons and fancy gadgets: it’s about the bare essentials.
"Bare essentials” also describes the Jimny’s safety equipment. Dual front airbags, front pre-tensioning seatbelts and ABS are standard, but side airbags, curtain airbags, traction control and electronic stability control are nowhere to be seen.
The rear seats get three-point seatbelts - which is a plus - but with the Jimny’s narrow track width and small crumple zones, some extra safety kit wouldn’t go astray.
In Australia, the Jimny is powered by a 1.3 litre naturally-aspirated petrol four-cylinder that pushes out 62.5kW and 110Nm. Gearbox choices are limited to a five-speed manual, or a four-speed automatic.
Output isn’t impressive, especially when you realize peak torque (the number that counts for off-roaders) arrives at 4100rpm. However, there are a few other aspects of the Jimny’s mechanical package that help it make the most of its meagre muscle.
One of them is its weight, which, at 1075kg for the automatic we tested, means there’s not a lot of car to lug around. That also means the Jimny is a fairly nimble machine, and it changes direction with little effort.
Off the beaten track, the Jimny’s dual-range transfer case maximizes the little 1.3’s output. In low range the torque deficit is compensated for with revs, and the transfer case is more than capable of hard graft.
Actuated by a push-button selector on the centre console, the transfer case can switch between 2WD high and 4WD high while in motion. When the going gets rough the Jimny needs to come to a halt when changing between 4WD high and 4WD low, but the vacuum-operated hubs mean the driver can remain in the vehicle.
The Jimny’s underpinnings are tungsten-tough, and classic off-roader material. That small body rides atop a ladder-frame chassis, and suspension is taken care of by coil-sprung three-link live axles front and rear.
Braking hardware consists of ventilated discs at the front and drums at the rear, with the front caliper mounted at the top of the rotor to reduce the chance of damage from rocks, sand and gravel.
Its small overhangs and short wheelbase also give extra benefits off road. Ground clearance is 190mm when unladen, with a best approach angle of 42 degrees and a departure angle of 46 degrees.
A wheelbase of 2250mm gives the Jimny a ramp breakover angle of 31 degrees – more than enough to get over most mildly challenging humps. Its turning circle is also reasonably tight at 9.8 metres.
Long story short, don’t be fooled by its appearance – the Jimny ain’t no limp wristed soft-roader.
On the road though, the Jimny is far from stellar. The steering is vague and has a lot of play, the engine is noisy and acceleration is slow. The short wheelbase also makes for a jiggly ride and road noise intrusion is significant at highway speeds.
Its tall seating position though is an advantage in traffic as you can see over the tops of most other cars around you. That said, only those who really get a kick out of the Jimny's boxy 4WD charms - and all its on-road compromises - will enjoy the little Suzuki as a daily commuter.
It is easy to park, but the power steering gets heavy at low speeds and tugging the wheel can become tiring after a while. Add to that the Jimny’s bare-essentials interior, and you have to wonder why so many Jimnys sold in this country spend their lives on city streets.
Out on the highway, it’s not a great deal better. The automatic does a commendable job of making the most of the 1.3 litre engine’s powerband, but no amount of clever cogswapping can mask the Jimny’s low output.
It’s slow too. Getting from zero to 100km/h takes around 20 seconds, and a moderate incline will see the Jimny struggle to maintain momentum. It’s okay around corners, but the steering doesn’t inspire confidence and the live axle suspension simply isn’t designed for carving up bends.
But any misgivings about the Jimny's capabilities disappear once the little off-roader's tyres hit dirt, gravel or mud.
We took our auto-equipped tester to Victoria’s Black Spur, northeast of Melbourne. There are a number of fire trails and tracks out here with a range of different surfaces and inclines; an excellent testing ground for the little Jimny and a chance to prove its not-inconsiderable ability in the rough.
Our first obstacle was a big one: a water-filled gluey pit with a drop-off on one side and dense bush on the other.
There was some reasonably solid dirt at one edge, but despite its narrow track, the Jimny had to 'chance its arm' with a dive into the bog.
So, low range engaged, keeled over, a brief but frantic wheel-spinning scramble through the well-rutted slippery mud at the bottom, and the Jimny bounced out the other side like a cork out of a bottle.
Most impressive was that it was able to do it on road tyres with such little tread depth. Even more remarkable was that it made it seem so easy.
As if to demonstrate the difficulty of that first obstacle, our Triton GLX-R support car found itself stuck: hung-up on the ledge on exit, its tow-bar buried behind it (on grippy mud tyres, no less).
Further up the track, the Jimny proved just as unstoppable through a long section of deep mud ruts.
Here, the Jimny has two main advantages that enable it to churn its way through obstacles that would entrap other off-roaders: its light weight and narrow track.
It’s weight means it doesn’t sink as readily when barrelling over soft ground. (Queensland farmers discovered this with the original Suzuki LJ80... in 'the wet' they found it could skitter across paddocks that had heavy FJ40 Landcruisers buried up to their axles.)
The Jimny's narrow track also means it can take paths that bigger cars can’t attempt. It can pick its way along the solid ground at the edges.
In the rough in these conditions, it needs to be driven with a lot of throttle, and getting through sticky mud is a noisy affair. However it simply refused to give up, and skated across mud, gravel and dirt with ease.
It is not as happy over corrugations; there is some structural noise and banging from the suspension. As capable as it is, the solid feel of something like a Landcruiser simply isn’t there in the Jimny, but then again it doesn’t need to be.
After all, the Landcruiser is about comfort and Herculean grunt. The Jimny is about having a blast while getting where you need to go.
We had a huge amount of fun in the Jimny, but the party only got started once we took it off the asphalt.
One of the TMR team is considering buying one, and I now want to put the manual through its paces. Once out in its natural habitat, it’s a genuinely enjoyable machine.
Sure, its on-road manners aren't the best, but its foibles give it a load of charm. For most drivers though, despite its character, the Jimny will likely be a little too wearing and a little too compromised to be considered for everyday transport.
The Jimny isn't about luxury, or speed, or looking good: it's about getting back to the thrill of driving. It's certainly not the most polished vehicle, but it's a car that interacts with you just as much as you interact with it.
The Jimny provides simple, uncomplicated, fuel-efficient thrills in a character-laden package.
While it’s not exactly flash in an urban environment, if you’re the type that likes to get back to nature once in a while, the Jimny could well be the chariot you’re looking for.