What’s Hot: Off-road nous, low price, rugged build.
What’s Not: Minimal equipment list, no side airbags.
X-FACTOR: Poorly equipped and awful to drive on tarmac, but strangely endearing. We adore the Jimny despite its foibles.
Vehicle Style: Compact SUV
Price: $22,990 (plus on-roads) (Note: $21,990 drive-away deal available at time of writing, check with dealer.)
Engine/trans: 62.5kW/110Nm 1.3 petrol 4cyl | 4sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.4 l/100km | tested: 7.8 l/100km
Recently we’ve been devoting a lot of space to compact SUVs, and it’s not hard to see why. They’re well and truly the flavour of the month.
But while the car-buying public can’t seem to get enough of the CX-3, HR-V, Trax and EcoSport, let’s not forget one of the cars that blazed the compact SUV trail in the first place: the humble Suzuki Jimny Sierra.
Updated late last year with the addition of electronic stability control (which allowed the Jimny to once again be sold in Victoria, where ESC is mandatory) and some minor cosmetic changes to the interior and exterior, the Jimny promises genuine off-road chops in a tiny package.
Okay, so it’s old, not as carlike as other compact SUVs, and its three-door configuration limits its versatility somewhat, but let’s not forget that this is the only live-axle 4x4 with a pricetag that starts with a ‘2’.
So if you actually want to go off the beaten track rather than just perch your FWD unibody “SUV” on the scenic lookout above it, the Jimny will take you where other compact SUVs cannot.
- Power windows, central locking, power wing mirrors, air conditioning.
- Infotainment: AM/FM/CD audio headunit, two speakers
- Luggage capacity: 113 litres minimum, 816 litres maximum.
What the Jimny won’t do is envelop you in luxury, for this is no-frills motoring at its least-frilly. The rock-hard cabin plastics sacrifice tactile pleasantness for durability. and the design is almost brutally utilitarian
The Jimny is also very, very small.
A footprint that's 3675mm long and 1600mm wide doesn’t translate into a spacious interior, and the Jimny’s narrow cabin width will have you knocking elbows with your passenger frequently.
Need to rummage through the glovebox? Better ask your front seat passenger to get out first.
The rear seats are fine for short trips, but they’re even narrower than the front seats and the flat backrest doesn’t lend itself to comfort.
The equipment list is just as thin as those backrests.
Air conditioning, central locking, electric mirrors and power windows are the only modern features (and let’s face it, they were only “modern” back in the 1980s).
Do you like music? The Jimny doesn’t, but it will reluctantly pipe tunes through two feeble speakers via a basic AM/FM/CD headunit. Bluetooth? USB inputs? Cruise control? The Jimny scoffs at such luxuries.
On the plus side, you do get a commanding view of the road around you.
The seating position is tall and the side glass is huge by current standards, so keeping tabs on what’s around you is easy.
ON (AND OFF) THE ROAD
- 1.3 litre naturally-aspirated inline four, 62.5kW @ 6000rpm, 110Nm at 4100rpm
- Four-speed automatic, four-wheel drive with 4WD-high and 4WD-low range transfer case.
- Three-link live axle with coil springs, front and rear.
- Recirculating ball hydraulic power steering
- 15-inch alloy wheels.
- Disc brakes front, drum brakes rear.
The Jimny’s mechanical package is just as primitive as its interior, but, for an off-roader, that’s not such a bad thing: there’s less stuff to break as a result.
For a road car though, it sucks. The 1.3 litre engine wheezes out just 62.5kW and 110Nm, and the optional four-speed auto fitted to our test car is well behind the times.
The wide gaps between each ratio don’t help either, and unless you're using big revs all the time, the little 1.3 is frequently struggling for breath.
The Jimny’s coil-sprung live axle front and rear suspension is also very sensitive to pitching, no doubt a side effect of the car’s ultra-short 2250mm wheelbase.
Its slabby sides, low weight and tall height also make it susceptible to being blown about in crosswinds.
Refinement is terrible too. The engine note is harsh and buzzy, tyre noise and wind noise are barely suppressed and you feel the body shiver over sharp bumps. In short, it’s a bit rubbish to drive on the blacktop.
But engage low-range, point it towards some mud, sand or gravel, and the Jimny comes into its own.
The gearing in the four-speed isn’t quite the handicap that it was before.
The torque multiplication factor of the transfer case effectively increases the engine’s torque output, and the suspension that was so fussy and fidgety on-road becomes more compliant when on looser stuff.
On tricky rutted trails, it fares remarkably well.
The Jimny’s small stature and narrow track allows it to take lines that larger 4x4s simply couldn’t consider, and its short wheelbase and tight 9.8m turning circle endows it with a nimbleness that’s hard to match.
The 190mm of ground clearance may sound low, but the live axle setup means there are no low-hanging suspension bits to snag on rocks.
Mud doesn’t faze it. Simply by lowering the air pressure in the stock all-terrain tyres, we were able to take the little Jimny through some very intimidating, very slippery and very steep trails.
On muddy inclines, the best strategy was to stay in automatic mode in low range and use the full breadth of the rev range (translation: rev the guts out of it).
Big rooster tails of mud will result, and will also earn you the the begrudging respect of any Hilux, Navara, Patrol or Landcruiser owners in the vicinity.
Progress only ever halted when one wheel got cocked in the air or the ruts gets too deep. Add an aftermarket differential lock, and Jimny should grip on just about any surface when three-wheeling.
While the addition of stability control is great, a proper hill-descent mode would also be handy for those truly greasy descents.
The Jimny’s short wheelbase makes it liable to oversteer if you brush the brakes on a tricky decline, and there’s limited engine braking from the petrol engine.
ANCAP rating: The Suzuki Jimny has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: Stability control is a relatively new feature for the Jimny, having only been made standard-issue in October of 2014.
Other safety aids include ABS, while passenger protection is provided by dual front airbags and three-point seatbelts on all seats. Side airbags and head-protecting curtain airbags are not available on any Jimny variant.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Rivals? There are none, well and truly.
The Jeep Wrangler matches the Jimny’s ladder-frame construction, three-door bodystyle and dual live axle layout, but it’s much larger and costs $33,000.
Other all-paw compact SUVs like the Mazda CX-3 couldn’t possibly hold a candle to the Jimny’s off-road prowess, and in the case of the Mazda you’ll need to spend at least $26,300 to get AWD.
The Jimny might be a compact SUV by definition, but in reality it exists in a class of its own.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
At 17 years old, the Jimny is well and truly ancient, but we love this plucky off-roader all the same. It offers very little in the way of creature comforts, but it serves up massive amounts of off-road joy.
Don’t dismiss it because of its cute proportions and mechanical simplicity, for it has a true go-anywhere capability that’s impossible to find in its segment.
It’s not the best choice for an urban runabout, but as a weekend toy it’s just about perfect.
At $20,990 for the manual or $22,990 for the automatic tested here (and there's a drive-away deal on right now, see below) it’s a bargain buy if you’re after a cheap and very capable off-roader.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- Jimny Sierra manual - $20,990
- Jimny Sierra automatic - $22,990
NOTE: at the time of writing, Suzuki Australia is running drive-away deals for the Jimny: $19,990 manual, $21,990 auto.