2019 Suzuki Jimny first drive review
The Suzuki Jimny already has the appeal of a new cult hero classic.
It has long-been a budget option for those after a go-anywhere off-roader without the bulk of a Toyota LandCruiser or Nissan Patrol.
Now in its fourth generation, the baby SUV has taken styling cues from previous-gen models in an effort to bring retro appeal.
So what makes this featherweight 4x4 special?
We took it through tough terrain at a four-wheel-drive proving ground in Werribee, Victoria to find out.
Maybe you’ve been thinking about a stylish SUV you can drive to work through the week and take bush-bashing and sand-slaying on Sundays, but a Jeep Wrangler or Mercedes-Benz G-Class is out of your budget.
Enter the Jimny. On sale in various forms since the 1970s, the compact model enjoys a cult following of loyal fans - some in love with its baby G-Wagen aesthetics and others attracted to its legitimate rock-climbing ability.
The J-Wagen (as some may call it) isn’t the most luxurious or powerful car, and while it does look a bit “my first 4x4”, the Jimny promises to take you (almost) anywhere your heart desires.
Australia only gets one Jimny variant equivalent to the top-spec GXL overseas, with a choice of either a five-speed manual ($23,990 plus on-roads) or four-speed automatic ($25,990 plus on-roads), making it a fairly affordable option.
However, if you do think it’s right for you and you can afford it, you should probably contact your local Suzuki dealer immediately as the brand says Australian stock is limited to just 1,100 units for 2019 and more than 300 people have already claimed one.
Aside from the obvious - retro vibes and go-anywhere ability - Suzuki has also decked the new Jimny out with modern safety tech such as autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning systems.
LED headlights with high beam assist also feature alongside fog lights, daytime running lights, hill descent control, hill hold control and more.
A 7.0-inch touchscreen brings sat nav, a reverse camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems. Other features include climate control, power windows and cruise control.
The Jimny rides on 15-inch alloy wheels wrapped in all-weather tyres which provided a surprising amount of grip in slippery conditions.
Customers can choose from six colours, with metallic paint fetching a $500 premium for a single tone, or $1250 for a two-tone finish with a dark roof.
The Jimny gets a three year warranty as standard, which can be extended to five years if you opt for Suzuki’s capped price servicing plan. Recommended service intervals arrive every six months, averaging $245.20 per service (totalling $2452 over 5 years).
How tough is it?
Suzuki designed the Jimny for off-roading so it has drip rails on the roof to prevent water cascading into the cabin when opening doors, while plastic wheel arch extensions and side sills help protect paintwork and angled front and rear bumpers offer a decent amount of ground clearance.
The machine feels well-built both inside and out.
Rubber floor mats protect the carpet flooring, and hard plastic surfaces throughout the cabin are essential for easy cleaning after adventures - though cloth seats aren’t so easy to clean.
A two-door layout means passengers climbing into the back can brush muddy feet onto the sides of the front seats, leaving a mess.
It’s worth mentioning the Jimny only gets a three-star safety rating, following a disappointing performance in European crash testing.
Many people will be attracted to a boxy shape reminiscent of its glory days. The Jimny bucks the trend for sleek, modern styling while bringing modern creature comforts as well as the ability to take you well off the beaten track.
What's the interior like?
The Jimny isn’t a family machine. The ‘boot’ (a small section behind the rear seat) is a measly 85 litres with the rear seats in a normal position, but folding the rear seats flat will give you 377 litres - enough room for a couples camping weekend.
You also have USB and auxiliary inputs in the front, and two 12V sockets (one at the front and one for the boot) to keep gadgets charged up.
The Jimny gets two child seat fixture points if you need them, but it cannot tow. A full-sized spare tyre sits proud on the tailgate.
Large windows and an upright windscreen lend outstanding visibility on the road.
There is a good amount of room for back seat passengers, but not much support in the rear seat backing. Long drives would be bearable for the average sized human in the back, but it is a small car which feels cosy when all four seats are full.
Front seats are quite soft with a medium level of firmness to them, though the rears are less generously-padded.
A dash-mounted plastic grab handle helps passengers brace during off-roading, while rear occupants make do with small roof handles - though it might be easier to just buckle up and embrace each other.
A low roof height requires taller-than-average occupants to duck into the car. Back seat riders need to enter from the passenger side, where you’ll find a little push-down handle that slides the seat forward for people getting in the back.
The Jimny is classed as a micro-SUV, so it’s safer to not ask too much of it space-wise. In saying that, Suzuki designed the front seats to fold completely flat, so if you do need to take a small surfboard with you, you’ll probably be riding solo.
Two cupholders are located between the front seats as is a small pocket big enough for a walkie-talkie or your wallet. Another small storage pocket in front of the gearstick is a handy place to put your phone. Each door is home to a flat and narrow storage pocket which could accommodate a magazine, but not a drink bottle.
While many crossovers claim to be versatile, the Jimny is one which truly delivers, thanks to a selectable four-wheel-drive function, ladder-frame chassis and three-link rigid axle suspension with coil springs. It’s as capable as a mountain goat.
What's it like to drive?
Suzuki dumped the old 1.3-litre donk from the previous model and replaced it with a fresh 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine mated to either five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions.
The sole engine option delivers 75kW of power and 130Nm of torque - 12kW and 20Nm more than before.
While those modest outputs don’t look overly impressive on paper, the Jimny’s slender 1100kg weight allows the motor to move it along effortlessly.
The combined fuel consumption rating is 6.4L/100km in manual form, and 6.9L/100km for the automatic. But the car’s average fuel consumption doubled that during our off-road testing, climbing well into the 12’s by the end of the day.
Confident in its abilities, Suzuki took us to a four-wheel-drive park to highlight the car’s strengths. Unsurprisingly, the Jimmy proved capable and entertaining in a variety of circumstances that might stop a lesser model in its tracks.
We took the Jimny up a 30-degree inclined concrete slope, then back down a muddy section of the same hill, over mounds of sand, through a river crossing and around tight hillside switchbacks.
In manual form, the clutch is feather-light and shifting between gears is smooth. Life’s even easier in the auto and both house all the main controls within easy reach.
The Jimny has super-light steering feel, making it easy to manoeuvre if not overly precise in slippery unsealed conditions.
Much of its off-road capabilities are thanks to a part-time four-wheel-drive system called AllGrip.
A second shift lever placed in front of the handbrake switches between three modes - high-range two-wheel-drive for tarmac, high-range four-wheel-drive for slippery surfaces and low-range four-wheel-drive for gruelling low-speed work.
Changing from high to low range can be done once stopped, requiring a solid push and backwards shove of the gear lever - then you’re off.
The new model felt solid and well-grounded over dirt mounds and sandy tracks.
Travelling over rutted and undulating surfaces was no trouble and when the drop-offs got bigger, the Jimny calmly lifted a rear wheel into the air and floated down with the other three on the ground.
Swimming can be added to its list of accolades, with a recommended wading depth of 30 centimetres. It can go a little further if you’re feeling brave.
Hill descent control feels unnatural at first - coming down a long steep hill without your foot planted on the brake - but the Jimny does it with ease. Braking and gaining traction on its own, it creeps down in a controlled and stable manner.
What's the first impression?
Carmakers often struggle to capture the magic of past favourites. But the new Jimny reminds us of what everyone loved about the old model while bringing the safety and convenience of a new car.
It still gives you an overwhelming sensation that you could tackle any environment - rock climbing, river-crossings, bush walking, sand dunes and more. Performing well and truly better than expected in off-road conditions, the Jimny’s real test will be whether its improvements translate to better behaviour on the road.
If Suzuki can get it right, the new model deserves cult status of its own.
Ali is a Motoring Reporter at Drive.com.au. She completed her Journalism degree in 2018 and has a background in the automotive industry. Ali also has a passion for racing that started in go-karts from an young age, progressing into car racing in 2016…