The Suzuki Jimny is a love-it-or-loathe-it vehicle. It is a terrific off-road weapon thanks to its diminutive size and chunky four-wheel-drive system, yet those same attributes make it a terrible motorway cruiser, something reviewers castigate it for. Which is odd, as it meets the original design brief perfectly; after all, you dont moan that your Kenwood Chef is useless for chopping down trees with, do you?
So weve tried to bring a sense of perspective to the debate by using the little Suzuki where it was intended to be used in the countryside.
The upright (but never uptight) Jimny looks like a four-wheel-drive should; blunt, square and punctuated by a full-size spare wheel bolted to the back door.
It isnt pretty but then its dimensions are modelled on those of the wartime Willys Jeep and when your DNA runs back 60 years youre never going to challenge the new breed of SUVs in the glamour stakes, are you?
Yet body colour bumpers, tinted rear windows, and alloy wheels help lift it into this century and I cant help admiring anything that looks entirely fit for the 21st purpose faux bonnet scoop aside.
The interior might small but the driving position is (width aside) probably no smaller than that of a Land Rover Defender 90; at six foot three I was a snug, but comfortable fit, with had head and leg-room to spare. The front seats are excellent, being supportive and very comfortable. They also give a nigh-on perfect driving position, which ran entirely contrary to my expectations.
The rear seats are small and look very uncomfortable and even though my two sons used them without complaint Id suggest they are better reserved for the use of your offspring rather than your contemporaries. Better still, take the rear seats out and fit the full-length load space protector and chuck your country accoutrements and the dog in instead.
The SZ3 comes with electric windows, power steering, cup holders, and remote locking, while the SZ4 I tested adds air conditioning, alloy wheels, imitation leather seats, rear privacy glass, and alloy wheels for a 1,300 premium, which is probably worth paying for.
My only serious complaint is the switch panel for the electric windows is perfectly placed to catch on my right knee.
Most SUVs are biased towards road use, which is completely understandable given the use to which the majority are put. The Jimny is more hard-core and biased towards rough terrain use, which makes it a bit of a handful at high speeds; that short chassis and high centre of gravity make it feel a bit wobbly at the national speed limit. Throw in a bend and a stiff crosswind and youll probably get an unwelcome shot of adrenaline help gird your clenched buttocks
However, in the city it is a joy. That high driving position and square-edged shape let you see exactly what youre doing and you can squeeze a parking space out of the most unlikely places, egged on by the best turning circle this side of a London taxi. Its nippy and chuckable and lends a devil-may-care nonchalance to your driving that is wonderfully addictive.
On tarmac only the rear wheels are driven, which means that the Jimny can get a bit scrabbly on first-gear bends on slippery tarmac. It is, however, nowhere near as bad as last months Jeep Grand Cherokee though.
Off-road is where its all at and the Jimny doesnt disappoint. Selectable four-wheel-drive and a proper low-ratio gearbox mark it out as an Old School mud mauler, a stance that is only undermined by road-biased tyres that become choked with mud within seconds.
Great Wall fit proper all-terrain tyres to their Tracker limited edition, and Suzuki should consider doing the same to the Jimny; thus equipped it would take you to the same places a Defender would without bankrupting you or breaking your back.
In fact, itll probably get you to places the Defender wont, as its so much narrower and lighter, something at least one Police force appreciates as they use them to navigate coastal footpaths that are out of bounds to their full-size fleet of off-roaders.
The 16 valve, 1.3-litre engine the only one on offer produces 83bhp and 81 lb/ft of torque. Disappointed? You shouldnt be, because it is ample given the Jimnys 1,090kg kerb weight.
Performance is entirely consistent with its intended use; in the countryside an impressive 0-62mph time is of little consequence. (For the record it is 14.1 for the manual and a 2CV-like 17.2 for the automatic). The top speed is 87mph (84 for the auto) but youll only ever reach that once in your life; for every subsequent journey an indicated 70 will be more than enough
Performance aside, it also sounds terrific giving a proper roar when you start it up, a clatter that sounds exactly like a miniature V8. That soon calms down to a barely audible tick over, a noise that increases with speed but is never intrusive.
Fuel consumption should be mid-30s to low 40s; officially it gets just under 40 mpg and costs 175 a year to tax, mildly surprising for such a small vehicle.
Value for Money
The Jimny range starts at 11,995 for the base model SZ3 with a five-speed manual gearbox. The SZ4 is 13,295 with a manual gearbox and 14,195 with an automatic. Our recommendation is to buck our usual advice and go for the top-of-the-range SZ4 with a manual gearbox. The SZ4 equipment levels might not overwhelm you but it adds the sort of kit that makes a real difference to how the Jimny feels in day-to-day use.
This windscreen price represents decent value (and we suspect the showrooms would do you a very good deal on one) and demand for second-hand models helps keep residuals strong, helping minimise the overall cost of ownership.
The Little Grey Fergie was the first tractor to be built on a human scale and was a revelation as a result. It was smaller than its predecessors, which made it lighter, cheaper, more manoeuvrable and more economical to buy and run. It redefined the role of the tractor and is, as a result, still in use on smallholdings and farms across the world today.
The Jimny is a similar proposition. It fits four people and a moderate amount of luggage, or two people and a lot of luggage. Its minuscule size and weight lets you use it in places that a larger vehicle just wont fit or in environments in which they would get bogged down. It has - and Suzuki should be congratulated for this - defied the convention that cars must get bigger and fatter and better equipped as they age. They dont, and it hasnt.
If you need a cheap utility four-wheel-drive then the Jimny has a lot going for it. If you want a road-biased 4x4 SUV then you could consider the similarly priced Dacia Duster - but if you want the real deal then buy Suzuki.