25 September 2023

2019 Suzuki Jimny manual – $23,990

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By Karl Peskett.

“Is that a restoration?” asked a perfect stranger as I waited in a Subway queue. No, it’s actually a brand new model. Perhaps it was the ivory paint with the black roof. Maybe it was the black grille with its large vertical slats and round headlights. Or maybe it was the pressed metal doors and their flush, old-school handles.

Either way, the Jimny has the heritage and retro look down pat. But you’re wondering why we’re in the baby off-roader after having tested it only a few months ago, right? Well, the last time we had a go at it was when we were invited to the Australian media launch.

The launch was held at the Melbourne 4×4 Training Ground, which was a perfect place to show off the Jimny’s capabilities. And let me tell you, it has plenty of them. One was a 30-plus degree incline on a slippery concrete surface. First gear, low-range and the Jimny simply walked up. And then using the hill descent control, it turned around and trundled down as well.

Moguls were absorbed, with the two live axles pitching opposite ways and the suspension soaking up everything. We did a river crossing, drove through soft sand, climbed over rocks and up gravel-covered hills. Put simply, there was little that could stop it off-road.

Despite performing comprehensive testing off-road on the launch, there was one test that eluded us at the time – driving on the road.

Considering that’s where most of these machines will be spending their time, it’s probably best that we report on how it fares when it hits the blacktop. And after a week of testing, we can confirm that it can be summed up in two words – not great. But of course, this comes with a caveat, which is that no Jimny has been great on the road, and that’s part of the appeal. Sound strange? You’ll have to try one to really understand.

You see, with a larger motor under the bonnet, the Jimny is now more powerful than ever before. But it’s also heavier than ever before, which means it’s still not quick. And with a notchy manual gearbox, you can’t slickly change gears quickly. But it’s all about the feel, the involvement. You’re very much a part of this machine when you’re slotting it into the next ratio.

The clutch is nice and light and is progressive with a good takeup point close to the floor, and the brakes work well, even though the rears are drum brakes. But you’re never going to worry the brakes when there is only 75kW and 130Nm available. Considering Suzuki has turbocharging sorted out, it’d be nice to see a boosted version at some point. But let’s not hold our breath.

Thankfully, even though there’s not a lot of grunt, it’s only moving 1075kg. Which brings us to an interesting comparison. This week, there happened to be a lot of garden work to be done, specifically removing some trees, soil and gravel. So, I borrowed a mini-digger, in this case a Kanga. It shifted tree stumps, ripped up roots, hauled blue metal in wheelbarrow sized loads and carted wet sand around the place. Standing on the back of the machine, I noticed a small label which noted the Kanga’s weight – 1085kg. The little digger was 10 kilos heavier than the Suzuki Jimny sat next to it in the garage. That should give you an idea of the Jimny’s size.

In fact, it’s only good for four people. Yes, you can happily plonk adults in the back, however when you do there is literally no boot space. So, if you want to cart some friends around, they had better be packing light.

But the real issue facing the Jimny is the handling. With soft tyres and even softer suspension, it rolls around, creating a very wallowing ride. Any movement of the steering is met with some lean, and the harder you throw it into a corner, the worse the lean gets. The tyres start to howl in protest and you know that you’ll need to negotiate roundabouts carefully and very slowly.

The gearing is very short, also, so when you’re sitting on a highway or freeway, expect the motor to be buzzing at a lot higher revs than most people are used to.

However, for all its foibles, it’s a loveable machine. It’s a no-nonsense, no-frills vehicle that does exactly what it says it’s going to. It will get you wherever you want to go, and through any field, desert, mud pan or rock trail.

The Jimny may not be the safest choice (only three stars) nor is it the most spacious, but it’s certainly the most honest and most fun vehicle you can buy right now. And I want one – badly.

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