The diminutive Japanese off-roader, which was first unveiled in 1970 as the LJ10, has shown the world that a short wheelbase, light weight, a compact powertrain and a basic four-wheel drive system can prove to be a recipe for success.
Fast-forward through the likes of the SJ20, SJ413/Samurai and JB33/JB43 and on to 2018 where the fourth generation Jimny (JB74) was unveiled to the local motoring media. Like many of the international reports, local journalists were impressed with the somewhat flawed micro 4x4. Clearly, the South African public are too, as the last time I checked, there are some 600 Jimny orders backlogged, with international supply unable to match demand.
I was so smitten with the car that I was convinced that adding one to the family would be a great idea. So in December 2018, I took delivery of a 1.5 GLX AllGrip manual Jimny and subsequently received the automatic variant as a test car, meaning a natural comparison was made between the two variants.
Styling is an incredibly subjective thing to make sweeping statements about, however, in some cases, there are almost universally regarded opinions surrounding vehicle aesthetics. Take the first generation Fiat Multipla or the SsangYong Stavic - these are universally hideous, while I feel that the new Jimny is, generally speaking, very well-liked by everyone who sees it.
The boxy shape, short wheelbase, plastic cladding and throwback design cues simply make for what is sure to be an iconic design going forward. The GLX variant adds alloy wheels and front fog lamps, however, I find the steel wheels on the base model GA more appealing.
The interior of the new Jimny is a wonderful blend of modern and retro design, it’s really rather appealing to me but bear in mind that I’m the sort of person who enjoys Casio Databank watches. The first nod to the older Suzuki off-road models is the decidedly retro instrument cluster. With a squircle theme, old school orange analogue speedometer and rev counter along with a basic trip computer, it looks decidedly dated, but in a way that only a Jimny could make cool.
Moving to the centre console, there’s a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which adds a nice modern touch, as does the digital climate control system.
On the manual model, you get a lengthy gear lever straight from off-roaders of old, complete with a rubberised cover at its base. The automatic variant’s shifter looks more traditional by modern standards. As for the rest of the interior, expect a range of black plastics and relatively comfortable seats which contribute to a very utilitarian feeling interior.
In terms of space, there’s not much of a boot with 85-litres of space with the rear seats up, which increases to 377-litres with the seats folded down. This means that the new Jimny really is more suited to a single person or a couple without children as it’s simply too small to practical space.
The on and off-road performance of the Jimny has improved, with the former being notably better. The 1.5-litre naturally aspirated engine in the new Jimny provides 75kW and 130 N.m with power being transmitted through either a five-speed manual or four-speed torque converter automatic. Despite only weighing around 1 100kg, the new Jimny is still not exactly brisk, and the long throws in the manual gearbox and sluggish shifts of the auto don’t help matters either.
Out on the open road, the Jimny is relatively happy cruising at the national speed limit with the manual buzzing at around the 3 700 r/min mark and the auto slightly lower. The general stability of the car isn’t all that confidence inspiring at speed and I certainly wouldn’t want to perform any evasive manoeuvres over the 100 km/h mark. But there is a marked improvement in the general ride, handling and compliance versus the old product, while the addition of cruise control adds further convenience to the package.
But to judge the Jimny for its lack of on-road prowess would be to miss the point of the car entirely. The fact that it is now a car that one can live with on a daily basis is now a bonus for Jimny owners because it's off-road where the little Samurai really shines.
There’s a ladder frame chassis, three-link rigid axle coil spring suspension and four-wheel drive along with a very clever torque vectoring by braking system. Couple these attributes with 210mm of ground clearance, incredibly short overhangs and you have a very capable off-roader, even with the road bias Dunlop rubber fitted.
I can only imagine what sort of little monsters those owners who opted for the bare bones GA variant are in the process of building, with lift kits, all-terrain tyres and various off-road modifications as seen with the third generation model.