Many manufacturers want us to believe that AWD is as good as true 4WD. The Suzuki Jimny, by contrast, stands out from the would-be-if-they-could-be pack. This is no high-sitting hatchback with double diffs and marketed as an SUV, nor is it offered in 2WD only either. Make no mistake – this little vehicle is a genuine 4WD in every sense of the word. It has a two-speed transfer box offering high or low range, which sees the ability to transmit power from rear wheels to all four wheels in high or low range by the push of a button. The ample ground clearance – 190 mm – very generous departure and approach angles all scream for a bit of fun off road.
The Jimny has been around for about four decades but it has been revamped for 2015. The current shape was introduced around 1998 but there’s naturally been some ongoing evolution in the intervening years with a racy looking bonnet scoop, a new grille plus some front bumper bar restyling in this year’s model. Drivers will also be pleased to know there’s an electronic stability program as part of the package.
All up, the new Jimny Sierra, as it’s now called, is better, stronger and smoother than ever thanks to some serious refinement. Yet the Jimny retains the original ethos of a tough, go-anywhere vehicle that can handle beach and bush duties with ease. And as a commuter the compact, cheap to run and easy to park Jimny deserves strong consideration as well; it runs far more easily and with more refinement for city work than its rugged, go get ‘em looks indicate.
In assessing the 2015 Jimny let’s start under the bonnet. There’s now an all aluminium twin cam four-cylinder 1.3L engine outputting 62kW of power and 110Nm of torque. They’re somewhat modest figures but if we consider that the Jimny weighs only 1060kg, the power-to-weight ratio is very respectable. The twin cam engine revs freely, pulls fairly strongly once the tacho needle starts to move around the dial, and is surprising in its flexibility. The Jimny has also become very eco friendly in its latest transformation, and is set up with electronically-controlled exhaust gas recirculation plus electronic multipoint fuel injection.
These days the Jimny is available in either four-speed auto or as a manual gear shifter. I reviewed a manual Jimny, and I had no issues whatsoever with the five-speed shifter. The ratios were clearly defined, easy to engage and with a smooth, quite free clutch take up the manual Suzi was fun to drive. Take off in traffic was as nippy as needed, and highway speeds were there with ease.
On both the highway and off road the Jimny’s ride was more sophisticated than I expected thanks to a three link coil spring suspension set up all round in lieu of the rear leaf springs of yesteryear.
In more difficult (pot holed or corrugated) gravel road work the suspension was sometimes a little choppy due to the Suzuki’s very short wheel base. On the plus side though, that same short wheelbase greatly contributes to the Jimny’s great off-road capability due to reduced overhang at both extremities of the body.
Although the Jimny’s suspension set-up is very compliant there’s quite a degree of body rigidity. This is due to a ladder chassis under the floor which strengthens the side members and distributes any rod shock more evenly within the suspension/under-body package.
One thing that did impress me was the overall comfort levels. For a small vehicle there was quite a degree of comfort and very little noise, vibration harshness (the dreaded NVH) during highway runs where the engine had far less intrusion than other modern SUVs I’ve driven.
The two-door Jimny handled very well even at M1 highway speeds, and even a stiff crosswind didn’t bother the Suzi despite its high stance. Steering is much improved these days as well, and while it’s a recirculating ball-style set-up there was no sensation of slackness in the dead straight ahead position.
Ergonomically, the Jimny is a surprise packet. I found the fabric seats with their manual adjustment large enough to be easy going on a four-hour stint behind the wheel, and electric windows and mirrors are also a change from the last Jimny I drove a few years ago. The manual air conditioning worked fine. In a vehicle as compact and inexpensive as this one, is there a need for climate air? I think not.
The Jimny’s dash was functional rather than fancy, with plenty of plastic and a few silver highlights here and there around major instruments to brighten things up. There are two SRS air bags up front as well as ABS, plus side door beams, so safety has not been overlooked. We anglers like to tow things and the Jimny has a 350kg rating for an un-braked trailer or 1100kg with brakes.
This small, two-door vehicle takes two adults easily in the front as the doors open quite wide and the seats are of a good size. Youngsters could clamber into the back fairly easily but adults will need to wriggle a bit to be seated.
With the rear seat upright, the rear luggage space is a very modest 113L. Fortunately this does have a 50/50 split fold capability to provide a maximum luggage area of 816L, and I was able to pack a camping trip’s gear in there.
My overall assessment of the 2015 Jimny Sierra is that it’s a far more quiet and more comfortable vehicle than you’d expect for a small and inexpensive 4WD. Modern electronic extras (e.g. BlueTooth) that we see in a lot of today’s vehicles aren’t included, but in many respects the Jimny still punches far above its weight. On the beach, the light weight and easy power will see it skipping along where others plough. That’s the first point.
The second is that this unit, with its easy road manners, will make a great little commuter. Fuel consumption is the big positive – during test runs with the vehicle well loaded I averaged 8.5L per 100km. And… drum roll please… the Sierra comes with a full-sized spare tyre. The price of this tough little off-roader is around $20,500.Reads: 1976