Earlier this year I took the fourth-generation Suzuki Jimny for run on the Melbourne 4×4 Training & Proving Ground near Werribee in Victoria. This steel box on wheels was last revised 20 years ago, so obviously the anticipation was high for a nameplate that’s basically a bit of a legend. Well after a week in the real world I can report there’s a substantial difference between driving the Jimny off-road as opposed to a motorway, which probably comes as no surprise.
What is it?
This is a three-door rugged off-roader that sits atop a ladder frame chassis. The roof is flat, the wheels are pushed out as far as possible into each corner and a spare wheel hangs off the rear tailgate. This is about as toy-like a car can look, even my two-ear old acknowledged it was a “special car.”
It maintains the lines and boxy shape from another era but does score a number of features you’d hope for in 2019. I’m left in no doubt the Jimny is a capable 4×4, you can read that review here. But as for a daily commuter, well that’s another story.
Behind the Wheel
I know this car is built for a specific purpose, but the fact remains the majority of time is going spent on the road. Which is why I’ve deliberately only used it on the tarmac. The interior is sparse, with a twin-cubic style instrument cluster, grab handle above the gear box for the passenger and lots of exposed interior metal.
There’s no problem with visibility given just about every window sits vertical. The front seats sport a new cloth design and are generally comfortable. But driving the Jimny on a motorway is another story.
I drive multiple cars every month and have done so for years now. I’ve become accustomed to the fact that most new cars are very well engineered and are generally quite safe to drive.
But driving the Jimny at 100km/h requires a much higher level of vigilance. This in fact is the first car in many years that made me feel a little uncomfortable, for my personal welfare. Being stuck between trucks and buses travelling at these speeds is frankly a little disconcerting.
This has nothing to do with its ordinary ANCAP rating either. The Jimny is highly prone to cross winds, blow back from passing trucks and generally feels unstable north of 100km/h.
The car’s steering is dull and vague off-centre which is not good when you’re trying to stay on the straight and narrow. The metal box body shifts from side to side and requires constant corrections.
In terms of power the five-speed manual I tested actually does fine in these situations. There’s just enough power to get you out of tricky situations like buzzing around a slower truck when required.
But basically, you’d want to be a reasonably capable driver to not just manage these drivability issues, but also tolerate them.
A 7.0-inch display showcases Suzuki’s infotainment system, which is actually not bad. However, being 2019 it’s great to see Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in a cabin like this. I actually pissed myself laughing at one point when I realised it had automatic high beam, a feature that was only found in luxury cars a few years ago.
There’s also standard Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), which is great because this is a vehicle you really don’t want to have a prang in. Although remarkably, this system doesn’t work at night or detect cyclists. Speaking of which, back to the big fat white elephant sitting in the room. The Jimny was only awarded a three-star rating from ANCAP.
What concerns me the most is this quote from ANCAP Chief Executive, James Goodwin. “The Jimny misses the mark with structural and design weaknesses, poor protection of pedestrians and cyclists, and lack of effective safety aids,”
“Engineers observed a number of issues in the frontal offset test including excessive deformation of the passenger compartment, with penalties applied for loss of structural integrity, steering wheel and pedal intrusion and knee injury risk. Insufficient inflation of the driver’s airbag was also observed with the dummy contacting the steering wheel through the airbag, indicating reduced protection in more severe crashes.”
Now I actually get the argument that this is made to be a recreational vehicle, built to a price. I have no doubt that Suzuki didn’t set out to design a vehicle that was problematic if you crashed it. It’s a fine balancing act, but personally I wouldn’t allow members of my family to drive it on the open road.
This won’t and hasn’t had an impact on sales, we’ve been over this with the Ford Mustang as well. It’s a matter of each to their own, just have a think about the above, however.
The 1.5-litre petrol engine produces 75kW/130Nm via a five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic. The manual adds a great level of fun, on lower speed backroads where I lived it was possible to have a bit of a grin on my melon. In fact, at lower speeds the Jimny does settle down a little, talking corners with a tad more confidence.
I could actually feel the Jimny’s LSD traction control system working hard, sending torque to the diagonal wheel, when things got “spirited”.
Prices kick off from $23,990 for the manual and $25,990 for the auto. Basically a $3000 rise over the outgoing model. Suzuki offers its five-year / 140,000km capped price servicing warranty.
Why Would You Buy One?
Because you have no fear or want to tow one behind your Winnebago.
This a car with personality, as I said its toy-like looks will grab the attention of many. Perhaps I’m just too accustomed to feeling safe in modern day cars, but I just can’t rate the Jimny and higher than 6 out of 10 because ANCAP’s words will always be ringing in my ears.