Motoring

Motoring

Suzuki Jimny 1.5 GLX AllGrip: A baby 4×4 with a brave heart

Suzuki Jimny 1.5 GLX AllGrip: A baby 4×4 with a brave heart

As many hardcore 4x4 fans have found out, you underestimate the go-anywhere capabilities of the Suzuki Jimny at your own peril. It might be small, but it has a huge heart – and the 4x4 talent to go with it. Can this all-new version live up to its forebear’s iconic reputation?

The gravel road over Breedtsnek in North West’s Magalies mountains used to be a convenient shortcut between Magaliesburg and the Buffelspoort Dam. It had the added benefit of offering breathtaking views in all directions along the way.

Today, even the sign that used to warn travellers of the road’s impending danger and the derelict condition has rusted away – which is a pity, because that warning has become more pertinent than ever.

In fact, it’s no longer a real road at all. Much of the gravel has washed away, exposing sheets of corrugated bedrock and garnished with sharp shards of basalt, while deep gulleys and treacherous trenches make the going even tougher.

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Add steep gradients, a sharp hairpin or two, and the occasional boulder, and you have a real-life driving challenge. Not an artificial 4×4 track, and not the toughest of trails – just nature’s way of putting man and machine to the test when you least expect it.

Breedtsnek is for people who like to explore the road less travelled – preferably in something competent enough to be up to the challenge. One such vehicle is Suzuki’s legendary Jimny: a baby 4×4 with a brave heart.

And now, there’s an all-new model, said to be better than its predecessor in every possible respect. That’s quite a statement, given that it will have big boots (well, figuratively speaking, that is), to fill.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: the first new Suzuki Jimny in two decades is still cramped, still noisy, still rides like a mule cart, and still lacks outright poke.

Right – now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s focus instead on what makes this Jimny the best yet: a special, endearing and hugely competent machine that deserves every bit of praise it receives.

First of all, you have to put the Jimny into the right context. Yes, it’s a 4×4. But if that conjures up images of big, burly machines that swagger their way through seemingly impassable terrain while cosseting their occupants in leather-swathed comfort, think again.

The Jimny looks more like a toy than a pukka all-terrainer. It’s small and dinky, with the boxy looks and upright stance of an old-school Jeep – a bit like a scaled-down spoof of the real thing.

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But don’t judge this book by its oh-so-cute cover. The Jimny boasts a 4×4 heritage stretching back all the way to the even dinkier LJ10 of the 1970s – and it’s a proud heritage, earned the hard way by conquering the kind of terrain even mountain bikers would rather avoid.

As a result, the little Suzuki has become renowned as something of a giant killer, at least in 4×4 terms.

This latest Jimny is the first all-new model in 20 years – perhaps because its makers didn’t feel like messing with a successful formula. And the good news is that while the newcomer improves on the original in almost every area, it remains true to the quintessential Jimny DNA.

In other words, while the new Jimny is wider and taller, it hasn’t become bloated nor obese: it’s still ultra-compact and therefore ultra-wieldy, which becomes important in the rough stuff but is useful around town, too.

The boxy shape, round headlights and slotted grille have remained, albeit in a fresher interpretation, as has the side-hinged tailgate, complete with mounted, full-sized spare wheel.

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Compared to its predecessor, the Jimny is actually shorter but wider, while retaining the same wheelbase – all of which suggests better packaging and improved interior space. It also creates a more aggressive appearance.

The angular lines are emphasised by the matt black plastic finish of the bumpers, wheel arch mouldings and exterior mirrors. Even the roof of our GLX test unit was in a contrasting, glossy black, garnished with a cockily offset bee-sting aerial.

Those huge wheel arch extensions provide plenty of space for the relatively modest 15-inch alloy wheels, sensibly shod with 80-profile off-road rubber. The Dunlop GrandTrek AT20 tyres don’t look the most aggressive but offer a robust construction without becoming too noisy on tar surfaces.

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The overhangs are almost ridiculously short, guaranteeing the kind of approach and departure angles that even pukka 4x4s can only dream about. They also add to the Suzuki’s irreverent demeanour.

Big, wide-opening doors ensure easy access to an interior that purports to accommodate four and actually manages to do so, as long as the front occupants don’t push their seats all the way back. Clever packaging means there’s more rear shoulder room than expected, too.

The downside is luggage space – or the lack thereof. With the rear bench occupied, there is almost no space for luggage behind.

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Folding the rear seat backrests flat does create a reasonable 377 litres of cargo space. But if you need all four seats, you’ll have to resort to a roof rack, roof box or a trailer.

To the Jimny’s credit, it does try to make the most of the internal volume available. Both front seats and the rear seatbacks fold completely flat, and with all seats folded down, the result is a flat-floored space big enough for a camper to sleep in.

Want to squeeze in a surfboard? Fold the front passenger seat and left rear backrest flat and the Jimny will accommodate a long object with ease. Yes, that goes for the kitchen sink, too.

Interior fit and finish is much improved. Much of it is plastic, but the surfaces look and feel robust and even classy, with nicely tactile textures and some metallic bits. There’s a useful grab handle ahead of the passenger seat, and cup holders in the centre console.

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However, the very narrow door pockets are useless for anything except a slim map book, perhaps. And apart from the glove compartment, there is an overall shortage of stowage options for oddments like sunglasses, keys, wallets and the like.

As for equipment, the GLX version under scrutiny here gets a nicely integrated infotainment system based around a large colour touchscreen that dominates the centre stack. It offers Bluetooth hands-free and audio streaming, a stereo tuner, and compatibility with Apple AirPlay, Android Audio, and Mirrorlink – which then adds smartphone-based navigation to the mix.

Electric windows and mirrors, remote central locking, climate control, cruise control and a multifunction steering wheel are standard on the GLX. The Jimny also comes with dual airbags and ABS brakes, as well as hill start assistance and hill descent control.

One of the big improvements is the drivetrain, now based around a larger, more powerful 1.5-litre engine. The 75kW of maximum urge and 130Nm of shove won’t win any muscle awards but provide the lightweight Jimny with plenty of pep.

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That’s not only true in straight line, open-road terms but also when the Jimny is asked to crawl and clamber over rough terrain – something it’s likely to do a lot, given the typical enthusiasm and lifestyle of Jimny owners.

There’s also a real 4×4 system, complete with the low-range transfer case. For on-road use, rear-wheel drive is the default, but you can shift to 4×4 on the move at speeds of up to 100km/h.

When the going gets really rough, there’s low-range 4×4 for tenacious traction and traversability. The test vehicle was fitted with a five-speed manual gearbox, but there’s also a four-speed auto for those who prefer two-pedal driving.

On the road, the Jimny feels fit and frisky, getting off the mark with alacrity and making the most of its relatively short gearing to zip through traffic with more enthusiasm than expected. The raised ride height and big glass areas make for excellent visibility, too.

The extra power also means that the new Jimny is more adept at highway-speed cruising than before. It will maintain 120km/h in top gear with relative ease, except on steeper uphills, and overtaking is no longer the tenuous enterprise it used to be.

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However, don’t expect a car-like driving experience. It may be better than the previous Jimny, but it still rides like an old-school 4×4: wobbly, with lots of body roll around corners, and a tendency to get jittery at speed over the bumpy stuff.

That’s not surprising: to be the 4×4 giant slayer it is, the Jimny runs on live axles front and rear, together with a high 210mm ground clearance, relatively soft damping, and loads of wheel travel. That’s great in the rough and tumble of off-road driving, but not so great on tar.

Expect slightly vague steering, too, especially on undulating roads. And that angular shape means the Jimny is about as streamlined as a brick, which means it doesn’t enjoy crosswinds.

Noise levels are manageable at up to 100 km/h so, and this new version is certainly a lot more refined than its forebear. It also feels significantly more composed and settled, even when pressing on.

Where the Jimny really comes into its own – and the real reason to buy it – is when heading off the beaten track.

Which is exactly why I found myself turning off the R24 between Magaliesburg and Rustenburg, intent on cresting the aforementioned Breedtsnek Pass.

If anything, the route has become worse – much worse – than I remember. At first, things don’t look too bad, except for some extremely rutted sections.

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But as soon as you’ve negotiated the hairpin a few hundred metres before the highest point, the real fun starts. Forget about tackling this in your average 4×2 bakkie, let alone a city-slicker car. You need a real, dyed-in-the-wool 4×4 with low range.

The Suzuki, however, hardly broke a sweat. I engaged low-range once or twice just for the sake of adding a bit of extra traction margin, but it never really needed it.

True, by 4×4 trail standards, this was a breeze, but there were enough tricky sections to confirm just how confident and competent the little mite is when the going gets tough.

In these situations, everything about the Suzuki Jimny makes sense: the tall stance, the short overhangs, the wide tracks and extended wheel travel, the 80-profile tyres … all contribute to making it an unstoppable little beast. I still can’t wipe the smile off my face.

Suddenly, the Suzuki’s compromised on-road manners are both forgivable and worth it. But you have to be serious enough about regularly exploiting the Jimny’s extraordinary off-road talents in the great outdoors to warrant day-to-day living with its flaws.

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Too many wannabe Jimny owners will be drawn to the little Suzuki because it’s cute – like a Mini-Me version of the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon. But those buyers will soon find out that the cons outweigh the pros: it may be cool, but this is not a vehicle for everyday commuting.

However, for those seeking an unstoppable 4×4 with loads of bells and whistles and reasonable comfort, who don’t need the space and pace of a big all-roader, there can only be one choice. DM

PROS

4×4 capability limited only by the driver’s skills. Lives up to the nameplate’s legendary reputation.

CONS

Still small, impractical and uncomfortable, with a choppy ride to match. A 4×4 for aficionados and adventurers.

VITAL STATS

Suzuki Jimny 1.5 GLX AllGrip Manual

Engine

In-line four-cylinder, 1,462cc, DOHC

Power

75kW @ 6,000rpm

Torque

130Nm @ 4,000rpm

Power-to-weight ratio

68.49 kW/ton

Gearbox

Five-speed manual, transfer case, 4×4

Wheels/tyres

15-inch alloy, 195/80 R15 tyres

Approach/departure angle

37/49 degrees

Breakover angle

28 degrees

0-100 km/h

14.0sec (est)

Top speed

145km/h

Fuel tank capacity

40 litres

Consumption (claimed/tested)

6.3 / 8.1 litres/100km

Range (claimed/tested)

635 / 494km

CO2 emissions

146 g/km

Retail price

R299,900

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