Business Maverick

A Vroom with a View

Suzuki Jimny doesn’t suit a family, but millennials and Generation Z just adore it

Suzuki Jimny doesn’t suit a family, but millennials and Generation Z just adore it

What happened to us in 2020, and what does it mean for 2021? It might seem like the answer is obvious. We were in a governance-inflicted recession and then we got sideswiped by a global pandemic. As a result of the fact that the ANC couldn’t run a brand-new Toyota without stripping it first, this will result in an enduring crisis that will kill tens of thousands of South Africans.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Another feature of the year was that unnecessary dichotomies diminished understanding and drove an almost unbelievably stupid standard of debate. The key to understanding complex problems is to accept that, despite what the Twitter/Facebook rage machines want, it is possible to hold two (or more!) objectively true facts in your head at the same time. It is possible, for example, that banning surfing is a risible policy response to Covid-19 and that enforcing physical distancing is not, and that the government has had a really good idea and a really terrible idea at the same time.

How the pandemic is experienced is – like everything in life – very much dependent on your circumstance and the bubbles you inhabit, digital or not. Some folk reading this are in a position of comparative comfort and security. Many other people are not.

What does all this mean if you’re trying to sell things? How do you get a handle on all this mayhem? To get back to the point, what happened to us in 2020, and what does it mean for 2021?

Thankfully, there are people who measure this kind of stuff, to make sure we don’t forget to look outside our immediate experience of life and our digital foxholes.

Euromonitor recently released its consumer trends survey for 2021, based on its “broad and international coverage in 100 countries across the world, from industry market analysis to quantitative global consumer surveys”. After reading it from cover to cover, and really thinking about it, the only reasonable conclusion anyone can make is that almost all young people will in coming years buy a Suzuki Jimny.

But, you may scoff, Suzuki can’t build enough of the things. The Japanese firm recently announced that it is having to expand its production capacity for the dinky off-roader by opening a line at its behemoth Suzuki-Maruti plant in India.

Suzuki SA confirmed that demand for the car has been difficult to meet. When it was launched, there was a waiting list of 18 months for people who were serious enough to put down a R10,000 deposit. Depending on the variant you’ve ordered, there’s still a waiting list today of up to four months. Here in Cape Town, a neighbour told me that she is 36th in line for a new Jimny at the local dealer.

Euromonitor reports that people in general and especially millennials and members of Generation Z are prone to thriftiness, the latter groups because the global financial crisis struck them early in their careers. They are experience-focused, less interested in material things and more interested in environmental protection. Euromonitor reckons “companies should pivot towards value-for-money propositions, offering affordable options without sacrificing quality”. Indeed so, and this ties in perfectly with the pandemic-related desire of urban people to access what it calls “outdoor oases”.

“The rise of remote working results in consumers turning to an Outdoor Oasis for leisure and recreation,” they say, citing extraordinary growth in gardening products and services. If ever there was a car absolutely bang on the zeitgeist, this is it: a small footprint, frugal to run, robust and simple, pure of design, and easily capable of reaching remote places.

I have seldom enjoyed a car as much as I enjoyed the Jimny, perhaps because it fits a life I cannot live right now. It is comically hopeless as a car for my family. We have three kids and the car seats only four people in total. Then imagine, if you will, that one of your daughters is a double bassist and the other a cellist (I’m not actually joking), and you will see that the Jimny Just Doesn’t Work for Team Parker.

Add to this the fact that you can either have rear seats or a boot – not both – and the problem is compounded. The Jimny is not a family car. But it’s very clever, nonetheless. It’s an exceptional off-road car and an exceptional urban car. In either environment, it has few peers.

Look at the basics: the Jimny is a body-on-frame 4×4, with coil-sprung solid axles front and rear, and separate differentials. It’s got a low-range box, hill-descent control and amazing approach, breakover and departure angles. In English, all of this means that in design terms this is a miniature Defender or Land Cruiser. No jokes, this is a real-deal, rugged off-road car that will keep up with the best in the game, making use of its lightweight approach.

The Cruiser/Defender gang lose out in the city. Not so with the Jimny, which is so nimble in town that it won the 2019 World Urban Car of the Year. There’s no parking bay too small, no speedhump too sharp or curb too high. The Jimny loves them.

A word on its driving characteristics is worthwhile, I think, if not necessarily important for most buyers. The car’s steering is slow and hellishly vague. You learn quickly that chucking it into a corner is not rewarded with nice-and-safe understeer, but in fact with unexpectedly terrifying front-end grip and yacht-like keeling around the place. My wife said it feels like a walrus on a skateboard and, truth be told, it’s best to just take it easy.

In that vein, long-distance driving would be best approached in the millennial/GenZ experiential manner. The Jimny will sit with the cruise control at 120km/h, but it’s not a comfort zone for the car’s drivetrain and diminutive wheelbase. Best to dial it back to 100km/h or so and enjoy the view. It’ll be less stressful. The 1.5-litre four-cylinder motor feels indestructible, unsophisticated and thrashy, and competes with the transmission whine for your attention. To me, that’s part of the appeal, but for some it may be too much. I drove the five-speed manual (a four-speed auto is also available), and it behaved impeccably.

And so, do I want a Jimny? Not yet – I need space for double basses and their players. But as Suzuki addresses supply issues to match extraordinary global demand for a car that befits the times, you can expect to see them everywhere. And, in any case, there are strong rumours that an extended-wheelbase, five-door version of the Jimny will begin production later this year. Now that’s a proposition I can get behind. DM168


This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.


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