2020 Suzuki Jimny First Drive: Tiny 4×4, Massive Appeal
Compared to many of today’s compact SUVs, the 2020 Suzuki Jimny is slow, crass, and cramped. It drives a lot like a mid-1980s Japanese rear-wheel drive car. But it’s also so honest and unpretentious, so full of character and charm, and so surprisingly capable of doing what it was designed to do. it makes you smile every time you slip behind the wheel, something that will likely never happen when stepping into a Toyota. RAV4 or Chevy Equinox.
In the fast-paced, ultra-connected, digitally enhanced automotive world, the Suzuki Jimny is one of life’s simple pleasures.
It’s simple fun with a complicated story. Our tester Jimny was one of the last in the Suzuki UK press fleet, as the vehicle was withdrawn from sale – less than two years after its launch – so Suzuki could meet more stringent average emissions targets for the European car fleet in 2021. And it is forbidden fruit for American consumers, Suzuki having abruptly left the American market in 2012 (unless Toyota suddenly comes to the rescue with a wacky but technically plausible plan that we have concocted). But all is not lost: a two-seater version with steel wheels and basic interior trim arrives in Europe next year to be sold as a utility vehicle.
The 2020 Jimny dates back 50 years, to a tiny 4 × 4 Jeeplike called the LJ10. Released in April 1970, the Suzuki Jimny LJ10 had a ladder frame chassis, front and rear leaf suspension axles, and a selectable four-wheel drive system with a low-range transfer case and no center differential. It was powered by an air-cooled two-cylinder engine that moved only 360cc and produced 25bhp out of breath. It would be 47 mph, flat. But with an empty weight of less than 1,400 pounds, it made its way over rocks and through mud like a mountain goat.
Fast forward half a century, and the Jimny still has a ladder frame, front and rear axles, and selectable all-wheel drive with a low-range transfer case. It still looks a bit like a small Jeep. However, some things have changed. The front and rear axles are now coil springs. Under the hood sits a water-cooled 1.5-liter in-line four-cylinder engine whose spark plugs fire every four strokes of the piston. The engine produces four times the power of the tiny two-stroke of the LJ10, but only brings the fourth-gen Jimny to around twice the top speed. Blame the frontal area and the weight: The 2020 Jimny is 13.7 inches wider and 2.2 inches taller than the LJ10 and weighs almost twice as much.
However, he continues to push his way through the tough stuff.
That’s because the Jimny – 143.5 inches long, 64.7 inches wide, 67.9 inches tall, and weighing just 2,500 pounds – is incredibly small and light by 21st century standards. And it has a chassis designed for serious off-roading. Ground clearance is 8.3 inches, and minimal overhangs provide a 37-degree approach angle and 49-degree departure angle. The angle of failure is 28 degrees. For context, a two-door Jeep Wrangler is 23.3 inches longer, 9.2 inches wider, 5.7 inches taller, and weighs 1,500 pounds or more, depending on the model. In Rubicon specs, the two-door Wrangler enjoys a better approach angle than the little Suzuki – 43 degrees – and has the same tilt angle, but its 37-degree departure angle is worse.
The Jimny’s 1.5-liter four-cylinder develops 100 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 95 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm and goes through a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. It’s a nice little engine, but a hardworking and happier worker if you run it at 2000 RPM or more. The manual Jimny will spin along the highway at 70–75 mph all day, with the engine running at 3,400 to 3,600 rpm in fifth gear. The ride is what you’d expect from a relatively tall, narrow, lightweight vehicle with a short wheelbase and drive-axle off-road suspension: busy, with lots of front-to-rear pitching motions.
The control weights – steering, brake, clutch – and the shifting feel of the five-speed manual transmission are vintage Japanese from the late 1980s, light and smooth. And while the Jimny is always nervous on something other than a perfectly smooth road, it feels as tight as a drum, without any of the subtle tremors and thrills you often notice in a body-on-chassis vehicle. The least sophisticated element of the on-road driving experience is the noise from the transfer case. It wasn’t the high-pitched whine that ravaged old Defenders, but rather industrial white noise, loud enough to mask the engine note at cruising speeds.
Activation of Jimny’s 4WD system requires successive tows on a stub lever behind the shifter to shift the two-wheel drive transmission and shift to high-end 4WD, then low 4WD range. Pull the lever back from 2 to 4 o’clock – at speeds up to 62 mph – and an indicator light on the instrument panel lets you know 4WD is engaged. Selecting 4L, which engages a 2.00: 1 reduction in the transfer case, requires a full stop, just like in Jeeps, Land Rovers and Toyota Land Cruisers. A beep lets you know you’re ready to go, and the warning lights on the instrument panel indicate that Stability Control and Forward Collision Warning are turned off. The 4.43 first gear, 4.09 final gear and 2.00: 1 reduction give the Jimny a 36.2: 1 ramp ratio in low range. Nowhere near a Wrangler Rubicon, but again, it weighs significantly less.
The Jimny’s 4WD transmission does not have a center differential; the front and rear axles are locked together in both 4WD modes. But it’s not entirely old school, with “virtual” limited-slip differentials up front and rear. If the diagonally opposed wheels break traction, the brake on each is electronically activated to prevent it from spinning and ensure maximum torque to the wheel that has traction. It’s an ingeniously simple, inexpensive solution to an off-road scenario that has attracted more than a few experienced drivers over the years.
Reliable traction, light weight, good ground clearance and compact dimensions make the Jimny a more capable off-roader than its engine’s modest horsepower and torque figures suggest. Serious off-roaders would like more axle articulation, and the standard 15-inch wheels and Bridgestone Dueler H / T 195/80 tires are definitely road-biased, but both issues are easily solved with lift kits. spare parts and wheel / tire combinations.
Ironically, the same qualities that give the Suzuki Jimny solid off-road capability make it a surprisingly good city vehicle, especially in a place like London, where the streets are narrow and traffic heavy. All-around visibility is very good, and the slab sides and square corners of the Jimny make squeezing through the tight spaces between cars and trucks a snap. At 3.8 lock-to-lock turns, the steering feels a bit low, but the sturdy suspension and large sidewall tires avoid cobblestone streets and rim-screeching potholes.
The interior is, like the drivetrain, a mix of 1980s Japanese hardware and 21st century technology. The seats are cloth and manually adjusted, and there’s a small information display wedged between a speedo and a tach whose orange graphics were plugged in when David Lee Roth left Van Halen. The first time. But the standard equipment of the top-of-the-line SZ5 also includes modern perks such as cruise control, lane departure and forward collision warning, smartphone connectivity and a navigation system with traffic updates. Air conditioning, power windows, and privacy glass are also standard on the SZ5, which in the UK was selling for the equivalent – at current exchange rates – of around $ 25,000.
What makes the Suzuki Jimny so oddly appealing – aside from its off-road chops and chunky industrial chic design – is that it’s… a real driver’s car. While in most modern SUVs you would be bored and frustrated with speeding up a winding road, in the Suzuki you are deeply committed to the art of driving. You’re mindful of momentum, making sure you’ve got the right gear at the right time, working to steer and brake smoothly, and watching for bumps and bumps in the road that could catch the chassis. It’s a bit like driving a classic car. Suddenly the world seems calmer; the hectic pace of modern life has eased slightly.
Yes, the simple pleasures in life are often the best.
|Specs of the 2020 Suzuki Jimny|
|PRICE||$ 25,000 (eastern, UK)|
|DISPOSITION||4WD SUV, 4 Passengers, 2 Doors Front Engine|
|ENGINE||1.5 L / 100 hp / 95 lb-ft DOHC 13-valve in-line|
|TRANSMISSION||5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic|
|WEIGHT ON BOARD||2,450 to 2,500 lbs (under construction)|
|L x W x H||143.5 x 64.7 x 67.9 inches|
|0 to 60 mph||15.0 seconds (MT East)|
|WLTP ECON COMBINED FUEL||27.6 to 30.6 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, COMB||110 to 122 kWh / 100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.63 to 0.70 lb / mile|
|ON SALE||Currently, global markets|
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