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Suzuki Jimny 2019 off-road review: manual

Marcus Craft
Editor - Adventure

26 Feb 2019 • 13 min read

The new-generation Suzuki Jimny has been 20 years in the making and it’s finally here. (Cue much rejoicing from Zook fanatics.) It has big expectations to meet in that it needs to retain the off-road capability and undeniable fun factor of previous versions, but somehow at the same time embrace the 21st century.

We drove the Jimny at its Australian launch and came away rather impressed, but we wanted to test it out even more thoroughly so we took one deep into the NSW bush for a day of hard-core off-roading on a property used as a dedicated 4WD driver-training circuit. We’re talking gravel tracks, sand, mud and rocks, specifically designed and built to push off-roaders – and their drivers – to the limits; some portions of the tracks represent the more difficult sections of terrain that a true 4WD will likely face over its life-time.

So, is the new Jimny actually a triumph of fun over functionality, or is it merely an affectionate nod to nostalgia and little else? Read on.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

The 2019 Jimny is available in one spec only, but with the option of a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic transmission. Our tester was a manual.

The one-spec Jimny gets 21st century gear such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The one-spec Jimny gets 21st century gear such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

At $23,990 (plus on-roads, for the manual) and $25,990 (for the auto), the Jimny is a pretty well priced true off-roading compact SUV. It's packed full of tech including, but not limited to, auto emergency braking, a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, climate control air-conditioning, GPS sat nav, a reversing camera, two ISOFIX child-seat attachment points in the back seat and more.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

The Jimny has a 1.5-litre petrol engine – producing 75kW@6000rpm and 130Nm@4000rpm – and it's gusty enough to punt this 1075kg (kerb weight, manual) along at a fair clip but, matched to its five-speed gearbox, the Jimny feels like it could do with even more. Perhaps it works better with the automatic transmission.

The Jimny's 1.5-litre petrol engine produces 75kW@6000rpm and 130Nm@4000rpm. The Jimny's 1.5-litre petrol engine produces 75kW@6000rpm and 130Nm@4000rpm.

It has a part-time 4WD system, tagged under the moniker AllGrip Pro, a snazzy name encompassing such driver-assist tech as hill descent control, hill hold assist and more.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

It’s a great looking thing and so eye-catching that due to the sheer number of constant and curious stares the Jimny receives from pedestrians and people in other vehicles that, when driving it, you start to wonder if a tyre’s running flat, a wheel is about to come off or someone has spray-painted an offensive slogan on the side of it.

  • The little Zook combines retro styling with a bush-ready toughness. The little Zook combines retro styling with a bush-ready toughness.
  • The Jimny has a classic retro-cool look about it. The Jimny has a classic retro-cool look about it.

From the outside, the Jimny looks like a box on wheels, but in a good way. It's a new look from the ground up: straight up and down, with aggressive edges aplenty, and it has a classic retro-cool look and feel about it, inside and out. It looks a bit like a Jeep Wrangler and a bit like an original war-time Humvee that's been concertinaed into a compact size.

There's plenty of flat open glass – creating great driver visibility for 4WDing – except out of the rear window, which is a bit pinched.

The exterior looks retro cool: a blend of its newer straighter-edged, squared-off and blocky appearance and nice iconic touches such as the Jimny's round headlights, now LEDs, and Zook grille.

And those retro touches continue inside with older rounder styling, even though the in-cabin tech is well and truly 21st century. 

How practical is the space inside?

It is very practical space but there's just not much of it. It’s a mission-ready area as there are plenty of durable plastic surfaces, hard-wearing cloth seats and rubber mats – well suited to the outdoors, adventure-oriented lifestyle but – as befitting such a small interior – there are few storage options. The Jimny has a shallow glovebox, a thin open recess above it for stuff, a small bin for keys etc in front of the shifter, two cup-holders, a narrow hard plastic door pocket on both of the two front doors … and not much else in the way of receptacles.

The interior is simple, eye-catching and functional. The interior is simple, eye-catching and functional.

The driver gets steering-wheel-mounted controls for the entertainment system, cruise control etc. 

As well as myriad controls – for front power windows, hill descent and traction control – there’s a USB and 12V power point on the centre console

There are ceiling-mounted over-door grab handles for everyone, except the driver, and the front-seat passenger also gets the good ol’ “Jesus!” handle mounted above the glove box.

With the second row seats in use, there is very little space in the rear cargo area – in fact, a mere 85 litres VDA. We were hard-pressed to fit even a couple of sleeping bags and pillows.

  • With the second row seats in use, boot space is rated at 85-litres VDA. With the second row seats in use, boot space is rated at 85-litres VDA.
  • Follow the rear seats back and the cargo area grows to 830-litres VDA. Follow the rear seats back and the cargo area grows to 830-litres VDA.

With those seat-backs set a little bit straighter, there is more cargo room at the rear but not loads. If you lower those 50:50 seats to a near-flat position the space opens out to 830 litres VDA if you fill the entire space with gear; 377 litres if you load to the window sill.

There’s a 12V socket in the cargo area.

The Jimny is better suited to two-up touring, freeing up that rear cargo area to be fully exploited, rather than trying to squeeze four people and absolute minimal amounts of gear inside.

What's it like as a daily driver?

For something so light and diminutive, the new Jimny is much better on road and at highway speeds than it has any right to be. Its on-road ride and handling are nowhere near as compromised as you might imagine – I was pleasantly surprised. Fair enough, passing big rigs and high winds tend to shake the Jimny a bit – it does cop a real buffeting at times – but generally if you’re anticipating that happening anyway, then it’s not a problem.

The new Jimny is much better on the road than it has any right to be. The new Jimny is much better on the road than it has any right to be.

The Jimny is 3645mm long, with a 2250mm wheelbase, 1645mm wide and 1725mm high. It weighs 1075kg (in manual guise). 

This is a tough little 4WD truck – with a ladder chassis and solid axles – and it sits nicely on most road surfaces with its coil springs offering up a firm, but comfortable, never-too-jittery ride. Deeper, sharper corrugations can rattle the Jimny but not as badly as you’d imagine they would.

The seats are comfortable enough all-round and there were even no complaints from back-seat kids during a couple of hour-long trips, but it’d be an unappealing option for grown-ups.

The Jimny rides on 15-inch alloy wheels with Bridgestone Dueler H/Ts (195/80R15) – fine rubber for bitumen driving but much less so for off-roading (more about that soon).

The Jimny's 15-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Bridgestone Dueler H/Ts (195/80R15) are better suited for bitumen driving. The Jimny's 15-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Bridgestone Dueler H/Ts (195/80R15) are better suited for bitumen driving.

We did a few emergency “Watch out for Skippy!” stops on bitumen and gravel and the Jimny’s brakes – discs at the front, drums at the rear – hauled it to an immediate halt without fuss – not surprising for such a light little robust off-roader.

One thing that I noticed while living with it day to day: Be mindful of the Jimny's squeezy dimensions when entering and exiting; I'm not the tallest bloke around – in fact, at 174cm tall (on a good day), I'm far from it – but I still managed to hit my forehead on the top of the driver-side door while trying to climb into the cab on two separate occasions.

What's it like for touring?

Well, pretty bloody good if there’s only two of you in the thing.

The Jimny is certainly designed and built for real-world off-roading – there’s no doubt about that – but it’s just not built for touring with more than two onboard. However, that needn’t dissuade any couples or other two-person travel combinations because used as such then it mostly ticks all the boxes.

  • The Jimny feels right at home in the bush. The Jimny feels right at home in the bush.
  • The Jimny is zippy on sand. The Jimny is zippy on sand.
  • It's also effective through water crossings. It's also effective through water crossings.

From the moment you go bush in this little Zook, it’s clear that Suzuki has not compromised anything in terms of the Jimny’s 4WD capability: it’s zippy on sand, effective through water crossings, and more than capable up and down rocky hills. Its size directly results in off-road-friendly measures with approach, departure and rampover angles of 37, 49 and 28 degrees respectively.

It has a part-time 4WD system, and a raft of driver-assist tech such as hill descent control, hill hold assist and more. The stubby stick – good ol’ stubby – in front of the shifter allows the driver to work through two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive high range and four-wheel drive low range.

On sand, the Jimny feels closer to home than it ever did on bitumen or even gravel. In 4H and with tyre pressures dropped to about 20psi, this light and nimble little 4WD scooted through the sandy stuff, no worries – and it’s a lot of fun.

The Jimny’s wading depth is unlisted but it’s likely about 200mm; ground clearance is 210mm but we bottomed out on a few submerged rocks going through water. I’d avoid taking the Jimny across any creeks with a strong current, because this Suzuki is so light it may get knocked off course and into strife. If you can’t easily walk through a water crossing, then don’t drive it.

The Jimny has a chance to show its prowess on steep rocky hill-climbs, and in low-range first gear, it's nearly unstoppable. The Jimny just simply crept up and over – no mess, no stress. Mostly. It could do with more robust engine braking and also more smooth consistency in the hill descent control, which tends to engage aggressively but then release quite abruptly.

Again, the Jimny is light and though its weight and modest dimensions help to make it highly manoeuvrable in all 4WDing scenarios, those attributes also make it somewhat vulnerable, more so than most 4WDs, to gusting winds on exposed slopes, any dramatic shift in onboard loads, and even abrupt changes in gradient.

It gets a chance to show off on steep rocky hills. It gets a chance to show off on steep rocky hills.

Its highway terrain tyres were a noticeable weakness in the Zook’s off-road game but that’s an easy fix – if a Jimny owner wants to improve its 4WD toolbox further, then that only requires a two-inch lift and a set of good All Terrain tyres. It has a full-sized spare wheel mounted on the rear door.

Towing capacity is 350kg (unbraked) and 1300kg (braked). It has a GVM of 1435kg.

How much fuel does it consume?

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

The Jimny is loads of fun, looks great (with its catchy retro styling and old-school cool), is a dead-set true off-roader and, as such, it has plenty of appeal. This is more than a novelty, this is a lifestyle-enabler unto itself.

Space is a limiting factor though, however, the Jimny comfortably occupies a niche within a niche – that of a real compact 4WD – and if considered through that purchase prism then it becomes an ideal two-person tourer for fun weekends away. Bonus: there is a stack of aftermarket gear already available for it.

The Jimny is pretty easy to live with day to day and it deserves more than just the wholehearted attention of die-hard Zook enthusiasts; it should gain a whole new legion of fans.

Thanks to the owners of River Island Nature Retreat for access to their land for this yarn. Please note: access to this private property for 4WDing is generally restricted to people who are participating in approved 4WD training courses.

$23,990

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

3.5/5

Adventure score

3.8/5

adventureguide rank

  • Light

    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.

  • Medium

    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.

  • Heavy

    Larger obstacles, steeper climbs and deeper water crossings; plus tracks marked as '4WD only'

Price Guide

$23,990

Based on new car retail price