Tech reviews

Boxy Brilliance – Suzuki Jimny 5-door Review | Tarmac Life | Motoring | Tech

There are some cars that orbit your perception consistently, sometimes for no apparent reason, and the Jimmy has always been one of those for me. I had never been inside, let alone driven one, but I would still look twice and think “Hm, what about these?”, every time one drove past (most of these times followed by my wife making the same sound ones does after seeing a bucket of puppies).

The Jimmy has been around for quite some time, but I weirdly still remember my first experience with it, back from when I was a teen: my father works back home for a company that offers fleet solutions for businesses not wanting to deal with the hassle of buying and selling their cars (think long term rentals, but a bit different than how it’s done here in NZ), and when a company approached his with a request for a few dozens of cars that would fit a tight budget while still being able to handle extreme off-road situations, the Jimny was the only one to met the brief. The cars were bought and delivered straight to where they were needed, thousands of kilometres from where we lived, but the positive reception the little off-roader received there stuck with me nonetheless. 

Years went by, and this most recent iteration was introduced in 2018. It was a hit due to the modern looks and a great fit for purpose. However, it was historically only available in a 3-door shape, which of course compromised access to the back seats and led to a barely usable 80L of trunk space in this last gen. So now, in 2024, after the clamours of those wanting a bit more practicality, Suzuki decided to expand the lineup and introduce a 5-door version of the Jimny. if you want properly usable back seats with easy access and an actual trunk, than the 5-doors meet those criteria to the letter. 

And when Suzuki made it available for us to review, I figured it was finally time to put a (cute) face to the name and hogged it from Dave and Matt (sorry, guys!). But can you really blame me?

I mean, just look at it. In this new Sizzling Red hero colour, it attracts a lot of attention and is the uncontested winner with the ladies. Boxy designs are often successful, and Suzuki managed to mix the quirkiness of the round headlights and soft creases with the ruggedness of the big arches and off-road bits. This is by far the most successful design in the Jimny’s history, and this is not just my opinion: whenever I can, I drive press cars when I meet my running group to grab more opinions and iron out my perceptions. When I showed up with the Jimny, I ended up breaking a conversation group as half of it wanted to come around and check the car out and say nice things at it.

What connected them? The love for the Jimny’s design. All girls, but I’ll not overreach.

The 5-door design stretches the car by 34cm so proportions change a bit, but it still maintains the points that make people love it while still bringing the much needed practicality. And hats off to Suzuki for managing to add so much more usable space in the car without reinventing it, and by not changing too much of its footprint. This helps not only the design, but also its drivability.

But where the magic actually happens is in the interior. At 189cm tall, I was afraid I would not be able to find a suitable driving position, considering the seats have no height adjustment nor lumbar support, and the steering wheel doesn’t telescope. To my surprise, this was absolutely not the case: it was easy to find a position that worked, even for stints of driving of more than 1 hour. Material choice has been very deliberate, with the only soft surface being the seats. Everything else is made of hard plastics with a rubberised feel, which are not reflection prone and super easy to clean, exactly what you want in a car likely to see some mud. Storage options are extremely limited, as there is no centre console (nor arm rest for that matter), the cubby below the centre controls is small, almost as small as the door pockets. I’m glad the back seats have grown because I used it for most of my hauling.

But people will also be more than okay back there: there is more than adequate head and knee room for people seating behind most seating configurations. There are no creature comforts there, but with so little of them being available up front, it is to be expected. And if you’re curious, it is still a 4 passenger car! 

The same magic also extends into the boot, which is now worthy of its name and can be used to carry enough stuff for a trip, with 211 litres of capacity. It lost the rubberised protection treatment available on the 3-door cars, and if I can be picky, having the back seats fall flat would be the icing on the cake to really make this suit all possible use cases. But I’ll take what I can get, all changes introduced to the 5-door to make it more practical meet the requirements 100%. 

Now, let’s talk about what is actually unchanged: the powertrain. Our car was available with a manual transmission, so you get the same five-speed unit seen in previous cars, with the 2-High, 4-High and 4-Low separate selector. It is extremely easy to operate and has an old school feeling to it. Clutch actuation is tall and well defined, and gear changes are what you would expect from something that’s closer to a truck than a city car. That gearbox sits between you and the (also unchanged) 1.5L 4 cylinder engine that moves the Jimny. Borderline underpowered, especially with the added weight of the longer body, it will produce 75kW of power at 6000rpm and 130Nm. Given the highest power figures come at the top of the rev range, in proper naturally aspirated fashion, this engine loves to be wrung. Peak power is almost at engine cut-off, so be careful not to fly too close to the Sun. I grew up driving manual < 2L powered cars so this felt like a tasty walk down memory lane. 

There’s a sprinkle of new stuff, though, and that comes in the shape of the new infotainment suite. I now know better to now always bring USB-A and USB-C cables whenever I’m going to pick up a new car, and this time they never left my backpack. The same 12.3” entertainment unit seen in other cars like the S-Cross made its way to the Jimny, and it offers wireless CarPlay. It was great, because with the limited storage options, I could leave my phone in my pocket (although the same could not be said about the keys, as our model still used actual blade keys). Rear parking sensors and a rear view camera making parking even easier.

Apart from the screen on the dashboard, the rest of the technology would not feel out of place in a car from 15 years ago. Cruise control (not adaptive in manual Jimnys) doesn’t show the speed it’s doing, there are not many trip computer options and everything has to be read through a let’s call vintage LCD display. 

The convenience of the wireless connection and phone pairing was very welcome, given there is very little to customise and play around with in the native solution, it’s almost like the Jimny is asking to be driven. So, of course, I’ll oblige. 

You jump inside, foot on the clutch and turn the key, and then feel the unfiltered vibrations make their way from the ladder into the cabin: it was great foreshadowing to what the driving experience would be like. As you get moving, it will very quickly ask for a gear change, and in just a few minutes you adjust your driving to suit the Jimny’s needs. In turn, what it gives back is a level of connection and fun that is harder and harder to find in new cars nowadays, let alone small SUVs.

It is not quick, but it’s not like it was advertising any of that, so it is more than forgiven. Once you’ve finished the long sprint to 100km/h, you will be sitting at around 3100rpm in fifth gear, but given the small engine, you can still get some decent efficiency figures in return: the measurements were in the familiar (to me) km/L units, and the car showed around 13.9 overall during my drive, which equates to 7.2L/100km, spot on to what it claims. 

At speeds slightly above that, it becomes really subject to sudden changes in trajectory, floats and leans quite a bit (even with the lengthened wheelbase), and as soon as the suspension loads the outside corner of the car, the high profile tyres induce an amount of understeer that will instantly remind you that this is not the Jimny’s natural habitat. I never felt unsafe, helped by the fact that stability systems seem to be hard at work all the time, and traction control kicks back on as soon as you get moving. 

While under the limits, though, it proved itself to be way, way more fun than I anticipated. There is a lot to be said about the combination of a light car with a small engine with a manual transmission. The pedal placement is spot on, so I could show off my mediocre heel-toe skills to Matt in the Jimmy as well as I can in my MX-5. 

As we drove to where we filmed the review, we had it in 4-High to handle a gravel patch of road. There is very little difference in driving dynamics between leaving it in rear wheel drive mode versus 4-wheel-drive, and the feather weight of the Jimny is an obvious advantage when off-road. In low speed manoeuvring it becomes easy to tell how each wheel is putting power to the ground, but unless really needed, you’re much better off leaving the rear wheels do most of the work. 

We never did any proper off-roading with it, but I used 4-Low to tackle a bog with roots and branches for some pictures. The chassis handled the twisting and turning with no issues, and it is dead easy to bring the Jimny to a slow crawl so that you can focus on the trajectory you need to follow. When you read the spec sheet, and mix this short experience with the stories I heard all those years ago, I’m sure the Jimny will draw gasps off-road the same way it does on road.

At this point, it became clear the Jimmy is one of those cars (SUVs!) that hardly needs review validation for someone to go ahead and get one. It occupies a space of its own in the market, with very little direct competition: other SUVs of the same price will feel more refined and more modern, but will lack this capability. And other off-roaders will be more comfortable and powerful, but will command a much higher price. And that’s also considering the Jimny is not always the most rational purchase: you will either want one because of how it looks and the image it portrays, or because you’re after a proper, capable, ladder frame off-roader with all the functionality you need to handle the trails. 

Either way, you will be happy. I had a massive smile on my face anytime I was behind the wheel or behind the camera. I’ll now go tell my father that if they end up getting a few more of these, that he should save one aside. Thanks, Suzuki, for the opportunity!


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