Text: Inigo S. Roces / Photos: Kelvin Christian Go | posted January 25, 2016 20:57
Keeping the tradition alive
New compact SUVs are flooding the market these days, yet among them, only a handful can actually live up to the promise of exploring roads less traveled that have made SUVs so popular.
One such car is the Suzuki Jimny, staunchly adhering to its more traditional SUV form and function in spite of the prevailance of crossovers.
The Jimny nameplate actually dates as far back to 1970, taking on a jeep-like form, complete with a canvas top and doors. Some may recognize the second generation as Shaider's (japanese superhero) ride — the blue boxy soft top he used as a civilian. These days, most are familiar with its tall, yet short rounded box shape.
Many may malign it for its over-extended model-life, barely changing over the decades. Yet taking into account its predecessors, which also spanned shelf lives as long as two decades, this is just par for the course.
The Jimny has managed to carve quite a reputation for itself, particularly in the hard-core off-roading community, as a capable adventure vehicle ideal for both neophytes and veterans. This is all thanks to the vehicle's traditional body-on-frame construction and use of rigid axles in both the front and the rear, all driven by a transfer case-based 4WD system. The only other vehicles to use this layout are fellow hard-core off-road favorites like the Land Rover Defender and Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.
After all, by using rigid axles (dependent) instead of fully independent suspension, the Jimny is able to maintain its ground clearance, even over obstacles like logs or rocks, making the axles that twist instead of the body.
In spite of many newer SUVs shifting to unibody construction and adopting independent suspension for a more comfortable ride and better high speed stability, the Jimny adheres to its more traditional construction to standout in an increasingly crowded SUV market.
The 2015 model still bears a very familiar shape, with additions like a hood scoop (non-functional) and more angular bumpers since we've last reviewed it here. This JLX variant features a second pair of brake lights and turn signals mounted on the bumper.
Inside is a traditional cliff-face dashboard made of tough plastics with very little frills. The driver's side offers a commanding view but only offers tilt adjustment for the wheel. No multi-info display in the cluster, just two large high contrast dials with temp and fuel gauges. The passenger side offers several shelves as well as a lockable glovebox, to make up for the lack of cubby holes and storage on the center divider.
Seating in the car lends itself to a more upright position, but rewards the driver with excellent all-around visibility.
Behind, the bench seat offers 50-50 split folding capability, allowing the seat backs to be folded to accommodate cargo. It's a three-door, making access to the back seats difficult. Reaching cargo is easier with its swing-out type rear door. The rear seats do not fold flat, though there is still a small flat cargo floor area behind the seats.
Twisting the key brings the 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine to life. Paired to a five-speed manual, it provides lots of grunt at the lower end. Unlike the engines of other Suzuki models, it seems a little reluctant to rev and accelerate. Nonetheless, there's more than enough grunt to bring it up to speed with the short ratio transmission, allowing it to crawl at higher gears than most cars, almost like a diesel.
Naturally, the ride of the Jimny is more on the bumpy side, thanks to the short wheelbase and more stiffly sprung suspension. At low speeds, the Jimny will gladly roll over potholes with confidence and little difficulty. At higher speeds, doing the same thing returns some worrying float and lack of feedback from the wheel. It actually handles pretty tightly, though there's some body roll to contend with. It's best enjoyed either in the city or the trails, with minimal highway travel in between.
What we really did enjoy is the Jimny's compact dimensions and great visibility, making parking in tight spaces a breeze. It easily fits where most cars wouldn't even dare enter, and squeezed into odd spots left by those parking beyond their lines. Even make-shift spaces in gravel parking lots, plagued by large roots and rocks were easily conquered.
Its fuel economy is fairly average, numbering at 7-8 km/L in the city, with an average speed of 30 km/h in heavy traffic. In the highway, it achieves 11km/L, with an average speed of 80 km/h.
Of course, as it was intended, the Jimny really shines when taken off-road. Suzuki has thankfully added push-button 4WD selection, rather than the cumbersome second stick-shift. At first glance, its ground clearance may not seem like much, but coupled with its short wheelbase and very steep approach angles, allow it to tackle rougher and narrower trails than most off-roaders. The low end torque and short ratio gearing pays dividends off-road, allowing the Jimny to crawl through rough terrain, and requiring little pedal input from the driver. There's also little worry about wear and tear of the interior in the long run, particularly in the trails, with tough plastics and few electronics.
The result is a vehicle that can tackle some pretty serious trails even in stock form. In addition, there's a wealth of aftermarket accessories and modifications already available to further expand its abilities.
Compared to many of today's compact SUVs, the Jimny will offer little in the way of comfort or sophistication, particularly within city limits. Nonetheless, it's a vehicle best-suited for those with plans to really take it off-road, being the most affordable 4WD vehicle in the market today. When they do, they will find it a capable machine with little need for modifications, serving as a great envoy to the joys of the country's many trails.