In 1970, Suzuki introduced a small 4x4 that would later capture the hearts of off-road enthusiasts worldwide. That model is the Jimny, and it turns 50 years old in 2020. It may be tiny compared to other off-roaders, but it has a significant legacy behind it.
When it launched all those years ago, Suzuki intended to fill in a gap in the Japanese market. At the time, they observed that other automakers didn't have small off-road vehicles in their arsenal. The only choices were the Mitsubishi Jeep, Nissan Patrol, and Toyota Land Cruiser, none of which could be called compact. Since Suzuki established themselves as one of Japan's top small vehicle manufacturers, they reckoned they could take on that challenge.
The first-generation Suzuki Jimny rolled out in April 1970, and it was a surprise success for the brand. In its first year of production, Suzuki managed to shift 5,000 units, a healthy number for what is supposedly a niche model. By 1971, it outsold the Mitsubishi Jeep to become Japan's best-selling off-road vehicle, and exported to other countries the following year. That's a big deal considering it only had a 360 cc engine that made 25 PS and measured less than three meters long.
In 1981, Suzuki launched the second-generation Jimny. By that time, it became a global product with sales reaching Europe, North America, and even Southeast Asia. This iteration of the subcompact SUV even made its way to the Philippines, albeit with a different name. What we got here was the Samurai, and it was available locally during the early to mid-'90s.
But the Jimny's popularity skyrocketed just before the new millennium. The third-generation debuted in 1998 and saw a more sophisticated-looking exterior, along with more creature comforts such as standard air-conditioning and an automatic transmission option. It's also significantly larger than the model it replaced, adding a little more room for people and cargo inside. This generation is also the first to be sold locally with the Jimny name.
Twenty years would pass before the all-new Jimny arrived in 2018. Instead of an evolutionary redesign, Suzuki took the retro design route with the fourth-generation model. It takes some cues from the Samurai with its boxy, upright design and unpainted panels. But despite the throwback looks, it has a new frame, engine, and mechanicals. It even has features unimaginable in past versions, such as digital off-road displays, touchscreen audio, and smartphone mirror-link capabilities.
The Jimny may have evolved a lot over the decades, but the formula remains the same. The current model retains its core philosophies of being a small, capable, and tough off-roader. Sure, it's not the most cutting-edge SUV out there, but its charm lies in its simplicity and straightforwardness.