I have a feeling I'm having a bit too much fun with the new Jimny.
As a mini -nay, micro- SUV in the city, you really can zip in and out of traffic as you please or as you dare, with others being powerless to stop you from cutting in or squeezing into spaces only motorcycles would go.
You: Unstoppable. Everyone else = Mere mortals.
That is perhaps the big appeal of the 2019 Jimny, and this is the first time we've seen an all-new generation since 1998. Think about it: when the previous Jimny came out, Captain Hanks was out looking for Private Damon while the Beyonce was still a child of destiny. The Jimny never fizzled out for 2 decades, a clear indicator of the popularity of the little SUV.
Now they have the new model, and we've been eager to get our hands it since Suzuki revealed it to the world. It was followed by a show of force at last year's Philippine International Motor Show. So when Suzuki handed us the keys to the base model, will our expectations be satisfied or will we be disappointed?
If you've always wondered what the love child of a menage a trois between a Mercedes G Wagon, a Land Rover Defender, and even a Toyota FJ Cruiser would look like, then this Suzuki is the answer to that rather twisted automotive question. Boxy retro is one word to describe its simple yet purposeful off-roader looks of what the internet has dubbed as the “J-Wagen”, but we can go a bit deeper.
Like many of you, we dig the retro design of the Jimny. We like how it looks un-aerodynamic, going instead for a far more upright look that belongs on a trail just as much as it can zip through the city. We like how it doesn't sit low on the road with a low center of gravity like other crossovers; instead, Suzuki gave us 210mm of ground clearance (+20mm over the previous model) perfect for a flood and with a bash plate protecting the rear differential. We like its three-door configuration and how Suzuki kept the spare on the swing out (not up) tailgate; a very classic feature. The Jimny's dimensions actually fits into Japan's very strict kei-car regulations; the body of Japan's Jimny is identical to ours, except that they tucked-in the bumper and removed the fender flares to do it.
We like how much of an antithesis it really is, a change of pace at a time when carmakers all over the world are trying to sell us sleek small crossovers. The response online has been extremely favorable. The internet actually had a field day with the Jimny with a variety of digitally-customized examples that either saw it slammed (lowered, with big wheels), modified for street (with aero kits), or made to look eerily like a mini G 63 4x4 Squared.
I'm actually a bit surprised that they didn't put the hinges on the exterior of the doors like you would find in a Defender, but that's okay. Inside, well, as expected it's pretty much all plastic, which isn't bad at all. The interior is a big upgrade in style over the predecessor, with Suzuki trying to go for a rugged design using big trim pieces on the dash, some of which are secured by allen bolts. It's actually quite cool, and the design appears to be inspired by the Defender's dashboard.
The Jimny, like before, is a 4 seater, the reason is because of the rear wheel arches; they do protrude into the cabin, and they limit the width of the back seat. But that doesn't matter much anyway, especially since you won't be buying a Jimny to bring the whole family along; it's more of a personal transport for 2 persons, with the rear seat really used only occasionally. With the rear seats folded, you get a 377 liter load space and a fairly flat surface in plastic. Suzuki says its for easier cleaning and we don't doubt it, though we think a non-slip rubber mat is in order to prevent larger cargo items from sliding around.
The moment I sat in the seat and closed the doors, I already know there is one massive upgrade over the old model. In the last Jimny I drove, when you close the door you close your legs. Yes, it was that narrow, as the old Jimny was just 1600mm wide. This new model is 1645mm wide and while that sounds like a minimal upgrade it translates to more room inside. Given that the interior door panels are somewhat scalloped, wider guys (like myself) can drive much more comfortably.
The Jimny, however, isn't a retro pretender; this is a true student of the old school. If you get on your knees and look underneath, you'll see a proper ladder frame chassis. We suspect its largely the same with the old model given that the wheelbase is identical at 2250mm, but Suzuki did improve on it with additional lateral crossmembers, including one in the shape of an X for better resistance to twisting. You'll also see that the drive system is not of the modern, independent variety. The Jimny has two rigid axles; old technology, but proven for off-road use. Heck, even the steering system is old school: a recirculating ball bearing system, and boosted by hydraulics and not electricity. No, this is not a sissy crossover mini SUV.
But there are concessions to modernity, chief of which is the head unit: a massive 9-inch touch screen with Bluetooth, USB input, and more. Actually the GLX version of the Jimny one ups this GL by adding sensors and software that displays altitude, air pressure, pitch, yaw, and whether you're facing north, east, west or south. The GLX version also has a digital climate system which trumps this manual AC, but we don't really mind; in a small car like this, automatic climate control isn't really necessary. You also get dual airbags, a stability control system, and even hill descent control. One rather classic feature we really liked are the presence of drip rails on the roof; they prevent water from spilling onto your leg whenever you get in and out in heavy rain, giving you time to pop your umbrella open.
All Philippine spec models of the Jimny come powered by a 1.5-liter K15B engine, a good upgrade from the 1.3-liter M13A in terms of power at 100 PS (+16 PS) and torque at 130 Nm (+20 Nm). Twist the key and it springs to life, letting you know its ready for action. The Jimny is so small that when you rev it, the torque (while not a lot) does cause the vehicle to rock from side to side; something that you'd feel if the engine is mounted oriented towards the length of the vehicle (longitudinally) rather than transverse. That also tells you that this is primarily rear-wheel drive with a 4x4 system that engages the front wheels as opposed to a primarily front-wheel drive crossover with a 4x4 system that engages the rear wheels.
The GL variant we have has a 5-speed manual gearbox, and the acceleration is alright. In the city, the shifts are nothing to write home about really, except that it feels gruff. The feel that the transmission gives actually lends me to think that it wouldn't be surprising that when the gearbox gets serviced, the mechanic would find quite a few metal filings in the gear oil. It's not disturbing, but it definitely is in keeping with the old-school philosophy of the Jimny.
What we really did enjoy was how zippy it proved to be in urban areas. You won't worry so much if Waze takes you on an urban adventure through some really tight streets, nor would you worry about not seeing that curb on the corner when you make a turn given the visibility. And then there's the ease by which you can park, negating the need for sensors which this one has.
The ride comfort is also a big improvement compared to before, especially since the older Jimny had a tendency to bounce about that you'd rue the day you went into a drive thru and realized they're strawless. The other thing we really liked is the fuel economy: 9.9 km/l in the city (18 km/h average) without being economical in the drive is exceptional, with 14.5 km/l on the highway easily doable. But the small footprint of the Jimny is its greatest weapon. We say weapon because your maneuverability in traffic is so great that you can get Waze to recalculate your ETA... in your favor.
On a light trail, the Jimny's manners are exceptionally enjoyable. With 4x4 high-range engaged, the Jimny really is like a go kart on dirt. You can fling it around with gusto as much as you want without any real fear of getting stuck, and the threat of sinking on soft ground isn't as high given that its so light and maneuverable. If you do want to do a bit of rock crawling or some serious trails, it's easy with the Jimny's 37 degree approach angle and 49 degree departure angle.
Ground clearance is 210mm (about 8 ¼ inches) number that's not too far off from many PPV/SUVs, but don't expect similar water wading depths. Suzuki didn't release any numbers, but judging by the position of the air intake, you should be fairly safe with 300 to 400mm of water. We think it can go deeper still, but we'd rather test it in a controlled environment to get some proper measurements. A word to the wise: don't try to go through deep water (or a flood) with a strong current. The Jimny's light weight may be good for driving, but it won't offer the same resistance to a current like you would in bigger, heavier 4x4s.
We really like the Jimny GL so far, but it's not perfect. The handling isn't great, and the braking isn't as confident as we think it should be for a lightweight SUV. Also, there's the so much noise at 100 km/h that will make you want to slow down to 80 km/h, but that doesn't make it any quieter either.
There are also some issues with the particular vehicle we were driving: the first is the steering which was already out of alignment and pulling strongly to the right, not good for a new car. The other is the way the cabin was sealed, or not. Even with the air recirculate lever closed, the exhaust fumes in traffic found their way into the cabin. We suspect its a result of unsealed gaps in the grommets on the firewall for wiring and hoses.
At PhP 975,000, the 2019 Suzuki Jimny GL is not a cheap SUV considering its size, we just think that there are some issues that Suzuki needs to address so as not to dampen what really truly is a fun and practical little 4x4 toy. Regardless, we still think the Jimny offers up everyday driving entertainment because it's undaunted by traffic, capable in inclement weather, and can easily squeeze parking spots where the cars parked beside are driven by people who didn't learn how to color within the lines as kids.
We absolutely love that Suzuki, with the Jimny, raised their two middle fingers at the crossover establishment and embraced the old school, giving us what is essentially a poor man's Defender.