By now, it’s no secret that Suzuki is making some serious buzz in the local motoring industry with the 2019 Jimny. Previewed at the recently concluded 2018 Philippine International Motor Show (PIMS), Suzuki’s mini 4x4 proved to be a show stopper and immediately drew in diehard fans, 4x4 enthusiasts, and new car buyers. 

To further whet the appetite of the motoring public, Suzuki Philippines decided to have the new mini 4x4 available for test driving at this year’s Auto Focus Pre-Christmas Test Drive Festival.  

Given the opportunity to actually test one out before it officially arrives some time next year, I jumped on the chance to see the Jimny up close once more, as well as test drive it.

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Retro Cute

First Impressions: Driving the 2019 Suzuki Jimny

Let’s start with the most obvious (and most distinct) feature of the Jimny, that boxy exterior. Call it cute or retro-modern, Suzuki clearly knew what they were doing in redesigning their iconic 4x4. Gone are the bland and rounded shapes of old as the 2019 Jimny features sharp angles and a clear-cut profile.

The signature five-slot grill and circular headlights remain, however and is accompanied by a more stylish front bumper. Meanwhile, fender flares, along with the rear-mounted spare tire carrier provide the rugged charm. The vertical taillights are no more as they have been replaced with horizontal taillights mounted on the rear bumper itself. Also worth mentioning are the 15-inch alloy wheels wrapped in thick 195/80/R15 tires.

All in all, the Jimny’s new look is far more youthful and is pleasing to the eyes. It pays homage to 4x4s of old while still incorporating modern design touches of the present. We won’t be surprised if the design of this particular Jimny will become an instant classic in the near future.

A Tiny, Throwback Interior

Hop inside the Jimny and it appears that you have been transported back in time - not that it's a bad thing. In fact, the new cabin is a major improvement over the old design. Much like its exterior, the interior is a blend of both the old and the new.

If the previous generation had a rather bland dashboard, the new-generation 4x4 has more character. Immediately greeting drivers are the retro-styled gauges which are perhaps one of my favorite portions of the cabin. Sitting in the center dashboard is a high-tech touchscreen infotainment system that can be accompanied by either an automatic climate control, or manual air-conditioning system. Then there’s the old-school grab-handle for the front passenger which not only looks the part, but makes for a safer ride through off-the-beaten paths.

First Impressions: Driving the 2019 Suzuki Jimny

Since we’re already in the subject of the Jimny’s interior, let’s talk about the Jimny’s cabin space, or lack thereof so to speak. Yes it’s not exactly the roomiest of interiors, but what did you expect in such a tiny vehicle? Surprisingly though, I was able to fit my 5’7 frame at the back in relative comfort. For short trips around town, I wouldn’t mind sitting at the back.

As for luggage space, the Jimny is only practical for carrying cargo if you have the rear seats folded down. With the rear seats up, you can only put so much stuff in the back. But again, what did you expect in a 4x4 that measures less than 3.5 meters in length?

A bigger, better heart

First Impressions: Driving the 2019 Suzuki Jimny

Pop the hood and out comes a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine called the K15B. It’s 200 cc bigger than the old 1.3-liter M13A and puts out more power; 102 PS (+19) at 6000 rpm and 130 Nm (+20) of torque at 4000 rpm. Power is then sent to either a four-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual gearbox. A new 4WD system called AllGrip Pro serves as the Jimny’s means of going off the beaten path. It can be set to 2WD High, 4WD High and 4WD Low for those tricky terrain. 

Sadly, we were not able to test the all-new Jimny’s off-road capability at the test drive event (given the circumstances). But at least we were able to test both the automatic and manual versions of the 2019 Jimny (which I'll get to later).

Walking Tall

First Impressions: Driving the 2019 Suzuki Jimny

Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…What is it like to drive? Surprisingly it’s as easy as driving a small hatchback or sedan. But unlike small four-doors and five-doors, the Jimny sits up high which gives drivers a commanding view of the road. Drivers of short stature will not have any problems seeing out of the Jimny I reckon.

But what about its ride quality? Given that it has a body-on-frame construction (along with a short wheelbase), the Jimny still felt a bit bouncy when going over rough roads or pock-marked streets. Still, the 2019 Jimny rode better than its predecessor thanks to a new chassis, along with suspension tweaks.

First Impressions: Driving the 2019 Suzuki Jimny

Speaking of its suspension, the Jimny handled itself admirably through some tight corners.Yes it has a tall ride height and a high center of gravity, but so as long as you don’t treat it as a canyon carver at high speeds, it can handle tight corners at a relatively good pace. 

Steering was also better than the old model thanks to the addition of electronic power steering (EPS). While some might prefer the good ol’ hydraulic power steering assist, the EPS allowed for lighter steering when in city driving or parking. Did I mention the Jimny also has one of the tightest turning radius in its class? Combined with its compact dimensions, the Jimny can easily make its way through the narrowest of paths without a hitch.

Cruise by or row your own

First Impressions: Driving the 2019 Suzuki Jimny

So the Jimny slightly rides better and is easy to manuever around the bends. But what about its powertrain? First up is the top-of-the-line four-speed automatic variant. Off the line, it’s quite clear that the 1.5-liter engine is substantially better than the old 1.3. With more power on tap, I did not need to mash the throttle to gain speed.

The automatic slushbox seamlessly changed gears and was hush in operation. Put your foot down on the accelerator and the transmission immediately kicks down to deliver more power to the wheels. Overtaking slower vehicles still has to be timed correctly (given the engine's small capacity), but thanks to few extra horses and an improved transmission, the new Jimny is slightly quicker on its feet compared to the old one.

Next up is the five-speed manual version. With free reign over all the gears, the manual felt livelier to drive. The clutch was light to operate while gear changes were slick, if a bit notchy. Despite being a bit rusty driving manuals, I had no trouble whatsoever putting the car in the correct gear. In fact, I actually had more fun with the manual than the automatic. 4x4 enthusiasts that plan on taking the Jimny off-road will have a fun (and easy) time going through the gears of the all-new Jimny.

Is it a clear winner?

First Impressions: Driving the 2019 Suzuki Jimny

Despite our short time with the all-new Jimny, it’s safe to say Suzuki has greatly improved what was already a good design, into something even better. While I would have wanted more seat time inside the Jimny, my initial impressions on Suzuki’s new 4x4 is that they made it drive better, handle better and ride softer.

But has the new Jimny lost its 4x4 pedigree? Since we were not able to bring it to a proper off-road course, I will reserve judgment until then. But through the daily city grind or long highway runs, the 2019 Jimny is way better than the previous generation.

It’s quite sad that we have to wait a little while longer before Suzuki Philippines officially launches the Jimny. But after getting a feel for it, I reckon it will be worth the wait.

Suzuki’s mini 4x4 is scheduled to make its official debut some time in Q3 of 2019. Final specifications and model variants will be announced next year upon launch.