Off-road test: 2018 Suzuki Jimny GLX manual
Suzuki made it extremely difficult to not love the previous generation Jimny. It was cute, affordable and it remained the perennial thorn in the side of much larger, more expensive 4×4s right up to the end of its life.
It was only the lack of locking differentials that could potentially stop the 4×4 progress of a Jimny, if wheels lost contact with terra firma. With a Jimny- experienced driver behind the wheel, though, it was just about unstoppable. But it was far from perfect.
After a 10- hour trip to Himeville from Johannesburg in a modified Jimny that would only exceed 110km/h if we revved the 1.3-litre engine to smithereens, we were hardly optimistic about driving it any further. Then we had a great time driving that same Zook up Sani Pass and through Lesotho. The ride was bouncy and you couldn’t hear the radio at over 100km/h. Stronger crosswinds had quite an influence on the Jimny, too.
Still, it has a certain charm and allure that caused thousands of South Africans to sign on the dotted line. Even nearing the end of its life it sold more than 40 units per month. Now it’s finally time for the first all-new Jimny in 20 years.
Back to the future
Some social media commentators have noted that the new Jimny looks like a smaller version of Mercedes-Benz’s famed Gelandewagen, implying that the Japanese may be trying to cash in on some of the G’s legendary roots. But quite the opposite is true. This Jimny’s styling is based on the Suzuki LJ110, which preceded the Gelandewagen by nearly a decade.
The new Jimny draws inspiration from other former variations of Suzuki’s small off-roader, as well. The clamshell bonnet is straight from the SJ while the slats at the front are from the model it replaces. It’s retro but designed in such a way that it improves day-to-day usability without sacrificing off-road ability. Throw in some bright and funky colour options, and you end up with a little 4×4 that makes heads turn, from hardcore 4×4 junkies to trendy city slickers who will probably never drive on a dirt road.
So to sum up the styling: Suzuki’s nailed it. Move on inside The two-door Jimny’s never been a very practical mode of transport, with limited interior space ensuring it’s more suited to just two people, instead of a family.
The new Jimny may have 40mm more legroom in the back but space is still a bit scarce on the inside. Sure, you can go fourup around town, over shorter distances but then there’s virtually no boot space. It’s still more suited to two people, in other words.
In terms of quality, layout and comfort, the new Jimny is a giant leap forward. Interestingly, there are few retro elements on the inside. The instrument cluster and its orange lighting are another nod to the SJ but the biggest nod of all is the reinstatement of a second gear lever for the transfer case, or kort stokkie.
The previous generation Jimny employed an electronic dial system, to select between 2H, 4H or 4Low. This system proved finicky at times. It’s refreshing to see a company buck the trend and go back to the tried-and-tested second lever… like a right proper 4×4. More on the 4×4 bits later.
Comfort and luxury have been much improved, with better noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) development a clear priority on the latest Jimny. This GLX model is a pre-production version but the ones you will find on the Suzuki showroom floor will have a modern infotainment system (and you can actually listen to music at 120km/h) and climate control. A three-spoke steering wheel with remote buttons for the infotainment system and cruise control will also be standard on the top GLX derivative.
The Jimny has really stepped it up in the comfort department, an area in which it never excelled before. Long-distance driving is no longer a punishment but rather a pleasure. And the new 1.5-litre engine plays a big role here. More va-vroom! The older Jimny had a lot of things going for it but power and torque were not two of them. You had to wring the little 1.3-litre four-cylinder’s neck to really get going around town, or if you wanted to slip into a gap on the highway. On the open road, if you added a few accessories to that Jimny, 120km/h became a target, not a cruising speed. And when you drive to achieve that target, fuel consumption suffers.
Our long-term Jimny, with roof rack, suspension and slightly bigger tyres, managed around nine litres/100km. Here’s the good news: the new Jimny’s 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine offers more power and torque that makes it infinitely easier to live with on a daily basis.
It produces 75kW of power and 130Nm of torque (up from 63kW and 110Nm), and in our GLX it was coupled to a five-speed manual gearbox. Crucially, the new Jimny weighs just 1 095kg, only 5kg heavier than the previous version. Although performance can still not be described as necksnapping or fast, it’s a whole lot better than the older Suzuki. The 16V engine, which also features Suzuki’s variable valve timing (VVT-i) system, revs sweetly to its red line of 6 000r/ min.
However, with 130Nm of torque peaking at 4 000r/min, you don’t have to rev it quite as much as the 1.3-litre mill. Is it the most refined fourcylinder petrol engine in the world? Probably not. But it seems Suzuki focused on a more simplistic, more robust engine option for the new Jimny, as befits a pukka off-roader, of course.
Has the new Jimny gone 4×4 soft?
Ah, quite the opposite, in fact. It’s now even better off-road. It is still based on a rugged ladder-frame chassis (now with a new cross member that makes it even tougher) so it can handle some off-road punches. It also has solid axles at both ends, ensuring plenty of wheel articulation in a tough 4×4 environment. It has 210mm of ground clearance and there’s the part-time 4WD system with a selection between 2H, 4H and 4Low. Hill descent control is standard.
The approach angle is 37 degrees, the breakover angle 28 degrees and departure angle 49 degrees. Throw in the low weight, the compact body and, just like the previous generation Jimny, you end up with one surprisingly capable little 4×4. However, the previous Jimny had one limitation that prevented it from shaming the likes of Jeep’s Rubicon and Mercedes’ Gelandewagen in standard trim: the lack of locking parts for the differentials.
As soon as a wheel lost contact with the ground, it seriously compromised forward momentum. No wonder so many previous generation Jimnys are fitted with aftermarket lockers, which makes them nigh unstoppable.
Now Suzuki has checked that box with the fitment of its AllGrip Pro system, essentially a traction control system aimed at off-road driving. In theory, this new Jimny should then be quite unstoppable. But is it? When the going gets tough The Hobby Park 4×4 trail in Krugersdorp boasts some pretty serious 4×4 obstacles. Interestingly though, when we picked up the Jimny from its headquarters, its owners had advised that, when we go off-roading, we should choose the more difficult line, instead of the easy one.
That was quite a statement, especially since this Jimny was only one of two in the country! But it also showed how confident the Suzuki custodians are about this new Jimny. Still, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We found our first obstacle: a nasty climb over some rocks. We had tackled the same obstacle some years ago in a stock Jimny, and although we got through it, it wasn’t without a few grey hairs and some seat-clenching moments.
It was in much worse shape now, with rain having washed away most of the sand, exposing even more rocks. We chose the least likely line. With first gear low range engaged, we started the climb. As expected, wheels started losing contact with the rocks and started spinning… but with the driver maintaining the same pressure on the accelerator, the AllGrip Pro traction control system came to the party, braking the spinning wheels, ensuring they regained traction – and up the Jimny went.
Truth be told, it was all pretty easy. Boring, even. Clearly Suzuki has resolved the one chink in the previous Jimny’s armour: the loss of traction in cross-axle situations. It’s now damn brilliant. The new engine also feels much stronger in low range, with more torque at lower revs 32 November 2018 leisurewheels.co.za than the previous 1.3-litre. You don’t have to rev it quite so hard, ensuring more controlled, slower manoeuvres on tight and technical 4×4 sections. We dispatched some soft sand with the Jimny in 4H – and with that low weight, it got the job done without faffing about, and with no hassles. Sure, there may be some 4×4 enthusiasts who rue the fact that the Jimny still doesn’t have at least one locking differential, and that a computer controls the traction on a tough 4×4 obstacle. Frankly though, the traction control is the way of the future, and it does a splendid job. By the way, if you’re feeling like an old-school Jimny challenge, the traction control can be disengaged. The system automatically engages at speeds faster than 30km/h (also in 2H).
The all-new Jimny is an epic little vehicle. It builds on the fun, capable and solid reputation of the previous generation model and corrects a few of the perceived faults of the older one. It’s now more fashionable than ever before, more capable in an off-road environment, and infinitely better and more comfortable to drive on-road. With pricing starting from around R270 000 and peaking at about R330 000 for the GLX AT model, we believe Suzuki will not be able to ship enough new Jimnys our way to satisfy demand. It’s been a 20-year wait but it has certainly been worth it. Suzuki has delivered the goods.
Hitting the (tar) road
There’s no two ways about it… on the road the new Jimny is so much better than the previous generation version. For one, with a lot more torque available at lower revs, you don’t have to rev the engine to keep up with the traffic. Even if you are driving in fourth gear at below 60km/h, you can add some right foot and the little Jimny will respond immediately, briskly picking up speed. The same goes for fifth gear, cruising at an indicated 120km/h (a true 114km/h in our pre-production unit), with the revs sitting around 3 500r/min. That sounds high, but thanks to the much-improved NVH levels, it’s not nearly as intrusive as the previous model. You can even hear the sound system. Clearly! And, if you want to accelerate, you simply add some right foot, and off goes the Jimny, in fifth. In the previous version, at that speed, a knock on fourth gear’s door would have been required. It’s not perfect on the road, no. Thanks to the short wheel base, the ride is still a bit choppy (but a lot less so than in the previous version). Overall, the latest Jimny represents a massive improvement in regards to driving dynamics, comfort, refinement and real-world performance. Hoorah for that.