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The little 4×4 that could: Suzuki Jimny 1.3

20 March 2018

Someone recently wrote an article in an international car magazine about the latest McLaren supercar. The writer described how amazingly fast the McLaren is. But he also said that he didn’t feel a connection to it… it was just a highly capable machine. The Suzuki Jimny is not like that. In fact, it’s so much more than ‘just’ a machine.

A Suzuki Jimny is not fast. It’s not big. It’s not the most refined 4×4 on the market. The handling is not great, but okay.

But there is something about it. You have to drive it to really get it. It manages to put a smile on your face. That is, it manages the smile thing around town and on a 4×4 trail. It’s less of a pleasure when you have to drive it thousands of kilometres.

Our journey with FS 19 FC GP started early in 2017. The 4×4 was virtually brand new, and straight out the box, 100% standard.

We drove the Jimny around town, and it really was a pleasure, providing nippy performance and very good fuel economy. Another factor that we really appreciated was how easy it was to park. We normally drive larger 4x4s and long double cab bakkies that can sometimes be challenging to squeeze into a tight parking space.

Not to mention underground parking areas, when there are accessories such as canopies and roof racks and jerry cans and so on fitted… the Jimny quickly became the first choice for running to meetings around town.

The Jimny was roped into a starring role for the 2017 Bridgestone 4×4 Club Challenge, with television presenter Tumelo Maketekete using the Suzuki as his official ‘spectator’ 4×4 that also featured in the programme (screened on DStv’s Ignition channel).

On his way home after an event, disaster: Tumelo inadvertently drove straight into a violent protest action. With his young daughter strapped into the back seat, the protesters pelted the poor little Jimny with rocks. The protesters normally seem to aim for windows to inflict bodily harm – and they indeed hit the left rear window, where Tumelo’s daughter was sitting. Thankfully she was unhurt.

But the battered Jimny had to check into Suzuki Auto South Africa’s headquarters for a new back window. The next event was around the corner so there was no time to get all the damage fixed.

The Jimny soldiered on regardless, and not long afterwards, it underwent a bit of a transformation: A Tough Dog suspension and steering damper upgrade; Bridgestone Dueler D693 all-terrain tyres; rock-sliders; a Front Runner roof rack with accessories such as slide-out table; a powerful 50-inch Lightforce LED light bar; very handy Caracal seat covers and accessories for the front seats; and an Intervolt battery charging management system.

The Jimny was ready for its first round of the 4×4 competition. And Tumelo and his experienced co-driver Anthonie Coetzee did not disappoint, finishing third overall in the short-wheel base class.

Much to the displeasure of some of the other competitors in the Challenge who drive larger 4x4s, the diminutive Suzukis are annoyingly capable on a tight and technical trail.

With low range selected, the light Japanese 4×4 can scramble up and over just about anything, despite lacking lockers for the front or rear differentials. There are no electronic driver aids, so the driving part is up to the nut that holds the steering wheel.

It doesn’t have heaps of power, no. The driver has to learn how to get the best out of the 1.3-litre petrol engine. The 16-valve engine delivers 63kW of power and 110Nm of torque, the latter peaking at 4 100r/min.

The mill is fitted with a variable valve timing (VVT) system, too, but it doesn’t have bucketloads of torque just above idling speed. Instead, it thrives on higher revs. If you keep the rev counter needle hovering around the 4 000r/min mark, all will be well.

And on the road? In default driving mode, the five-speed manual gearbox sends power the rear wheels. Thanks to the short wheelbase, the ride can get choppy when you hit some uneven tar sections at higher speeds.

Thankfully Suzuki Jimny owners who also compete in the challenge offered some advice: if you don’t carry any extra weight, deflate the front tyres to 1.8 bar and the rear ones to 1.5 bar. It made a marked difference, and definitely improved the ride quality and comfort inside the cabin.

On a gravel road, we found it best to immediately engage 4H – it made a world of difference. The four-wheel traction vastly improved stability on a badly corrugated road, preventing the tail from bouncing around too much.

The cabin is not huge, and rear seat passengers won’t be too impressed by the space. Up front there are plenty of comfort items though. Like a Bluetooth infotainment system (a huge improvement over previous systems), air-conditioning (which some wisecracks also called an airbrake), power steering, and electric front windows.

Average fuel consumption before the fitment of all the accessories hovered around the 8.5 litres/100km mark. With the extra drag and weight of the accessories, consumption increased to around 10 litres/100km.

We really enjoyed our time with the Jimny. It was bulletproof, too, even after taking a hammering on some of the 4×4 events, never missing a beat.

We’re going to miss the little Suzuki. It was so much more than just a 4×4, and a machine.

It was part of the family.

Suzuki Jimny 1.3
Mileage: 11 688km
Average consumption: 9.7 litres/100km
Tank size: 40 litres
Distance per tank: About 390km
THE GOOD: Fun in the city. Fun in the mud. And plenty of soul, too.
THE BAD: It has been redeployed elsewhere