Looking for a truly compact and affordable SUV with some real off-road ability? Well, if that’s the sort of vehicle you’re in the market for, there aren’t a lot of vehicles to choose from. In fact, there are really only two: the Suzuki Jimny and the Daihatsu Terios. So which one is the featherweight champion?
In the world of four-wheel-drive SUVs, the Suzuki Jimny and Daihatsu Terios are, well, a bit unusual. How so? Your average 4×4 SUV is large, heavy and expensive. Even vehicles that are usually referred to as “compact” SUVs are pretty big and pricey these days (finding one for less than R300 000 is just about impossible).
But the Terios and Jimny are none of these things. Both vehicles are (reasonably) cheap, lightweight and small.
The Terios Off-road is priced at R274 995, weighs 1160kg and is 4055mm long. The Jimny costs R198 900, weighs 1060kg and is 3545mm long. Despite their affordable prices and diminutive sizes, both offer some real off-road ability. The Terios Off-road boasts permanent all-wheel drive (60% front bias), with a centre differential lock that can divide power evenly between the front and rear wheels. It also boasts ground clearance of 225mm. The Suzuki Jimny has selectable four-wheel drive, with a low-range transfer case. Its ground clearance is pegged at 190mm.
The question that remains, however, is: how effective are their four-wheel-drive systems? Are these two little SUVs truly capable off the beaten track and on ugly gravel roads, or are all their 4×4 bells and whistles simply gimmicks? And which one is easier to live with on a daily basis? Which one performs better on the open road and in a congested urban environment? The aim of this shoot-out was to answer these questions. But before we examine the results, let’s take a closer look at the two vehicles.
Daihatsu Terios 1.5 4×4 Off-road
The Daihatsu Terios has always been a bit of an outsider. As an SUV, it’s smaller than average, has less than impressive engine capacity on paper, and is generally seen as a budget-friendly option. In the off-roading world, the 4×4 manne usually have a good snigger when someone shows up in a Terios. It doesn’t have low range, and only has a centre diff lock, and this makes it the lightweight of the off-roading fraternity. Yet somehow the Terios has found great resonance with South Africans looking for a comfortable, capable and affordable SUV – it’s a great all-rounder.
First launched in 1997 in Japan, the Terios was branded as a Toyota Rush with a 1,3 litre or 660cc engine (4WD or 2WD). Then, in 2006, a 1,5 litre second generation Terios was launched as a joint development between Daihatsu and Toyota, which has a majority holding in Daihatsu. Whereas you can get both the Daihatsu Terios and Toyota Rush in Japan, other countries sell it as the Terios Eco, Terios Wild or Perodua Nautica. Now the specially developed Terios 4×4 Off-road edition ups the ante. It’s got the same four cylinder, 1,5 litre engine, but the guys at the local arm of Daihatsu have made it a little more special. The engine in this guise produces 10kW more than the standard 4×4 model, pushing out 87kW and 150 Nm of torque at 4400 r/min – thanks in part to the high-performance free-flow exhaust. Ground clearance increases from 205mm to around 225mm. Rims remain the same, but the standard 215/65 R16 tyres give way to an all- terrain 235/60 R16 set.
Safety kit sees only the loss of ISOFIX mounting points on the rear seats, but other interior specs unique to the Off-road edition include a touchscreen DVD player and GPS navigation system. It also has other luxuries such as Bluetooth, USB and MP3 capability. That, however, doesn’t matter when you are driving in rugged terrain or going on a 4×4 holiday. What matters is the central diff lock (also on the 4×4 trim), the added spotlights and tow bar in the Off-road package. The Off-road trim also has a limited slip diff, which is unique to the range. All this makes a big difference. Sure, it’s still not a hardcore off-roader that’s going to carve out the road on your new farm, but there’s no reason to frown at young families who show up in the Terios anymore. Couple these minor adjustments with an already lightweight Terios, and this is a great vehicle for driving in the sand (as proved in our small SUV shootout, December 2011). Despite its small size and weight, however, the Terios is deceptively big on interior space, which is what makes it a popular all-round vehicle. Still, its off-roading spec list is a tad short, and here its contender may have the upper hand.
Suzuki Jimny 1.3 4×4
The Suzuki Jimny has been called many things: a “toy” car, a midget, a bonsai off-roader, “Jiminy the cricket” or a 4×4 for girls. Yet the Jimny has been making waves in SA since its launch, despite its critics, and impressing those who were previously skeptical. The first Suzuki “Jeepie” was the SJ410 of 1983, brought in by General Motors SA (later to become Delta Motor Corporation). It was small and nimble, but adept in off- road conditions despite its tiny 1000cc engine. It was succeeded by the SJ413, with a 1,3 litre engine, and later by the Samurai models, which are still sought after by prospective second-hand 4×4 owners (with good mechanical skills).
Then Delta was taken over by General Motors in 2004, and the Suzuki “Jeepie” was lost to South Africans. When Suzuki returned to SA – this time as an independent company – it decided to bring back the little off-roader. Enter the 2008 Suzuki Jimny 1,3 litre 4×4. In its original guise it was appropriately equipped, with coil spring suspension on rigid front and rear axles, a low range transfer case and “performance” figures of 63kW and 110Nm of torque. By January of 2009, Leisure Wheels was reporting average monthly sales of 113 units. Selling at just under R150 000, it was chock full of value- for-money specifications.
When Suzuki refreshed the Jimny this year, they were wise not to tinker with what worked. The 2012 Jimny has the same power and torque figures, the same engine and the same 4×4 drivetrain. It weighs just over a ton and stands 190mm off the ground. With impressive approach and departure angles, it’s quite adept off-road and lacks only diff locks or limited slip differential.
But while it may have a lot of off-roading kit over its contender, it only has two doors and is not the most spacious of vehicles. Despite that it is safe, and light on fuel. Top speed is a mere 140 km/h, and boot space is, well, limited. This is Suzuki’s only offering in the Jimny’s one-man-band range. There are no fancy trim models, and the low R198 900 price tag is possible because of the absence of modern gadgetry such as touch screen entertainment systems, Bluetooth, USB or MP3 capability. The value lies in the vehicle’s character and capabilities, and these will have to outweigh its shortcomings in luxury, space and comfort if it is to beat its fellow Japanese contender.
As always with our shoot-outs, we asked a panel of independent judges to put these two SUVs through their paces. The judges started by scrutinising the interiors and exteriors of both vehicles. On the outside, they looked at build quality, desirability and styling. Inside the cabins, they looked at things such as practicality, versatility, space, comfort and build quality. They also looked at the quality of the sound systems, the safety kit provided, the amount of storage space, the performance of the air conditioners and the user-friendliness of the controls. As usual, performance was tested on tar, gravel and off road. The judges were given an opportunity to drive both vehicles on the same route, which included tar and gravel sections. After this, they were asked to assess the vehicles on a 4×4 test course. This included features such as a rocky section, a sand pit, axle twisters and steep, sandy inclines. Sure, it wasn’t a hardcore, grade-five obstacle course, but it did provide a good indication of how the vehicles typically perform on different surfaces. Once the judges had spent a decent amount of time with the vehicles, they were asked to submit score sheets.
The judges were asked to score each particular aspect out of 5. If they felt, for example, that a vehicle’s build quality was just about perfect, they would give it a 5. If they felt it was abysmal, they would give it a 0. If build quality was average, they would give it a 3. The maximum possible score that a vehicle could achieve once all the judges’ votes were tallied was 840 (60 for exterior features, 280 for interior features, 200 for tar performance, 120 for gravel performance, 120 for 4×4 ability, 40 for value for money and 20 for dynamic handling).
Suzuki Jimny – 33/60 (55%)
Daihatsu Terios – 43/60 (71,6%)
The Terios was the clear winner in this category. The judges felt that the build quality and styling of the Terios were better than the Jimny’s. Of course, it is worth taking into account that the Terios Off-road costs about R75 000 more than the Jimny, so it is understandable that its build quality would be better.
Interestingly, the judges scored the vehicles about the same when it came to desirability in the segment. While they felt that the quality and overall styling of the Terios was better, they had to concede that the cutesy Jimny had an irresistible charm. “The Jimny is a fun and funky little vehicle,” said one judge. “Spotting one on the road is always a bit of an event. You can’t help but love the boxy little 4×4.”
Suzuki Jimny – 130/280 (46%)
Daihatsu Terios – 171/280 (61%)
Once again, the Terios came out on top, chiefly because the judges felt that it was a more practical vehicle. While the vehicles scored about the same when it came
to things such as safety features, ease of use of controls and air-conditioning performance, the Terios scored better when it came to issues related to size. The judges thought that the practicality and versatility of the Jimny was limited due to the size of its cabin. Comfort and space in the back was a particular problem.
That said, the judges did feel that the Jimny perhaps offered a better experience for the driver. “The controls in the Jimny have a nice 4×4 feel to them,” said one judge.
“Thanks to the position of the gear lever and the feel of the steering wheel, piloting the Jimny is fun.”
“The rear of the Jimny’s cabin is cramped, but I do think the SUV would make a nifty daily runabout. It is easy to drive and would perform well in traffic,” commented another judge.
Overall, the judges thought the Terios’s cabin was more plush and comfortable, but as with the previous category, the price difference should be taken into consideration when looking at the results. Yes, the Terios has things such as a nice entertainment system with a DVD player, but these features come at a price.
ON THE ROAD – TAR
Suzuki Jimny – 104/200 (52%)
Daihatsu Terios – 125/200 (62,5%)
In the judges’ opinion, the Terios performed better on tar than the Jimny. They thought it handled better, was more comfortable and more stable. They did not think, however, that there was much to choose between the two when it came to the performance of their engine/ gearbox combinations. What swayed them was that the Terios provided a smoother and quieter ride on the open road.
“The Terios is a lovely vehicle for the open road,” said one judge. “Considering its space and features, I think it would make an excellent vehicle for a small family.”
I’m very impressed by the ride offered by the Terios,” said another judge. “It is smooth and comfortable.”
ON THE ROAD – GRAVEL
Suzuki Jimny – 70/120 (58%)
Daihatsu Terios – 76/120 (63%)
The Jimny and Terios performed very similarly on gravel. In fact, the only aspect in which there was a real difference was in ride comfort. The judges thought that the noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels of the Terios were impressively low, giving it a score of 15/20. They were less impressed with the Jimny, giving it 10/20. The scores for handling, steering and stability were just about identical, but the Terios scored slightly less when it came to braking on gravel.
“Overall, the Terios performs well on dirt, but it does tend to get a bit choppy when you brake,” said a judge.
OFF THE ROAD – 4×4
Suzuki Jimny – 90/120 (75%)
Daihatsu Terios – 68/120 (57%)
The Jimny won the off-road category conclusively, displaying once again why it has a reputation as a very competent little 4×4. Unsurprisingly, the Jimny scored excellently when it came to 4×4 features for the price. The judges were impressed by the fact that a vehicle priced below R200 000 offered a selectable four-wheel-drive system and low-range transfer case. The Jimny also proved that all its 4×4 goodies weren’t simply gimmicks – it could truly deal with tough off-road conditions.
“The Jimny is a wonderful 4×4 toy,” commented a judge.
“If you’re looking for a trail vehicle in this segment, the Jimny is a good option,” added another. The Terios did not fare as well. The judges felt that, despite its name, the Terios Off-road was not ideally suited to 4×4 conditions. It did not have enough 4×4 features, especially when compared with the Jimny. It also failed to provide the same amount of traction as the Jimny on sand. However, some of the judges did feel that the Terios provided a more comfortable ride in off-road conditions.
“Travelling off-road is more comfortable in the Terios than in the Jimny, especially for passengers,” said a judge.
VALUE FOR MONEY
Suzuki Jimny – 25/40 (62,5%)
Daihatsu Terios – 23/40 (57,5%)
When it came to the all-important issue of value for money, the Jimny bested the Terios by a couple of points. Considering the 4×4 kit offered by the Jimny, the judges felt that its price was quite reasonable. The only thing that really prevented it from receiving an excellent score here was its somewhat austere interior. Had it been a bit more plush on the inside, it probably would have done very well in this category.
When it came to the Terios, the judges decided that it needed a few more features to justify the R274 995 price tag. But given the lack of space and practicality offered by the Jimny, they still thought that the Terios provided a better overall perception of value for money at first impression.
DYNAMIC HANDLING TEST
Suzuki Jimny – 13/20 (65%)
Daihatsu Terios – 12/20 (60%)
There were no great differences in the Terios and Jimny’s handling. Some judges remarked, though, that the Jimny was slightly more manoeuvrable because of its shorter wheelbase. This also came in useful on the 4×4-trail, where the Jimny displayed an impressive ability to navigate tight tracks.
Once all the votes had been tallied, the Terios stepped out of the ring as the clear winner, managing to score 518/840 (62%). The Jimny walked away with 465/840 (55,35%). Does this mean that the Terios is by far the better vehicle? Not at all. As is so often the case when it comes to comparing SUVs, it is an issue of horses for courses. The two vehicles have different strengths and weaknesses, and picking the better of the two depends largely on one’s needs.
There is no doubt that the Terios is the more practical and versatile vehicle. It has five doors and a rear bench that can comfortably seat two adults. Its cabin is also more plush and comfortable, and this had an impact on the outcome of the shoot-out. Glancing at the results, it is easy to see that this was where the Terios bested the Jimny most thoroughly.
But the Terios also has a couple of shortcomings. It does not, for instance, boast the same level of off-road ability as the Jimny. Suzuki’s little 4×4 is a surprisingly capable off-roader, and at a price of R198 900, gives you a whole lot of 4×4 kit for your money. If you’re looking for an off-road toy that can tackle tight trails, the Jimny is a great buy. It is also an effective city runabout, so it can provide you with an economical form of transport during the week, and supply some 4×4 fun over the weekend. But its size limits its practicality. For a lot of people, the Jimny would simply be too small and austere, especially if they planned on doing some open-road traveling.
That said, the Terios is significantly more expensive than the Jimny. Yes, it is more comfortable and versatile, but is that enough to justify the price difference?
Your answer will depend on your needs.