Order a new Suzuki Jimny in Japan now and you won’t pick it up until early next year. That’s how popular the tiny, go-anywhere SUV has become. And Suzuki says it expects similarly strong demand in overseas markets, too.
Why? That retro styling, of course. The Jimny is a logarithmic improvement over the chunky, clunky outgoing model; born way back in 1970, this is the first all-new Jimny in more than 20 years.
So Suzuki has had time to think about revisions and get the packaging right. Penned in an unashamedly boxy style with strong hints of the Mercedes G-Class and Land Rover Defender, the new Jimny has proportions that make it appear bigger than it really is. But it’s not just that conservative, approachable exterior that’s generating such interest.
Pretty much every other aspect of the tiny Suzuki is exactly what the market wanted, according to chief engineer, Hiroyuki Yonezawa. “We kept things simple, but improved quality and functionality,” he told us. “But above all, its off-road capabilities.”
After driving the new Jimny on and off road near Mount Fuji, on an early domestic market launch, we’d have to say that Yonezawa has reached his goals – and then some. Size-wise, the UK-bound Sierra model is 50mm longer and 45mm taller than before, while the wheelbase and width stay unchanged.
In place of the outgoing 1.3-litre petrol engine, Suzuki has fitted a new, naturally aspirated 1.5-litre four-cylinder producing 101bhp and 130Nm of torque. That’s a jump of 14bhp and 12Nm over the old unit; a noticeable increase in a car weighing only 1,070kg.
Matched to a choice of either five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearboxes, the new engine is lighter, more powerful and more economical.
While not explosive, power delivery is gradual and sufficient, especially above 3,000rpm. Beefy bottom-end torque helps the Sierra get over just about any hill and through every ditch; it’ll happily wade through small streams as well.
The Jimny’s new ladder frame chassis is 50 per cent more rigid, and the three-link rigid axle suspension has been tuned to cater to both on-road and off-road handling. As a result, ride quality takes a huge leap in the right direction.
On the road, the Jimny is vastly improved, then. While it still rolls in bends, it doesn’t sway nearly as much as it used to, and once committed to a corner, it will hold its line. There is a slight delay in the steering on-centre, but overall the Suzuki delivers decent control. Brake response is significantly better with grippier initial bite and less nose dive compared with the old model.
Where the Jimny truly excels alongside city-biased rivals is off road. Challenged over mud, dirt and 35-degree inclines, the Sierra breezed every section of our complex off-road route. There wasn’t even the need to engage the low-range box; it really felt like a mini-Toyota Land Cruiser.
With something Suzuki calls ‘Brake LSD Traction Control’, we were able to cruise effortlessly over a mogul-style course. Here, the BLTC engages immediately to stop the tyres spinning, sending that wasted traction to the wheels on the opposite side to keep the car moving.
The new hill descent mode and ‘two-second’ hill-hold control also work effortlessly to stabilise the car on steep slopes. At this price, not even a Dacia Duster can match its rugged ability.
Inside, the Jimny is more modern than before, with big clear dials and an Ignis-inspired infotainment system. The SUV is quieter on the road and the seats more comfortable than before. Higher-quality materials and plastics are used throughout, without neglecting off-road details like the passenger grab handle.
Visibility is excellent all-round, but a rear camera is missing from the options list. Suzuki makes up for it with cruise control, auto emergency braking and a lane-departure alert, however.
Yonezawa added: “If you design a car with a well-defined purpose and get the packaging right, you can extend model cycles indefinitely.” If interest in Japan is any gauge, this Jimny may also be around for 20 years.