All aboard the hype train! When the all-new, 2018 model year Suzuki Jimny was first teased online and later shown to the world in its entirety, it suddenly became a phenomenon of sorts. The boxy and retro, ladder-frame Jimny, usually seen in the Kinetic Yellow launch color, received near-universal awe and affection just because of the way it looked, especially as it arrived in a crossover-rich world where you no longer can buy a new Land Rover Defender. The previous generation Jimny, which Suzuki built for 20 years, was worthy of a successor but looked far more modest inside out.
But it’s one thing to heart-click an online Jimny than to actually drive it and rate it as the product it is. Availability will be limited, too, as it won’t be sold globally, and no Jimnys will be sold new in the United States for example. Luckily, this weekend I was given the chance to experience a press Jimny, in the right hi-visibility yellow hue and with a manual gearbox, on Finnish countryside roads.
The first thing you note about the Jimny is that it feels approximately the right size. The upright cabin is not cramped for two adults, as there’s enough shoulder room, and headroom is plentiful. The rear seats are temporary in nature, as their trick is to fold away to create a level loadspace floor, but if needed, there’s a back seat available for a full-grown adult. The seat is quite low, but it’s not impossible to find a comfortable long-distance position in the back – as long as you pay attention when entering the back seat and do not drop your body weight on the hard plastic covering the wheelwell intrusions. Using both back seats also cancels out almost all available cargo space, but three-up, you can include weekend baggage and still fit someone in the back.
The front seats aren’t fantastically comfortable, but rather generic cloth buckets that could use some more side support. Pedals are spaced far enough apart so you can drive the Jimny with winter boots on. As for the dash, it’s styled in a somewhat retro fashion to resemble both older Suzuki trucks and an army radio, but in some markets it also gains a large touchscreen on top.
In Japan, the kei-class, narrow-fender Jimny gets a 660cc engine, but the European market Jimny is powered by a general-purpose feeling 1.5-liter naturally aspirated four cylinder unit. There’s no down-sized three-pot turbo, no turbodiesel, or hybrid tech here, just a regular-issue 100-horsepower four-banger that you can rev to 6000rpm if needed. It feels like an uncomplicated powerplant for the long run, providing decent but not stellar fuel economy and just about enough power.
There could be more low-down grunt, and on the highway you mostly hear the engine screaming at 4000rpm – the Jimny could use a sixth gear for highway runs, but noise levels are otherwise fine. The engine note drowns what wind and tire noise there is, and the body-on-frame construction comes with vibration-cancelling benefits.
But the Jimny is in its element when you leave tarmac and hit the gravel roads. You don’t need to pamper it: on gravel it feels stout, well-weighted and unflustered, with a surprisingly comfortable ride helped by coil springs all around. You could spend a day roaming around forest roads in the Jimny, the bulky Hankooks kicking up stones as you provoke it into little lurches and slides in rear-wheel-drive mode, with ESP monitoring the progress so you only leave the road when you wish to. For those occasions, there’s part time 4WD with a low-range transfer gear.
The manual shifter, jutting out from the center tunnel in a slight angle feels very positive to use, and the recirculating-ball steering doesn’t have an easily defined center feel but isn’t overly mushy or distractingly vague either. What the Jimny is, is fun, but it’s chunky and substantial enough not to feel like an accessory or a trinket, or something you need to make excuses for.
Underneath the look-at-me greenish yellow paint, under the trending looks is a good little SUV built from proper ingredients on a foundation as solid as its axles. It’s not a glorified modern hatchback with 4WD as a plus, but a traditional body-on-frame truck that never feels like it’s focusing on the wrong things. Sure, you can get a touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, A/C, cruise control, lane-keeping assist and other convenient things that make it easier to justify for a new car buyer, but these aren’t something it counts on to win tentative buyers on its side. One could feasibly run it as an only vehicle, as long as the limitations of the cargo/passenger hauling abilities are taken into account: in an occasion when you need to get four people and their things from one place to another, the Jimny makes you choose.
I really hope the Jimny does well on the market. It feels like it has the basics to make sense in professional use as well as an urban runabout, and the ingredients used to craft it should give it longevity, as it’s engineered and built by people that have made durable small trucks before. The Jimny is priced at ~25k Euros in Finland, and in Germany it’s a little under 20k – there are a lot of cars and crossovers that cost the same or less, but go about their day in a far less enthusiastic fashion.
[Images copyright 2018 Antti Kautonen/Hooniverse except for photos provided by Suzuki]