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Suzuki solidifies cult status among the unpretentious

There are a number of SUVs that market themselves as rugged, utilitarian labourers. The Jeep Wrangler with its interior that can be hosed down is an obvious example; so is the military-inspired Mercedes G-Wagen; and of course 2020 was the year the new Land Rover Defender finally arrived. 

The future promises the concept will evolve even further with bold plans for an all-electric Hummer to rival the hexagonal prism that is the Tesla truck.

At some point we have to call bullshit on the sales pitch. All may be able to “go anywhere, do anything” but they have arguably long severed any connection to the everyday person. The high price tag and often ridiculous maintenance costs means we have lost the stereotype of the game ranger packing her dog and rifle into the back seat.

This is what makes the Suzuki Jimny so special. There is no pretension here. It is a pure 4×4 experience that is available to almost anyone with a budget for a new car (it starts at R307 900).

You’re unlikely to find any owners who would refute that — the Jimny has become a cult car in many circles. As a titbit, look to Europe, where the craze has turned into reports that some suitors are offering above the listing price for a second-hand model — demand has only increased following news that Suzuki will no longer be selling the Jimny there following new emissions regulations.

The Japanese manufacturer has had no such issues in South Africa. Despite our vehicle sales declining by 29.1% in 2020, the Jimny helped Suzuki enjoy its best ever year in the country. Given our privilege of still being able to own one of these robust fiends, it was worth revisiting the idiosyncrasies of the Jimny when one in the signature kinetic yellow arrived on our doorstep.

You immediately get a hint why the Jimny is so beloved; the boxy retro shape and styling is a pleasant change from the smoothed edges found on almost everything else with four wheels. With its visible hinges and bolts there’s an automatic trust in the sturdiness of this small champion. Is it derivative of the Wrangler? Of course it is, but no one is really going to get hung up about that.

The current models are also rather nice on the inside. Alongside the jagged gauges is now a decent touchscreen as well as some good-looking digital aircon dials. It should be pointed out, however, that you’ll be paying a touch under R40 000 extra for the GLX version that comes with those fancier bits.

The true cost of the Jimny is revealed when you take it onto the tar, where … ahem … it’s not great. And yes, we’re being euphemistic. The steering is clunky and the highway easily exposes the limitations of the 1.5l engine. This is certainly not an option for anyone interested in a normal, practical, I just-want-to-get-to-work-in-one-piece-everyday kind of car. If that point is still lost on anyone the Lilliputian boot will drive it home.

No, this is one for the self-proclaimed adventurers. Those who would turn scenic detours into impromptu rally races.

The undisputed strength of the Jimny has always been and remains its offroading abilities. On dirt it is unadulterated fun; few experiences can match the joy of thrusting it past craggy bumps or ditches. Very few obstacles, in fact, would compel any pause for thought. 

Capability aside, what helps drive the amusement is the knowledge that you’re not commanding a high-end Nasa satellite. If it gets banged, so what? There’s no polish to tarnish here and only severe prangs will ever break the wallet. 

Keen on adding some cheap aftermarket parts like a bumper or roof rack? Go right ahead. Perhaps more so than any other new car today, it’s terrifically easy to make this car yours, to endow it with elements of your personality without going to a dodgy customs garage.

You can pretty much do what you want to this diminutive icon. If that’s not a feature worth buying then what is?

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Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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