/ 25 November 2023

Five stars for the Jimny five-door

Suzukijimny5 Door 3421 Min
The Suzuki Jimny has been given an additional two doors and now there is space to sit comfortably in the back – and room for luggage.

I am speaking from experience when I say the usual relationship between a driver and Suzuki’s Jimny is one of endearment — and claustrophobia. 

Traditionally, the Jimny had three doors, a limited-use backseat and what could be called boot space if you’re looking to snugly fit in a laptop. That’s different now.

A few years ago, I spent the better part of 20 000km in a 1.3-litre facelifted third-generation Jimny, and while I consistently praised its offroad-going abilities, there was a trade-off that enabled it to have said mud-slinging abilities — its size, and more specifically, its lack of space.

See, the Jimny traditionally has a short wheelbase, which means its breakover angle is in another sphere altogether. 

As a result, it made do without newfangled off-road components and programmes but South Africa’s smallest part-time four-wheel-drive SUV, while not the quickest on the tarmac, could keep up with the best on the trails. 

It was all thanks to that small wheelbase, which translated into an interior space that was only really suited to two people.

With the launch of the three-door in 2018, Suzuki improved on every­thing we loved about the Jimny, adding a 1.5-litre engine and a range of accessories to maximise interior packing space. Still, it was an intimate experience for any passengers on board.

While the exact reasons for this development are unclear — perhaps a developmental whim, a marketing gamble or perhaps hours of focus-group discussions — Suzuki has just launched a five-door version of the  immensely popular Jimny. 

It looks largely the same, with the addition of two more doors, obvs, and minor cosmetic changes, and it still feels very Jimny.

What’s new?

From the front, the keen observer will notice the addition of a grey grille embellished with chrome-covered louvres, undoubtedly to appeal to a more upmarket buyer. 

This detail didn’t get my heart racing but, then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 

The other giveaway as to the specification level is the standard halogen headlamps on the entry-level GL, while the GLX has LED projector headlights and fog lamps. 

And, naturally, there are those two added doors and a wheelbase that has been stretched by 340mm to 2 590mm. However, the height and width remain identical to the three-door version.

The increase, though, is evident in the interior. There is no need to flip the front seat forward to squeeze into the back. Simply open the rear door and step in. 

It’s an almost surreal experience sitting comfortably in the back of a Jimny, even with a front-to-back seating test that leaves measurable knee room in both seating positions for a 2m individual. 

This is a basic element that some sedan makers are still struggling to perfect. 

Then there’s the boot space — it’s capable of easily gulping two carry-on-sized suitcases with some room for smaller items. 

All this has been achieved with a wheelbase stretch barely measuring more than a ruler’s length.

Still a Jimny, though?

Yes. Absolutely. The Jimny 5-door still has those driving characteristics — call ’em quirks if you will — of a Jimny — it’s just a smidge bigger. 

It still has that marginally delayed output to steering inputs and that raised seating position which makes it easy to forget it’s essentially a kei car adapted for our market. 

And that sense of occasion as the engine winds up cartoonishly to extract its maximum 75kW and 130Nm of torque. 

You still have to skillfully negotiate the 5-speed manual gearbox (the gearbox with which I spent the duration of the launch) to keep the engine ticking over at 4 000r/min, the zone where its power and efficiency live. 

Sure, it demands a bit of patience when overtaking but the point of the Jimny has never been power and speed — its allure is in the sense of adventure and its ability to go where most vehicles can’t.

On a side note, the GL derivative of the Jimny is exclusively available with a 5-speed manual gearbox, while the upper-tier GLX can be had with either the 5-speed manual or the 4-speed automatic. 

Based on my experience in the three-door GLX auto, it’s a joy to row the gears manually, especially in a day and age where automatics rule.

Back to the actual driving aspect. That sense of nimbleness is ever-present, especially on the roads. In fact, it’s easy to forget that this is indeed a five-door. 

The only real clue while driving is the ride which, while still firm (blame the ladder-frame chassis), is considerably more stable over rough surfaces with a larger dissipation area for the energy transferring through the suspension. 

It still judders over corrugations but selecting 4-high from the transfer case lever does help considerably in the composure department.

There is an upside to this simpler offroading approach. It translates into one heck of a competent rock- and obstacle-climber, thanks to the well-sorted mechanical aptitude of the Jimny. No newfangled pre-programmed terrain setups, minimal electronic aides — just you and the slightly bigger, still-tiny offroader — and a real sense of achievement. 

It’s quite frugal in the process, with a mix of paved and gravel roads, sand tracks and ruts registering an average of mid-to-high sevens.

To Jimny or not …

The Suzuki Jimny retains its charm, even with the addition of two doors. It still defies car-buying logic, especially at a starting price of R429 900 for the GL and reaching a conclusion at R479 900 for the GLX auto. 

It’s not cheap but, then again, this is the best capability money can buy at this price point if you’re shopping for a brand-new model. 

It won’t appeal to everyone and, in a way, that’s the whole point of a Jimny in a market that’s swamped with garden-variety SUVs and brand-engineered models. And now it’s a bit more practical.