/ 10 March 2024

Suzuki Jimny: The little off-roader that can

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Famous five: The new five-door iteration of the Suzuki Jimny had no problems with muddy roads and water during our test drive.

I have developed a fondness for adventure cars over the years. The rugged character that often comes standard with anything with an off-road disposition creates a want factor like little else. 

And, while they might seem out of place in a parking lot, they find their worth on the beautiful off-road trails that our country has to offer.

To say I was impressed with the little five-door Jimny 4×4 after experiencing it would be an understatement. 

It saw coastal adventures, challenging off-road trails and long-distance driving during our test drive. 

On our initial journey from Johannesburg to Gqeberha, the roads were wet but the Jimny never skipped a beat, wading through the occasional puddle and causing some rubbernecking on the beachfront. The first week of travel posed little challenge for the SUV.

With the weekend approaching, it was preparing to be the star of the show at a wedding. It was our responsibility to assist the happy couple in leaving the venue and arriving safely at their first-night location.

On the day, all clean and gleaming, our bright green Jimny had to come to the rescue earlier than expected because the dirt road to the photoshoot setting was muddy and flooded — no other car in the party was able to find traction on it. 

The bride and groom were piled in and it escorted them down the swampy road without missing a beat.

The Jimny quickly cemented its place in the hearts of the newlyweds by offering secure transport to both the photoshoot and the wedding night destination.

Our next stop along the route was Plettenberg Bay, the home of many Jeep Wrangler owners who have never been off the tar. However, it also has plenty of Jimny owners, who would flash and wave in excitement at the approaching five-door. It makes sense that there are so many Jimnys there, given the narrow roads and tight parking spaces. 

The coastal town provided a nice break for us and our little off-roader, allowing us to test its in-town driving ability. This is where we discovered that the Jimny can be thirsty, often registering 8 litres per 100km.

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Making a splash: The Jimny five-door is a tad thirsty during town driving but it comes into its own off the beaten track.

Driving had been relaxed throughout the week, so we decided to go up the coast to see friends. To get there, we had to cross farmlands, navigate herds of cows and aggressive agricultural irrigation, and take an exceptionally steep cliffside road. To no surprise, the Jimny just skipped along. 

This did, however, provide us with our first test of the Jimny’s low-range gearbox. Based on experience with the previous models, I knew the ratios on the box were notoriously short and the same is true for the five-door. 

The shorter ratios are a countermeasure to the lack of power in the 1.5-litre, naturally aspirated engine. It works a treat but does require constant gear shifts.

We set out on the drive back home with an unscratched itch for serious off-road trails and, four hours later, encountered the mother of all traffic jams. The 10km queue of vehicles was at a standstill. 

They didn’t have the Jimny’s inherent off-road abilities, though.

With four-wheel-drive engaged, and a grass embankment being the only impediment between us and freedom, we pulled off and bounced along the grass on the side of the highway. 

We eventually arrived at the scene of the accident, where the reason for the snarl became apparent — two opposing taxis were refusing to budge. It turned out that a bus had collided with a taxi and, while the crash had been cleared two hours before we arrived, the impatience of some taxi drivers meant no vehicles were moving. 

The remaining drive reminded us that the Jimny is lacking on the highway-comfort front, with crosswinds proving to be our worst adversary. Due to its brick-like shape, the SUV struggled to maintain 120km/h. 

Then again, it’s these factors that lend the Jimny so much character. 

Other than that, though, our trip back to Jozi was a breeze.

Now that we’d returned to our starting point, there was only one more test for the Jimny — a proper off-road challenge. 

The testing area was Hennops, east of Johannesburg, where we tackled the trails after deflating the tyres. 

The Jimny was easily able to overcome some obstacles that would trip up less compact off-roaders. We worried about its clearance but not once did we even come close to even scraping the undercarriage. It’s easy to forget just how capable the vehicle is. 

This led to us adopting the slogan, “Don’t doubt the Jimny!” 

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The interior of the new Suzuki Jimny 5 door

Every time we had doubts about its capabilities, we were astounded by its carefree approach to facing and overcoming challenges. 

Even Land Cruiser and Wrangler drivers were surprised that we could keep up with their modified vehicles. 

The only thing holding the Jimny back is its wheel articulation, which prevents it from traversing larger rocks. 

It’s also short on locking differentials and instead employs a similar approach to diff-locks by applying brakes to the free-spinning wheel. This sends power to the corner with traction, and despite my initial concerns, it works pretty well.

It is a stupidly capable SUV and the extra two doors encourage you to take more passengers, while the additional cargo space adds to its practicality. The Jimny five -door is the model to buy and the five-speed manual gearbox is the preferred option since the extra gear is suited to extracting maximum power, especially during highway driving.

The Jimny is the first car I have tested that I have missed since handing back the keys, as its character brings something extra to the table. 

It is a phenomenally capable SUV off-road, and on the road, it leaves you smiling after every trip.