Suzuki Jimny SUV first drive: performance, engine tested
What does Suzuki’s hottest Jimny look like on Indian roads? We are getting closer and closer personally.
This is probably the coolest and cutest off-roader ever produced. The cube-shaped dimensions give it near-perfect visual symmetry, the flat panels are designed with artistic sensibility, and the chunky off-road detailing is just perfect. The Jimny doesn’t have a bad angle either. It draws so many appreciative glances as we ride, we have to be careful not to draw the crowd. Needless to say, everyone’s got their phones out and everyone wants a picture.
As I snap photos of the Jimny myself, somewhere in the back of my head float thoughts of the Mercedes G-Wagon. You immediately see the “derived” bits. And the grille and headlight combo is pure Jeep, no matter what Suzuki says. But the Jimny also has a lot of sass and a character of its own.
Even this three-door Jimny is made in India.
So why isn’t Maruti keen on launching such an attractive SUV in India? Especially since she actually manufactures it in Gurugram and exports it to the rest of the world. Even the identification plate on the firewall of this car reads “Maruti Suzuki India!”
Suzuki Jimny: powertrain
Part of the reason is that this isn’t your typical Suzuki motorcycle. Look under the hood and things are very different. Clue number one is the longitudinally or north-south mounted engine. Then the drive goes directly to the rear wheels and this SUV is built on a ladder frame. Think Gypsy not Brezza and you’ll be on your way. And Maruti might even call it the Gypsy or the Great Gypsy.
4WD also gets low range.
It is also important that in front there is a rigid axle. It’s for better articulation when you’re off-road. The center of the rigid axle functions as a fulcrum, so when one wheel goes down, the other is pushed up. And that means better traction. The Jimny also gets a low range.
The 4WD selector is just a lever.
The Gypsy’s stubby shift rod looks like it’s been carried over, and you can manually switch between “2WD-high”, “4WD-high” and “4WD-low”. What you don’t get is a set of mechanically-locking differentials. Suzuki instead uses an electronic traction control system that automatically brakes spinning wheels, allowing torque to be redistributed to other wheels.
Built to meet Japanese pocket kei-car regulations – where do you think the logic for the under four meter rule comes from? The Jimny is also tiny by design; this international version, however, is a bit larger. Known as the Jimny Sierra, it is longer at 3.6 meters (believe it or not), it is 1.6 meters wide and 1.7 meters high. Yes, it is taller than wide. The three-door Jimny also boasts 210mm of ground clearance, a 37-degree approach angle, and better breakover and departure angles than the Jeep Wrangler.
Suzuki Jimny: interior, features
Now, considering the size, you would expect Jimny to feel uncomfortable and restrictive. Nothing could be further from the truth. The square doors are just massive, open wide, and let you just step into the waltz. Once inside the cube, the vertical walls give it a feeling of space. There’s not as much space as the Mahindra Thar, but you don’t feel like you’re sitting on the passenger side either.
The dash is great, but there are also a lot of cheap plastic bits.
The square dimensions also provide excellent visibility. The A-pillars are thick and provide a certain sense of security, but the view over the bonnet is also unrestricted and visibility in motion is very good. While the seats are typical Suzuki and soft, there’s more bolstering and lateral support here than on others. Stiffer padding and a wider seat would have been even nicer.
The large dials resemble those of the Gypsy.
Suzuki also attempted to carry over some design traits from the old Jimny or Gypsy, so you see a lot of exposed fake bolts on the dash. The square dash, with individual blocks for the speedometer and tachometer, reminds me of the Gypsy, as does the grab handle that has been firmly integrated into the dash.
A large handrail is integrated.
There are plenty of familiar Maruti parts inside, too many to count and lots of inexpensive-looking black plastic, but the Jimny also has large, easy-to-turn climate control knobs and piano keys with neat chrome highlights. I must say that I like the design of the dashboard and even the basic construction; it somehow feels functional.
Center power window switches.
Riding in the back isn’t as bad as I expected. That’s because the front door is huge, the front seat slides all the way forward, and all you have to do is lean a little and get in. The rear seats are small, low and there is only enough legroom. I can place my feet under the front and recline the backrest. And again, because of the square sides, I don’t feel quite stuck in it, but it’s clearly not the place to enjoy a long drive.
The rear seats are flat and there’s not too much legroom.
Boot space is also limited. However, it is smartly designed and flexible. You can fit a pair of carry-on bags or pushchairs in the trunk, with the seatbacks straight, and the seats split 50/50 if you want to travel for three with a little luggage. The rear seats also fold flat, providing up to 830 liters of space.
Suzuki Jimny: ride and handling
With the ladder frame and especially the rigid front axle, the Jimny clearly does not ride like your everyday Maruti. The ride isn’t as bad as on a Gypsy, but you do get along at low speeds, especially on poorly paved surfaces. And on bad times, the Jimny also rocks back and forth. The ride settles down a bit the faster you go, as the long-travel suspension smooths out the road better. Still, one thing is for sure, Maruti will have to work hard to get the Indian four-door version to drive well and handle safely, and that will be a challenge. Remember that Suzuki had to widen the track of the longer wheelbase Gypsy here in India as well; widened cars get the “W” designation.
Having driven the Jimny on a previous occasion, I can also tell you that the steering is also not what you would expect. That’s partly because it gets a recirculating-ball setup versus a rack-and-pinion system, and the strong, heavy axle up front also has a telling effect. Best suited for off-road riding (which I haven’t yet managed to do in the Jimny), it gets 3.9 turns lock-to-lock and requires a fair amount of twirling.
Only drum brakes at the rear.
In general, it is fine on a straight stretch of road. But it can get infuriating when you have to get in and out of traffic and then, around corners, the Jimny isn’t exactly nimble. There’s a certain amount of flop, the grip from the narrow tires isn’t great, the sluggish steering feels out of sync, and the Jimny in general seems happier to be driven in a more relaxed manner.
This fits well with the engine and the performance offered. The engine used is the well-known K15B, which develops around 102 hp. While the power is sufficient for the curb weight of around 1.2 tonnes, the four-speed automatic gearbox saps a fair amount of juice. It’s fine in slow traffic and early responses are good, but the engine needs more midrange grunt. That means you have to rev it hard for it to deliver power. And that means he’s tense all the time. Expect a 0-60 mph time of around 12-plus seconds for the five-door, if we get the same engine. And what also feels old-fashioned about this car, and surprisingly, are the brakes.
Suzuki Jimny: sale in India
It’s not hard to see why Maruti would sell a five-door version of the Jimny in India instead. Space, comfort, practicality are all likely to be superior. And the five-door will upgrade the Jimny from being primarily a recreational off-roader with some practicality into one that can double as a family car.
That said, the fact that Maruti has yet to launch the three-door Jimny in India, despite manufacturing the car here, is somehow tragic. Extremely attractive, functional and usable on a daily basis, especially if you don’t need to use the rear seats all the time, the Jimny, like the Mahindra Thar, would make an ideal second or even third car. It is, in fact, so attractive that it may even outsell the five-door. And maybe that’s why it’s not on sale yet.
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Suzuki Jimny 5 door spied; Auto Expo 2023 debut is likely