While it's not a household name in the U.S., for 50 years the diminutive Suzuki Jimny has become a bit of an off-road legend. Suzuki hasn't sold cars in the United States since 2012. The company's Samurai and Sidekick SUVs enjoyed some success, but the even-smaller-than-the-Samurai Jimny never made it stateside. The third-generation Jimny sold in other markets was in production for nearly two decades and a new version arrived in 2018. The latest Jimny remains charmingly authentic as a wee off-road-capable box.
The new Jimny's simple and squared-off design makes it look tougher than its predecessor. The front end is reminiscent of the first-gen Jimny, and the taillights have moved back into the rear bumper as they were on earlier versions. The Jimny is tiny. About as long and wide as a Fiat 500, but it's nearly as tall as a Ford Edge. Those proportions do give it enough space inside. There's a rear seat, but when it's in place the cargo hold is all but nonexistent. To access the cargo hold, the tailgate is hinged on the right, which works in Japan and other right-hand-drive countries, but it's not ideal elsewhere where the door blocks the curb.
A tall seating position gives the driver the illusion of driving a larger vehicle and gives a commanding view of the road. The interior is full of hard plastics and has a stark, minimalist design that suits the Jimny's back-to-basics nature. It might look even better if Suzuki had ditched the round air vents and climate controls for even more straight lines and hard corners to match the exterior. The Jimny's fit and finish are good for a car in its price range; our example cost the equivalent of $19,300 in Germany before taxes. It has comfortable seats and the aforementioned view out is something special in a modern vehicle. Behind the wheel, all four corners are clearly visible making it easy to place in off-road situations.
Off-roading is why the Jimny exists. It has a short 88.6-inch wheelbase and a decent 8.3 inches of ground clearance, which makes it easy to maneuver off road. Underneath the body there's a full-length frame, live axles front and rear, and a two-speed low-range transfer case. Light-effort recirculating-ball steering takes some of the kickback out of rough roads.
However, that old-school steering system is far less agreeable on road, where it feels vague and suffers from sloppy on-center feel. The suspension tuning does not encourage quick driving and the short-and-tall Jimny demands your full attention in higher-speed maneuvers. Chunky 15-inch all-season tires, sized 195/80R-15, are standard and work well off the pavement. But the front disc and rear drum brakes are not particular effective at arresting the Jimny's roughly 2450 pounds.
Power comes from a naturally aspirated 1.5-liter inline-four good for 101 horsepower and 96 lb-ft of torque. That modest output doesn't make for much grunt on the highway, but the engine is surprisingly quiet and smooth and short gearing gives it adequate punch around town. We estimate a lengthy zero-to-60-mph time near 12 seconds. Suzuki claims a 90-mph top speed for the manual, and 87 mph for the automatic. Our example featured a precise but slightly notchy five-speed manual transmission; a four-speed automatic is optional. At highway speeds, the Jimny's short gearing is a bit annoying. In fifth the little four is churning away at 4000 rpm at 80 mph. Driven hard, our observed fuel consumption came to a little more than 20 mpg.
Our German-market test car came equipped with air conditioning, heated seats, and LED headlights. Aside from used off-roaders, the Jimny really has no competition. It's not a vehicle that you'd pick for a long highway journey, but the package works well enough to pull off city duty. In Europe, demand for the latest Jimny has far exceeded its supply, although even stricter emissions and fuel-economy regulations could push it out of the market. If Suzuki does update the Jimny to meet future standards, it'd be great if Suzuki could make a case for an American-market version, but we aren't going to hold our breath.
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