His smile was as wide as his Ron Burgundy moustache and his thumbs-up left us in little doubt that the sight of a new Suzuki Jimny had made his day. This little 4×4 has that effect on people. It could heal the world and make it a better place.
We were on our way back to Frankfurt following a day spent in the company of Suzuki’s off-road micro-machine. We may have taken the bend a little too quickly – about 15mph is enough if the corner is anything more than a slight crease in the road – but the spectacle of a leaning Kinetic Yellow Jimny, LED lights blazing, Bridgestone Dueler tyres screaming for mercy, brought joy to the commuter in his battered Dacia Sandero.
— Gavin Big-Surname (@MajorGav) September 17, 2018
In truth, it had been lifting spirits all day. A group of often-cynical motoring hacks arrived in Frankfurt like excitable children at the entrance to a ball pit, eager to drive this year’s most talked-about 4×4. On the streets of Germany, it generated more attention than an advert for a free bar at Oktoberfest.
Unless you’ve been locked in the Big Brother house for the past few months, you’ll know that this is essentially the fourth-generation Suzuki Jimny – a replacement for the old model that dates back to 1998.
It’s like a Ford Mustang…
Anticipation is high, to the extent that, for the first time, Suzuki GB has created a ‘register your interest’ page on its website. To date, some 3,100 people have expressed a desire to take delivery of a new Jimny in 2019. If your name’s not down, you might be disappointed.
Sure, not all of them will go on to place a deposit on the new car, but a fair proportion of the interested parties will be Suzuki Jimny loyalists – and they’ll find much to love about the new car. In fact, it’s probably the most adorable new car of 2018. Heck, you could extend that to the entire decade.
For a little car – it measures just 3,645mm to the spare wheel cover, 1,645mm wide and 1,725mm tall – there’s so much to take in. Once your eyes have adjusted to the Kinetic Yellow paint – designed to mimic safety jackets, no less – the new Jimny is filled with subtle details and neat nods to Suzuki’s heritage.
These have been outlined before, but they combine to deliver a level of showroom appeal reserved for something costing five or 10 times as much. In that respect, it’s like the Ford Mustang, offering a feel-good factor and kerb appeal way beyond the purchase cost.
Not that we know the exact price. Our best guess, following a day of pestering the press team and a couple of pre-dinner beers, is that the entry-level Jimny SZ4 will cost £16,495 and the top-spec SZ5 will weigh in at £17,995. Bank on somewhere between £15,000 and £20,000 if you’re doing your sums.
Around 70 percent will opt for the SZ5 Jimny, which offers 15-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, LED headlights, climate control, leather steering wheel, navigation, smartphone link and heated front seats.
All models get selectable four-wheel drive with low-ratio transfer, dual sensor brake support, a full-size tailgate-mounted spare wheel, front fog lights, automatic headlights, high-beam assist, cruise control and Bluetooth.
Comfort and joy
We’ll come back to the equipment and specification later because you’ll be itching to know how it drives. Put it this way: look at the Jimny, imagine how you think it would drive, and you’ll be pretty much spot on. But there are one or two surprises.
Firstly, this a Suzuki Jimny you can take on the motorway without pre-arranging an appointment with a chiropractor and loading the slimline door pockets with strips of Nurofen. Comically, our test route took us straight on to one of the Autobahns heading out of perma-busy Frankfurt – hardly the Jimny’s comfort zone.
But, shock-horror, it was fine. Entering an Autobahn will require a long run-up if you don’t fancy a mirror filled with an angry Mercedes-Benz Actros, but a three-lane road is no longer out of bounds to all but the most intrepid of Jimny drivers.
Suzuki hasn’t supplied a 0-62mph time, which tells you all you need to know about the sloth-like performance of the Jimny, but the top speed is quoted at 90mph. At 120kph (75mph), the 1.5-litre petrol engine is running at 3,750rpm in fifth gear, but the noise isn’t especially intrusive. Maybe the sound is blunted by the wind noise generated by the Tonka-like shape and the door mirrors hitting the air at full force.
It’s comfortable, too. While the steering wheel cannot be adjusted for reach, and the seats don’t offer a huge amount of adjustment, it’s not hard to find a good driving position, making for comfortable progress once up to speed. Keep the Jimny within its comfort zone, and the driving experience is pleasant, bordering on very good.
It’s all a bit old-school 4×4, which is meant as a positive. The gearchange is long but precise, the transmission whines as you make your way through the gears, and the engine sounds eager but only becomes coarse when you nudge 6,000rpm. It’s not an SUV and it’s all the better for it.
It might be small, but the Jimny is a proper 4×4 that plays on the same off-road playground as the Land Rover Defender, Jeep Wrangler and Mercedes-Benz G-Class. It would kick sand in the eyes of any crossover you could mention.
When the going gets tough(ish)
We arrived at our lunch stop in the heart of a German forest to the sight of two-dozen Jungle Green Jimnys (Jimnies?) and a similar number of Kinetic Yellow models. It was like stumbling across the least intimidating army you could ever find, with the cars looking as cheery as Sarge from the Cars movie franchise and as fearsome as Colonel Decker from The A-Team.
The off-road course was part New Forest track and part National Trust car park, with a few challenges thrown in for good measure. Strictly controlled by a lead ‘Jimny Instructor’ (nice gag, Suzuki), we followed like obedient boy scouts, desperate to break free of the line to explore the rougher stuff.
In fairness, the Jimny handled a small climb with ease (hill-hold control is standard), a steep descent with aplomb (hill-descent is another standard feature), and a ford was tackled without breaking sweat. We’re confident the new Jimny will inherit the off-road skills of its predecessor.
The set-up is largely the same: a strengthened ladder frame chassis, three-link rigid axle suspension, part-time four-wheel drive and low-ratio transfer gear. To cover all angles: approach is 37 degrees, ramp breakover is 28 degrees, while departure is 49 degrees.
Oh, and the temperature was 30 degrees, which is relevant in the respect of the climate control, which had little problem cooling the cabin to a chilled 15 degrees during Germany’s Indian summer. A little hint of luxury in an otherwise workmanlike and suitably robust interior, although Apple CarPlay, DAB radio, a seven-inch touchscreen, two cup holders and steering wheel controls provide further nods to the modern world.
Three stars, first class
The journey back to Frankfurt took in miles of ribbon-soft roads and Autobahns, interspersed with the occasional need to acknowledge cheery waves and nods of appreciation. There’s no temptation to press on – the vague steering and comical body-roll see to that – but as a car in which to amble and pootle along, the Suzuki Jimny is first class.
At one point, the conversation turned to safety. Long before today’s Euro NCAP announcement, we had predicted a three-star rating for the Jimny, even with its dual sensor brake support, lane-departure warning and six airbags.
It might be able to sit at 70mph on a motorway, but we wouldn’t want to perform an emergency braking manoeuvre. And we suspect an ‘elk test’ might warrant a change of underwear. As mentioned earlier, this is a car to keep within its comfort zone.
Is it perfect? Of course not. The three-star safety rating will deter some, while buyers accustomed to soft-touch plastics and easy-to-drive cars will stick to their compact crossovers and jumped-up superminis.
Opening the tailgate to reveal some decidedly iffy finishing and an exposed wire connecting the heated rear window will send some prospective purchasers scurrying out of the showroom faster than you could say ‘Now That’s What I Call The 1990s’.
And while we hesitate to use the ‘lifestyle’ word, the 85 litres of boot space with the rear seats folded up means that you’ll need to choose between your kids or your luggage if you’re planning a weekend excursion. The seats do fold flat, revealing 377 litres of space, but your children might not fancy being left at home with the dog.
Field of dreams
The new Suzuki Jimny stands in a field of its own, free of direct rivals, eager to please and dripping in charm. And because it’s more comfortable and refined than before, it won’t be a back-breaking journey getting to the field.
A star rating is almost irrelevant because this will be a purchase driven by emotion and desire rather than rational thinking and basic needs. A one-star What Car? rating didn’t hamper sales of the old Jimny, and the thoughts of 20 or so motoring hacks won’t change the opinion of the 3,100 people who have registered an interest with Suzuki.
Think of the new Jimny as a puppy. It’s not perfect, and there might be more sensible ways of spending your cash, but if you’ve fallen in love with the looks, the car will win you over with its boundless energy and deep-rooted character. As a bonus, the Jimny won’t leave a puddle on your kitchen floor.
If you’ll allow this author the opportunity to break free of the leash for a moment, I really, really want to buy one. In Kinetic Yellow. On the SZ4’s black steelies. With red mudflaps. And a roof rack.
Suzuki, make that 3,101 registrations. The new puppy can wait for another day.