Off-road star or past its sell-by date? We spend a week with the subtly refreshed 2015 Suzuki Jimny SZ4 to find out
Gavin Braithwaite-Smith | December 2014
The 2015 Suzuki Jimny is the antithesis of the modern crossover. A slide rule SUV in a world increasingly dominated by soft curves and blurred lines. The Jimny harks back to a different era, unashamedly wearing its 1990s roots (1980s, even? -Ed) on its sleeve.
The vast majority of people won’t like it, but to write it off as a car worthy of no more than a single star rating – as one magazine did – is to completely miss the point of the Suzuki Jimny. The mere fact that it’s been updated for 2015 proves there’s enough demand for a compact 4×4 like this.
So what’s new for 2015? Well not a great deal, really. There’s a couple of new colours, a new seat fabric and some rather stylish dark silver 15-inch alloy wheels. The instrument cluster has also been revised and now features a tyre pressure monitoring system and a gear shift indicator. For the 2015 model, ESC (electronic stability control) is now fitted as standard. Aside from that it’s as you were. Prices start from £12,195 for the SZ3, rising to £14,545 for the top-spec SZ4 with an automatic transmission.
We tested the SZ4 with a manual five-speed gearbox, which – with optional Steel Silver metallic paint – costs £14,075. That’s a little over £14k for a genuine off-roader with selectable four-wheel drive and high and low gear ratios. To put that figure into perspective, the first year’s depreciation on a new Jeep Wrangler is just under £14,000. Similarly, you could buy a brand new Jeep Cherokee Limited for £33,195 and lose £15,000 in the first 12 months. This isn’t to single out Jeep, but merely to highlight what is in reality exceptional value for money.
But only if you need the mud-plugging and green lane credentials of the Jimny. If you want something small and a little more car-like, you’re better off opting for the 4×4 versions of the Fiat Panda or Suzuki Swift. Both offer greater long distance comfort and superior levels of refinement. The Suzuki Jimny, on the other hand, looks and feels like an off-roader. And there’s a lot to be said for that.
What’s the 2015 Suzuki Jimny like to drive?
You can’t relax when you’re driving a Suzuki Jimny, not least because the ride quality is unforgiving and at times horribly uncomfortable. It’ll crash into a pothole, sending the steering wayward and bouncing you off your seat, which offers little in the way of support. The brakes are also woefully inadequate, especially at speeds in excess of 50mph, so you’ll need to brake early for corners, whilst constantly keeping an eye on the car in front. The Jimny stems from the days before the likes of electronic brake distribution and active city braking, so you’ll need to be alert at all times.
And there’s no getting away from the fact that the Suzuki Jimny is hopelessly slow. The tiny 1.3-litre engine offers just 85hp, crawling to 62mph in 14.1 seconds, before reaching a top speed of 87mph. Eventually. Peak power sits at 6,000rpm, meaning you’ll need to explore the upper reaches of the rev counter to get the most performance from the little 4×4. The reward is a whining engine note and the overriding feeling that slower is probably better.
Which it is. If you don’t want to get anywhere fast and you don’t mind the sight of an HGV filling your rear-view mirror as you crawl up the inside lane of a dual carriageway, the Jimny’s performance is perfectly adequate. It offers superb all-round visibility, a commanding driving position (if a little too upright) and a sense of security when the going gets tough. We threw the Jimny in the direction of some properly muddy and potholed byways and it tackled them with ease. There’s a reassuring “clunk” as the 4×4 system engages and even with standard road tyres, the Jimny felt secure and stable.
But then this is what the Suzuki Jimny was built for. Once upon a time this thing could give larger and more expensive SUVs a run for their money. And in many ways the Suzuki Jimny still has the edge over some of its more illustrious and image-heavy rivals. Its compact proportions means it can go where bigger SUVs can’t go. What’s more it has a spare wheel mounted on the back, which – as we all know – means it’s a proper 4×4.
Does the Suzuki Jimny deserve more than a single star rating?
The Suzuki Jimny is a willing little companion that puts us in mind of a Dartmoor Pony. A hardy, dependable, all-weather vehicle that is both charming and characterful. But it won’t be for everyone.
There’s an extensive list of things that would annoy a motorist used to the creature comforts of modern cars. The wiper motor is incredibly noisy, the interior features a host of exposed screw heads, the CD/radio is straight out of the 1990s, the steering is comically vague and the space in the back is cramped, bordering on intimate. Weirdly, the two passengers in the back sit very close together, but there’s plenty of arm room at the window side, with enough space for a cup holder.
But the interior is likely to be hard-wearing, which is where the Suzuki Jimny starts to claw back some points. You may sit in the Suzuki Jimny and think it feels old, but you’re unlikely to think it feels cheap. It’s practical and fit-for-purpose. There’s no touchscreen nonsense or faffing about with digital climate control. The air conditioning is controlled by a single button and the heating is changed via a dial. How novel. The instrument panel is equally simplistic, but it’s clear and easy to read.
Using a traditional car review template, perhaps the Jimny is worthy of no more than a single star. But then the Jimny shouldn’t be subjected to a review template. It’s a niche vehicle that’s adored by a select group of loyal fans and it laughs in the face of soft-focus crossovers and electronic trickery.
Verdict: 2015 Suzuki Jimny
The Suzuki Jimny should be held up alongside the Land Rover Defender and the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen as an example of a proper and traditional 4×4. But while the Defender will be killed off in 2015, the Jimny looks destined to live on, filling a niche and serving a purpose.
As an everyday vehicle, the Suzuki Jimny doesn’t bear close scrutiny, but as a second car, especially in rural areas, it makes a great deal of sense. Stick some winter or off-road tyres on one of these and it’ll see you through to the spring. It’s no coincidence that the Jimny – along with its decedents – appears to be second only to the Fiat Panda 4×4 in terms of popularity on the hills of Tuscany and the Alpine regions of Europe.
So the Suzuki Jimny is a single star after all. An off-road star and a true survivor to boot.
Rivals: 2015 Suzuki Jimny
1. Fiat Panda 4×4
2. Suzuki Swift 4×4
3. Dacia Duster 4×4
4. Dartmoor Pony
The Suzuki Jimny sits in a niche of its own – you’d have to spend considerably more to get a genuine off-roader such as this. The Dacia Duster 4×4 is arguably its closest rival, both in terms of price and ability, but if you don’t require the ground clearance or full-fat off-road credentials, the Fiat Panda 4×4 and Suzuki Swift 4×4 are brilliant little cars. Alternatively, you could opt for a Dartmoor Pony.
Specification: 2015 Suzuki Jimny SZ4
Engine: 1.3-litre, four-cylinder, naturally aspirated
Gearbox: Five-speed manual
Price from: £13,645
Power: 85hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque: 81lb ft @ 4,100rpm
0-62mph: 14.1 seconds
Top speed: 87mph