It’s all too easy to use the words ‘legendary’ or ‘iconic’ when describing much-loved cars, so let’s just call the Suzuki Jimny a miniature hero. Not everybody likes it – What Car? awarded the previous-generation Jimny a miserable one-star rating – but fans are fiercely loyal to the fun-size off-roader. Here, we chart the history of everyone’s favourite miniature 4×4. Everyone except What Car?, that is.
The story starts in 1970 with the Suzuki LJ10 – or Light Jeep 10. The brief was to create a vehicle that could access the tight spaces that were off limits to the larger 4x4s of the time. The two-stroke, air-cooled Mitsubishi-sourced 360cc engine powered all four wheels, with a high/low dual-range transfer case fitted for proper off-road adventures. It might not have been powerful, but the LJ10 weighed just 600kg, so it could scurry up hills like a mountain goat. Note the seating arrangement: the LJ10 was a strict three-seater, with the fourth seat area used to house the spare wheel.
In 1972, Suzuki launched the LJ20, complete with a redesigned front grille boasting vertical rather than horizontal slats, along with a new, more powerful water-cooled engine. With an eye on export markets, Suzuki built left-hand-drive models, while just as significant was the launch of a new hard-top ‘van’ to join the soft-top versions. To highlight the Suzuki’s rugged dependability, an LJ20 finished the Mexican 1000 Rally intact after a 34-hour drive.
The LJ50 – or SJ10 – arrived in 1975 for the export market, before launching in Japan in 1976 as the Jimny 55. Power was up once again, this time courtesy of a 550cc engine, while passenger space was increased by moving the spare wheel to the rear door. The LJ50 will go down in history as Suzuki’s first overseas production vehicle, with the opening of a facility in Pakistan.
The final first-generation model arrived in 1977, with the launch of the LJ80 (SJ20). For the first time, the Suzuki was available with a four-stroke engine, with power sourced from a 800cc unit, while a new pick-up variant was launched.
The launch of the second-generation Suzuki off-roader was more than just a model change. The 1,000cc SJ410 of 1981 represented a shift from basic practicality to a greater focus on leisure and lifestyle, with Suzuki giving it a more urban feel. Two years later, SJ production kicked off in Kenya.
In 1984, the SJ was treated to a new 1,300cc engine – at the time Suzuki’s largest unit – to create the SJ413. Both the SJ410 and SJ413 received front disc brakes, a new dashboard, a new seat design and a revised front grille, while a five-speed gearbox was fitted for the first time.
The SJ-Series arrived in North America in 1985 and soon found favour within the off-road community. Its lightness, simplicity and relative cheapness made it the ideal starter 4×4, although the SJ could certainly punch above its weight. Meanwhile, back in the UK, the SJ and the plush Samurai version were developing a cult following.
Santana and Maruti versions
In 1985, production of the SJ410 commenced in Spain, with the Santana Motors version sold as a domestic vehicle. In the same year, production of the Maruti Gypsy began in India, making the Jimny a truly global off-roader. Total production hit one million units in 1987.
1998 Suzuki Jimny
The all-new Suzuki Jimny arrived in 1998 under the banner of ‘smart in the city, tough in nature’. Suzuki bosses labelled it a ‘more urbane Jimny’, recognising its increasing tendency to be used on and off the road. At launch, the Jimny was powered by a 1.3-litre petrol engine and, for continental European markets, a 1.5-litre diesel. Crucially, the Drive Action 4×4 system meant that drivers could switch from two- to four-wheel-drive mode on the move.
In 2010, Suzuki GB supplied nine Jimny 4x4s to the RNLI for beach patrol duties. The Jimny donned its swimsuit to do a passable impression of David Hasselhoff on beaches in the North West, Devon, Dorset and Cornwall.
2013 Suzuki Jimny
The 2013 Jimny was essentially an evolution of the 1998 car, but there were a few subtle changes. The 2013 update saw the introduction of a new front bumper, grille and fog lights, along with a re-shaped bonnet with a central air intake. Meanwhile, the cabin gained new seat fabrics, Isofix mountings and new head restraints.
2015 Suzuki Jimny
Two years later, the Jimny was revised again, with a couple of new colours, a new seat fabric, dark silver 15-inch alloy wheels, a revised instrument cluster and, perhaps most significantly, ESC (electronic stability control) fitted as standard.
Suzuki Jimny Adventure
In what could be seen as a last hurrah for the Suzuki Jimny in its current guise, the Adventure Special Edition went on sale in 2016. With production limited to 200 units in the UK, the Adventure is based on the SZ4 model and adds satellite navigation, Bluetooth, a hard spare wheel cover and a two-tone paint finish. The final special edition?
There was no fanfare to mark the demise of the previous Jimny. Despite the car having a legion of loyal and devoted fans, Suzuki denied us one final special edition. The initial disappointment soon evaporated when Suzuki unveiled the all-new Jimny.
All-new Suzuki Jimny
The all-new Suzuki Jimny made its public debut at the 2018 Paris Motor Show, before going on sale in 2019. It was arguably the star of the show, with the Jimny managing to upstage the Ferrari Monza SP1 and SP2, Peugeot e-Legend and BMW Z4.
We bagged a drive in the Suzuki Jimny before the Paris Motor Show. Frankfurt was the destination for a press launch that included motorway driving and some playtime in a German forest. We’ve had worse days in the office.
Our verdict following a day in Germany? ‘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.’
Three isn’t the magic number.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for 2019’s must-have 4×4. In September 2018, the Jimny was awarded a meagre three-star safety rating by Euro NCAP. Describing its crash performance as ‘disappointing’, the safety organisation said the Jimny fell short on adult occupant protection and safety assist systems. Ouch, in more ways than one.
Waiting lists and big profits
As demand outstripped supply, entrepreneurial sellers sensed the opportunity to make a quick profit. Used examples were selling for as much as £5,000 more than the original purchase price, as impatient buyers looked for ways to beat the queue. A waiting list for a new Suzuki? That’s the Jimny effect.
Mods and rockers
It wasn’t long before the Suzuki Jimny caught the attention of customisers and tuning companies. Dream Automotive Development & Design (DAMD) launched a ‘Little D’ conversion kit, turning the Jimny into a pint-sized replica of the Land Rover Defender. Meanwhile, a tuning company in China turned a Jimny in a mini Mercedes G-Wagen.
Jimny stopped in its tracks
It was all going so well. High residual values, lots of love on social media and critical acclaim meant that the Suzuki Jimny looked unstoppable. Even What Car? gave it a two-star rating. Steady now. Then news broke that EU emissions laws would halt sales of the Jimny in Europe. A premature end for the Jimny?
Enter van man
The Suzuki Jimny was down but not out. In September 2020, Suzuki introduced a new two-seater light commercial vehicle (LCV) version of the Jimny. It retains the same off-road ability, but with the bonus of an 863-litre load area and a flat floor. This is the only way to buy a new Suzuki Jimny in the UK. You can always leave the children at home.
The £30k Jimny
While the Suzuki Jimny has officially been removed from sale, there are still new cars remaining in the dealer network. These are unregistered with zero miles on the clock. There’s only one catch: the price could be as much as £30,000. That’s only £10,000 less than an entry-level Land Rover Defender.