MPUMALANGA – The eagerly awaited fourth generation of Suzuki’s rugged little SUV is in South Africa. We sample the new Jimny to see if age has softened both its appeal and its traditionally formidable off-road ability...

Box clever

Bucking the trend of newer cars expanding in size, the new Suzuki Jimny is in fact shorter than its predecessor, while sporting a longer wheelbase. While the latter does free up a spot more legroom, rear accommodations are still rather pokey and bootspace with the seats up remains minimal.

Elements of all its predecessors are present; the boxy shape, rhomboid nose and circular headlamps of the first generation, the second-generation’s clamshell bonnet and the previous car’s five-slot grille. It all sits on a ladder chassis with an X-shaped cross member that improves torsional rigidity.

The interior, with its riveted, squared-off dial housings and strong horizontal elements, is similarly retro and feels solidly screwed together. Overall, it’s a package that’s a touch more masculine than before and oozes appeal.

Same powertrain across the range

Powering all new Jimny models is a 1,5-litre engine developing 75 kW and 130 N.m of torque. As before, it sports a low-range transfer case with the 2H, 4H and the heavy-duty 4L ratios accessed by the traditional stubby selector lever connected directly to the transfer gear. This is supplemented with an electronic traction control system that utilises measured braking for both hill descent control (limiting descent speed to 10 km/h in 4H and 5 km/h in 4L), as well as mimicking a limited-slip differential by detecting a wheel’s loss of traction and transferring drive to another on firmer footing.

Tiptoes over rocks

With its short wheelbase, 210 mm ground clearance and kerb weight a shade over 1 135 kg, the Jimny pretty much reconfigures your approach to off-roading, the featherweight SUV dismissively trundling over obstacles that hamper its heavier rivals. Angled bumpers afford approach and departure angles of 37 and 49 degrees respectively, so there’s a lesser degree of guessing when the nose will dig in when confronting most obstacles.

Despite its modest powerplant, without lots of metal to lug, the Jimny makes surprisingly light work of heavily rutted uphill sections and its short wheelbase and tight 9,8-metre turning circle also mean switchbacks are easily negotiated.

Trips up a bit on tarmac

Although the steering feels more responsive than the previous car’s and the ride is impressively supple, the engine still isn’t all that strong and lengthy uphill sweeps see the Jimny straining to maintain a decent head of steam. Automatic transmissions seldom do well in smaller cars, and the Jimny’s is no exception. Hanging doggedly onto lower gears on inclines, the four-speeder sends the engine revs skywards.

Mechanically, though, it feels unburstable, but a thrashy soundtrack that accompanies prolonged driving at speed can tire. Once on the level, though, the powertrain finds its feet and cruises along with little fuss. Thankfully, round town it feels nippy and alert.

Overall

Both globally and locally, Suzuki is drawing breath and readying itself for a tsunami of interest in the new Jimny. And with good reason; the off-road capability for which it’s traditionally renowned has been further improved upon, while its more rugged, retro-inspired styling and better-resolved interior will only broaden its appeal. It looks as though Suzuki is onto another winner…