Timing is everything. In the past I have reviewed cabriolets in January and 4x4s in July. But, the crowning glory of bad timing was the Porsche Carrera 4 that I had to review some years ago.
The forecast was fair, but an unexpected dump of overnight snow rendered the Carrera 4 a Porsche-shaped snow sculpture that tantalised me on the driveway, every day for a week of white-out weather.
This time, however, the timing was spot-on. The Suzuki Jimny arrived for review just as the ‘Beast from the East’ got its claws into Britain.
Many years ago, I remember being very impressed with the Jimny’s ability to keep moving at an off-road event with particularly glutinous mud.
With its compact dimensions, light weight, low-ratio four-wheel-drive and good ground clearance, the Jimny just kept going, where some of the other SUVs struggled.
So, I had been planning to include an off-road route in my appraisal of the Jimny. No need. Keeping going in the worst of the snow that the “beast” could throw at us, was a stern enough test of the little Jimny’s traction and go-anywhere ability.
On the second day, when the full force of the “beast” was unleashed I pressed the 4x4 switch and headed into white wilderness with some apprehension. I need not have worried. The Jimny felt sure-footed all the way, even on its road-biased tyres. Fit something with a more chunky tread and I have no doubt it would be even more impressive.
I am embarrassed to admit that he only time the Jimny spun its wheels was when I slotted it into reverse in a car park and forgot to release the handbrake (I’m getting lazy as my own car has an auto-release parking brake).
As the week went on, the snow got deeper and the drifts got larger, yet nothing gave even a fleeting suggestion it was going to stop the little Jimny.
For off-road use, ground clearance is critical and the Jimny stands 190mm above the surface. It also has excellent approach and departure angles of 34 degrees and 46 degrees respectively. Details like that show it is clearly designed to tackle off-road use.
That tall stance means you step up into the Jimny where you settle into the synthetic leather seats that come as part of the SZ4 specification. I like a fairly long-legged driving position and so the more compact dimensions of the Jimny are OK, rather than ample. It’s a similar story in terms of elbow room. Unless you have the build of a bean stalk, you will clash elbows with your passenger – notably when fastening seat belts.
The rear seats are best suited to children, or petite, quite supple adults. Round the back the side-hinged tailgate opens wide, so access is good. With the rear seats up boot space is small at just 113 litres. As you would expect you can fold the rear seats down to increase load space. However, the seat backs are on a higher level than the boot floor meaning this is far from a flat load floor.
So the Suzuki Jimny fulfils its 4x4 duties well, what about its everyday use, when you can actually see that the road is black, not white?
The Jimny is showing its age. After all, it first came on the market in 1998 and, even with facelifts and enhancements, it cannot match even its own SUV siblings in terms of performance, ride and refinement.
A short wheelbase off-roader is never going to deliver a cosseting ride. Not that the Jimny will rattle your fillings – it is just a bit choppy and being tall and narrow, it leans a little on corners.
Equally, an off-roader is not intended to deliver sparkling performance. The 1.3-litre engine in the Jimny produces 84 bhp and the 14-second 0-62 mph time will tell you this is not a lively performer. You have to press the accelerator quite hard to pick up speed. It takes time to get to 70 mph, particularly on uphill sections of dual carriageways or motorways, and the quoted top speed is 87 mph.
Of course there are options from Suzuki itself if you want a 4x4 that delivers more refinement.
The Suzuki Vitara
offers four-wheel-drive with diff lock on some models – but its ground clearance is a little less and it does without the low-ratio gearbox that makes the Jimny a more serious off-road contender. However, stepping up comfort, performance and refinement also steps up the purchase price. The cheapest 4x4 Vitara costs about £5,000 more than the test Suzuki Jimny SZ4.
To understand the Suzuki Jimny you have to recognise it is positioned at the utilitarian end of the 4x4 spectrum as a vehicle that offers impressive mud-plugging ability, along with practical day-to-day transport.
The differentiation between workhorse 4x4s and more luxurious SUVs has been highlighted by the current debate about the replacement of the Land Rover Defender. Aficionados fear the new Defender (when it is finally unveiled) will go “soft” – something that Jim Ratcliffe of Ineos sees as his opportunity to build a more utilitarian successor for the Defender.
Jim Ratcliffe and others pushing the idea of a utilitarian 4x4 have a point. There is a market for functional 4x4s and the Suzuki Jimny is squarely aimed at the small-vehicle end of this spectrum. I know I slept easier during the “Beast from the East” snows, knowing that, parked outside, we had a vehicle eminently suited to keeping us mobile.
For someone who needs to get places where there are no tarmac roads, or needs to keep mobile when the roads disappear under mounds of the white stuff, the Suzuki Jimny could be the answer. With prices starting at around £13,000, it might well prove an affordable addition to a rural family’s fleet.Suzuki Jimny SZ4
Carbon dioxide emissions: 162 g/km
Combined fuel economy 39.8 mpg
Top speed: 87 mph
0-62: 14.1 secs
Power 85 PS
Engine size 1328cc petrol
Boot capacity 113/324 litres (back seats up/down)