A chance taken away
Suzuki has always been a left-field choice, and outside of a few highlights, have offered little to pull attention their way. I’m unsure if they themselves know whether they want to make a real go of it. Their latest decision appears to indicate they would rather their future be in the production of custard cream biscuits rather than leading the pack or at least keeping up with it. Offering a charm or a charismatic flair is usually in the gift of manufacturers that don't have a small army of shareholders attempting to squeeze out every last penny resulting in five different variations of the colour brown.
It was a quiet evening in Sweden when I took the (new at the time) Suzuki Jimny for a ride along with a mix of surfaces. It was minus five so a perfect test of some icy roads and a little off-roading over a frigid forest floor. The car had just been purchased by a family member, one of the first on the waiting list when the Swedish allocation had been announced. Having driven the previous model several times I had been suspicious of their optimism, my memory of the old Jimny was minimal, it hadn’t left an impression except that of all the controls feeling too close or too far away with not enough adjustment for the driver.
The new one is a completely different story. Stood next to it there is a feeling of shrunken G-Wagon or Defender. Inside every millimetre of space is utilised to make it feel as big as possible. As a test, I got myself, my uncle and my cousin, all well over six tall, in the car with my partner taking the final space. The Suzuki moved along nicely, granted it wasn’t quick, and being a naturally aspirated petrol the lack of torque was noticeable when four up, but it wasn’t hazardously slow either. The level of specification with LED headlights, Navigation, heated seats etc was all well planned. Suzuki really spent some time on the ergonomics and they’ve nailed it.
I’ll come on to how it performed as an off-roader, but first I really have to take my hat off to the designers. Few other manufacturers have attempted to capitalise on the SUV craze by offering both the look of a real off-roader and the dynamics, in a small package. The VW group offer every incremental step between Golf hatchback and Q7 behemoth. However, anything smaller than a Tiguan takes on the role of a hatchback on stilts. Nissan, Ford, BMW, the list goes on, they all do the same thing. A notable mention for Ford would be the new Bronco, although it is still bigger than the Jimny, and Europe seems to be missed off the delivery list.
The Jimny is different, Dacia is the only other manufacturer that springs to mind offering a real four by four (when optioned in the Dacia) that could go up the Alps and not be found wanting. Need proof? drive there. You'll see what the locals have, completely basic spec, flat white Dacia Dusters with only one option box ticked, all-wheel drive.
The little Suzuki was starting to find a few customers there as well. It’s masterful that such a little machine can battle with the big boys. Not to mention how Suzuki somehow captured the spirit of Scrappy-Doo (the young cousin of Scooby) in the car. Everywhere I went in this little car got a friendly smile. People asked about it, flipping immediately from Swedish to near-native English the moment my face crinkled straining to revive my pigeon Swedish. This really is a loveable car, even the environmentalists would love it. Providing a necessity for many in cold climate countries or those that live away from the flatlands, but doing so without excess and waste.
On-road manners are tolerable and even a motorway cruise is pleasant
The challenge arrives as I round a particularly icy bit of tarmac that has a clearing ahead where an off-road trail leads to the other side of one of the many archipelagos that make up the edges of Stockholm. There’s some modulation beneath me. I won’t pretend like the car belies its weight, a heavy SUV would crush through, the Suzuki isn’t heavy enough to monster it's way through the ice, instead it begins negotiating for grip. The traction slips several times but always catches and clings on, every wheel working to keep me going in the direction commanded. The whole ordeal is over quickly and the end result is that after 4 kilometres of snow and frozen road, I’ve made it. The icy patch at the end was a struggle, but I’m not stranded, the car gets me through by utilising all the tricks up its sleeve. A Land Rover Discovery would have made easier work of it, but at triple the price nothing less could be expected of it.
The true mark of a manufacturer is to go beyond, not provide just enough. I head for a steep uphill section without thinking. A bit of scrabble and the Suzuki does it. This would be tough work for any vehicle selling itself on its ability to go where others can’t and I'm doing it. It feels like being the recruit for a tough team challenge that everyone wants to get rid of. The big SUV’s could set a higher and higher bar for this car, and after a while, they would come to respect it.
It can’t pull off a 0-60 sprint in sports car timing or offer so many luxuries that the owner would be surprised to learn it can’t wash itself, but it keeps up with the big boys where it matters.
Suzuki should be proud of this little mutt, and alas, they’ve binned it.
After a short time of ownership, my uncle nipped into his local Suzuki dealer for a quick chat, the salesmen had advised him at the time that a two-year waiting list had now accrued on the Jimny and if he wanted to trade his in, please call. My auntie called the next day to add them to the back of that list, assuming that the list could easily stretch to three, better to be on the list now than join in two years time. A few months later Suzuki announced all their range was to go fully hybrid or electric. The axe immediately falling on the Jimny, a car that many viewed as a back to basics saviour amongst a crop of untalented, overweight and needlessly techy small SUV’s that the market supplies. This was a car for Suzuki to showcase how great they are where it counts. Instead, they have lost a blossoming customer base that was beginning to look over from dealer forecourts across the way.
This particular example in Sweden will likely remain in the household until the wheels rust off. Many customers that would have replaced their car in three years will likely do the same. It’s too impressive to give up, the Suzuki support will remain and buyers in this segment seem to love the idea that it gives all the basics, plus the creature comforts. They won't be turning up to buy a hybrid Vitara.
For those who are looking around, you won't be disappointed unless you expect too much, this is a lively little off-roader, it can't do it all, but it will sure have a damn good go. On-road manners are tolerable and even a motorway cruise is pleasant with the only gripe being a little excess wind noise, a result of the shape, but these are minor flaws. Is the little Jimny a star buy, yes, if you can get hold of a nicely specified one go for it, the wilder the colour, the better.