First Drive: Suzuki Jimny 5-Door
I’m speaking from experience when I say that the conventional relationship between a driver and Suzuki's Jimny is one of endearment and crampedness. In the “traditional” sense, the Jimny has three doors, a limited-use backseat, and what can be called boot space if you’re looking to snuggly fit a laptop bag. That’s different now.
A few years ago, I spent the better part of 20,000km in a 1.3-litre facelifted 3rd generation Jimny, and while I consistently praised its off-road going abilities, there was a trade-off that enabled it to have said mud-slinging abilities: its size, and more specifically, its lack of space. See, the Jimny traditionally has a short wheelbase, which means its breakover angle is in another sphere altogether. As a result, it made do without all the newfangled off-road components and programs, but SA’s smallest part-time four-wheel-drive SUV, while not the quickest on the tarmac, could keep up with the best of them on the trails. It was all thanks to that small wheelbase, which translated into an interior space that was only really suited to two people.
With the launch of the new 3-door in 2018, Suzuki improved on everything we loved about the Jimny, adding a 1.5-litre engine and even launching a range of accessories to maximise interior packing space. Still, it was an intimate experience for any passengers on board.
While the exact reasons for this development are unclear – perhaps a developmental whim, a marketing gamble, or perhaps hours of focus-group discussions – Suzuki has just launched a 5-door version of its immensely popular Jimny. It still looks largely the same, with the addition of two door obvs, and a minor cosmetic change, but it still feels very Jimny.
From the front, the keen observer will notice the addition of a grey grille surround with chrome-covered louvres to undoubtedly align it with a more upmarket buyer. Personally, this detail doesn’t get my heart rate going, but then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Also at the front, the other giveaway as to the specification level is the standard halogen headlamps on the entry-level GL, while the GLX has LED projector headlights and fog lamps. And naturally, there are those two added doors and a wheelbase that has been stretched by 340mm to 2,590mm. This is also the only area where it received an increase since the height and width remain identical to the 3-door version.
The proof, though, is evident in the interior. There is no need to flip the front seat forward to squeeze into the back. Simply open the rear door and step in. It’s an almost surreal experience sitting comfortably in the back of a Jimny, even with a front-to-back seating test that leaves measurable knee room in both seating positions for a 6-foot individual. A basic element that some sedan makers still struggle to perfect. Then there’s the boot space: it’s capable of easily gulping two carry-on-sized suitcases with some change for smaller items. This is achieved with a wheelbase stretch barely measuring more than a ruler’s length...
Still a Jimny, though?
Yes. Absolutely. The Suzuki Jimny 5-Door still has those driving characteristics, or call ‘em quirks if you will, of a Jimny; it’s just a smidge bigger physically. It still has that marginally delayed output to steering inputs and that raised seating position that makes it easy to forget it’s essentially a Kei car adapted for our market. Or that sense of occasion as the engine cartoonishly winds up to extract its maximum 75kW and 130Nm of torque. You still have to skillfully negotiate the 5-speed manual gearbox (the gearbox I spent the duration of the launch with) to keep the engine ticking over at 4,000r/min, also the zone where its power and efficiency live. Sure, it demands a bit more patience when overtaking, but the point of the Jimny has never been power and speed; its allure is in the sense of adventure and the capability to go where most can’t.
On a side note, the GL derivative of the Jimny is exclusively available with a 5-speed manual gearbox, while the upper-tier GLX can be had with either the 5-speed manual or the 4-speed automatic. Based on my previous experience in the 3-door GLX auto, it’s a joy to row the gears manually, especially in a day and age where automatics rule the roost.
Back to the actual driving aspect of the Jimny, though, and especially on the roads, that sense of nimbleness is ever-present. In fact, it’s easy to forget that this is indeed a 5-door. The only real clue while driving is the ride, which, while still firm (blame the ladder-frame chassis), is considerably more stable over rough surfaces with a larger dissipation area for the energy transferring through the suspension. It still judders over corrugations, true to its heritage, but selecting 4-high from the transfer case lever does help considerably in the composure department when veering off the tarred sections.
There is an upside to this more simplistic off-roading approach. It translates into one heck of a competent rock- and obstacle-climber, thanks to the well-sorted mechanical aptitude of the Jimny. No newfangled pre-programmed terrain setups, minimal electronic aides – just you and the slightly bigger, still-tiny off-roader – and a real sense of achievement. It’s even quite frugal in the process, with a mix of paved roads, gravel roads, sand tracks, and ruts registering an average of mid- to high-sevens.
To Jimny or not...
The Suzuki Jimny retains its charm, even with the addition of two doors. It still defies car-buying logic, especially at a starting price of R429,900 for the GL and reaching a conclusion at R479,900 for the GLX auto. It’s not exactly cheap, but, then again, this is the best capability money can buy at this price point if you’re shopping for a brand new model. It won’t appeal to everyone, and, in a way, that’s the whole point of a Jimny in a market that’s swamped with garden variety SUVs and brand-engineered models. And now it’s just a bit more practical.