Road Review – Suzuki Jimny 1.5 GLX

Nice is one of those interesting words that dot themselves about the English language and is both overused and under-appreciated as well being able to be said in a complimentary, sarcastic or a derogatory tone and, as Jane Austin wrote in ‘Northanger Abbey’ back in 1803…”Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything.”

I shall be using it in the nicest possible way.

The Suzuki Jimny is nice.

Giving new models a retro look has worked for some automakers – read BMW’s MINI – and not as well for others – the VW Beetle – so deciding to go this route is quite a brave step and, considering the third generation Suzuki Jimny had a monster 20-year lifecycle, an even braver one.

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Some 2,85-million Jimny’s were sold in 194 countries since its launch in April 1970 through to September 2018 and is a tough act to follow for the new model that looks like a cross between a Mercedes-Benz G Wagon and a Land Rover Defender – more proper SUV, a whole lot more determined and, well, nice.

The first Suzuki-branded four-wheel drive, the LJ10 (Light Jeep 10), was introduced in 1970 and had a 359 cc, air-cooled, two-stroke, in-line two-cylinder engine. The liquid-cooled LJ20 was introduced in 1972 and in 1975; Suzuki complemented the LJ20 with the LJ50, which had a larger 539 cc, two-stroke, in-line three-cylinder engine and bigger differentials.

The Jimny8/LJ80 was an updated version of the LJ50 with an 800 cc, four-stroke, in-line four-cylinder engine, followed by the Jimny 1000/SJ410 and Jimny 1300/SJ413 – and the looks of the latest version pay homage to the looks of those original models.

The new model has the same upturned front fenders, round headlamps and round orange indicators of the LJ Series and the side slits in the clamshell bonnet of the SJ Series. The upright grille is reminiscent of the previous generation’s Jimny (1998 – 2018) and the SJ Series.

The design of the new Jimny has been rewarded through a Good Design Award for combining styling features with practical application – in colder climates the flat surfaces and thin windowsills make it very easy to offload snow. In all conditions, the upright A-pillars and clamshell bonnet help increase spatial awareness and overall visibility and the longer roof over the upright windshield helps to shield the driver from direct sunlight. Nice.

More applicable for overland enthusiasts are the angled front and rear bumpers that not only keep them out of the way of rocks and shrubs, but also increase the approach and departure angles. The front bumper design also exposes more of the tyre tread on a horizontal plane for greater climbing capability in rocky off-road conditions.

At the rear of the vehicle, Suzuki designers have moved all the lights into the horizontal rear bumper, which has allowed them to create a wider rear door, for increased practicality.

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The spare wheel is fitted to the rear door for easy accessibility, while also freeing up space underneath the luggage floor and allowing for an improved departure angle. Lastly, the moulded bumpers and wheel arches keep painted surfaces far away from rocks, and the squared off design allows for more wheel travel.

The dashboard is designed in three horizontal layers and act as visual reference of the horizontal plane when driving off road and it incorporates an assist-grip and cell phone tray on the middle level and a glove box on the lower level.

In front of the driver, the retro theme continues with the tachometer and speedometer housed in separate square binnacles. This is another hat tip to the SJ Series and, in the new Jimny, these instruments are always illuminated.

The upholstery is comfortable but hard-wearing, and the moulded dashboard features hard-wearing resin with a mix of a repeating line pattern and, on the lower parts, the same type of grippy texture as on a professional DSLR camera body.

The instrument panel housings have been finished in a brushed metal finish and the door handles have been enlarged for easy operation.

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Most significant is the wide body means you do not need to have intimate knowledge of the passenger and a couple of large blokes can sit side-by-side without constant contact.

The backbone of the new Jimny’s remains the ladder frame chassis. In the new model, Suzuki’s engineers have added a patented cross member, the Suzuki X-member, between the two rigid axles.

The X-member consists of two diagonal cross members that further strengthen the chassis. This helps to limit body flex in serious cross-axle off-road driving and creates a platform for the fitment of the body and the underbody parts. As an additional benefit, the additional torsional strength has improved the Jimny’s on-road driving dynamics and overall crash safety.

The X-member is supported by the addition of two extra horizontal cross members. The first is located just behind the front wheels and under the gearbox bell housing and the second links the furthermost two points of the ladder frame under the rear bumper.

It also features a rigid axle suspension system. Rigid axles greatly improve serious off-road capabilities, as they mechanically force one wheel down if the opposite wheel is raised from the ground. Furthermore, the axle system prevents the nose from diving under speed, which is a boon when driving in dunes.

The rigid axles are connected to the wheels with three links – a lateral rod on each wheel and two leading (on the front) and trailing (on the rear) arms. Suzuki has strengthened the axle housings by 30% and has added a steering damper to the front suspension to limit steering wheel kickback and vibration on rough terrain.

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The new Jimny replaces the push-button selection between 2H (rear-wheel drive), 4H (4WD high gear) and 4L (full low range, 4WD) with a shift lever that is directly connected to the transfer gear and can switch between 2H and 4H on the fly at speeds of up to 100 km/h.

The system is greatly enhanced by Suzuki’s Brake Limited Slip Differential and electronic stability control systems. The Brake LSD-system adjusts torque to the wheel with grip if another wheel on the same axle starts spinning. The system has an extra-power mode, which kicks in below 30 km/h in low-range mode for the best possible traction.

Brake LSD is supported by Hill Hold Control and Hill Descent Control, which are standard on all models.

Better off-road ability comes via an approach angle of 37 degrees (35 degrees on the previous model), a departure angle of 49 degrees (46 degrees on the predecessor) and a breakover angle of 28 degrees (previously 27 degrees).

Fuel consumption on a combined cycle is claimed at 6,3 l/100 km for the manual model I had on test but the overall achieved – including a fairly demanding off-road section – came to 6,9 l/100 km.

On the manual gearbox, Suzuki has reworked the shift lever and gear selector to offer a more direct shift feeling and the new selector system is mounted partly to the ladder frame and partly to the gearbox. It works, and the shifts were slick and true.

All versions of the Suzuki Jimny have air-conditioning, power steering and the complete ALLGRIP PRO 4×4 system with Brake LSD, ESP, Hill Hold Control and Hill Descent Control. The GLX models get climate control, power windows and mirrors, Auto LED projector headlamps, remote central locking and cruise control.

The GLX models are also fitted with Suzuki’s Smartphone Linkage Display Audio (SLDA). This double-DIN audio system has a 7” infrared-touch screen with Android Auto, Apple Carplay and MirrorLink integration.

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The GLX model is standard with a 4-year / 60 000 km service plan and a 5-year / 200 000 km mechanical warranty.

Despite the fact it always looked to fall over, the off-road ability of the previous generation was legendary and the new version takes this to a nice new level. The wider stance and overall look simply exude confidence and in the off-road park, it quite easily played with all the bigger boys’ toys – sometimes easily outperforming them on the technical stuff.

It is a runabout and fun vehicle – long hauls on the highway are not all that comfortable in spite of the improvements to the seating.

All in all, it really is a nice vehicle.

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