Monday, 29 June 2015

REVIEW - Suzuki Jimny SZ4

Suzuki has quite a reputation for off-road vehicles. I still remember Travis Pastrana- in his lumberjack jersey- completing that sensational double back flip on his yellow Suzuki RM 250 in 2006. Then there’s the cars. The Vitara is great for those looking for a bit more space. Then there’s the car you see in front of you; the Jimny. It’s been around in some form or other since 1970 and has quite a following. But as the Land Rover Defender proved, a following isn’t enough to cut it in the modern world. So I grabbed a Jimny for a week to see what all the fuss is about…

Looks – 6/10

On the outside, the Jimny hasn’t changed much since the late 90’s, and in some respects that’s not a bad thing. The basic shape may be that of a square, but it also gives the Suzuki a rugged look. Being the flagship SZ4 model this one had a darker grey alloy wheels and privacy glass to give the image a more premium touch, and these contrast nicely against the Steel Silver metallic paint (£430) which is by far the best colour. The spare wheel on the back is something we’ve come to expect now; although there’s no longer a rhino on the cover. There’s also a smart-looking bonnet scoop up front as well as a honeycomb mesh grille.

Inside the SZ4 the first thing you notice are the leather seats. Well, they’re not actually leather, but they do look smart. The steering wheel is leather, although this is insignificant when you take in the rest of the cabin. The plastics are scratchy and not nice at all, and the stereo looks unchanged from the late 90’s. Aside from a little bit of grey trim around the centre console it’s all black plastic, which is rather dull and gloomy. The gear gaiter is one of the worst I have ever seen, and yet there are lovely alcantara inserts on the door cards. The dials aren’t too bad though, and the chrome door handles are nice.

Handling/Performance – 2/10

The engine in the Jimny is a 1.3-litre petrol, and is available with either a manual or auto box. This engine is quite something… it has managed to surpass the 1.4-litre Punto as the worst I have ever come across. The most pleasant surprise is that it doesn’t have a carburettor, although that’s the level of sophistication you can expect. There’s a monumental (not) 85PS and 110Nm or torque. When you consider that Ford can extract 140PS from a 1.0-litre, this is not a lot of power. This is sent to the road via a 5-speed whisk; the gear change is about as precise as opening a can of beans with a sledgehammer. 0-62mph takes a glacial 14.1 seconds and the top speed of 87mph is less than most people appear to do on the M6.

And I must also mention the handling. I have no doubt that the Jimny is a capable off-roader but it’s also a rather unpleasant on-roader. The ride is very strange indeed, and on anything less than a perfect road the Jimny will bounce around a lot. Furthermore, the ride height means that the cornering is rather comical. The steering has a really good lock, but the turn-in is as sharp as a rolling pin and there’s no weight to it either. This is just not a comfortable car, and long journeys will really tire you out. The problem here is a lack of compromise. Being good in a field is one thing, but being good through town is more important, so there has to be a good balance.

Economy – 4/10

Although the Jimny has a small engine, it doesn’t have equally small running costs. The CO2 are high for a 1.3-litre engine. At 162g/km the Jimny finds itself in VED band G. That’s £180 a year, and when you consider that Volvo have 2.0-litre engines which are sub-99g/km the Jimny really should be more refined than it is. Fuel consumption is quoted as 39.8mpg on a combined cycle which doesn’t sound bad, but without a trip computer to tell me what the actual figure was I have no idea whether this was achievable or not. All I do know is that there’s no start stop technology or clever eco mode in the Jimny, so you may want to think again if you want to save the trees.

Practicality – 6/10

The Jimny is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of practicality. On one hand, it’s a rather capable off roader. There’s a proper selectable 4WD system with a low ratio box for when you need to get out of a trick situation. There’s excellent ground clearance and the turning circle is great thanks to a short wheelbase and lots of lock. Getting into parking spaces is a doddle and visibility is great thanks to the high driving position. However when you’re not frolicking around in fields and find yourself in Asda car park you’ll notice that the boot is rather small. And there’s only four seats. I also felt the Jimny suffered from Land Rover Defender syndrome. And by that I mean the driver’s elbow doesn’t fit inside with the window shut. But all this pales into insignificance when you drive the Jimny on a motorway. The aforementioned bouncy ride is one thing, but the ratios in the 5-speed whisk are another altogether. At 70mph on the motorway you’re doing just short of 4,000rpm which is simply too much. It makes the car incredibly fatiguing to drive.

Fun – 6/10

Despite the Jimny not being a very good car to drive, I still rather enjoyed having it. Because it has been around so long it’s always been there in the background. When I was growing up the Suzuki SJ Samurai was king; you could pick one up for £500, take it to the local quarry and pay £25 to drive around and have a ball; it never mattered that the car itself wasn’t great. Sadly most quarries will no longer allow this, and so you will spend more time on the road than off it, and as such it does matter that the car isn’t that great. The only saving grace is that you can’t help but laugh driving the Jimny. The cornering is hysterical and for a small car it has a big character. You really want to like it and I still have a soft spot for it now.

Concluding Remarks

So that sums up my week with the Suzuki Jimny. It’s certainly dated now, although you can’t ignore the fact that this is a very capable vehicle. For anybody frequenting farm tracks or fields you will be glad of the 4WD when the conditions get tough, and this is a proven formula. What’s more, the range-topping SZ4 I tested with the manual gearbox comes in at just £14,075 (including the £430 for paint) and includes a 3-year, 60,000-mile warranty. This represents excellent value for money, and I challenge you to find a ‘proper’ off-roader in this price bracket. Yes it may not be the best car to drive, but it did manage to put a smile on my face. For more information visit your local dealer or log on to the Suzuki Website. The Suzuki Jimny SZ4; cheap. But also rather cheerful.

Total Score – 24/50

2 comments:

  1. I just bought a Panda 4x4 for less then the figure you quote. The Panda is infinitely more refined, looks, feels and sound better than a Jimny, does 40+ mpg has zero road tax.

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    1. Hi Phil,

      I get exactly where you are coming from in terms of the refinery, looks and running costs.

      My point when I mention the Jimny being a 'proper' off-roader refers mostly to the low-ratio box, which for people frequenting farms could be required, and in this sense the Jimny is in a class of its own.

      Also worth noting that going off list prices alone an equivalent Panda 4x4 would be around £1,000 more.

      I'll have to try and get my hands on one to compare further!

      Cheers,
      Dan

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