Suzuki Jimny (1998-2018) review
Cute but dated, the Suzuki Jimny offers rugged 4x4 ability in a package that's the size of a city car
The Suzuki Jimny is an off-roader that first appeared in the 1970s, and has since been through numerous guises from the early LJ-series. The second generation of SJ models arrived in 1981 and clung on with the occasional facelift until 1998 when it gave way for the third and current generation.
The Jimny has had various names over the years - including a stint as the Suzuki Samurai - but has always stuck to its origins of rugged body-on-chassis construction and four-wheel-drive for a legitimate all-terrain off-road ability. Combined with compact dimensions, simple design and a no-frills options list, the Jimny is primed for affordability above all else.
Sold only as a three-door model, the Jimny has two trim levels: SZ3 and SZ4. A DAB digital radio is about as sophisticated as it gets when it comes to kit, and customers aren’t blessed with a wealth of options on the engine front either: an 84bhp 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol is all you can get. However, buyers of the SZ4 trim have the option of a manual or automatic gearbox, and anyone looking for something more akin to a modern SUV crossover, Suzuki offers the Adventure special edition which comes with a touchscreen sat-nav system.
There’s no other car on sale that’s quite like the Suzuki Jimny. It’s a chunky looking 4x4 with excellent off-road ability, but its city car dimensions mean it’s the smallest go-anywhere 4x4 you can buy.
The Jimny is becoming a bit of a rare sight on the road these days as rival car manufacturers are offering supermini-sized crossovers that are better to drive on the road – for example the Fiat Panda 4x4, Vauxhall Mokka and Nissan Juke. But for drivers with genuine off-road requirements, the Jimny rises above these rivals thanks to a go-anywhere ability that’s on a par with the Land Rover Defender.
Engines, performance and drive
You get a great view out of the Suzuki Jimny from the driver’s seat, and those compact dimensions make it very easy to park. However, the controls feel very dated. There's a light clutch, but the gearbox is vague and feels like it will jump out of gear at the slightest bump, while there's a huge amount of lock for the vague steering.
Once you’re up to speed, the tall body doesn’t inspire confidence in corners, with body roll a real issue. The bouncy ride makes town driving uncomfortable, too, but you soon forget all the downsides as soon as you head off road.
The Jimny is virtually unstoppable in the rough, and can venture farther off road than most other 4x4s, and certainly a lot further than the new crop of supermini-sized crossovers, most of which don’t even feature 4WD.
A dated four-speed automatic is available on the SZ4, but no matter which gearbox you go for, the 84bhp 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol engine has to be worked hard to make meaningful progress: 0-60mph takes 14.1 seconds in the manual car, while it stretches out to 17.2 seconds with the auto option. Short gearing means the Jimny drones on at motorway speeds, too.
MPG, CO2 and Running Costs
The age of the 1.3-litre engine becomes even more apparent when you look at the efficiency figures for the Suzuki Jimny. The car weighs only around one tonne, yet the manual model has claimed economy of only 39.8mpg and emits a hefty 162g/km of CO2, so buyers can expect large fuel and road tax bills.
The Jimny isn’t expensive to insure, but it’s a little more expensive than the turgid performance figures might suggest with insurance group ratings of 14 or 15 depending on the model.
The Jimny has limited appeal when new, and its second-hand or residual values aren’t spectacular either. Used valuation experts CAP predict a new one will lose between 34 and 37 per cent of its showroom cost after three years and 30,000 miles.
Interior, design and technology
There’s no getting away from the boxy looks of the Suzuki Jimny. The design comprises a bluff front end with large headlights, while the flat rear is distinguished by the spare wheel mounted on the tailgate, which is a throwback to the late nineties, when the Jimny was originally launched. The interior is dated, with the dash’s squared-off lines, hard plastics and limited equipment, although SZ4 models feature air-conditioning and artificial leather.
It’s increasingly unusual for SUVs to retain separate body-on-chassis construction too, but there’s an honest simplicity to the engineering and it will take the Jimny to places where more fashionable SUVs fear to tread.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
All Jimnys come with a two-speaker audio system plus a CD player and USB connector. The SZ4 model adds DAB digital radio, while the Adventure special edition comes with a touchscreen satnav system and Bluetooth integrated into the audio system.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Comfort and practicality weren’t the primary objectives when Suzuki planned the rugged go-anywhere Jimny. It does offer a lockable glovebox, and there are a couple of cup-holders up front as well, but the lack of clever storage, particularly in the boot, only serves to reinforce the dated feel of the vehicle.
The Suzuki stands out in the 4x4 market as it’s so small – at only 3,645mm long and 1,600mm wide, it’s similar in size to a city car. It’s taller than most city cars, at 1,705mm, though, so drivers get a great view above the traffic.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Space is at a premium in the tiny Suzuki Jimny. While driver and front passenger will enjoy the great view of the road, legroom is poor, and there’s not a lot of space in the two back seats.
The boot is cramped, too. It has a capacity of 113 litres with the rear seats in place, and expands to only 286 litres when you fold the seat backs down, plus there's a big step in the floor when you do this.
Reliability and Safety
The Suzuki Jimny upholds the company’s reputation for reliability, and has only been recalled twice since it first hit showrooms back in 1998. That’s an amazing record. The 4x4 transmission will also provide reassuring grip and traction in the worst winter weather, and while the interior plastics feel hard, everything is solidly put together.
But the Jimny leaves a lot to be desired in terms of standard safety features. There are airbags for the driver and front seat passenger only, while stability control isn’t even available as an option. The likes of the Nissan Juke and Fiat Panda 4x4 offer a much more comprehensive list of safety kit for the money.
The Jimny’s three-year/60,000-mile warranty used to be called ‘industry standard’, but Suzuki’s warranty offer is increasingly under pressure from rivals like Kia and Hyundai.
The Jimny isn’t the sort of car we’d pick for high mileage driving, so the relatively short 9,000-mile – or annual - service intervals are unlikely to have much of an effect on cost.