The Suzuki Jimny puts all other sports utility vehicles (SUVs) to shame by navigating the Singaporean urban wasteland like no other vehicle can
July 10, 2019 updated with Video Review
SINGAPORE – On paper, the Suzuki Jimny is unimpressive. It’s not especially fast, efficient, spacious, well-equipped, refined…and so on, you get the idea. Yet of all the SUVs we’ve tested here, it’s somehow the one we most enjoyed driving in Singapore itself.
The general stance of the CarBuyer team is that sports utility vehicles (SUVs) add needless mass and inefficiency for not that much gain, but we totally understand the modern drift towards soft-roaders.
Singapore has what seems like the tallest kerbs in the world, a ridiculous profusion of towering speed humps, increasingly debased tarmac paired with blundering road design that block a driver’s view at crucial junctures.
This is a terrible place to drive a coupe, and an SUV makes these things more bearable. But a Suzuki Jimny does better than that, and is able to melt those worries from your mind almost entirely by channeling the original spirit of SUVs.
There’s a strong historical precedent for it. As a tiny 4×4, the Jimny has been in a class of one for almost five decades.
It’s a proper off-roader in the vein of the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen, Land Rover Defender and Jeep Wrangler. The difference is that Suzuki took its genius of making small cars and put the Japanese Shrink Ray treatment to it, so instead of a colossal, hard-to-manage dirt-eating beast, we get a car with all the benefits of a real off-roader, but in a pint-sized, urban-friendly package.
It’s worth mentioning that at 3,480mm long, the Jimny is in fact shorter than its compact hatch brother, the Suzuki Swift (which is 3,840mm), but at 1,725mm tall, it’s taller than a Hyundai Santa Fe (1,705mm).
There’s no missing the Jimny’s ‘Mini-G-Wagen’ styling, though in retrospect the square profile, wide front grille and round lights are something seen in all proper off-roaders both current and historical.
The fact that the Jimny shown here is violently fluorescent yellow also helps endow it with disproportionate road presence – this shade of ‘Kinetic Yellow’ is inspired by work safety vests, says Suzuki – and as a result it draws interested looks quicker than a supercar, with fewer frowns too.
Aside from the BMW i3, we haven’t been in a modern car this easy to drive in Singapore. Quite fitting for the high-rise infested Lion City, the Jimny’s all about vertical advantages. The elevated seating position and short front overhang allows you to place the car with extreme ease, the side windows have additional cutouts on the bottom to give you a better view of things.
Suzuki even says the vertical windshield helps block out the sun and it really does work – you could drive the Jimny at noon without sunglasses and avoid the typical sun-squint and headaches. All-round visibility is excellent and as long as you’re willing to turn your head, there’s no chance of anyone sneaking into a bilnd spot and catching you unawares.
As a result, old labyrinthine carparks with the dreaded kerb-eating monster (such as People’s Park or Golden Mile) become a simple task, and parking the small off-roader is ridiculously easy. Our test car, for instance, didn’t have its parking sensors installed yet (they’re standard equipment) but it was never an issue.
As for kerbs, awkward walls and the like, the small 15-inch wheels leave plenty of tyre to absorb shocks, and the Jimny’s colour-contrast bumpers are designed for taking hits. If there ever was a car made for the express purpose of charging through Singapore’s urban wasteland, this is it.
Proper 4x4s usually have terrible road manners as a result of the emphasis on off-road ability and toughness: tallness causes handling issues, box-on-ladder construction and solid axles are strong but unrefined, four-wheel drive systems sap efficiency and add weight and noise.
Modesty being a virtue is true in this case. The Jimny does have some of the foibles of a real off-roader, but with it being so small and light, they are correspondingly minimised.
There’s far less of the resounding crash and thump that reverberates through the whole cabin when straightlining big bumps in a full-sized off-roader. While there’s some flex from the thick tyres, the Jimny is surprisingly agile and isn’t prone to excessive, boat-like swaying and roll.
In fact, it’s impressively quiet for an off-roader. There’s a little gear whine, and some wind noise, but we’ve been in crossover with more tyre noise and worse ride quality.
So the Jimny is positively dreamy in some ways, but keep in mind it’s not perfect.
Speedo indicates up to 180km/h, but we definitely don’t recommend exceeding 120km/h in the Jimny…
The Jimny can’t do high-speed cornering. In a straight line, it’s fine up to highway speed, but bumps in fast corners will make the rear end wiggle. In any case, with the modest 1.5-litre engine and 100hp, the Jimny is the sort of car that encourages you to take it slow, if the top speed of 140km/h doesn’t spell that out for you.
We haven’t seen a four-speed automatic gearbox in a car for years, but the Jimny’s is quite unobtrusive, though nowhere near as smooth shifting as a modern six-speed. Sadly Suzuki does not offer the five-speed manual, even on an indent basis.
Another caveat is that we haven’t driven the car off-road, so we can’t say for sure that it’ll be magnificent when the tarmac ends, though given the Jimny’s history and overseas test drive verdicts, it’s more or less a given at this point. To that end, there’s the selectable high and low-range four-wheel drive system.
You should also keep in mind that this is a three-door compact car: A person with a family of seven is obviously not the target audience for a Jimny, and neither is someone who insists on the paradoxical coupe experience in an SUV body shape.
Four adults can fit comfortably, but you’ll have to give up most of the cargo room to do so. Forego two humans and you can fit 377-litres into the tall loading space, which looks like it’ll easily swallow bicycles.
The infotainment system is really just a radio with Bluetooth capability, so compared to say, a Kia Cerato it looks a bit Stone Age. At least in safety the Jimny is quite current since it does have autonomous braking and braking assist, as well as lane departure warning, and a warning system if you sway around, plus six airbags.
But for Singaporean car buyers, the biggest plus is that the Jimny is cheaper than when it first launched, thanks to it achieving a Vehicular Emissions Scheme (VES) rating of B instead of C2, dropping the price from approximately SS10k to S$108,900 with COE now – the variant without a contrast coloured roof is S$1,000 cheaper.
It’s ironic that crossovers gained so many features – small windows, sharper rooflines, bad visibility – from normal cars and coupes that end up making them less user-friendly. When you mix stuff up too much, the result can just as easily be a confused muddle rather than a more convincing product.
The Jimny is an affirmation of the original can-do, practical spirit of the SUV, and that following your own path has value the mainstream can’t predict.
Suzuki Jimny 1.5
|Engine||1,462cc, inline 4|
|Power||100hp at 6000rpm|
|Torque||130Nm at 4000rpm|
|Top Speed||12.0 seconds (estimate)|
|VES Band / CO2||B / 156g/km|
|Price||S$108,900 with COE|
Verdict: Japanese practicality and ease paired with real off-road sensibilities. There’s still nothing quite like the Jimny around.