Suzuki Jimny: Rubbish on-road, great off it - and charming everywhere
Fear can take many forms, though few can look as benign as the Suzuki Jimny, writes William Scholes.
FEAR can take many forms, though few can look as benign as the Suzuki Jimny, writes William Scholes.
Yet the cutesy Jimny - which my son described as looking "like a Lego brick car" - is in fact one of the scariest cars I've ever driven on the road.
Being slow to the point of sadism is just one of the little 4x4s terrifying traits. The steering, vaguer than David Davis's understanding of the Irish border, is only marginally less communicative than a gear change of the will-it-won't-it variety.
Even minor manoeuvres, such as a lane change on a level dual carriageway, are a voyage of discovery, pitching the Jimny's tiny bodyshell into a swell of heave and roll.
The need to brake suddenly - a relative term - and also change lane when a dozy driver on the M1 wandered out of their lane and into mine was enough to reduce me to a puddle, but not before I clenched the steering wheel so tightly that my fingerprints could be read in the thin steering wheel.
Given the Jimny's minuscule dimensions - its footprint is about the size of an average dining table - it ought to be easy to park.
Yet it isn't as easy as it should be. You crank and turn and crank and turn the steering wheel like a child whirling the wheel on a playground pirate ship, and even then you're not completely sure that it is connected to anything.
That's unless you forget to disengage four-wheel-drive, in which case the opposite occurs, as you will get transmission wind-up which makes the steering increasingly impossible to move.
Either way, a lot of effort is needed to squeeze the Jimny into or out of a Jimny-sized parking space.
And if you're lankier of frame, as this writer is, you'll bash your right elbow off the driver's window; if you have a front-seat passenger, you'll probably whack them in the face with your left elbow. It's like a mixed martial arts workout, only more exhausting and bruising.
Of course, you can't spend your whole time extracting your Jimny from its parking space and negotiating straight roads.
Being slow to the point of sadism is just one of the little 4x4s terrifying traits. The steering, vaguer than David Davis's understanding of the Irish border, is only marginally less communicative than a gear change of the will-it-won't-it variety
From time to time, especially in Irish topography, you will need to drive on twisty, undulating and poorly surfaced roads.
I've never experienced what it is like being in a lifeboat in storm-lashed seas; but I don't need to, because it can't be any more stomach-churning than a B-road drive in a Jimny.
Nothing - steering, brakes, throttle, gearchange, even the radio - works quite the way you think it should, and the bouncy suspension just amplifies the impression that the Jimny is bobbing about with the self-control of a kite in a storm.
Because it is so narrow, the Jimny can find itself sucked into the tramlines made on the road by heavier, wider traffic.
It isn't exactly refined either, assaulting occupants with a cacophony of engine, wind, road and transmission noise.
The brakes aren't great, the boot is smaller than a P5 pupil's pencil case and the back seat is a one-third sized model of a church pew, only with less legroom.
The dashboard, heroically basic by contemporary standards, looks like it must have been old fashioned in 1998, when the Jimny was launched.
So, the Jimny is slow, noisy, cramped, old fashioned and an actively unpleasant device in which to tackle everyday driving.
In other words, assessed against the standards of a new car in 2018, the dinky little Suzuki is rubbish.
And yet... and yet... the Jimny, for all its faults, is a charming little thing. It has character; with cars getting more and more samey, the baby off-roader is welcomingly individual.
It might be second-rate on the road, but the Jimny is a genuinely talented off-roader. People who know about these things will happily mention it in the same breath as a Land Rover Defender.
The Jimny is obviously smaller, but it has proper 4x4 hardware. That means it has a so-called ladder chassis, meaning the body and chassis are separate parts, and a dual-ration transfer box for the four-wheel-drive system.
It is a simple set-up; there are no fancy differentials or 'terrain response' electronics here. Three buttons on the dashboard allow you to go from 2WD mode, which sends power - a generous use of the term, perhaps - to the rear wheels, to four-wheel-drive 4WD mode.
Another button engages 4WD-L, with the low-ratio gearbox giving the Jimny even more off-road chops.
And yet... and yet... the Jimny, for all its faults, is a charming little thing. It has character; with cars getting more and more samey, the baby off-roader is welcomingly individual
Off-road, its light weight, teeny dimensions and can-do attitude mean the Jimny is far more than the sum of its modest parts.
Off-road - tackling farm tracks or bouncing over fields - is the Jimny's natural habitat. Farmers and deep rural dwellers know this already; in that context, it is one of those vehicles that can rub wheelarches with the likes of the Land Rover Defender, Subaru Forester or Toyota Hilux as an archetypal working vehicle.
If you are after a small road car with off-road ability, then there really are better alternatives - the Fiat Panda 4x4 and Dacia Duster, for example, or Suzuki's own Swift 4x4.
But for a proper off-roader, with more than a little of the Defender's authenticity to it, the Jimny is in a class of its own.
A new Jimny is due later this year. It looks like it will retain the Jimny's distinctive styling and off-road credentials, and promises more civilised road manners and up-to-date safety features.
That means you will have to be quick to get one of the remaining examples before they go off sale. Like the Land Rover Defender, it looks destined to become a collector's item - even if it is terrifying to drive on the road...
AT A GLANCE
Suzuki Jimny SX4
Engine and transmission: 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol, four-wheel-drive, five-speed manual gearbox; 84bhp, 81lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 87mph, 0-62mph in 14.1 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 39.8mpg (EU combined), 30.2mpg (real world), 162g/km
Car tax: £515 in first year, then £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 33 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Not tested