Compared with many of today’s compact SUVs, the 2020 Suzuki Jimny is slow, crude, and cramped. It drives a lot like a mid-’80s rear-drive Japanese car. But it’s also so honest and unpretentious, so full of character and charm, and so surprisingly capable at doing what it was designed to do that it makes you smile every time you slide behind the wheel—something that’s unlikely to ever happen getting into a Toyota RAV4 or Chevy Equinox.
In today’s fast-paced, ultra-connected, digitally enhanced automotive world, the Jimny is one of life’s simple pleasures.
It’s a simple pleasure with a complicated back story, though. Our Jimny tester was one of the last in the Suzuki U.K. press fleet, as the vehicle has been withdrawn from sale—less than two years after its launch—so Suzuki can meet stricter European passenger vehicle fleet average emissions targets in 2021. And it’s forbidden fruit for U.S. consumers, Suzuki having exited the American market in 2012 (unless Toyota comes to the rescue with a harebrained but technically plausible rebadged version, given it owns a 5 percent stake in Suzuki).
The Jimny traces its roots back 50 years, to a tiny, Jeep-like 4x4 called the LJ10. Launched in April 1970, the Suzuki Jimny LJ10 had a ladder-frame chassis, leaf-sprung live axles front and rear, and a selectable four-wheel-drive system with a low-range transfer case and no center differential. It was powered by an air-cooled, two-stroke two-cylinder engine that displaced a mere 360cc and produced a breathless 25 hp. It would do 47 mph, flat out. But with a curb weight under 1,400 pounds, it would scamper over rocks and through mudholes like a mountain goat.
Fast-forward half a century and the Jimny still has a ladder-frame chassis, live axles front and rear, and selectable four-wheel drive with a low-range transfer case. It still looks a bit like a baby Jeep. Some things have changed, however. The front and rear axles are now coil sprung. Under the hood is a water-cooled 1.5-liter I-4 whose spark plugs fire every fourth piston stroke. The engine makes four times the power of the LJ10’s tiny two-stroke but only takes the fourth-generation Jimny to about twice the top speed. Blame frontal area and weight: The 2020 Jimny is 13.7 inches wider and 2.2 inches taller than the LJ10 and weighs almost twice as much.
It still scampers through the rough stuff, though.
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