Suzuki’s cheerful little 4WD – the Jimny – has been reworked.

Story Bruce McMahon

Suzuki has a longstanding relationship with Australia, its very first overseas market for cars. The Japanese company grew from producing weaving looms to scooters and motorbikes, and then small four-wheeled vehicles in the late 1950s. Suzuki bikes were sold here from 1960 – Chano Trentin’s Atherton dealership in northern Queensland is the world’s longest continually run Suzuki dealership outside of Japan – but it was the 4WD Suzuki LJ20 of 1972 that cemented the Australian connection.

The very basic LJ was lightweight, at 700kg, so a 360cc motor and 21kW plus 4WD, two-speed transfer case and 240mm of ground clearance were more than adequate to conquer all manner of terrain. 

That LJ and its successors – the LJ50, the Jimny, the Sierra and Holden-badged Drovers – became farm and station workhorses from the Darling Downs in the east to the Pilbara in the west; dealer Chano once took six pigs as a trade-in on an LJ50.

Fast forward to 2020 and there is a fresh and flash iteration of the three-door Suzuki, once again badged as a Jimny. It is cute and competent, with more modern conveniences and comforts onboard, while holding true to its 4WD heritage and abilities. It looks better than ever and drives better than ever, if still not perhaps first choice for a lap of the continent – these short wheelbase Suzukis are better suited to shorter hauls.

The new style is authentic in a mini-Tonka-truck fashion. It sits a squat 3.6m long x 1.6m wide and 1.7m high, with square and practical body lines, 210mm of ground clearance and a short ladder chassis allowing for excellent approach and departure angles in the rough stuff.  

Despite this compact body, today’s Jimny offers enough room for driver and passenger up front. The ergonomics are good, with simple, straightforward dashboard instruments and controls, though the slide control for audio volume on the infotainment screen (and the alternative but small switches on the steering wheel) can be problematic, and tachometer and speedometer numbers a tad too dark.

Overall, this is a practical, handsome cabin up front – even allowing for a good lashing of plastic finishes – with room for two full-sized Australians. Two back seats are fine for short trips, although entries and exits through the doors and up in behind the front seats can be a scramble.

With back seats up, there is precious little cargo space; when folded down there is a decent 377L in front of a one-piece rear door with spare wheel hanging out back.

The Suzuki Jimny arrives with a host of today’s essential features, from Bluetooth connectivity to lane-departure warnings and six airbags. All are powered by a 1.5L petrol engine producing 75kW at 6000rpm and 130Nm of torque at 4000rpm, with the only mechanical option the choice of five-speed manual gearbox or four-speed automatic.

It also arrives with a full chassis, coil-sprung live axles and a two-speed transfer case for the choice of two, high or low 4WD. Added here is Suzuki’s so-called All Grip Pro, which aids traction by braking a spinning wheel to redistribute torque to other wheels.

So although the four-cylinder engine needs a good prod to head toward its best performance on the bitumen, where it is running at a busy 3000rpm at 100km/h, this does not preclude the little Suzuki from being a first-class off-roader.

It is the compact size, light weight (Jimnys weigh in around 1100kg). excellent body clearance and live axles that allow these machines to embarrass more fancied, expensive machines out in the bush. 

Helping out is a great driving position and all those straight lines, inside and out, which make it easier to position the Suzuki, and better dodge rocks and stumps.

Running hard across a flat paddock, the Jimny is well-behaved and quite comfortable, although short, sharp lumps can bring a good jolt to the system thanks to that short wheelbase, with little time between front and back suspension hits.

This 2020 version may not see much time as a bull-chasing, paddock basher. While still very fit for purpose as a go-anywhere machine, this is a far more civilised and equipped Suzuki Jimny than before. It is more comfortable than ever, just as competent and, ostensibly, just as reliable, with the backing of a five-year factory warranty and roadside assistance. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #132

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2020