It’s the automotive equivalent of David taking on the various versions of Goliath found on off-road tracks all over South Africa. It too, like David, emerged from the fight victorious, though no one was expecting it.
Suzuki first started this small bodied, tiny engined, cutely styled identity it’s become known for, in the early 70s. The first Jimny, more commonly known by its LJ40 nomenclature, was three times smaller than the popular off-roaders of its age and it featured a ridiculous 360cc, two-cylinder engine.
The engineers responsible for the Defender, Wrangler and Land Cruiser must have cracked a rib laughing at this minuscule impostor, right up to the point where it simply bounced over some deep mud – an obstacle that had the engineers stumped.
Since then, Suzuki has been a respected member of the off-road fraternity and now, 42 years later, we find ourselves behind the wheel of the latest version of this popular off-roader. The principles built around the LJ40 are still prevalent on this new version. It’s still recognisable as a Jimny, but Suzuki has added a few design cues meant to beef it up a bit. In our view it certainly looks more aggressive, but there’s no hiding the charm that lies beneath.
The 1.3-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine is adequate rather than powerful. You have to thrash the Jimny to get it up to speed, which means the driving experience is rather unrefined. It’s also not the best handling car on the road, bouncing about rather than cruising softly as a city car should, but I think these faults only add to its charisma.
South Africa’s off-road enthusiasts don’t care one iota about the faults mentioned above. To them driving in the city is a hindrance no matter how comfortable the ride, because what they really want more than anything is for the week to pass so they can drive to the top of a mountain.
As a tool for off-roading, the Jimny has no equal, at least not at the price. It’s lightweight body and low-range box makes it a worthy adversary to off-road vehicles costing three times as much.
I highly recommend the Jimny as a second or third vehicle. The stiff suspension and lack of space make it too compromised to use on a daily basis; rather see it as a warrior you only let out on weekends so it can spit in the faces of unnecessarily bulky and expensive off-roaders.
That gives it something really special that most vehicles in South Africa lack – character. There’s no scientific way of measuring character, but if there were, I’m sure the Jimny would break it.