Is the 2020 Suzuki Jimny still a competent off-roader? We find out for ourselves

This model has a serious off-road pedigree
by Beeboy Bargas | Mar 2, 2020

“Thank goodness the new Jimny has retained its basic off-roader characteristics”


Around 15 years ago, for the second article I wrote for Top Gear PH, I had the opportunity to test-drive the manual variant of the previous-generation Suzuki Jimny. I remember saying it was quite fun to drive on the highway—it was like a tall go-kart. The little 4x4 was fun to drive off-road and throw around the trails, too, despite being hampered by its ground clearance and limited traction on low-friction surfaces.

Fast-forward to the present, and I was again tasked to drive the Jimny, this time in its latest iteration. So, I opted to take it where I had driven the previous model. The terrain has changed somewhat, but thank goodness the Jimny has retained its basic off-roader characteristics: part-time 4WD transfer case with low-range gear, ladder-on-frame chassis, front and rear solid straight-axle housing. A true off-road vehicle.

PHOTO: Paul del Rosario

With the engine being a 1.5-liter computer-controlled fuel-injection unit, I had to find out if it has stall control or the ability to crawl up steep gradients in first gear without my having to step on the accelerator. I have been doing this test on manual-transmission CRDi diesel mills, and have always been amused by how these engines just idle up steep, uneven slopes. The Jimny, despite its small gasoline engine and higher maximum torque band, was able to idle up a near-30-degree slope covered in red clay with a spray of water. To be perfectly honest, I was not expecting the little SUV to manage the test; only when it got past 30 degrees and a deep rut did it stall. Still, impressive for a pint-sized fighter.

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Since the vehicle was already stopped on a slippery slope, I put its hill-hold assist to the test. The feature is pretty decent, but the hold is good enough for only two seconds. I think three seconds would be more confidence-inspiring, or maybe I’m just used to other 4WD vehicles. It’s been a while since I have driven a vehicle equipped with a small gasoline engine on an off-road trail and I was expecting it to stall during the clutch release, but the Jimny is sufficiently low-geared to not stall in the transition from hanging to moving forward.

PHOTO: Paul del Rosario

Climbing up red clay surfaces and going over deep ruts also allowed us to test the vehicle’s electronic traction control while on stall control. Unlike hill-descent control, which makes the intervention of ABS very noticeable, the electronic traction aids of the Jimny work almost imperceptibly in conjunction with stall control.

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Now, what goes up must come down, so down I went on the other side of the mountain known to Tanay off-roaders as Madilaydilay. I had my first experience with hill-descent control on this trail, and it was unnerving then. Keeping in mind the Jimny’s short wheelbase, I was ready to intervene if needed, but hill-descent control kept the vehicle straight and steady on the way down in 4WD low gear, with my foot off the brakes. As scary as it feels initially, you really have to trust the system.

PHOTO: Paul del Rosario

At this point, I was beginning to think that all the electronic nannies were taking the fun out of visceral 4x4 driving, but I still had some tricks waiting for the Suzuki at my off-road proving grounds. (Cue wicked laughter.)

Boxier in its current iteration, the Jimny manages to keep its corners tucked in to avoid damages to its body. When straddling deep ruts, its key ground-clearance points are very good compared with larger 4x4s from the approach, break-over, and departure angles. Surprisingly, despite the vehicle’s 195/80 R15 tires, going over moderate ruts was very manageable. Deeper ruts and washouts gave us an opportunity to see and feel the differential guards both front and rear, although the below body chassis mounting of the control arms would snag on the ground or rocks on sharper terrain conditions.

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PHOTO: Paul del Rosario

On radically uneven terrain, the Jimny’s narrow track slightly limits its wheel and axle articulation, so lifting a tire in certain conditions can be a bane. Suzuki’s All Grip Pro system makes up for it, but you have to put a little gusto on the throttle and do some creative steering to use the sidewall of the tires for added traction. That said, all of these inconveniences can be easily remedied by suspension, tire, and gearing upgrades should you wish to drive the Jimny on this kind of difficult terrain regularly; otherwise, the little 4x4 can manage some really difficult off-roading conditions.

Lastly, water wading: As with any gasoline-powered 4x4, extra effort is required to protect the engine electronics. Our test unit did not come equipped with differential and transmission wading kits and a raised air intake, which are necessary add-ons to keep the electric and electronic components protected.

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PHOTO: Paul del Rosario

I won’t touch on convenience features—how big the multimedia screen is, for instance, and what other multimedia and convenience features the Jimny has. Needless to say, it’s not lacking in this respect, but these things are not crucial to realizing the vehicle’s intent of being a dyed-in-the-wool off-roader that needs just a few mods to keep up with its larger counterparts. Given its compact size and off-road capabilities, I’m quite satisfied that it will do what is reasonably asked of it.

So, if you’re looking for a brand-new, purely recreational 4WD vehicle, then join the line and place your order. The latest Suzuki Jimny is definitely better-built than the previous model was, and has the necessary electronic driving nannies to ensure that your adventure is more fun than challenging. Where do I sign up? But don’t tell the wife.

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PHOTO: Paul del Rosario
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