The Suzuki Jimny will win you over through sheer cuteness

This mini-SUV is a boxy darling
by Dinzo Tabamo | Jun 19, 2019

"Do you need a small, dependable, go-anywhere SUV that’s easy and fun to drive?"

It takes supreme confidence in a product for its maker to not replace it for so long. The first-generation Suzuki Jimny went for 11 years without an all-new iteration. The second generation was on sale for 17 years. The third generation arrived in 1998, and it was in showrooms for two decades. Forget about car-model life cycles—at this point, the Jimny is already closely following human generational changes.

Yet even until the end of its model life, the outgoing Jimny didn’t look out of date. Suzuki’s mini-SUV might not fit in with the sleek crossovers that weren’t even a category when the former was launched, but it aged well. A Suzuki dealer from the south even told me he had no problem moving third-generation stock even when the all-new model was announced.

This Jimny’s announcement was followed by the longest marketing tease in recent memory. There was a surprise appearance at a motor show, a test-drive opportunity at a multi-brand sales event, and finally, a dedicated formal launch activity. From the time of the worldwide announcement to the time we finally got behind the wheel, about a year had passed. That’s a long time by marketing standards, which is probably understandable given the gestation period for this line.

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PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

Is it worth the wait? In a word, yes. In many words, it depends on your needs and your taste in cars.

If you like clean lines, good design, and boxy shapes, you’ve probably made a reservation already. The Jimny is one of those vehicles that aren’t merely photogenic—they lose nothing when you finally see them in the metal.

It’s a box on wheels, basically, with flared wheel arches. Surprisingly, bucking the trend of growth from one generation to the next, the 2019 Jimny is shorter than its predecessor, but it’s a little wider and taller. To give you an idea of its size, it’s roughly three-quarters the length of a Toyota Fortuner, and about half the weight. In person, I’d say it looks even smaller.

The Jimny, to me, has no weak angles. It’s a chunky block of metal that has seemingly drawn inspiration from Tonka toys. Flat sides, uncluttered fascia, unfussy windows—the design is cleaner compared with that of the previous model. I see more visual connections to the first- and second-generation Jimnys, which adds to the current one’s strong retro appeal.

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PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

In the cabin, the retro theme continues, but with more modern touches. The highlight is the pair of square gauge clusters, which is a refreshingly analog throwback to simpler times. With swathes of plastic (which I would call more utilitarian than hard), rotary A/C knobs, and a plain shift knob, this interior could be described as spartan. What redeems it is the large grab handle in front of the passenger, and the fact that everything feels in sync. The steering-wheel controls are a nice touch, and the infotainment system feels modern enough, but it’s disappointing that it doesn’t have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto yet.

The lack of modern connectivity is hammered home by how hard it is to mount a smartphone in the Jimny’s cabin. I have a device that attaches to A/C vents, then opens to cradle a smartphone, and it’s been compatible with every car I’ve tested. But there’s hardly any space between this Suzuki’s protruding climate controls and the overhang below the head unit. The A/C vents on the driver’s side, on the other hand, are too thick to clamp onto. In the end, I have to rely on the voice commands or have my companion navigate for me.

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The seating position is comfortable even for large people like me. There’s massive headroom considering the compact exterior dimensions and the ground clearance. Backseat space suffers, but not glaringly so. We were able to fit two adults in the back for a 30-minute ride—one passenger was tall and the other one was, well, wide. But I’d say four adults is the limit, maybe five if you’re all below 5’5”.

PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

But fold down the seats and you get a flat floor. The back of the rear perches even have surfaces marked for traction, so that your cargo—supposedly—doesn’t slide around so much. Even with the rear seats up, there’s still decent room in the back because of the tall roof. I was able to fit my girlfriend’s new 32-inch TV in there.

When it comes to the ride quality, the Jimny isn’t a poser. This isn’t a design study with the drivetrain of a car. You’ll feel its off-road authenticity when you encounter your first speed bump and the whole vehicle sways. Yes, the ride is on the hard side. Potholes don’t get magically absorbed, and road imperfections are felt.

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I wouldn’t say the ride is bad, but you feel every bump and crater you drive through. Once you know what to expect, you can anticipate and drive accordingly; slow down a little more over those large ruts. But overall, the driving experience is pleasant—fun, even.

PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

I’m driving the base variant equipped with a manual five-speed gearbox. It’s easy to shift and eager to move, even in traffic. I do notice that first gear is quite short; you have to upshift sooner than usual. This should be useful in off-road situations.

Even if jungles and river crossings are not your idea of a typical weekend, the Jimny is still useful as a city transport. Its high ground clearance removes the worry of your bumpers grazing parking curbs, or of scraping anything underneath. No need to slow down on uneven ramps. Its small size also makes it a cinch to maneuver in cramped metro situations.

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On the road, the 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine is eager to go. It may have ‘only’ 100hp and 130Nm, but remember that this is a vehicle weighing half of what most midsize SUVs weigh. Given its boxy shape, it doesn’t slice into the wind—it fights it. As a result, if feels faster than it goes; 80kph feels like a hundred. Nevertheless, I will use the word ‘fun’ again, because that’s what it is. The effect of all the joy I expressed through my right foot on the accelerator is an average of 6.3km/L in city driving.

PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the Jimny is the joy it sparks in people. I just drove the BMW X7 in Europe last month, but what people are asking me about is this Suzuki—something that’s most likely just one-eighth the price of the Bimmer. A former officemate, a cousin, a former industry colleague—all messaged me asking about this cute-ute. People point, stare, and smile when they see it. Drivers of other SUVs give me a thumbs up when they drive alongside me; one was behind the wheel of a Jeep Wrangler, and the other was in a similar 2019 Jimny, but in white.

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I don’t remember being in such a position of adoration because of what I’m driving.

Do you need a small, dependable, go-anywhere SUV that’s easy and fun to drive? Get a Jimny. Do you need something bigger and roomier, but you still find yourself drawn to the Jimny’s looks? Get two.

The Jimny may not be for everyone, but it’s near impossible to find someone who isn’t drawn to it. What those who eventually get one will discover is that it’s everything they expect, with a dollop of charm.

Suzuki Jimny

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PHOTO: Mark Jesalva
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