First Drive: Suzuki Jimny

SMALL, sturdy and capable 4x4s have been a cornerstone of Suzuki's output for many years. As such, they have generated a loyal following around the world, with the Jimny its most recent example.

Be it a holiday rental for use on rugged terrain or a trendy alternative to an urban runabout, the Jimny appeals to a broad user base. Updating such a popular car can be problematic: do you radically change things and risk alienating loyal owners or do you take a more conservative approach to maintain customer loyalty?

It doesn't take a genius to work out what direction Suzuki has taken with its latest range of Jimny updates, which results in the car looking a lot like its predecessor. The changes, albeit minimal, centre on the car's appearance, with its solid mechanical base remaining unchanged. As such, the Suzuki faithful can breathe a big sigh of relief.

Cosmetic tweaks to the car's nose and tail have resulted in a subtle but noticeable improvement to its appearance. With its squared-off profile and bluff nose it will always be a car from a different era, but that's also largely why it's such a characterful car. And remember, its narrow, upright stance is also functional - can you imagine threading a wider car through some of the country's narrow country lanes without incurring any damage?

The subtle cosmetic changes continue inside the Jimny’s cabin, with the SZ3 grade cars gaining new seat fabric and all cars receiving redesigned headrests and the now obligatory rear Isofix child seat mounting points.

Despite Suzuki tweaking the Jimny’s aesthetic elements the firm has left the car’s mechanical bits alone, which is testament to the car’s underlying abilities. In basic form the revised Jimny remains a rare go-anywhere tool that delivers on its maker’s promise. With a four-wheel drive system complete with hardcore low ratio transmission, the little Jimny is capable of tackling some seriously big obstacles.

Power still comes from Suzuki’s enthusiastic 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol motor, and while 85 horsepower might not sound like much, the Jimny’s small footprint and the engine’s flat torque curve combine to make light work of even the harshest of conditions. Switching between transmission modes and the high-low ratios of the gearbox is as easy as pressing a button, and if you don’t like changing gear yourself Suzuki will even sell you a Jimny with an auto gearbox.

As a highly mobile small or second car, the Jimny can make a lot of sense. It's boxy shape not only gives it a kind of old-world charm, but also makes it a breeze to park and manoeuvre, whether between two mighty oaks in the woods or two mighty lorries parked along a high street.

Granted, the 1.3-litre engine needs to be worked hard to make serious progress. It is, after all, only a small capacity engine. However, it’s willing enough and more refined than you might first think, allowing you to make good progress off road and still hold a conversation without having to shout when you’re back on Tarmac.

And being a small car, the Jimny is a great tool for low speed duties. Around town its compact size, great visibility and raised driving position make it adept at scything through traffic, while it deflects poorly surfaced roads with the same enthusiasm as it dispatches rocks and ruts on an off-road trail.

Sticking with the small theme, the Jimny’s cabin is an object lesson in space utilization. There’s enough room up front for two adults, while the compact rear seats are really only for children. Behind them is a modest load space accessed by the Jimny’s side-opening tailgate. With the seats in place there’s just enough room for a small bag quota; drop them and there’s potential to carry larger items – although bikes and other hefty outdoor kit will need to be roof-bound.

Suzuki’s modest nip and tuck refresh for its long-standing Jimny does enough to keep the little rock-hopper fresh without diluting its trademark look. The firm has done well to resist the temptation to radically change the key elements of the car, and its performance out in the wild easily demonstrates the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ ethos of car design.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Model: Suzuki Jimny SZ4, from £12,900.Engine: 1.3-litre petrol unit developing 85bhp.Transmission: 5-speed manual transmission as standard, driving all four wheels.Performance: Maximum speed 87mph, 0-62mph 14.1 seconds.Economy: 39.6mpg.CO2 Rating: 162g/km.

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