In a motoring landscape filled with super-serious products, this happy little off-roader offers some welcome relief.
The Suzuki Jimny has earned a cult following among the chic and rough-and-tumble crowds alike, because it manages to be both cute and rugged at the same time. The recent addition of two extra doors further broadens its appeal, thanks to vastly improved practicality and a smoother ride.
Very, very capable off-road
Lots of cabin space for something this small
Very fuel-efficient for its type
Well-equipped in terms of both comfort and safety features
More stable and comfortable than the 3-door
Sense of community with other Jimny drivers
We don’t like:
Cabin noise at speed and 4WD transfer case noise in town
Slow unless you drive it without any mercy
Nice infotainment system, pity about the speakers
Standard tyres on our test car aren’t much good off-road
Why a 5-door Jimny?
While it is indisputable that the 3-door Jimny is a brilliant little off-roader, it does have some notable shortcomings when put to use as an on-road vehicle, as many of them are. For one thing, there is negligible luggage space with the rear seats in use (only 85 litres), which effectively renders it a two-seater in any scenario other than a day trip to the trails.
Even a week’s shopping for two would fill up the diminutive cargo compartment to the brim, while carrying a two weekend bags and a backpack will necessitate folding down the rear seatbacks to fit everything. To answer the resulting public demand for a more-practical Jimny, Suzuki duly took the plunge and created the very first 5-door variant in this hertiage-laden model line, using the fourth (current) generation model as its starting point.
How does the extra length affect the Jimny’s off-road ability?
To create space for the extra doors, its wheelbase was stretched by 340 mm, but the front and rear overhangs remain identical to those of the shorty. This keeps the base Jimny’s excellent approach- and departure angles of 37 and 49 degrees, respectively, intact, while the break-over angle suffers only slightly with a drop from 28 to 24 degrees.
Other Jimny virtues also remain, because the 5-door is still a very compact vehicle (shorter than a Fronx), and no wider than its 3-door sibling. Its official kerb weight also increases by only 105 kg, thus largely retaining most of the shorty’s strongest suits - its light weight, compact size, and manoeuvrability.
Unfortunately, persistent inclement weather led to lots of mud on the trail on the days of our planned off-road excursions over the December holidays, so we decided not to stress the road-biased Bridgestone Dueller H/T tyres on our test car by subjecting them to such slippery conditions. Incidentally, swapping out the standard tyres for something more off-road-appropriate appears to be a common mod in Jimny circles, and the press images depict Jimnys (?Jimni?) with chunkier Dunlops.
The on-road differences are profound
Before we look at the practical implications of the 5-door Jimny’s added length, let’s first note some other detail differences involved in creating the 5-door model, which combine to provide much-improved on-road behaviour. The suspension has been re-calibrated slightly to handle the extra weight, which, combined with the longer wheelbase, returns handsome dividends in the areas of ride comfort and directional stability.
The improvement in ride quality is marked from the moment you first pull away, with speed bumps and road imperfections becoming far less intrusive than in the short version. Straight-line stability at freeway speeds is also dramatically superior, although crosswinds still exact their toll on the tall and slab-sided body (if less so now than before). It’s still not limo-smooth, mind you, because the 5-door retains an off-road-focused ladder-frame chassis and solid axles at both ends, which still send some road shocks through to the cabin and steering wheel.
Overall, the 5-door Jimny represents a worthwhile improvement in on-road driving dynamics and comfort over its smaller sibling, and this alone may be reason enough to consider one over the 3-door for general use, even if ultimate rock-crawling ability is slightly compromised.
It’s still not a restful long-distance companion
Powertrain options remain unchanged, regardless of the door count. Under the bonnet lives Suzuki’s corporate 1.5-litre non-turbo petrol engine with 75 kW and 130 Nm (at a lofty 4 000 r/min) on tap. A 4-speed automatic transmission is available, but this test vehicle was equipped with the standard 5-speed manual.
Those output figures suggest that the gearstick would need plenty of stirring to get up to (and maintain) speed, and the reality bears this out. While higher cruising speeds are possible, there is a sense that its happy place is around the 110 km/h mark, and any meaningful acceleration on the freeway will require a drop down to fourth or even third gear.
The gearshift quality itself is somewhat stiff and rubbery, but gear changes are easy enough and impart a pleasingly mechanical feel to the driving experience. Also imparting a mechanical feel but decidedly less pleasing are the noise levels, where short gear ratios keep the little engine spinning furiously to stay in its power band and the four-wheel drive system’s transfer case adds its own whine to the racket.
More sound insulation would certainly solve this, so owners definitely won’t regret having an aftermarket installer fit some extra sound deadening to the doors, roof, and floor. It’s unlikely that many Jimny owners would mind any of these matters, though, because they will have fallen for its many other charms.
Arriving in the midst of a summer heatwave, the air-con in our test car was blowing full-out most of the time; and undertaking a brisk journey from Pretoria to Jozi just before Christmas meant that the Jimny’s little engine had to work hard in the face of the mobile chicanes which littered the N1 around that time of year.
No particular care was taken to conserve fuel around town, either, and yet the trip computer resolutely stayed on the 8.1 litre/100 km mark. A refuel of its tiny (40-litre) fuel tank confirmed this impressive result, and points towards a very efficient engine, as neither that boxy body nor the short-legged gearing work in favour of fuel economy.
Well-equipped but workmanlike inside
Stepping into the cabin reveals fabric-covered seats and lots of hard, angular plastic. For all that, it is all beautifully screwed-together, so nothing rattles, and cute details like the faux cap screws on the well-placed grab handles and around the instrument cluster keep the Jimny’s interior from looking cheap.
In top-spec GLX trim as tested, the standard features list is quite impressive. Its equipment includes automatic climate control, automatic LED headlights, cruise control, a leather-wrapped tilt-adjustable steering wheel with cruise-, audio- and phone controls, electric windows all around, electric folding side mirrors, and a 9-inch colour infotainment display with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The latter’s talents are somewhat wasted on the pitiful 2 (!) speakers provided as standard, but this could presumably also be upgraded in the aftermarket.
Safety kit is also entirely up to spec in the Jimny GLX, with 6 airbags, ABS, stability control, rear ISOFIX child seat anchors, rear parking sensors, and a rear-view camera included as standard. Further off-road help is provided by hill descent control set at 5 km/h in low range, and hill-hold control.
Some of the Jimny’s charm can be attributed to its old-school feel. Modern SUVs generally insulate their occupants from the outside world, but the Jimny invites that world inside. While its ride quality is not at all jarring (i.e. smoother than the 3-door), bumps and thumps do still make themselves felt, even if they only serve as confirmation that you are, in fact, on the way somewhere, and getting there.
Another component of this old-school feel has to be the upright windscreen and comparatively shallow side glass. But, because the header rail is so far away from the driver’s head, and thanks to the elevated roofline, it all creates an impression of space that is quite at odds with the Jimny’s compact frame.
This impression is reinforced by the generous (for its size) rear legroom, even if the cabin is too narrow to safely seat three abreast on the rear seat. That narrowness also translates into restricted shoulder room, although the upright side glass mitigates this somewhat. The front seats are on the small side as well, but even a lanky driver won’t struggle to fit behind the wheel and remain reasonably comfortable over medium distances.
It’s very easy to get into the rear seats, thanks to generously sized door apertures, although the plastic door sill extensions look rather vulnerable (and have a “do not step” sign integrated into their mouldings).
Access to the 211-litre trunk (still small, but almost three times the size of the 3-door's) is also easy, thanks to a tall and wide tailgate, hinged on its right edge. And, while the 50/50 split rear seatbacks can fold down, they don't offer the flat load floor of the 3-door, instead presenting a huge step in the cargo area. The front seats can fold completely flat and line up with the rear seat to form lie-flat beds, so that's some compensation for the uneven cargo floor when the rear seats are down.
There are two downsides to this side-opening tailgate design, however: The heavy tailgate is contained by a gas strut which takes its sweet time to extend, although it does hold the tailgate securely open even against quite steep gradients, and the wide sweep of the rearmost door requires quite a bit of space to open fully.
There is no other way, though, because the Jimny’s spare wheel is mounted on the tailgate - there’s no space for it anywhere else! Owners would be well-advised to invest in a five-piece wheel nut lock set,by the way, because the alloy spare wheel is especially vulnerable to anyone with a tyre spanner and the standard alloy road wheels are of similarly attractive design.
Verdict: A Jimny is more than a car
A Jimny is a blank canvas for its owner to personalise - either from the comprehensive OEM accessories list, or from the vast array of aftermarket equipment out there.
But, most importantly, a Jimny is a way to make friends wherever you go. Fuel station attendants and grand ladies in Jo’burg North shopping centres alike smile when they see one, and Jimny drivers flash their headlights and wave when they encounter another on the road. If they meet in person, they share experiences and exchange phone numbers.
There’s also a healthy amount of owner involvement in various Jimny owner groups, which frequently undertake day trips to the trails and provide advice to newbies. Suzuki Auto South Africa is in on this action themselves, participating in events such as the record-breaking Jimny get-together in Clarens midway through 2023.
Now, thanks to its extra doors, the 5-door Jimny will bring this friendly appeal to an even wider audience. Seriously, if you want to meet people and make new friends, get a Jimny. Just be patient when a long-distance trip looms…
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