Reviewing the new Suzuki Jimny is such a balancing act that I might as well be typing on my laptop while walking a tightrope. And juggling.
The problem is, it’s really hard not to get completely blinded by my overwhelming lust for the vehicle. And yes, my all-consuming desire for a Jimny really does outshine how I feel after driving some sort of high-horsepower, other-worldly sports or supercar. Because, unlike any of those cars, I could feasibly go out and buy one of these.
The Jimny starts at £15,499 for the most basic ‘SZ4’ model, and that’s the one you want, as this is supposed to be a simple car, and it looks brilliant on steel wheels. However you spec it, the Jimny looks like a mini Mercedes G-Class yet it costs a tenth of a G63.
It’s easy to get blinded by that and overlook the Jimny’s flaws - of which there are a fair few - but on the other hand, this is supposed to be a tough, utilitarian workhorse, so you can’t judge it as a normal road car either. Like I said; a balancing act.
It certainly works well away from the road. Suzuki has stuck with a robust ladder frame for the vehicle, and it still has rigid axles. There’s a selectable four-wheel drive system, engaged with a satisfyingly sturdy lever next to the gear stick. Approach and departure angles are better than that of the car it replaces - helped by the new boxy design - and when we tried it on a tough course at Stoneleigh Park in the English Midlands, it simply breezed through it while shrugging as if to say ‘meh’. The only downside of note is the new brake-based torque vectoring system, which makes quite a racket when doing its thing.
The interior is disarmingly simple and there isn’t much in the way of fancy trim you have to worry about caking in mud. There’s even exposed metal on the inside, which distracts nicely from the boot, which is so tiny it’s actually funny. It has a capacity of - please try not to laugh - 85 litres. You get three times that space in the rear luggage compartment of a Porsche 718 Cayman, which is fighting with an engine for room. You can at least fold the Jimny’s rear seats to open up 377 litres of space, at which point you’ll notice the back of the bench is clad in tough plastic. Handy.
The neat practical touches don’t end there. Many of the interior controls have been deliberately made big and chunky so you can operate them while wearing gloves. The roof has been kept as flat as possible to make clearing snow easier. The boxy body may give the Jimny retro charm, but it serves a more important purpose of giving better all-round visibility while making the ends of the car easier to perceive behind the wheel.
Even the ‘Kinetic Yellow’ colour option is on the menu for a reason - it’s “Designed to stand out in bad weather or when in use on rough ground worksites,” Suzuki says. Although I’d go for Chiffon Ivory, which I reckon should be renamed Desert Warfare Beige.
Inevitably, though, even Jimnys that are used for the intended working vehicle remit will have to head away from the muddy stuff from time to time. Luckily, on more solid ground and at greater speeds, the car actually fares better than I’d expected.
The ride is reasonably smooth, and that uncompromising ladder frame and solid axle combo doesn’t become too flustered when you hit some broken-up tarmac; something that can’t be said for the old Jimny. There’s also a steering damper, which does a good job of protecting you from the kind of kickback usually associated with a chassis like this.
Cornering requires you to remember exactly what the Jimny is for, as if you don’t and steam in a little too quick, it will roll and understeer with little provocation. And that’s fine. What’s not so great, however, is the new 1.5-litre naturally-aspirated engine.
Its 101bhp and 130lb ft power and torque outputs have no trouble biffing the 1135kg Suzuki along at an acceptable pace, but you really have to thrash it to make progress. And boy, does it make a meal out of it - at anything above 4000rpm this engine sounds and feels strained. It’ll rev, but it ain’t happy about it.
Then when you get to a motorway, you’ll find yourself sitting at about 3500rpm while on a 70mph cruise. The Jimny doesn’t have masses of sound-proofing, so this quickly becomes tiresome. As does the nagging feeling that this car scored a disappointing three stars out of five in its Euro NCAP test - it seems that the practicality-focused dashboard isn’t so kind to your knees in a crash.
It all comes down to what you need to use it for. People who’ve been using Jimnys for years, and even those wondering what the hell they’re going to replace their rusting Land Rover Defender 90s with will be well-served by its brilliant blend of practical thinking and mud-plugging mastery.
But what about those who - like me - are simply allured by the fantastically cute retro styling? They’ll find something that does just about work on the road while being noticeably less comfortable and refined than a multitude of ‘normal’ cars that are better everyday on-road companions. And in any case, with Jimny demand far outstripping supply, this will not be an easy vehicle to get hold of.
As for me, I’ve just come tumbling off that tightrope and onto the floor. Because despite all the sensible stuff I’ve just written, I still want to buy one and daily the hell out of it.