Meet the Jolly Jimny
During the summer of 2019, I got to drive one of my automotive heroes. It wasn’t a Porsche 911 (that was 2016), or a Ferrari 288 GTO (that hasn’t happened). No, 2019 was the year I got to drive a Suzuki Jimny.
If you’re an American wondering what I’m talking about, that’s understandable. We in the United States tend to get left out when it comes to some of the more desirable offerings from Europe and Asia, and the Jimny is no exception (though we did receive some badge-engineered variants). Imagine the Jeep Wrangler as a character in a Pixar film–that’s basically it. The Jimny has enjoyed decades of success abroad as an affordable, reliable, capable car for those who encounter rougher terrain. During a trip to Iceland, I jumped on the opportunity to meet this little bundle of automotive joy first-hand.
While the Jimny can get you just about anywhere, you better pack light. The tiny back seat had to be folded down to accommodate carry-on luggage for two, but the front never felt cramped. The dash was what we’ll call uncluttered. No infotainment, no touch screen, just a radio and a few knobs for climate control. The windshield washer reservoir was filled with watered-down dish soap, but that worked fine. Who am I to judge?
Manual transmission shift actions have been compared to everything from rifle bolts to canoe paddles in yogurt. The Jimny’s felt like a broomstick, broken and duct-taped together, jammed into a bucket of gravel. The clutch made me wonder if my legs had gotten shorter on the plane. The steering technically worked, but the ball joints had passed from this world years ago. The brakes were satisfactory.
The Good Part
You might see that first impressions could be underwhelming, depending on the level of luxury to which one is accustomed. In the rugged Icelandic countryside, though, the Jimny made perfect sense.
Other off-roaders use powerful engines, electronic steering, sophisticated all-wheel drive systems, and adaptive suspension; but they also need those things to make up for the fact that they are incredibly heavy. The Jimny gets by with rudimentary, analog components because it’s small enough to avoid most obstacles, and light enough to bounce over the rest. The naturally aspirated 1.3-liter engine in the example I drove also gave decent fuel economy. Low gearing limited top speed, but it also meant crawling across rocky terrain was about as easy as letting out the clutch and idling along. Four-wheel drive was almost unnecessary, but extremely capable the few times I used it. It’s nice to know that cars can still be affordable without being cheap.
After a few days on the road, I noticed some developing trends. When my wife and I asked locals for sightseeing recommendations and directions, they all responded the same way–by asking what we were driving.
“Oh, Jimny!” One cashier said, looking for a nearby waterfall on our map. “Very good car. Very good Jimny. You can take that road.”
The Icelandic people we met were extremely competent, self-sufficient, and straightforward. Their choice in cars reflected this, and they always seemed to greet the Jimny with an approving nod.
I found our mutual faith in old-school four-wheel drive and light weight was justified. On many occasions, I watched tourists in Land Rovers and Dacia Dusters execute timid multi-point turns to sheepishly abandon climbs up mountain switchbacks. Meanwhile, the Jimny shuffled happily along like a seasoned pack mule, wondering why the show ponies had turned back early.
A Friend to All
If you live or travel outside the U.S., the Jimny has my strongest endorsement. If not, the Suzuki Samurai serves as a worthy stand-in. In fact, the Samurai is a better off-roader and is supported by a community of owners in the U.S. who can lend a helping hand with parts and expertise. There is also the import option, for more adventurous types who want to take advantage of the 25-year exemption.
The Jimny is just an honest, jolly travel companion. It will happily chauffeur you down country roads, through streams, over mountains, and across rock fields without a single complaint. You’ll ding the paint, crack the windshield, and neither you nor the rental agent will mind.
I wish manufacturers made more cars like this.
Scott is a lover of motorized fun, whether on four wheels or two. A child of the 90’s, he has a particular soft spot for hatchbacks and believes all aging cars deserve a second chance at life. Scott works as a freelance marketer for Dingo Productions in Fort Worth, Texas. If he’s not behind a camera or a computer, he’s probably chasing down new coffee shops with his wife or throwing a frisbee for his dog.
The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.