Small but mighty off-road kei-car has us jealous in Tokyo
The 2020 Land Rover Defender has already debuted. The 2021 Ford Bronco is coming soon, and we cannot wait, as you can tell. Ford has yet to reveal any official details on its upcoming off-road SUV, but numerous leaks and patent filings give us some idea what’s in store.
Expectations are astronomical for both vehicles, but our quick visit to the Tokyo Motor Show reminded us how simple it all could be if we just look to what’s available in other lands. The Suzuki Jimny isn’t new this year, it launched in Japan in the summer of 2018, but it’s refreshing to see it in the metal and in the context of the Defender and the coming Ford Bronco.
Suzuki’s compact is available in two sizes—the standard Jimny and export-friendly, global market Jimny Sierra, as shown in highlighter yellow. Both share the same 88.6-inch wheelbase, but the standard Jimny is considerably more compact, measuring 133.7 inches long by 58.1 inches wide by 67.9 inches tall. Depending on configuration, the export version Sierra is up to 10.0 inches longer, up to 6.7 inches wider, and a skosh (0.3-inch) taller.
To put the Jimny’s size in perspective, Renegade, the smallest Jeep available in the U.S., is 166.6 inches long, 74.2 inches wide, and 66.5 inches tall with a 101.2-inch wheelbase. The two-door Land Rover Defender 90 is 180.4 inches long with the spare wheel mounted (171.8 without) and has a wheelbase of 101.9 inches. It’s also considerably taller (77.5 inches) and wider (82.9), but also has a six-passenger configuration (front bench seat yo), compared to the Jimny four-seat configuration.
Why is the Jimny so little? Because the standard model is sold as a kei-car in Japan, which means it must conform to limits on size, seating (a maximum of four), engine displacement (660 cc), and horsepower (64 hp max). This explains why the JDM Jimny comes with a 0.658-liter turbocharged inline-three-cylinder engine making 63 U.S. horsepower and 70 lb-ft of torque. For export markets, the larger Jimny Sierra is powered by a 1.5-liter I-4 that makes around 100 horsepower and 95 lb-ft.
Sound like Jeep CJ2 and Land Rover Series 2 kind of numbers? Yep—the Jimny is as old-school as it gets—from its body-on-frame chassis to the solid front and rear axles. A five-speed manual comes standard, but there is an optional four-speed automatic; both are connected to an honest-to-goodness, lever-engaged AWD system with low range.
If you’re looking for the latest in high tech, look elsewhere; Jimny does not care about your Android Auto or Apple CarPlay needs. While it has a fancy touchscreen infotainment system, the base stereo has two door-mounted speakersâone for each of your ears. Should you need more, you can double down on the highest trim, which adds two more for the rear passengers, along with standard A/C and cruise control. Power windows and door locks are standard across the range.
Others may not find such basic equipment appealing, but we do and so do our friends. We texted the shots you see here, including those of the undercarriage, to a couple of 4×4 experts, and got thumbs up across the board.
“Very nice, solid axles, front radius arm suspension very similar to 80-series Land Cruisers or older Range Rovers. I bet that’s a fun little 4×4,” said Fred Williams, host of Dirt Every Day.
“What’s not to love about a brand-new old-school micro 4×4 with a pair of live axles, flexy coil springs, and crazy deep gearing? Totally easy to modify in your driveway—probably could do all the wrenching in an average-sized bathroom,” said truck expert Mark Williams (no relation to Fred).
Is the Jimny perfect? No. Most problematic is its safety rating. In Euro NCAP testing, the Jimny only managed 3 out of 5 stars, with only an “adequate” rating for adult occupants. There has also been criticism about its highway ride comfort—understandable for such a short wheelbase, live-axle-equipped off-roader.
Safety and ride quality issues aside, chances are beyond slim that we’ll ever see a new Jimny sold in America as Suzuki stopped selling cars in the U.S. in late 2012. Still, we can dream—mainly that Ford’s Bronco product planners have taken a hard look at lil’ Jimny.