Unlikely 4x4 battle: Can Suzuki's giant-slaying Jimny keep up with a Jeep Wrangler off-road?

Image: Warren Wilson
Image: Warren Wilson
Warren Wilson

In November 2018, Suzuki South Africa launched its all-new Jimny on local soil. It has been twenty years since a new Jimny has been launched and as such the hype around this little SUV was palpable.

Truth be told, South Africa’s motoring fraternity was excited for the Jimny’s arrival and it was amazing to see just what this new arrival could do.

According to Wheels24's Janine van der Post, after driving the Jimny at the launch, she now understands why it’s loved by so many: "It creeps into your heart without even noticing, but its off-roading feats make you want to go trail-driving and bundu-bashing, even if you have never done so before."

And therein lies the Jimny’s undeniable traits, in its off-road abilities. Though it isn't fitted with biggest engine nor the best-on-the-market off-road tyres, the package is just so awesome that you can’t help but fall in love with it.

To see just how the Jimny fairs against a rival from the 4x4 side of the market, we put it up against a modified Jeep Wrangler CRD Unlimited. Acting as the pace vehicle, the Wrangler simply had to lead and the Jimny follow.

The pace car 

The Wrangler is undoubtedly one of the world’s best 4x4s; when it comes to all things off-road its off-road prowess is unassailable, capable of tackling the most arduous of challenges with ease. It was only fitting, then, that we used a Wrangler to put the Jimny through its paces. 

Powered by a 2.8-litre diesel engine, the Wrangler makes due with 147kW and 460Nm of torque. That’s a decent amount of power available from a low 1600rpm. Dab the accelerator and the SUV surges forward.

The five-speed automatic gearbox is a bit ancient but you'll barely notice its shortcomings in tough situations. But this is not your ordinary Jeep Wrangler. The 4x4 has a higher ground clearance over the standard model’s 241mm, it has bigger wheels, and a suspension setup made for off-road adventures.

And, of course, that striking lime green paintwork and in-your-face design. This Jeep is not part of Jeep's regular media fleet, but is used by Jeep South Africa for off-road training.

The Jimny, on the other hand, is powered by a very small non-turbo 1.5-litre petrol engine, developing 75kW and 130Nm.

Its ground clearance lower at 210mm and its four-speed automatic gearbox is not something to write home about. But before the pitchforks are jabbed in my direction since these two vehicles are not direct rivals, let’s just be clear about the fact that we know they’re not competitors.

See, Suzuki adorned the Jimny with this mantra that it’s a 4x4 giant killer/slayer. I look at it as a 'David' in a sea of Goliaths, in that it must be able to do what bigger, more expensive and more capable 4x4s can do at a fraction of the price. It’s no easy task but over the last forty years the Jimny has proven that it will not back down.

Up and over

To put the Jimny to the ultimate test, we ventured to an off-road course just outside Cape Town’s CBD. First the Wrangler tackled the course and made absolute light work of the terrain. The manner in which it scaled the inclines, how the suspension adapted to the various surfaces, and the ease with which the engine purred on was very encouraging.

It seemed as if whatever comes next the Wrangler could, will, and can handle it. The Jimny was next and had the course all to itself.

A sense of wanting this little SUV to succeed is every present, simply because this is a story of an underdog ready to take on heavy hitters of the 4x4 world. At the beginning of the course there was not much to deter the Jimny’s abilities. It continued on at a leisurely pace.

The track highlighted the small and manageable turning circle of this machine, as well as how easy it was to manoeuvre through the course.

The Jimny made light work off of slopes and negotiated some nasty dongas with relative ease. At the final obstacle, a steep incline, the little off-roader almost didn’t make it but finding the sweet spot between speed and momentum it overcame the hill. 

Summary

Though 2018 delivered new vehicles in spades, the Jimny is one of the stand-out products of the year. An honest vehicle that has no qualms about its mission in life. It’s a vehicle that has captured the hearts of many.

Against the leaders of the 4x4 segment the Jimny has shown to be a formidable contender. Perhaps not in terms of sales nor the amount of features it has at its disposal, but as a true off-roader. It will go anywhere, attempt anything, and win you over with its big-hearted nature. 

The Jeep Wrangler, regardless of the modifications, is one of the absolute best 4x4s money can buy, and yet so too is the Jimny.

Price: Suzuki Jimny 1.5 GLX AllGrip Auto - R319 900

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