2019 Suzuki Jimny First Drive Review

Imagine a Mercedes G-Wagen hit with an incredible shrinking ray, and you’ll not be far short of the new fouth-generation Suzuki Jimny, last sold in North America in the mid-1990s as the Samurai. The resemblance is astonishing, but there’s enough of the Land Rover Defender, Toyota FJ, Honda Element and Jeep Wrangler in there, too, to keep Merc’s copyright lawyers sitting on their hands. Cute as a family of otters in your bath, the new Jimny’s proving the social-media hit of the fall, with online fan clubs starting, splintering and re-forming as they argue over which of the six new body colors is their favorite.

Yet Jimny’s no style pony. That lime green ‘Kinetic Yellow’ color might be the ultimate urban accessory, but it’s formulated to make this tiny utility stand out in bad weather and on building sites. And in a world of fragile multi-clutch-based all-wheel-drive crossovers, Jimny is the real deal: body-on-frame construction, coil-sprung solid axles with three-link location at the rear and a panhard rod at the front, and a transfer-box set of crawler gears. And with entry, exit and breakover angles and ground clearance to rival that of a mountain ibex; this is a proper all-terrain automobile, just at five-eighths scale.

It all started of course with Hope: the Japanese Hope Motor Company. Its OM360 was a 1960s Lilliputian take on the World War II Willys MB Jeep. Suzuki bought the design from Hope, and relaunched it with a new engine in 1970 as the first Jimny. Through three generations and 48 years, Jimny’s been called variously: SJ; LJ; Farm Worker; Samurai; Gypsy; and Sierra. It’s been rebadged as a Mazda and a Maruti, and has sold a total of 2.85 million across 194 countries, including at one time America, though the company pulled out of the U.S. car market in 2012.

The outgoing third-generation Jimny had lost its way with a bland, wind-cheating design. The new Jimny is back to basics. Shortened by 1.2 inches, it’s now 143.5 inches long, 64.8 inches wide, 67.9 inches high and runs on an 88.6-inch wheelbase. These bonsai dimensions are dictated by the Japanese Kei car, a size and taxation class aimed at tight urban spaces.