An SUV market it might well be, but the definition of a sports utility vehicle is somewhat fuzzy in India. In most car markets around the world, an SUV essentially denotes a four-wheel drive vehicle with genuine off-roading capabilities. India stands out as a market where the bulk of vehicles sold as SUVs are two-wheel drive vehicles, with the design parameters such as an upright driving stance and beefy road presence far outweighing the off-road credentials of these vehicles.
Given that context, the new 5-door Suzuki Jimny is a rather refreshing addition to the country’s growing SUV headcount, given its credentials as an extremely capable off-roader. This is despite the extended wheelbase of the new 5-door version of the car that has been built specially for India, a vehicle that promises to double up as a daily urban commuter with as much ease as its positioning as a niche off-roader.
Not having a torquey diesel, a turbocharged engine or hybrid powertrain assist is not really a limitation here. For a car with a boxy shape, sub-compact dimensions and a focus on bare-boned functionality that has endured four generations of vehicles spanning half a century, the Suzuki Jimny can end up punching way above its bantamweight category to give pedigreed off-roaders a run for their money. The company claims that the mileage for the Jimny would be between 16.39kmpl (auto) to 16.94kmpl (manual).
Its lineage as a body-on-frame 4×4 SUV built for off-roading continues in the new 5-door spec developed for India, a full three years after the original 3-door version was unveiled at the 2020 edition of the Delhi Auto Expo. While the 3-door version is currently manufactured by Suzuki in India, it is only for the export market. The more practical, 5-door version continues to be based on the rugged steel ladder frame chassis of its smaller cousin, with its new stiffer construction supporting rigid front and rear axles with separate differentials, but with an extended wheelbase to accommodate the added length of the car.
First released by the Hamamatsu-based Japanese ‘kei’ car specialist in 1970, the Jimny has sold nearly 3 million units in over 190 countries, and continues to rake in sales volumes across markets with its current fourth-generation model.
The off-roader, equipped with Suzuki’s AllGrip 4-wheel-drive tech, may be barebone basic, but combines the engineered mechanics of the sub-compact off-roader’s chassis with the practicality of an daily-use urban car, with the result that it’s equally trusted by speedcar pros rallying in the Dakar rally as it is by deliverymen ferrying cargo in London’s tightest alleyways or Japan Post workers delivering mail on the snow-clad twisties of Hokkaido’s northernmost prefectures.
India has had a tryst with the longer wheelbase version of the second generation Jimny, which Maruti Suzuki called the Gypsy here. In terms of dimensions, the 5-door version of the Jimny measures 3,985mm in length (including the tail-mounted spare tyre), longer by about 300mm to enhance rear passenger space and to accommodate the rear doors. At 1,645mm, the Jimny is, however, narrower than most hatchbacks sold in the country and with a 1,720mm height, does not exactly have an imposing stance.
But when it comes to off-road capabilities, the Jimny is in its element. A lot of the functional aspects of the car are purpose built for offroading, including solid front and rear axles, tail lights positioned low down on the rear unpainted bumper, and even headlamp washers on the top-spec Alpha variant, useful while negotiating mucky terrain.
The 210mm ground clearance of the 5-door version, with a 36-degree approach and 47-degree departure angles, exactly similar to the 3-door version, makes it negotiate more off-road tracks with relative ease. Since the 5-door version has a longer wheelbase, its ramp breakover angle is marginally lower at 24 degrees than its 3-door kin (28 degrees), but more than enough to negotiate a 70-degree gravel-laden downhill slide with ease. Suzuki’s AllGrip Pro hardware – a four-wheel drive system with a low-range gear – is accompanied by electronics like hill-start assist, hill-descent control, ESP and electronic braking differential (both front and rear).
Under the hood is the older Suzuki K15B 1.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine that makes 105 hp and 134 Nm of torque (with an automatic engine stop-start feature), and not the new K15C DualJet engine that Maruti has now introduced in the other cars such as the new Brezza and the Grand Vitara. The drivetrain is mated to a five-speed manual and a four-speed torque converter automatic gearbox (again an older auto unit).
The SUV may not have a direct competitor in India, but it will face off with the bigger Mahindra Thar (which is gearing up with a 5-door version) and the Force Gurkha utility vehicles. The new 5-door version has decidedly upgraded the Jimny from being a recreational off-road option into a practical, family car that can go off-road as well.
But there are some issues: the ride quality is a bit stiff as the ladder-on-frame construction does offer some limitations on comfort (unlike the monocoque design of most other SUVs in the market); and the lack of bells and whistles that are pretty much standard on other vehicles in the price range that the Jimny is positioned in could put some people off.
The engine performance is slightly tepid at lower revs, the manual gearbox is somewhat clunky and shifting needs a firm shove to slot it into gates, the clutch feels a tad heavy, and the inside space is not exactly generous, especially at the rear.
But these shortcomings notwithstanding, the car manages to hit the sweet spot, both in terms of the perfect power-to-weight ratio (1200 kgs against the Mahindra Thar 3-door version’s 1800kgs), and the perfect dimensions for being manoeuvred on off-road trails – not too long or wide, and not too heavy given the power train on offer. Makes it extremely nimble. The quirky looks add to the unquestionable charm of the vehicle and at an expected price of Rs 11 lakh-15 lakh (official price announcement is expected June 2), the new Suzuki Jimny does make a compelling proposition.