2020 Suzuki Jimny Is an Adorable and Tiny Off-Road Box that We Can't Buy

Jens Meiners
Photo credit: Suzuki

From Car and Driver

While it's not a household name in the U.S., for 50 years the diminutive Suzuki Jimny has become a bit of an off-road legend. Suzuki hasn't sold cars in the United States since 2012, but before that retreat, the brand enjoyed some success with the Samurai and Sidekick SUVs. Despite the strong sales of those two little sport-utes, the even-smaller-than-the-Samurai Jimny never made it stateside. A new Jimny arrived in 2018 and the latest version of Suzuki's tiny SUV remains charmingly authentic as a wee off-road-capable box.

A simple and squared-off design makes it appear tougher than its predecessor, but the grille and round headlights borrow heavily from the first-gen Jimny. Like all the Jimnys before it, the new one is tiny. It's about as long and wide as a Fiat 500, but nearly as tall as a Ford Edge. Those proportions give it more space inside than you might expect of a vehicle with such a small footprint. There's a rear seat, but when it's in use the cargo hold is all but nonexistent. To access the cargo hold, the tailgate is hinged on the right, which is swell in Japan and other right-hand-drive countries, but it's not ideal elsewhere where the open door blocks the curb.

Photo credit: Suzuki

A high seating position gives occupants the illusion of driving a larger vehicle and yields a commanding view of the road. The interior is full of hard plastics and has a stark, minimalist design that suits the Jimny's back-to-basics nature and the fit and finish are good enough for a car in its price range. Our German-market test car cost the equivalent of $19,300 in Germany before taxes, a price that included air conditioning, heated seats, and LED headlights.

While the Jimny won't be mistaken for a luxury car, the seats are comfortable and all four corners of the Jimny are clearly visible, making it easy to place in off-road situations. Off-roading is why the Jimny exists, and the short 88.6-inch wheelbase makes it easy to maneuver off road. Underneath the body there's a full-length frame, live axles front and rear, and a two-speed low-range transfer case. Light-effort recirculating-ball steering dulls some of the kickback out of rough roads.

Photo credit: Suzuki

However, that old-school steering system is far less agreeable on road, where it feels vague and suffers from sloppy on-center feel. The suspension tuning does not encourage quick driving and the short-and-tall Jimny demands your full attention in higher-speed maneuvers. Chunky 15-inch all-season tires, sized 195/80R-15, are standard and work well off the pavement. But the front disc and rear drum brakes are not particular effective at arresting the Jimny's roughly 2450 pounds.

Power comes from a naturally aspirated 1.5-liter inline-four good for 101 horsepower and 96 lb-ft of torque. That modest output doesn't make for much grunt on the highway, but the engine is surprisingly quiet and smooth and short gearing gives it adequate punch around town. We estimate a lengthy zero-to-60-mph time near 12 seconds. Suzuki claims a 90-mph top speed for the manual, and 87 mph for the optional four-speed automatic. Our example featured a precise but slightly notchy five-speed manual transmission. At highway speeds, the Jimny's short gearing annoys. In fifth gear, the little four churns away at a raucous 4000 rpm at 80 mph. Driven hard, our observed fuel consumption came to a little more than 20 mpg.

Photo credit: Suzuki

Aside from used off-roaders, the Jimny really has no competition. It's not a vehicle that you'd pick for a long highway journey, but the package works well enough to pull off city duty. In Europe, demand for the latest Jimny has far exceeded its supply, although even stricter emissions and fuel-economy regulations could push it out of the market. If Suzuki does update the Jimny to meet future standards, we'd like to see the brand make a case for an American-market version, but the company's retreat from the U.S. market means that is incredibly unlikely. Still, we can hope.

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