Suzuki Jimny 98 on 1.3 VVT SZ4 3d road test

  • One of the smallest and cheapest 4x4s around
  • Capable off-road, but lacks refinement on-road
  • Fun but ultimately feels dated and compromised

Road test first published October 2013

The titchy Suzuki Jimny is the smallest new 4x4 money can buy and with a starting price below £12,000 it’s also one of the least expensive. Although its cutesy styling might suggest it’s a car designed for the city rather than for tackling serious terrain, it’s actually a very capable car off road.

As a used buy, it offers incredible off-road ability for the money. Prices start from less than £1,000, but we'd recommend budgeting at least £2,000 and shopping around for a cared-for example.

Find a used Suzuki Jimny for sale on Parkers here

In 2013 the Jimny was been given a mild refresh with a new front bumper, bonnet and grille design along with some new interior fabrics and ISOFIX child seat mountings for the rear seats. There are two trim grades available, SZ3 and SZ4, and here we’ve tested the higher-spec SZ4 priced at £12,900.

Over the SZ3, the SZ4’s standard equipment list includes air-conditioning, alloy wheels, rear privacy glass and artificial leather seats with embroidered ‘Jimny’ logos. The seats look smart and help to lift the interior which is otherwise pretty drab and utilitarian. The plastics on the dashboards and door inners are fairly awful to look at and touch although they are at least practical in that they appear hard-wearing and easy to clean.

Given that the Jimny has been around since 1998 and it’s designed to be capable rather than luxurious, it’s possible to forgive the interior’s shortcomings  – although it’s a shame the frustratingly tinny-sounding stereo isn’t more effective.

Suzuki Jimny dash

The high driving position gives the driver an excellent view of the road ahead. It’s worth pointing out that the indicator stalk is positioned on the right hand side in the Jimny, so if you’re used to more conventional cars you may spend a decent proportion of your first journey in the Jimny cursing as you repeatedly operate the windscreen wipers at junctions.

All Jimnys are powered by a 1.3-litre petrol engine with 84bhp and 81Nm of pulling power. The SZ4 is available with a four-speed automatic transmission, but our test car featured the standard five-speed manual gearbox. Average fuel consumption is nearly 40mpg with CO2 emissions of 162g/km, placing the car in band G for road tax.

On the road, refinement isn’t a word you’d readily associate with the Jimny. The gearlever wobbles about, it’s not the quietest car to make progress in and over bumpy roads the ride can get extremely bouncy. The steering feels alarmingly vague at higher speeds and the car squirms around on its tall tyres when cornering. The Jimny’s top speed is 87mph but it would take a brave driver to get near it.

It is fun, though. The Jimny has its own charm and can be an entertaining car to pilot over short distances. Most drivers’ patience would probably wear thin over a longer journey, however.

Suzuki Jimny rear

Off-road use is the car’s real forte. The ‘Drive Select’ system means the driver can switch between two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive and low-range four-wheel drive via buttons on the dashboard. There’s no need to pull over to do so as the Jimny can switch between two- and four-wheel drive at speeds of up to 62mph provided the car is travelling in a straight line.

With an overall length of just over 3.6 metres, space for rear passengers is fairly limited and it’s probably best to think of the Jimny as a two-seater with space for luggage. A new sliding headrest design has been added for the 2013 model year, and they can be raised and lowered easily to become flush with the seat. Just remind your rear passengers to lower them again when they climb out, otherwise you’ll struggle to see out of the rear window.

Ultimately, the Suzuki Jimny is a difficult car to recommend for buyers other than those who live in areas with frequent adverse driving conditions or who enjoy light off-roading as a hobby. However, it’s a likeable car and if you’re happy to live with its flaws, it has plenty of character.

Also consider:

Fiat Panda 4x4

The Panda isn’t quite as short or as narrow as the Jimny but it’s not too far off. It’s not as accomplished off-road, but is a much better bet for on-road use. The petrol TwinAir is around £1000 more expensive than the Jimny SZ4.

Suzuki SX4

Buyers needing more space and looking to spend more time on-road than off- could stay within the Suzuki stable and consider the SX4, a five-door hatchback available with four-wheel drive. 4X4 versions are almost £3,000 more than the Jimny SZ4, though.

Skoda Yeti

The Yeti is more of an estate that can do a bit of off-roading if you really want it to than an outright mud-machine. But it’s extremely practical and a popular buy. The base 1.2 E model has a much higher list price than the Jimny, but deals are possible to bring it down to a similar level. 4x4 versions are more expensive, however.