FIRST DRIVE: Suzuki Jimny is the lightweight SUV champ
NEVER before has Suzuki seen a queue this long.
More than 100 Queensland buyers have placed orders for the all-new Jimny. While it may look like another funky compact SUV, this square-edged machine goes where the faux four-wheel drives fear to tread.
Priced from $23,990 plus on-roads, add $2000 for an auto, the diminutive Suzi comes with big expectations.
Looking like a miniature version of Mercedes-Benz's famed G-Wagen - which has a price tag circa $250k - it's captured the attention of customers new and old.
"For the first time we have dealers signing sales orders on an unseen and unpriced product," Suzuki Queensland boss Stephen Craig said.
"We have not seen this level of pre-release potential sales activity since Swift.
"Over the first 12 months and maybe longer, our biggest challenge for Jimny will be one of having sufficient stock levels, rather than considering how we are going to sell them."
SUVs are white-hot around Australia but ability and pricing sets the Jimny apart.
Those who want to tackle serious off-roading have to opt for big guns like the Toyota LandCruiser, Isuzu MU-X or Nissan Patrol. All come with sizeable price tags.
The only truly capable small SUV is Jeep's Renegade Trailhawk, which starts from $40,290.
Only GLX versions are available for now but less-expensive GL derivatives are expected to arrive later this year.
Internal hard plastics are indicative of the price point but the Jimny uses a combination of utilitarian appeal and inspiration from other Suzuki models. There is the familiar seven-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, leather-wrapped steering wheel, aircon and a USB charging point.
Only four colours are available - white is the only one that doesn't attract a premium. Green costs an extra $500 for the metallic paint, while the two-tone yellow and black as well as the blue/black combination requires an extra investment of $1250.
Warranty coverage is five years if you maintain capped-price dealer servicing (three years if you opt out) but it has short intervals of six months or 10,000km. Suzuki says this helps maintain higher standards of reliability by dealing with any issues quickly rather than near industry-standard annual or 15,000km intervals.
ON THE ROAD
Within the boxy skin is a new 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that generates just 75kW and 130Nm. Yet the kerb weight remains just above one tonne, as well as the ladder frame architecture, both pivotal go-anywhere traits of its predecessors.
While the 210mm of space under the car doesn't sound massive, the 37-degree approach and 49-degree departure angles are brilliant for off-roading.
Most modern off-roaders have buttons or dials for changing into different drive modes, not the Jimny. It maintains an "old school" gear-shift-operated transfer case for changes between two-wheel-drive high, four high and four low.
There are no diff locks, Suzuki has instead opted for on-torque vectoring via the brakes to shunt power to the wheels with grip when the going gets really tough. Called "Limited Slip Drive", the functionality comes to the fore when wheels lift from the ground, enabling power to be pushed where you need it most.
On the bitumen, a tight turning circle means the Jimny will also be at home in urban surrounds. Power delivery is nothing spectacular, expect honest and linear acceleration rather than anything sports-car-like.
Measuring just 3645mm from front bumper to the spare wheel mounted on the side-hinged tailgate, it's the epitome of a compact SUV.
With the rear seats in use that means boot space is just 85 litres - about enough for three laptop bags. With the rear pew folded that expands to 377 litres.
That rear seat is sturdy and flat, which would make long journeys a challenge for those in the back, while there is only height adjustment of the steering wheel and no reach functionality. Electric window controls are centrally mounted rather than on the doors.
After-market manufacturers have already produced a range of accessories for an even tougher-looking Jimny. Suzuki Queensland decked out some variants with additional equipment, including one with colour-coded wheel arches and matching grille that cost an extra $6000 but looked like a mini Mercedes.
Another with dirt-crushing knobbly off-road tyres was menacing and by adding a lift kit it would go places the majority of modern SUVs could only dream about.
Australian crash testing analysis saw the Jimny gain three stars. While child and adult occupancy protection was at the higher end of the scale, it lost points for "issues in the frontal offset test including excessive deformation of the passenger compartment" and its lack of automated assistance technology and protection of pedestrians and cyclists.
The Jimny has come a long way since its launch (it only gained stability control four years ago) and it is armed with its own form of automatic emergency braking called dual-sensor brake support, which applies the anchors if a frontal collision is detected and the driver doesn't react quick enough.
Other features include a vibrating steering wheel warning if wandering from the designated lane above 60km/h, as well as audio beeps if the Jimny weaves within the lines to highlight drowsy or inattentive driving.
Rearing parking sensors are available but front radars are not on the optional extras list.
The Jimny is in a class of its own. Pay twice this much for some modern SUVs and it still wouldn't have anywhere near the capability. This is performance ahead of polish. The greatest challenge may well be getting one due to limited supply over the next year.
AT A GLANCE
SUZUKI JIMNY GLX
PRICE $23,990 (m), $25,990 (a) plus on roads (bargain)
WARRANTY/SERVICING 5yr w'ty 140,000km, services $2912 over 5 yrs (good)
ENGINE 1.5-litre 75kW/130Nm 4-cyl, 5sp man or 4sp auto (honest)
SAFETY 3 stars, six airbags, dual- sensor brake support, lane departure warning, hill descent control (OK)
THIRST 6.4 litres/ 100km (m), 6.9 (a) (solid)
SPARE Full-size (brilliant)
BOOT 59-377 litres (small)