Trucks & SUVs

Could a Suzuki Jimny Off-Road SUV Actually Work in the US?

The Suzuki Jimny has been winning a lot of fans around the world. Although the only way we can get the small, light off-road SUV is by importing older models, the Jimny has garnered enough attention for Jeep to consider making a rival SUV. The Jimny’s already a baby Bronco rival, after all. But would bringing the Suzuki Jimny, or an off-road SUV like it, to the US actually be a good idea?

The Suzuki Jimny is kind of like a cheaper, more basic Jeep Wrangler

In terms of off-roading, the Suzuki Jimny is more capable than some might imagine. Carwow claims its approach, departure, and break-over angles are actually better than the Jeep Wrangler’s. Motor1’s Italian team spent a day driving both the Jimny and a new Mercedes G-Class on a specially-prepped off-road course, and the Suzuki held its own. It helps that, as Jalopnik reported, the Jimny is 2’ shorter than the Wrangler.

And in fact, the Suzuki Jimny vs. Jeep Wrangler comparison is rather apt. Like the Wrangler, the Jimny has solid axles, a body-on-frame design, and four-wheel drive with transfer case. The Jimny also has several Wrangler-like off-road features, like hill-descent and hill-holding control. Although the Jimny’s doors and roof aren’t removable, it shares the Wrangler’s boxy, old-school design. Not just on the outside, either.

2019 Suzuki Jimny interior
2019 Suzuki Jimny interior | Suzuki

The Jimny’s interior is rather basic, with hard plastics, but everything is designed for utility and long-term durability. Not sure if you could wash the Jimny’s interior down like the Wrangler’s, though. But Suzuki has made sure to keep the Jimny up-to-date: it’s got heated seats, for instance, along with navigation and Apple CarPlay.

Also, like the Wrangler, the Jimny captures people’s attention and fascination. Automotive YouTube team Smith and Sniff drove the Jimny on the highway and around town, and remarked the SUV felt “special.” Jonny Smith’s and Richard Porter’s feelings about the Jimny mirrored Throttle House’s enjoyment of the Jeep Wrangler. Smith even went out and bought one later.

Like with the Wrangler, these characteristics mean reviewers are able to look past some of the Jimny’s deficits. Mainly, the ones experienced at speed.

How does the Suzuki Jimny perform around town or on the highway?

The Jimny isn’t quick. Its biggest engine is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder, generating 101 hp and 96 lb-ft. And, although its 5-speed manual gearbox is fun to shift, the SUV is simply down on power. Even though it only weighs about 2900 pounds, the Suzuki Jimny doesn’t do highways well. Carwow managed a top speed of about 100 mph.

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Traveling on the highway also demonstrates other Jimny weaknesses. Again, like the Wrangler, the Suzuki’s boxy design means there’s quite a bit of wind noise. However, because the Jimny is lighter, high winds can be a problem. And, also like the Jeep, the Jimny’s solid axles do cause the SUV to wander a bit on pavement.

Around town, though, the Suzuki Jimny does gain back some ground. The SUV is narrow, with a fairly small turning radius. Its chassis and suspension also do a good job absorbing bumps, without causing an obscene amount of body roll in corners. The driver also sits fairly high for such a small car, and the seating position is comfortable and upright. Visibility front and back is also very good.

The Jimny can also be used as a towing vehicle. Autotrader reports that, with a braked trailer, the Suzuki SUV can tow up to 2866 pounds.

2019 Suzuki Jimny
2019 Suzuki Jimny | Suzuki

You might think, looking at the Suzuki, that crash safety would be the biggest hang-up to a US release. But that’s not entirely the case.

What’s holding a Jimny-type off-road SUV from the US market?

Although European and North American crash tests aren’t exactly the same, the Jimny actually did better than the Wrangler in European NCAP tests. The Suzuki earned 3 out of 5 stars, according to Top Gear. The Wrangler? 1 star. The Suzuki also has more standard safety features, like automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning, on the upscale trim level.

The biggest issues are most likely size, price, and power. Smith and Sniff noted that, while it is possible to fit 3 people with their luggage in the Jimny, if another got inside, bags would end up on laps. And while leg- and headroom are adequate, the trunk area is very small. The Jimny also only offers seating for 4, and it only comes with 2 doors.

To get the better infotainment system and safety features means purchasing the more expensive Jimny trim. In the UK, that works out to the equivalent of roughly $23,000. And while the Jimny’s design is obviously utilitarian and meant for long-term abuse, you can get a used Toyota 4Runner with a better interior for that money. A new 2-door Jeep Wrangler Sport is only about $5000 more. If the Suzuki Jimny or something like it is to compete in the US, it might need to be priced slightly cheaper.

Plus, while the Jimny’s small engine works for Europe and Asia, where towns and cities are fairly close and the streets narrow, US roadways are scaled differently. We spend more time on highways, and our streets are wide. The Jimny isn’t terribly slow, but a bigger engine wouldn’t hurt.

Still, if those issues are resolved, a Suzuki Jimny, or similar off-road SUV, could be a big hit.

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