By on September 12, 2012

The absolute nadir (Nader?) of Suzuki in America was when Consumer Reports announced to the world that OMG, tall and narrow off-roaders do roll over. The fallout of this scandal would taint the image of the Suzuki Samurai forever in the American market, and ensured that the later, ironically more stable, Suzuki Jimny, never made it across the pond.

It’s a crying shame, because the Jimny is the Mazda Miata of the off-road world.

Launched in 1998, the Jimny is a more modern version of the old Samurai, with coil-sprung live-axles, a stronger ladder frame and a more powerful 1.3 liter engine. This 2012 variant differs very little from the original “wide-body “ Jimny, the main difference being push-button transfer case controls on the dashboard and a slightly less  rural selection of interior plastics.

The looks are timeless. The distinctive grille is two bars short of a Jeep copyright lawsuit, and the only nod to modernity up front is the black eyeliner around the reflector headlamps. The recent facelift also features a front bumper cribbed from the Cayenne Turbo. Otherwise, the Jimny’s square-jawed but cutesy looks give it the kind of charm that makes college girls go ahh.

As such, it’s not a car that would appeal to the typical SUV buyer. While there’s enough space inside for Shaquille O’Neal, he’d have to stick an arm out one window and a leg out the other and make everyone else take the bus. The rear seats are about as comfortable as a Geo Metro’s, and to fold them flat, you have to remove the rear squab entirely. ISOFIX LATCH? Keep dreaming. Trunk space is about deep enough for a large suitcase, stood on end, or a really big one with the seats down.

The Jimny I’m driving right now is a basic widebody model. As such, it lacks airbags, power-windows, painted body-cladding and alloy wheels. I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a generic Japanese 1DIN stereo last seen on a 1995 Civic. There are no front cup holders. They’re behind the hand brake. I suppose this is to keep flailing arms from spilling hot coffee all over the cabin when you’re rolling over. Important if you’re driving for Consumer Reports.

So it’s not traditional SUV fodder, but for those who actually need one that goes anywhere, few come close to the Jimny. The omnipresent whine from the chain-driven transfer case is a reminder that this car is built for one purpose. To go where man only has walked before. Vacuum-locking hubs and competent low-range gearing allow you to climb steep inclines with ease. The Jimny’s light 2,250 pound curb weight lets it glide over ground that bigger off-roaders sink into. There are no paths too narrow for the Jimny, and obstacles that would rip out a Hummer’s fancy front wishbones are easily skirted.

On off-road trails around Asia and Europe, the Samurai and Jimny are as ubiquitous as ratty Civics at an autocross. Sure, there are more powerful, more capable and more desirable rigs, but none as cheap and cheerful. The Jimny is so popular that there are even aftermarket kits to turn it into a tube-frame rig.

Of course, the Jimny does have its downsides. The steering and gearbox are rubbery, but so’s your mom, so quit complaining. More seriously, losses through the transfer case and the heavy drivetrain limit fuel economy to around 30 mpg on the highway. The disc-and-drum brakes are nothing to write home about and the skinny 205/70R15 tires are vulnerable to de-beading when deflated for hardcore rock-crawling. The jiggly ride is particularly disconcerting. Twin live-axles give the Jimny better articulation than a professional pole-dancer but make the ride lumpier than her motel room mattress. There’s a front anti-roll bar to steady the handling and prevent tip-over, but I’d sacrifice it for even more articulation, safety be damned.

None of this really matters, though. On-road or off, the Jimny is down and dirty fun. I’ve driven cars with five times the power and perhaps ten times the comfort, but very few with half-as-much personality. Compared to the sterile and antiseptic calm of a Land Rover Discovery, the Jimny is a breath of fresh air. While Suzuki is planning to launch a new small crossover with a more modern unibody chassis and transverse engine for the global market, there are still no plans of retiring the Jimny.

Like the Jeep Wrangler or the Land Rover Defender, it’s just one of those cars that’s just too right to kill off.

The test unit used for this evaluation was provided on loan by Rolf of, who also provided off-road support on the test drive. This is the writer’s last drive for independent web publications, as he has moved on to one of Top Gear’s Asian web portals.

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32 Comments on “Review: 2012 Suzuki Jimny, Philippine Spec, Tested In The Philippines...”

  • avatar

    I love everything about this trucklet, and like the LC76 and Defenders it will NEVER make it to the US where SUVs are either useless crossovers or bloated whales.

  • avatar

    As it’s sold in the UK, I’d wager another hundred pounds of reinforcement woukd suffice to bring it up to US crash standards. But you’d never convince people it was safe.

    OMG, Bertel, I’m wounded… I wanted to use WTF. Of course, then I’d never get to read it out loud to my daughter at bedtime.

  • avatar

    What a fun little truck! It reminds me a lot of the cars I thought were cool when I was a teenager in the late 1990s! If I were a teenager again, with the resources I have today, I’d totally park this next to my CRX! :-)

    Alas, the lack of first-world kid-safety features mean that my wife (who is a CPST) would lecture me endlessly about what I should and should not do with such a vehicle. A conventional American CUV with LATCH and a bajillion airbags is in my driveway now, and a Japanese minivan is in my future. But, its good to know that cars I think are cool live on elsewhere in the world.

    This review, along with the review of the Dihatsu Terios (sp?) really help me to appreciate the differences in the world car markets. And now I totally want to visit the Philippines to go four-wheeling.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      “Alas, the lack of first-world kid-safety features mean that my wife (who is a CPST) would lecture me endlessly about what I should and should not do with such a vehicle.”

      One wonders how any of us survived the 1970s and 1980s. I rode around in a VW van for a significant portion of my pre-K childhood. That having been said, there weren’t any smartphones to distract drivers.

  • avatar

    While off-roading here is fun, thanks to a huge number of mountain trails, including one to the infamous Mount Pinatubo, the Mecca for off-roaders in Asia is at the grueling Malaysian Rainforest Challenge. Of course, it’s one that requires a dozen vaccinations and a psych exam to tackle, both before and after.

    The advantages we have here are the language and the community. The boys at 4×4 Philippines are always raring and ready to go on a trip, and are very welcoming of newcomers.

  • avatar

    love the foreign reviews, and yes, a great little trucklet. Back in the late 80’s when i was a kid one of the first cars I fell in love with was the old Samurai, in teal, of course, with white wheels and a white vinyl top. Developing countries still have lots of demand for inexpensive, robust, frugal off roaders, so the Jimny will indeed stick around for quite some time.

  • avatar

    I’d drive it. Would be fun with a small pair of mud terrains on it. Slap a big snorkel on it and a winch and you could go anywhere!

  • avatar

    Small, nimble, light, fun . . . . . . . and Consumer’s Reports would hate it. Just my idea of a desirable car.

    • 0 avatar

      this wouldnt pass ncap or euro 5

      be that as it may, there’s a steady supply of small 4wds on the 2nd hand market.. think Wranglers and Suzuki Vitaras/Geo Trackers that fit the bill for small 4wds from another era that you can actually use on the Rubicon

      these days you wouldn’t really risk a $30k+ new Wrangler or something like that but a sub $5k 10yr old+ 4wd? sure why not?

      • 0 avatar

        Round here, Sammies go for $3k and under. A new Jimny is around $17k, despite the horrid taxes. That’s less than what we pay for Yarii. Even better, some Sammy mods will fit with some finessing. Lockers, Frankenstein transfer cases, etcetera.

        And the AC is wonderful. Having a modern AC and a cabin smaller than a phone booth is a blessing very few people can appreciate.

      • 0 avatar

        The Jimny is Euro5 since 2011

  • avatar

    Can’t decide if calling my Mom rubbery is an insult or a compliment. She is quite spry for 78.

    • 0 avatar
      Mr Nosy

      My mom’s visiting me,so I asked her if she was “rubbery”,interrupting her viewing of a BBC America/Murder,She Wrote” marathon.She said “Whott??” My Mom is 78 too,except she’s not spry,she’s English.She came over to my dumbputer,squinted at the article for a minute,then sneered like Johnny Rotten & stuck her pinkie out crooked,before returning to the telly.

  • avatar

    That’s the most airbaggy-looking non-airbag steering wheel I’ve ever seen!

    Seriously though, I love this car. It’s so…i dunno, happy! A Miata on stilts, indeed.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    It’s an LJ50 for the modern era!

  • avatar

    These are a blast.Have a Crosswind and an Adventure. Will sell the Adventure to get this.

  • avatar
    Bill Wade

    I have one in Dominica. I can assure you it’s less than pleasant if it’s all you have. Fortunately I have a new crew cab diesel Ford Ranger. Two thumbs up for it. I’d love to bring it back to the States.

  • avatar

    Drove one while in Dominica. It doesn’t like potholes very much, or tight bends. Bur off-track, it was fantastic. That thing climbed goat tracks. The visibility is fantastic and the car totally rectangular with wheels at the corners, so you know where they are at all times. I wonder how the panda 4×4 compares to it.

  • avatar

    Throw dual airbags on it and I’ll be set. Don’t know how to drive a stick but if it were cheap enough, why not?

  • avatar
    Mr Nosy

    Its pretty nifty for a Tippy Turtle Mobile. If it was ever imported to the US,it would be a boon to spinal trauma rehab centers that cater to the X-Treme & Way Gnarly BMX demographic. Too bad Suzuki lacks the ambition of Hyundai,or even Ford(Specifically the Explorer, circa 1990’s.)to put in the efforts they did,after both of their meltdowns. I really do like their,style,size and that shade of grey they seem to use in most of their vehicles(Grey!The Now Neutral!),but I owned two in the 1990’s. The GT was a blast,the Esteem,uh,no comment.Both were manuals,yet both drive trains suffered failures,and near failures,to rival anything made in Europe in the 70’s.

    • 0 avatar

      I was about to blame it all on GM-Daewoo rebadges sold as Suzukis, but no… The Esteem was all Suzuki.

      Suzuki really is a weak manufacturer everywhere but Japan and India. This gives them a critical edge in e development of economical superminis for these tight times, but they’re in danger of the Korean dynamic duo eating them alive in the Indian market.

  • avatar

    The old Sidekicks are getting rare and good ones even rarer. They were semi-favorites for people to tow behind their big motorhomes because they were light, reasonably comfortable, agile and decent off road. The same motorhome drivers would love a replacement like this.

  • avatar
    The Dark One

    With my old Sidekick nearing 200k miles one of these would make a great replacement; provided it comes as a soft top.

  • avatar

    A friend here in Honduras has one, I’ve driven it, and I like it. The price here is about $20,000, and its also available with an automatic transmission. The price may seem high to those of you who live in the US, but taxes here are high for cars. Here a Honda Pilot costs $50k, a Toyota Prado $60k, and trucks like the VW Amarok, Mitsubishi L200, or the new Ford Ranger from $30 – $40k.

    Fuel economy is about 29 mpg in the city, and 35 mpg in the highway, if you drive at 60mph or less. IMO, weight does not affect fuel economy in this vehicle as much as the very short gearing and the terrible aerodymanics, so if you push it to more than 60mph fuel economy really suffers. Besides, the extremely short wheelbase and live axles give this car a very bouncy ride and a nasty tendency to unexpectedly skid, especially in wet or dirt roads. So driving at more than 60mph in this car is just plain stupid. This is what makes this car not good for US roads, but good for some Asian, African and Latin American markets.

    And, if you’re into real hardcore offroading, this is as close to an ATV as you can get in a stock car. There are tons of aftermarket mods to make it more offroad capable. Do a youtube seach on Suzuki Jimny offroad and see!

  • avatar

    I know this little beastie very well; we live in Metro Manila and own a 2006 Jimny. Ours is considerably nicer than the one you show; power windows, central locking, automatic trans, etc, etc. Better fabrics and plastics, too.

    The 1.3 is a very willing lump, and it’s zippier than you’d expect. The off-road capability is second to none; this thing will go places you’d never think you could drive to. Nice and reliable; ours has 130,000 kilometers on it and is still running great.

    However – this is not a comfy cruiser. “Bouncy” is an understatement; on bumpy / uneven roads it’s like riding in a cement mixer. On smooth superhighways, it’ll go faster than you’d dare to drive it. The handling is somewhat vague, and at speed it gets pretty darned scary. 65 MPH is WAY TOO FAST – it’s more than a handful at that speed.

    Here in the Philippines, it works well. It fits the narrow roads and is very competent at the much lower speed limits in force here. You don’t want one of these in the US, though – unless you’re going to tow it on a trailer to some off-road event.

    There is something, though, about driving up a steep, muddy carabou trail with the AC blowing and tunes on the stereo. If you need to get to someplace way back in the wayback, this is your vehicle.

  • avatar

    It’s surprising how cold that AC stays after a steep ascent, really. Given how small the engine is, you’d think the cooling system would be overworked by such hard use.

    Sorry about the interior. Since we were off-roading all day, figured it was too much trouble to remove the seat covers. Good thing. We got a little mud splatter come in through the window on some trails where we had the window open to sight the ruts.

  • avatar

    Guy I know out here runs an off-road modifications shop and has several old and worn stock 4x4s out in the yard in various states of decay and disrepair for use as donor-vehicles.. including a couple of Samurais.

    Considered buying one off him, then got inside and found I couldn’t reach the pedals.. No, I’m not that small, but rather too big. I sat in it and got comfortable, but between the pedals ending-up somewhere about mid-shin on me and the non-moveable steering-wheel making moving my legs near impossible I just couldn’t get anywhere with it.

  • avatar

    not sure if your overuse of metaphors and analogies convinced me to buy this or made me look for another option.

  • avatar

    i would love one of these. They are nippy and easy to get around even if very uncomfortable and handles like a pig at speed.

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