Jimny Crickets: Suzuki Finally Readies Fourth Generation of Its Little Off-Roader

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Suzuki’s automotive division may have retreated from the American landscape, but it left a lasting impression. While not overabundant in goodness, it did have a few bright spots and the Jimny was one of them. Of course, not everyone will recognize the name. But they’ll know the vehicle, even if they don’t realize it.

While the Jimny and Vitara (also known as the Escudo) have grown apart in more recent years, there was a time when the duo was responsible a multitude of incredibly small off-road vehicles sold in North America. You know them as the Suzuki Sidekick, Suzuki Samurai, Chevrolet/Geo Tracker, and Pontiac Sunrunner (if you’re Canadian). They’ve had other names in other parts of the world but, regardless of where they were sold, the models were usually the cheapest way to hurl a small vehicle at some rocks.

This remained true for the Jimny, even as the Vitara evolved into a crossover and distanced itself from the wild modifications of dirt-obsessed enthusiast. Unfortunately, that left the Jimny stuck in its third generation since 1998. That’s twenty years of the same car, but Suzuki says the new model is just about ready.

Globally, the Jimny has the kind of loyalty one might see here for the Jeep Wrangler — and you remember how important it was that FCA appease its fan base. Suzuki is in a very similar situation. It has even gone so far as to developed the fourth generation using the feedback of existing Jimny owners as a blueprint. Their overwhelming concern seems to be that the car might follow the Vitara/Escudo into pursuing friendlier road manners at the expense of its off-road capabilities.

Suzuki said that on-road performance will be improved but noted it understood the Jimny’s biggest selling point was its ability to scuttle over nasty terrain as efficiently as possible. The model’s identity as a scrappy off-roader will be carefully preserved.

Since the little SUV hasn’t had its official debut (due later this year), the preamble details are limited. We do know that the 2019 Suzuki Jimny will come perched atop a ladder frame with solid axles and part-time 4WD with a low range transfer gear.

The model could still attempt to sideswipe the mainstream consumer market with new creature comforts, but we kind of doubt it. Cruise control will probably be the pinnacle of standardized tech and we doubt the options list will advance too far beyond a push-button starter. If you’re shelling out extra cash on a Jimny, it’ll probably be for a roof rack, raised suspension, or nastier tires — and that’s fine. The Vitara already has the mainstream market pretty well covered, and Suzuki has mentioned things like designing the Jimny’s interior to make sure all the important functions can be used while a driver is wearing gloves (something we wish touchscreen obsessed manufacturers would at least consider).

Still, Suzuki is considering larger, more highway worthy, engines for the model’s European launch. Japan probably won’t even get a full liter of displacement with the base model (looks like 660cc) but the rest of the world could see the 1.5-liter or even a forced induction mill. It won’t make it a powerhouse, but the idea is enough to have some of us wishing General Motors would renew its partnership with the brand and build a few of them here.

Would they sell? The cynical part of me says no but my heart says yes. The number of times I’ve heard someone who’s passively interested in cars say they wished manufacturers built a modestly sized, basic vehicle that can do everything is staggering. There is no company in the world better suited for that task than Suzuki. But saying you want something and actually buying it are two different things. We also don’t know how the Jimny would have to change in order to meet U.S. regulations.

My fandom is probably peeking through at this point. Watching the 1996 Suzuki Escudo Pikes Peak hill climb solidified my love of motorsport forever. During college, I replaced my Harley Davidson with a Suzuki without regrets. I kind of like Suzuki and, while they built some of the most boring and bland cars ever sold on any continent, they also produced some real gems — scrappy little underdogs that were so beloved by a small subset of the populace that they managed to stick around far longer than seemed reasonable.

The fourth generation of the Jimny could be one of those and, if so, wouldn’t it be nice to see it parked next to a well-maintained Geo in your quirkiest neighbor’s driveway?

[Images: Suzuki]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • NG5 NG5 on Jun 19, 2018

    I'd love one of these. Don't care how slow it is. A small, simple, capable 4x4!

    • Big Al from Oz Big Al from Oz on Jun 19, 2018

      NG5, We have these little Suzukis in Australia and they are good off road, very good in fact. On the highway is a different story. I think 75mph is flat chat. But for around town they are okay, if a little uncomfortable.

  • Lightspeed Lightspeed on Jun 19, 2018

    I thought the Jimny was what we called the Samurai, not the Sidekick. This far more resembles the Samurai to me. In fact, I think Suzuki could return to NA successfully on this one vehicle. No dealer network needed, just sell them through Cabelas or some such outdoorsy place.

    • Big Al from Oz Big Al from Oz on Jun 20, 2018

      Lightspeed, In Australia they have been called the Sierra. GMH's version was called the Drover, but they have been long gone.

  • RobbyG $100k+...for a Jeep. Are they selling these in fantasy land?Twin turbo inline 6 paired to an 8-speed transmission. Yet still only gets 14mpg.Whatever money you think you would save over a V-8 will be spent 2-3x amount fixing these things when they blow up.
  • Alan Well the manufacturers are catching up with stocks. This means shortages of parts is reducing. Stocks are building around the world even Australia and last year had the most vehicles ever sold here.
  • Larry You neglected to mention that the 2024 Atlas has a US Government 5-Star Safety Rating.
  • Alan Why is it that Toyota and Nissan beat their large SUVs (Patrol/300 Series) with an ugly stick and say they are upmarket? Whilst they are beating the vehicles with an ugly stick they reduce the off road ability rather than improve it.As I've stated in previous comments you are far better off waiting for the Patrol to arrive than buy an overpriced vehicle.
  • Alan How many people do you see with a 4x4 running mud tyres? How many people do you see with a 4x4 running massive rims and low profile tyres? How many people have oversize mirrors for towing once in a blue moon? How many 4x4s do you see lifted? How many people care what tyres they run to save fuel? The most comfortable tyres are more or less the most economical.
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