QOTD: Planning Your Great Escape?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

If you haven’t noticed, disillusionment is spreading rapidly through the population, and it’s afflicting young people the most. It’s based around a particular inequality in America that people in overseas countries can’t quite fathom. To them, it’s hard to believe Far Western governments would deny their citizens such a freedom.

We’re talking about the Suzuki Jimny, of course — a wee little Japanese body-on-frame, live-axle, two-door utility vehicle that’s just now entering its fourth generation. It debuted in 1970. A week’s perusal of social media posts tells me a subset of youngins don’t want glitzy show cars and promises of autonomous driving and touchscreens as wide as a sumo wrestler’s midriff. They want a small, basic, considerably inexpensive utility vehicle with respectable ruggedness and capability, but they can’t have it.

No. Fair.

We’re not getting the Jimny here, and it’s foolish to think a car company that threw in the towel earlier this decade would attempt to place its foot back in the door.

Now, it’s quite possible that, even if the plucky, Defender-on-a-budget Jimny was available here, the groundswell of desire for this vehicle would prove an illusion — a phenomena confined to the auto journo bubble, not unlike the tired “brown manual wagon” trope. Thing is, I feel it, too. And unlike overpriced Eurowagon shooting brakes that tempt car lovers with style and precision and snobby Continental refinement, the Jimny, if priced right, might just satisfy a larger group of buyers than we realized.

The fourth-gen Jimny adds refinements its bare-bones predecessors lacked, but keeps its utilitarian, go-anywhere DNA. Without those solid axles, ladder frame, and two-speed transfer case, it would cease being authentic. Beneath its hood, at least in export markets, lies a 1.5-liter inline-four making a very modest 100 hp and 95 lb-ft, enough to push around a vehicle weighing roughly as much as an early 80s K-car. A five-speed manual sings its siren song to lustful putrists on the far side of the Pacific, but you can hand over shifting duties to a slushbox if you wish.

It all sounds great — not unlike a Japanese Lada Niva. Still, maybe we’ve grown too soft, too used to independent suspensions and four doors and acres of room and a digital assistant to boss around in an attempt to retain a few shreds of our dying masculinity. Too used to wanting — and getting — a vehicle large enough to feel invincible behind the wheel. The days of the American-market Suzuki Samurai, which was itself just a second-gen Jimny, are long past.

It’s too bad I have to suffer the torture of watching a third-gen Jimny, shod with diplomat plates, driving around my neighborhood. I’ve tailed it just out of curiosity and longing. Guess the fellow behind the wheel either made use of Canada’s 15-year import rule or received an exemption through his work visa.

So, if not the Jimny… what else? Subcompact crossovers offer four doors and limited room and so-so power for a price usually starting below $20k, but just barely. And you won’t get four-wheel motivation for that base MSRP. Is there room at the bottom for something completely different?

Would you be interested in a Jimny, and, if so, what’s the price ceiling you wouldn’t go above? Bonus question: If the Jimny’s not your bag, what minimalist small SUV, real or imagined, would you like to see in its place?

[Images: Suzuki UK]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

More by Steph Willems

Join the conversation
2 of 52 comments
  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Oct 04, 2018

    Whenever I see a fully loaded 4 seat ATV towed behind a Lightning I think, why not just rehab a an old Samurai and save 15 grand? Or better yet , off road in the Lightning.I'm not an off roader , but I think I'd prefer something that treads lightly, and runs cheaply. I think I may need to re-watch the Top Gear jungle expedition.

  • Vehic1 Vehic1 on Oct 04, 2018

    ScarecrowRepair: Who needs thet ther GubMint Nanny States 'n All? Who needs dag-gone Food Safety, Workplace Safety, Child Safety? - ah laks th' Free Morket, so Let 'er Rip, yawl! Mah 5-yar-old kin work at a 2,4-D bottlin' plant, make me some extry beer $ - an' life is great! Privit Corparashuns luv us - they wouldn't do nuthin' wrong, er hurt us'n jist to save a buck!

  • Wjtinfwb Funny. When EV's were bursting onto the scene; Tesla's, Volt's, Leaf's pure EV was all the rage and Hybrids were derided because they still used a gas engine to make them, ahem; usable. Even Volt's were later derided when it was revealed that the Volt's gas engine was actually connected to the wheels, not just a generator. Now, Hybrids are warmly welcomed into the Electric fraternity by virtue of being "electrified". If a change in definition is what it takes, I'm all for it. Hybrid's make so much sense in most American's usage patterns and if needed you can drive one cross-country essentially non-stop. Glad to see Hybrid's getting the love.
  • 3-On-The-Tree We also had a 1973 IH Scout that we rebuilt the engine in and it had dual glass packs, real loud. I miss those days.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Jeff thanks. Back in 1990 we had a 1964 Dodge D100 with a slant six with a 3 on the tree. I taught myself how to drive a standard in that truck. It was my one of many journeys into Mopar land. Had a 1973 Plymouth duster with a slant six and a 1974 Dodge Dart Custom with 318 V8. Great cars and easy to work on.
  • Akear What is GM good at?You led Mary............................................What a disgrace!
  • Randy in rocklin I have a 87 bot new with 200k miles and 3 head gasket jobs and bot another 87 turbo 5 speed with 70k miles and new head gaskets. They cost around 4k to do these days.