SUZUKI JIMNY JLX MT

Pound-for-pound champ

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suzuki-jimny0120161129These days, when you mention “SUV” to a Filipino car buyer, the image of a curvaceous midsize vehicle immediately comes to mind. That’s because it’s one of the hottest segments in our local car market right now. Chevrolet Trailblazer, Ford Everest, Isuzu Mu-X, Mitsubishi Montero Sport, Toyota Fortuner—there certainly is no shortage of this vehicle type for varying tastes and requirements.

And for those who want an SUV but also prefer meager dimensions either for budget or parking reasons, you have subcompact crossovers to choose from: Chevrolet Trax, Ford EcoSport, Honda HR-V (or BR-V), Mazda CX-3, Mitsubishi ASX, Nissan Juke.

But for this second group of SUV buyers, I wholeheartedly suggest an underrated, often-overlooked model—one that plays the “sport-utility vehicle” role in the truest sense of the term (as opposed to just looking the part like most of its rivals). I’m talking about the diminutive, boxy and absolutely kick-ass Suzuki Jimny.

The long-in-the-tooth third-generation Jimny was launched globally in 1998, making it 18 years old now. It has only periodically undergone cosmetic makeovers and minor mechanical tweaking. If you’re the early-adopter type who likes consuming the newest technology available on the market, look elsewhere. But if you’re the old-soul type who appreciates stuff from the past, I have a feeling you’ll love the Jimny. Think of it as a mini Land Rover Defender, that iconic SUV that was only recently retired after many decades of existence.

Count me among the latter. It was love at first sight when I laid eyes on the Jimny’s boxy styling nearly two decades ago. The Jimny possesses macho styling, with no pretensions whatsoever. And I just adore it. It’s a breath of fresh air in a sea of sexy soft-roaders. To me, this is the perfect car if you like Seiko diver’s watches and Spyderco knives and Jason Bourne movies. It’s a man’s ride, period.

Nevertheless, this three-door SUV is small. It’s a mere 3,645mm long, 600mm shorter than the already undersized EcoSport. Suzuki placed its four wheels almost at the corners, barely leaving room for some front and rear overhangs. The result is a fairly stable, tiny car. It’s a joy to handle and maneuver even in cramped parking spaces.

Because the Jimny is a no-frills, no-bullshit SUV, it’s equipped with only the most basic of accessories you will need when you drive to the boondocks, like a pair of fog lamps, a pair of roof rails, and a tow hitch. The rear now sports a full-face tire cover (replacing the previous disc-like thing).

Inside, there are many signs of the Jimny’s spartan (or ’90s) nature: fabric seats, flimsy plastic all around (particularly on the steering wheel), two-gauge analog instrument cluster, no-Bluetooth audio head unit, toy-like map light. But it’s okay. The economical interior perfectly matches the exterior design, and it makes you feel like you’re MacGyver.

Ingress and egress may be a bit challenging for the rear passengers. The Jimny is a four-seater with only two doors for the cabin. Definitely not a family vehicle. But if you’re single and always on the go, this little SUV will serve you faithfully until you quit on it (I imagine it doesn’t know how to quit on its owner).

The Jimny is powered by a 1.3-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine rated at 81hp (5,500rpm) and 110Nm (4,500rpm). Funny, that’s the engine displacement of my subcompact hatchback, which also produces about the same output (at least on paper). The more I think about it, the more I realize the Jimny is really just a first-gen Honda Jazz on stilts. The amazing thing here is that the pocket motor does a good job of pulling the Suzuki, especially up inclines. The Jimny isn’t called “mountain goat” for nothing.

Speaking of inclines, the Jimny has convenient push buttons for 4WD operation, which should be a delight during the occasional off-road excursion. Yes, in this age of cute front-wheel-driven crossovers, here’s a 4×4 runabout that will not refuse whatever terrain type you throw at it.

The Jimny is available with a four-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed stick shift. My demo unit had the manual shifter, featuring a knob that sat on a semi-tall stick. It was a pleasure to hold and operate. I highly recommend that you get this over the automatic.

I have a couple of niggles, though.

First is the nonfunctional hood scoop (the engine is naturally aspirated). But then it could come in handy once you decided to turbocharge the rather paltry engine.

Second is that the Jimny’s austere constitution extends to its safety features—or rather the lack of them. Perhaps to help keep the pricing down, the list of safety equipment is limited: no airbags and no ABS. So try not to roll over this baby.

The Jimny is available in five colors: white, silver metallic, gray, bluish black pearl and khaki pearl metallic. Go for the silver. It’s the best on this palette; the others look somewhat dull.

But the Jimny’s best selling point is the pricing. There are two variants available, the base JX (manual only) and the higher-end JLX (manual or automatic). Our JLX MT unit is priced at just P790,000. The JX MT goes for P738,000, while the JLX AT is pegged at P845,000. Whatever variant you pick, it’s a lot of car for your money.

If, like me, you cringe at the oversupply of pretentious crossover SUVs that are more form than substance, go check out the Jimny. A true SUV minus the bulky dimensions and the hefty price tag.

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