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Suzuki Jimny 1.5 SZ5

In the days preceding the delivery of our test Jimny, a number of questions were floating around my head.

The baby off-roader has been widely revered by the British motoring press since its relaunch, and even won the 2019 World Urban Car of the Year. I have long heard similar adoration for the previous generation, but as with any hype train, it begs the question: has the new Jimny been viewed through rose-tinted spectacles based on past glory, or is the new generation really that good? If it turns out to be great off-road, does that balance out any frailties it may suffer on the road?

Parked on the street outside my house with those beady headlights, swollen arches, and ground clearance that is surprising even for an off-roader, I can immediately see the appeal. The proportions are bonkers: the new Jimny is shorter end-to-end than a Vauxhall Adam yet with a higher roofline than a Honda CR-V. It sticks out like a sore thumb in normal traffic, but I quite like it.

In the flesh it justifies comparisons to a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon that has been tumble dried for too long. There’s a definite hint of Defender there as well. Or is it a Jeep Wrangler? Either way, it certainly looks the business.

There is an undeniable utilitarian feel, with a grab handle for the front passenger, and thick window switches that are hidden under the centre console. I assume this is to prevent stray elbows from accidentally knocking the buttons during a light skirmish. It also meant that I found myself flush-faced trying to lower the window at a car park barrier, flailing wildly for switches that would usually be found on the arm rest.

The centre console holds all the tech you would expect from a top-trim model in 2019, and the infotainment system seems to have been lifted from the Swift Sport. This is no bad thing; the switchgear is pleasing to the touch, not too plasticy, and the digital screen hosts navigation and Bluetooth connectivity. I feel it necessary to highlight that the car key is a complete cop out; it could well open a motorised garage door or start up a ride-on lawnmower.

Our test model had the five-speed manual. There is a four-speed automatic available for those that hate themselves. The manual is crying out for a sixth gear to cruise at motorway speed without perforating any eardrums, however. I love the rubber gaitor around the gear stick, which is almost a carbon copy of a Land Rover Defender.

You’ll find the gearbox a bit of a physical workout, as the engine is reasonably gutless. The performance is perfectly manageable, but I found that the accelerator pedal mostly just made the engine louder. I actually quite like the accompanying gearbox whine; it reminds me of an old Mini.

On-road comfort is adequate, but fairly irrelevant given that only a half-wit would purchase the Jimny as a motorway workhorse. The door card invades your personal airspace, jutting out slightly into your thigh; I found myself sitting slightly off-centre. Those chunky tires also seem to hug grooves in the road and can make fast A-roads a little squirrely. An honourable mention goes to the turning circle, which is mightily impressive and a nod to how compact the car is.

There is an off-road course not far from me. There are numerous routes that include anything from bumpy gravel tracks to raking inclines carved out of a steep chalk valley. The Jimny suddenly makes sense.

It rips across loose stone tracks with ease, and that 1.5-litre petrol engine suddenly becomes urgent and snappy. The Jimny feels nimble all of a sudden, like a faithful old hound that has rediscovered its agility after being let off the leash. Conscious that this is not my car, I traversed one of the moderate off-road sections, but still hit angles that frankly made me question my decision.

I winced a few times expecting to hear the sound of the sump being scraped open, but that ground clearance is mightily impressive. There was also no lack of urgency to pull clear of ruts that would otherwise spell disaster. The traction is astonishing. This was one of the few times I have driven off road, and reminded me of navigating the tough sections of a quadbike track as a kid. The Jimny quashed my initial skepticism about its seemingly universal praise, which is normally an indicator for something that is overrated.

It also shows that some still buy cars with their hearts, not their head. Running the Jimny as a daily driver could become tedious after a while, and would not make complete sense if most of your driving is on tarmac. I’m not sure I could live with the lack of power, to be honest, but others might. I can see this being a different kind of weekend beast to a sports car; rather than hooning down country lanes and tearing up A-roads, owners of the Jimny would be well advised to spend a few hours at even the most amateur of off-road courses. A complete novice such as myself managed to traverse a course that had genuinely intimidated me beforehand.

The new Jimny ranges from £15,499 for the base SZ4 model, and £17,999 for the SZ5 we tested. That seems very moderately priced, but I can’t shake one last nagging question in the back of my mind: is that still too expensive for what it is... Is it the motoring equivalent of Smart Water?

The reincarnated Suzuki Jimny is very good indeed—handing back the (horrible) keys was hard, and I found myself looking for a palatable finance deal at one point—but if its forte is off-road, then maybe a used weekend toy would make more sense.