Why I would buy it?
- Off-roading ability
- Manageable size
- Endearing looks
Why I would avoid it?
- Lacklustre engine
- Uninspiring on-road dynamics
- Only seats four
Powertrain and performance
The Jimny is only available with one engine option. And there’s no diesel on offer.
The engine is the 1.5-litre, four-cylinder naturally-aspirated petrol we have seen on Brezzas, Ciazes and Ertigas of yore. So, in a sense, it is a reliable and proven powertrain. It’s not the most powerful or exciting engine; it only makes around 105bhp of max power and 134Nm of peak torque.
There is no real grunt under 3,000rpm. And the moment you hit 4,000rpm, the engine takes on a loud, grainy, unrefined note. The Jimny feels best when driven at a sedate pace. It is best to stay between 80-90kmph in fifth gear on the highway for a relaxed drive. Beyond that, it proves to be taxing.
The engine can be had with two gearbox options - a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic. The manual has short throws, but the shifts - which aren’t crisp or enjoyable - require effort. But, if you like driving - on the road - the manual is the better option. The automatic makes the Jimny more of a noise machine every time you stamp on the throttle pedal instead of one designed to help it go quicker.
Again, if you take things slow and easy, the four-speed automatic is not so much of a bother. This also bodes well for off-road use. But, on the road, the auto is avoidable.
Ride and handling
It is the same story when it comes to on-road dynamics. If you take things easy, the Jimny doesn't feel out of sorts. Start pushing, however, and the SUV struggles.
The steering is slow courtesy of the archaic recirculating-ball type system, which makes turning into corners a chore. Plus, with its ladder-frame chassis and rigid three-link suspension all around designed for off-road use, the body control around corners is poor. The Jimny doesn't like quick direction changes either and its preferred response to enthusiastic steering inputs is understeer.
It has too much pedal travel too before the brakes jump into action.
Not surprisingly, the Jimny doesn’t have the response, turn-in ability, or body control showcased by some compact SUVs.
It rides well, nonetheless. One can still feel a hint of lumpiness typical of a body on a ladder set-up over small bumps, but it handles the bigger bumps and potholes with poise. It never throws or thumps you around.
And off the road, the Jimny is brilliant.
The ground clearance and suspension are well-judged for off-road work. The rear suspension can kick at times, but mostly the SUV goes over stuff without a bother. It never feels fragile or inadequate, and one rarely needs to slow down, if at all.
It has fantastic approach and departure angles. The throttle response from the NA engine is linear and predictable to help through the slow and technical sections. The brake locking differentials work, even with road-going tyres. And though it is petrol, we didn’t struggle with low-end torque while negotiating steep inclines. We did have to keep the rpm higher than usual, but nothing too demanding.
The only thing we struggled with off-road was the steering. It was quite a bit of work when making U-turns on tight trails. The heft of the steering and too many turns lock-to-lock made it tedious.
The Jimny isn't a big car, unlike say, the Mahindra Thar. It’s not butch-looking either. As a result, it doesn't command the same kind of road presence as the Thar or even some road-going SUVs like the Tata Nexon. Don't get us wrong - on its own, it looks endearing; desirable even. The boxy shape, the design hints from previous generation Jimnys, the tailgate-mounted spare wheel, the high ground clearance, and the no-frills but purposeful look do give that charming, retro SUV persona. But road presence is something it lacks.
Furthermore, the whole function-over-form philosophy Maruti has chosen for the Jimny leaves it feeling a bit cheap at places. The keyhole on the outside, the afterthought that is the proximity lock/unlock button, and the cost-effective but not-so-nice or handy door handles, make the Jimny seem like it's built to a cost. The fact that the doors lack heft and the door closing feels light and loose, doesn't help matters either.
Comfort, convenience and features
In this top-spec Alpha trim the Jimny gets a decent amount of kit. There’s a large touchscreen for the multimedia, a single-zone automatic climate control system, and the steering adjusts for rake. The latter also gets controls for audio and cruise control. On the safety end of things, it gets ESP and six airbags. The instrumentation of the Jimny is traditional with the driver information system only throwing up readouts for fuel efficiency in addition to the odo and trip readings.
The Jimny also comes with a complete deck of off-road hardware. It gets a low-range transfer case for serious offroading, in addition to hill descent, brake lock differentials, and tow hooks both front and back to help pull the SUV out if it gets stuck. Furthermore, being a high-riding SUV, it is easy to get in and out of.
The seats meanwhile are soft, but comfy and reasonably supportive. And being a narrow vehicle, everything is just at an arm’s length in the Jimny. So yes, it scores well on overall ergonomics too. It is not a car that will easily tire you, and that's good news for those looking at using it as a daily driver.
At the back, it can easily fit two mid-sized adults. And both will have decent shoulder room and good head and knee room. It doesn't feel as spacious though courtesy of the all-black interiors and small glass area all around, but the Jimny isn’t a cramped car for four people.
The boot space isn’t anything to write home about; it is good for more than just some carry-on luggage. But, it is significantly more usable and spacious than the Thar’s boot for reference.
Now, the Jimny’s cabin has its pluses, but it’s not without its shortcomings. The front door pockets, for instance, are useless. There aren’t enough storage spaces in the cabin to empty out your pockets. And there are only two cup holders between four occupants.
Additionally, the overall look and feel of materials need an upgrade given the Jimny's asking price. We understand that this Maruti’s interior will be subjected to more abuse than usual, but that is no reason not to give a nicer finished trim.
As an off-roader, the Jimny is fantastic. Its small size makes it easy to take on the unknown. Its naturally aspirated engine and linear throttle response help manage tricky sections with ease. The brake locking differential, the suspension, the overall visibility, and the well-executed approach and departure angles further help its cause to take on the rough. And having two additional doors and a reasonably sized boot is just icing on the cake.
But, the fact is, the majority of prospective Jimny owners will rarely subject their SUV to difficult off-roading. They might take on a dusty or gravelly trail often. And, a steep incline if they are feeling brave. But, mostly, the Jimny will live on the road. And on that front, it is a big compromise. A compromise which can be offset for some by its cuddly design and a tempting price tag. The former is already in place; the Jimny is adorable to look at. But, if Maruti is serious about making the Jimny a success, it might surprise us on the other count come the 7th of June.
Pictures by Kapil Angane