1998-2018 Suzuki Jimny Buyers Guide
The Suzuki Jimny is big news right now thanks to the launch of an all-new model, but for those who want a slightly more affordable pint-size 4×4 there are plenty of used examples on the market. Here’s what you need to know when looking for a used Jimny…
While the Jimny nameplate wasn’t introduced to Australia until 1998, the vehicle can trace its lineage all the way back to Suzuki’s first 4×4 called the LJ10.
The LJ10 first saw the light of day in 1970 and it was powered (if that’s the right term!) by a small air-cooled 359cc two-cylinder two-stroke engine and had a very basic body atop a separate chassis, with live-axle leaf spring suspension front and rear and a part-time 4×4 system with a two-speed transfer case. Two years later this model was replaced by the slightly more powerful water-cooled LJ20, which in turn was replaced by the LJ50 in 1975, equipped with a larger capacity 540cc three-cylinder two-stroke engine.
Australia was an important export market for Suzuki and the LJ50 proved very successful here. This model was replaced by the LJ80 in 1976, which scored a 797cc four-cylinder four-stroke engine.
The second-generation landed in Australia in 1981 as the Suzuki Sierra, although it was called Jimny in some markets, as was the previous LJ80. The Sierra had a larger 970cc version of the LJ80’s F-series engine, although this was referred to as an SJ40 model. Over the next few years a number of models were offered including short-wheelbase soft-top, hard-top and high-roof hardtop variants, and long-wheelbase soft-top, ute and cab-chassis variants, all still with a separate chassis and live-axle leaf spring suspension. Holden even sold a version of the Sierra called the Drover, identified by its unique badges and rectangular headlights.
By 1984 the Sierra was powered by a 1.3-litre G-series engine with five-speed manual gearbox. A version of this specification was introduced to the US market as the Samurai. Further evolution of this model continued, from SJ50 to SJ70, with changes to the engine, track width, interior and minor exterior styling updates. Greater changes came in 1996, with the SJ80, which was equipped with coil springs resulting in improved on-road ride and handling.
When the third-generation hit the market in 1998 it came with an all-new look, as well as the introduction of the Jimny nameplate to Australia, but it retained many of the features that made its predecessor so effective off-road, including its small overall dimensions, its light weight, its separate chassis, live-axles and coil springs, and a two-speed transfer case. But most components were new.
“The Jimny was a continuation of ideas introduced with the coil-sprung Sierra except it was a much better vehicle,” explains self-confessed Suzuki tragic and owner of Piranha Off Road Products Alan Johnson. “The coil-sprung Sierra had an eight-valve 1300 carby engine but the Jimny came out with a 16-valve EFI version, although still in a 1300cc capacity, as it remained until the launch of the just-released 1.5-litre model.
“Although the coil-sprung Sierra was a precursor to the Jimny, there’s very little that interchanges between the two vehicles. Everything is different… the body, the suspension, the control arms, the engine, the gearbox…”
The early Jimny was powered by a 1298cc four-cylinder SOHC four-stroke EFI engine that made a claimed 59kW of power and 104Nm of torque. “That was what they called a G series engine,” says Alan. “It was an EFI engine, which was very good, and it came with a five-speed gearbox and a separate transfer box. The transfer box was a chain driven one, like the coil-spring Sierra’s, which was a change from the gear-driven boxes of the previous leaf sprung Sierras. What that means is aftermarket options for lower gearing ratios is greatly reduced, as neither of these versions with chain-driven cases were available in the USA.”
“But the original G series engine was absolutely bulletproof,” says Alan. “It was introduced in 1985 and you can still buy a new one today in the Suzuki APV short-bonneted van. They were fantastic. Age and neglect are the biggest problems – the gearbox was a five-speed manual and there were also a few automatics, but these were quite rare.”
Despite the engine’s modest output, the Jimny mustered enough performance to keep up with traffic around town, and it would also happily cruise on the highway at 100km/h. The short-wheelbase would result in a bit of a choppy ride on crook road surfaces but the steering was responsive and the handling impressive.
Of course, the Jimny is small, and as such there’s not a lot of interior space, so if you have a family of five, this diminutive four-seater is not for you. If, however, there are only two of you, and you want a small runabout for weekends away, you can fit a reasonable amount of gear in the back with the rear-seats folded.
The Jimny received a significant upgrade in 2000 with the introduction of a new 1328cc engine and the availability of a soft-top variant. The new engine made a claimed 60kW of power and 110Nm of torque.
“They went from the G series engine to the M series engine, which was the DOHC engine,” explains Alan. “The other big change was the gearboxes, and this is where a problem lies…”
Alan says the four-speed automatic is quite a sophisticated and refined gearbox, but that it can be very expensive to repair if worn or damaged, because the aftermarket makes virtually no parts for it, or for the later five-speed manual ’box. If you buy a later-model Jimny with a slipping auto transmission, you can expect a repair bill in excess of $5k, so those after an auto should seriously consider the earlier models over the post-2000 models.
“Most people would think a newer one is better than an older one, which would be a logical thing to say, but the reality is the early models that run an Aisin automatic gearbox, or a five-speed Suzuki manual gearbox, both of these are relatively easy to fix. But if you go to the later model, there are no aftermarket bits available,” he says.
The soft-top variant didn’t prove very popular and it was deleted from the line-up by the end of 2002.
The Jimny received another upgrade in 2005 with the introduction Variable Valve Timing (VVT) to the M series engine, pushing peak outputs to a claimed 62.5kW and 110Nm. This upgrade also saw the traditional lever-shift for the two-speed transfer case replaced with a push-button set-up, as well as some exterior and interior styling updates. Additionally, ABS was included in the safety specification towards the end of this period.
Alan says that later-model transfer cases are not equipped with neutral, which can be problematic for those who wish to tow a Jimny behind a motorhome. “What that means is if you have an automatic, you cannot flat-tow it behind your motorhome without dropping out the rear prop-shaft or putting it up on to a trailer,” he says. “Whereas the early model ones with the stick [transfer case], many of them have neutral in the transfer box. If it’s a manual, of course, it doesn’t matter, because you can just put it into neutral.”
A familiar nameplate was reintroduced in 2008 and when the Jimny was badged ‘Jimny Sierra’.
In 2012 the Jimny scored a non-functional (for Australian-delivered cars) bonnet scoop among other styling changes, and accessories such as bull bars and snorkels are harder to source for these later facelifted models.
In 2014 the Jimny was equipped with electronic traction control (TC) and electronic stability control (ESC), along with some styling changes both inside and out. The rest of the mechanical package remained unchanged.
There’s no doubt the TC endows the Jimny with better off-road capability than ever and that ESC makes it feel more secure when driving on the road. If you can’t stump up the $24k+ for an all-new Jimny, or endure the approximate 10-month wait for delivery, then 2014-2018 variants are a good substitute.
Alan advises to still be careful with later-model Jimnys, as the auto transmissions could be problematic down the track, but he adds: “They are generally too young to have any problems at this stage. User error can be a factor here, with inexperienced owners having a crack at light-duty four-wheel driving, moderately steep fire trails and the like, and forgetting to switch into low range. This can shorten the life of an auto dramatically.”
Anything you should look out for?
“Many people say the Jimny is a little buzz box and it won’t last, but that is an utterly wrong statement,” says Alan. “Jimnys have massive longevity providing they’re maintained and not abused.”
As with any new vehicle, the lower the mileage the better condition you could expect the vehicle to be in, but this is not always the case. “The first thing you’ve got to look at is how the car is being used,” says Alan. “If it’s basically a daily driver that’s cruising up and down the highway in fifth gear, it’s not being worn out when doing big kilometres. But when it’s being driven around a paddock or used as a weekend warrior, those kilometres will be much harder on the car.
“A Jimny used as a toy with 200,000km could be completely worn out whereas one that’s been driven on the road, with 300,000km on it, could be good – it depends on how it’s been maintained and how it’s been driven.”
Alan says both the G series and M series engines are very reliable and should not cause problems even with high mileage. “Those little engines typically don’t use any water, they typically don’t use any oil, and they’re a really nice tight little engine, all of them,” he says. “It’s pretty hard to pick up during a pre-purchase inspection, but if you find an engine that’s using oil or water, be really careful about buying that car.”
As for the Jimny’s body, there are seldom issues other than wear and tear commensurate with age and usage, but always look for signs of corrosion and/or rust repairs. “If the car’s got rust in it, you’re basically knackered, because getting a roadworthy, even though it’s got a full separate chassis, these days the roadworthy guys just don’t like rust in cars,” says Alan. “If it’s got rust, my advice, unless you want it for a paddock-bashing farm car, would be ‘do not buy it’.”
“Jimnys are also prone to the ‘Jimny Jive’, which is where they really don’t drive very nicely as a consequence of having overly large tyres and wheels fitted, and modifying the car and getting the steering angles wrong by putting excessively longer coils in it, the kingpin angles go all out, so instead of the steering going side to side it’s all over the shop. So, if it’s been modified very badly or cheaply, you’re going to have a car that’s unpleasant to drive and very jittery. Looseness in wheel and kingpin bearings, wear in control arm bushes and steering ball joints can also display these symptoms – it has a bit of a sensitive front-end, really.”
Finally, Jimnys are not really designed to haul heavy loads or to tow trailers. “If the car has a towbar on it, ask them what they’ve towed,” laughs Alan. “If they’ve towed a jet-ski once in a blue moon down to the local river or lake, it’s probably not a problem, but if they’ve tried to tow something like a small camper or trailer with loads in it…
“Jimnys are not strong, the axles are very small, the whole drivetrain is very light – while that’s not a problem if the car’s just been pushing itself along, if it’s done towing that’s not a good situation… if it’s towed anything heavy, I’d be really suspicious.”
Finally, Jimnys are not as fuel efficient as you might expect of a vehicle of this size and weight, thanks to brick-outhouse aerodynamics and relatively low gearing.
So, should you buy one? “Absolutely!” exclaims Alan. “They’re a lot of fun, they’re a great little car and, providing you buy one that doesn’t have problems, they’re going to be cheap to service and maintain.
“Although they’re little, they’re small and they’re light, they’re fantastic fun and they’re capable off-road.”
What’s available from the aftermarket gear makers?
There’s plenty of aftermarket gear available for those who wish to upgrade their Jimny for better on-road touring and off-road performance.
“We do bull bars, tow bars, roof racks, suspension, diff locks, transfer box gearing conversions, servicing work, dual batteries, snorkels… almost everything is available for Jimnys,” says Alan. “And because they didn’t change for a very long time, most of the accessories will fit all the models.” Having said this, Alan points out that later SRS airbag-equipped models should only ever be fitted with airbag-compatible accessories.
Models JX and JLX, Z, Sport
Suzuki Jimny Price Guide
Year Transmission Price
1998-2000 Man $2000-$5000
2000-2005 Man $2500-$7000
2005-2014 Man $4000-$14,000
2014-2018 Man $12,000-$17,000
*Add up to $1000 for an auto
What about the 2019 Jimny?
The new Jimny retails for $23,990 plus on-road costs for the five-speed manual variant and $25,990 plus on-roads for the four-speed auto, and while it retains separate body-on-chassis architecture and live-axles front and rear with coils springs, the chassis has been upgraded for better torsional rigidity. Engine capacity is also up, to 1.5 litres, and clamed peak outputs are now 75kW and 130Nm.
The new Jimny comes standard with a host of active safety features including lane departure warning, six airbags, high beam assist, Electronic Stability Control (ESP), reversing camera and LED headlights.
You can read our first drive from both the international and local launches here: