2015 Suzuki Jimny Sierra review
Robert Pepper’s 2015 Suzuki Jimny review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.
On the outside
The Jimny is perhaps the only car on the market that is regularly described as both cute and tough. Where other cars are styled to create an impression of robustness, the slab-sided Jimny needs no help from a designer’s pen to create an impression of functional practicality. And nobody called it boring either. In some ways, it’s an unclassable car – a hipster could drive it to a cafe, or a farmer could use it on a property.
Maybe people think it’s cute because it’s small. The Jimny is only 3.6 metres long and 1.6m wide, compared to say the Toyota LC200 which stretches nearly 5m long and almost 2m across.
The Suzuki also has history on its side. What you see here is the latest in a long, long line of small Suzuki 4WDs, dating back from 1970 when the LJ (Light Jeep) 10 was produced with a 0.4L, 19kW engine powering a 590kg vehicle that was only 1.3m wide and 3m long. Since then the little Suzukis have gone by various names, usually involving “Jimny” or “Sierra” in some combination, and over that time built up a enviable reputation for capability, reliability and fun.
As an example of the standing in which the little Zook is held, I often bring press cars on 4WD club trips. The usual reaction “who is that bloke and surely that car isn’t coming with us”. With Suzukis nobody makes a comment, well at least not on the car. You rock up to any group of off-roaders in a Jimny, and all you’ll get is respect because everybody in the off-roading scene is well aware of the Suzuki heritage and capability.
Room & Practicality
The Jimny is tiny, so it’s never going to be particularly spacious. You sit close to the door, but reasonably comfortably so. There’s enough room between front seat occupants not to be too close to your companion. The steering wheel is not adjustable, but seems to suit most drivers.
The front passenger has an acceptable but not generous amount of room, although opening the glovebox involves a knee touch.
In the second row adults will find thigh length the main problem. It’s a bit like the third row of many 7-seat 4WDs, except the seats are better and the headroom isn’t a problem. There’s also plenty of room under the front seats to park your feet, or gear like 4X4 recovery equipment.
The glovebox is small, and there are sidepockets but they are very narrow so anything wider than a tyre pressure gauge is not going to fit. Maps will be fine though. There’s no centre console – no space – just drinks holders.
Behind the second row is a tiny cargo area, just 300mm deep and 900mm wide. You can fold down each of the second row of seats and get yourself 1050mm of loadspace, although the seats don’t fold flat. If you removed the seats entirely you wouldn’t even have as much space as the back of a Discovery or LC200.
The family didn’t like the Jimny as it couldn’t do the school run, citing insufficient space in the back for schoolbags, which by contrast is not a problem in our Toyota 86. Realistically, this is not a car for four people and any amount of luggage.
On the inside
Suzuki has not poured a lot of development dollars into the Jimny and it shows. The interior is all bland, grey plastic, and very 1990s. On the other hand, it’s all very easy to use, clean, simple and no-nonsense. Many modern cars are just too up themselves with touchscreen this and that, whereas the Jimny has old-school dials, knobs and switches. Helps that there’s not a lot of stuff to use! And if you felt like getting on the tools for a few modifications, well the Jimny is easier than most to modify.
Performance, Ride & Handling
On-road: An old-school 4WD with live axles, combined with a narrow track and short wheelbase doesn’t augur well for onroad dynamics, especially with a mere 63.5kW on tap mated to an old 4-speed automatic gearbox.
But that’s just the spec sheet, and as ever the reality is different. This 2015 model is a long way ahead of previous generations, and while it doesn’t match the average small car for handling it is safe, predictable, easy to drive and you won’t hold up traffic…at least around the ‘burbs. Just don’t try and win drag races away from the lights.
The Jimny does understeer quite markedly, but only when pushed and you can learn to drive around that tendency. Despite the fact it’s rear drive, forget oversteer (back end coming out) because there simply isn’t enough power to light up the rear end, and the differential is open so no worries about a limited slipper making matters worse around wet roundabouts. Driving the Jimny becomes an exercise in momentum conservation, and because it’s narrow you can pretty much use the whole road. You’re either going to consider this a fun drive or just plain tedious. I’m in the former camp.
The Jimny does have a few handling advantages over a normal small car. The suspension is one. It’ll just soak up whatever you throw at it, with the car remaining not only composed but intact. The vehicle is lightweight – a mere 1050kg, same as a Fiat 500 or Toyota Yaris, 200kg less than a Toyota 86 and 150kg less than a Hyundai i20. The feather weight means the suspension can be soft to handle bumps, yet because it’s light that softness doesn’t necessarily translate into excessive body roll around corners which is where handling problems often begin.
Another advantage is the height, which contributes to superb all-round visibility. In the city, the Jimny is actually quite nippy and fun, and definitely very easy to park with a tight 9.8m turning circle – as a comparison, the Hyundai i20 is 10.4m. And one wet, wet day in Melbourne I happened upon a flooded road where drivers were gingerly tipoteing through water around 20cm deep. No worries at all in the Zook, just powered through! It is also perhaps the easiest car to park that I’ve ever driven, roadcars included.
Out onto the freeways and the Jimny is surprisingly quiet and stable, depsite showing 3000rpm at 100km/h. It maintains 100km/h four-up with no problem until there is an incline, and then the engine and transmission combine to heroically do their best, which often isn’t quite good enough so you need to accept a slower rate of progress. Like all light vehicles, the Jimny suffers a bit when loaded as four people are a greater percentage of base weight than in a bigger, heavier vehicle. You just end up going a bit slower, but the underlying viceless handling remains the same.
Mrs P, quite the critic when it comes to ride and handling and not a noted small-car enthusiast, stated that she “liked how it drives and it sits on the road well.”
If you learn to drive to the Jinmny’s strengths it is an enjoyable car that is no slower around town than any other.
Dirt roads: I remember driving an older leaf-sprung Jimny in Fiji on dirt roads. Scary experience. As we bounced our way along I knew the car needed steering corrections because we weren’t pointing the right way, but not only was it not clear which correction it needed, there was no guarantee the vehicle would respond.
Today’s coil-sprung Jimny is totally different. I’m going to used the word ‘composed’ to describe its dirt road performance, which is kind of a surprise, but it’s true. Certainly there are 2015-spec utes which are less stable over high speed rough dirt roads. The stability control rarely kicks in, and when it does it’s not super subtle but it doesn’t delay progress. I wouldn’t feel the need to drive the Jimny any slower over dirt roads than I would any other 4X4. You can shift into 4WD on the fly and as usual with part-time 4WD vehicles this improves dirt-road handling.
Offroad: The Jimny is a superb offroad vehicle with just one major flaw.
The light weight, tractable engine and supple suspension mean it can effectively deliver its power to the ground and if it’s possible for any car to make forwards progress on a slippery surface the Jimny will do it. Approach and departure angles are excellent, as is visibility and low-speed handling. In low range there’s never a lack of power, and it’s all delivered very controllably although the auto only uses the first three gears. This model has traction control which takes a little while to kick in and is not the most effective on the market – but remember the previous models didn’t have it and were capable regardless – so the traction control makes a good thing better. The traction control will pull the vehicle out of a cross-axled situation, but not up a significant hill at the same time.
The small size and tight turning circle means you can take lines other vehicles dream about, although on many forest tracks there’s not much choice in the way forwards. That ability does require a bit of brain re-wiring to look at tracks differently.
On the downside, engine braking is poor (crawl ratio just 1:31 auto, 1:38 manual) , with the old-school 4 speed auto, and sideslopes are not a strong point. There is no second-gear start option, although given the nature of the beast it’s not really needed. Sideslopes are never a Jimny strong point either, although I think that problem is a bit overrated. But the big problem is ground clearance, which is the distance from the underbody to the ground.
The Zook has a mere 190mm, whereas most 4X4s have 210mm or more. This means that offroad tracks end up requiring 211mm of clearance, by and large. Lacking that last 20mm is a real problem in rutted terrain for the Jimny. Everybody says “oh yes, just drive around the problem” but it’s not always possible, and on our offroad test we regularly ran out of clearance on the differential housing or the control arms, or both. The course I use is one that I run intermediate training on, and where larger cars just ambled through I had to work hard with the Suzuki, and twice that day needed a recovery.
This is why people run larger tyres on Suzukis – the standard is a 26inch diameter (205/70/15), and you really need a 29 inch diameter tyre, say a 205/80/16. But then you start down the modification path, and that never ends. By the way, if you want to tap into the vast depths of Suzuki modification expertise start with Piranha Offroad, operated by renowned Zook enthusiast Alan Johnson.
On soft ground such as mud or sand the Suzuki reigns supreme, and this I know from previous experience as our test route this time sadly did not involve dunes or beaches.
Summary – the Jimny is an incredibly capable offroad machine, provided it isn’t challenged for ground clearance in a way you can’t drive around.
Basic, but well built. You don’t produce the same model for as long as this without hanging it all together pretty well.
Our test vehicle had 11,000km on the clock and I knew for sure it’d been off-road quite a bit, even before I saw a few pinstripes and inspected the undercarraige. Still, it drove nicely, no unusual bumps or rattles. Zooks are built tough. There are plastic flares covering the lower part of the doors and sills, and I managed to collect a tree root which scarred the sill part. Did its job though, and better replace that than an expensive metal panel.
Pricing & Equipment
You get the basics and nothing more. Central locking, aircon, electric windows and mirrors is about it. You don’t get an adjustable steering wheel, there’s no cruise control, no steering wheel controls, no external temperature display and forget keyless entry and push-button start or displays like fuel consumption. Another notable omission is cruise control, consider that a hint this car is not at its best when cruising freeways. Imagine a car from the ’90s, and you have it.
The stereo is just a CD player and AM/FM – no USB, aux input and any form of Bluetooth connection. The latter is easily fixed, just throw out the double-DIN factory head unit and slot in any one of the many aftermarket units available from $200 upwards.
Petrol is 95RON, which is a pity considering it is a country vehicle, and definitely not any amount of 91 (we checked with Suzuki). The tank is 40L, which disappears quite quickly at speed but much more slowly in the rough. It is however a bit small to be ideal, 50L would have been about right as we saw around 8.5-9.5L/100km on test.
Resale value on these vehicles tends to be high as although they’re not widely sought after, they are well built and have quite a following with several dedicated clubs. It’s not like buying some anonymously forgettable econobox that you can’t give away once its more than about seven years old.
ANCAP has never tested a Jimny, and it’s probably fair to assume it wouldn’t make 5 stars. There’s no curtain airbags, only one for each front row occupant. Seatbelts are height-adjustable, and the spare is a full-size alloy. Stability control is standard to help prevent loss of control, although as noted it’s not the finest calibration on the market. Amazingly, the rear seats not only have child restraints, but also an ISOFIX option which is more than some current-model peoplemovers can boast. Bizarre, but good. Kind of sums up the Jimny in one really.
Thanks to Sandra, Simon, Rob, Matthew and Sara for their assistance with this test.
We also have an article on the history of Suzuki here, and a first drive of the new Vitara here.
2015 Suzuki Jimny Sierra
PRICE $22,990 (+ORC) (manual is $20,990); WARRANTY 3 years / 100,000km; SAFETY Not rated; ENGINE 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol; POWER 63.5 kW at 6000 rpm; TORQUE 110 Nm at 4100rpm; TRANSMISSION 4-speed auto (5 speed manual available); DRIVE Part-time 4WD with low range and electronic traction control; BODY 3645mm (L); 1600m (W), excl mirrors; 1705m (H); TURNING CIRCLE 9.8m; GROUND CLEARANCE 190mm; WEIGHT 1060kg; MAX WEIGHT (GVM) 1420kg; TOWING 1100kg braked / 75kg towball mass / 350kg ubraked; FUEL TANK 40 litres; SEATS 4; SPARE Full size alloy; THIRST 7.8/100km (ADR81/02 combined); FUEL Petrol 95 RON
If you want a budget off-roader The two obvious alternatives are the Land Rover Defender 90 and the Jeep Wrangler Sport. Both can be thought of as larger versions of the Jimny, with more room, and more offroad capability purely because they have greater ground clearance, but both cost a lot more. The Wrangler can be made into a convertible, and is the safer of the two as it boasts airbags in the front and on the seats, with some rollover protection. The Defender has nothing other than ABS and stability control, and let’s just say it’s best not to roll one over. The Wrangler is also the more modern with the likes of cruise control, has petrol and diesel options, automatic and manual. The Defender is diesel manual only, makes the Jimny look like a limo, and will no longer be available after the end of 2015. The Defender is much more the utility option, and can tow 3500kg even in short wheelbase guise.
Moving up the price range a little and we find Toyota’s funky FJ Cruiser, immensely capable offroad, safe and efficient but with onroad dynamics a long way off the modern pace, auto only and an interior that is an acquired taste but one many seem to like. Mind you, same is true of the Defender and Wrangler.
But perhaps the best alternative to a Jimny is another Suzuki – the Grand Vitara 3 Door Navigator, which is only 400mm longer but has all-wheel-drive, low range, and is a highly effective offroader as well as a fun onroad drive. It is a much, much more modern vehicle and rated 4 star safety in 2009, and is $25,990 + ORC for the manual, cheaper than either Defender or Wrangler.
If you want a towncar with a difference Should you buy the Jimny Sierra as a roadcar only? You could, but a roadcar would be quicker, more agile and have more storage room in the back. The Jimny advantages are its is tiny size, offroad capability (kerbs? water on road? it matters not…) and perhaps its taller height might make for easier access in and out of the car, and certainly you get a better view of traffic.
Don’t miss our offroad test (including video) of the 2016 Suzuki Vitara RT-S…and it’s a 2WD!