Road test 

Car: Suzuki Jimny

Prices: 9,760-10,660 - on the road

Insurance groups: 7D

Performance: Max Speed 87mph / 0-60mph 14.1s

Fuel consumption: (combined) 38.7mpg

Standard safety features:

Dimensions: Length/Width/Heightmm 3625/1600/1670

Suzuki Jimny
Suzuki's Jimny Estate is a little car that claims to be able to do a great deal. Jonathan Crouch checks it out...

On the face of it, is a real alternative to that little hatchback you were going to buy...

Small cars are where it's at just at present. Supermini sales have never been higher but it's tiny citycars and compact 4x4s that are really attracting the buyers in this sector. All of which would seem to promise a bright future to a contender that can claim to satisfy customers in both camps; a car like Suzuki's Jimny.

Here, on the face of things, is a real alternative to that little hatchback you were going to buy. A vehicle small enough to fit into the tightest space (it's only 5mm longer than a Ford Ka). A vehicle cheap to buy and run (with a 9,760 price tag and an economical 1.3-litre 16v engine). And yet a vehicle that can hold its own off road and give you that commanding over-the-hedgerow driving position you've always wanted.

At first glance, the Jimny Estate looks to be designed more for the mud than the metropolis. Flared wheelarches, bulky side panels, roof rails and that spare wheel on the tailgate give it a purposeful look intended to reflect a 'rugged personality'. From the outside, the latest version can be distinguished by its revised five-spoke alloy wheels and fog lamps set into the front bumper, both now fitted as standard rather than an option. Underneath all that, however, it's all surprisingly car-like. Instead of the 'garden shed' aerodynamics favoured by most off roaders, the slippery body has a drag coefficient comparable with that of a normal family hatchback.

In town, that high seating position and excellent all-round visibility make it great for nipping in and out of traffic. The 1.3-

litre all-aluminium 16v engine is in its element here too. On the open road, however, it can sound a little stretched due to the fact that most of its 85 braked horses are not available until you get the engine singing right up at 6,000rpm.

Since the Jimny's diminutive size means its unlikely to be often used on longer trips, this shouldn't prove too much of a problem for potential owners. True, four adults can be carried on short journeys (as long as they don't bring any baggage) but even then, front seat occupants will probably be called upon to sacrifice some legroom. The other disadvantage of carrying rear passengers is that the luggage area behind them is tiny. Better to think of the car as a two-seater and fold the rear bench down.

Inside, things have been revised in the latest version, with more stylish fabrics and finishes, smarter front and rear seat designs providing greater support and comfort, a redesigned steering wheel and a fresh instrument panel featuring red illumination. Automatic transmission equipped models get a different centre console and gear selector gate, while both manual and automatic models now feature push button selection of the four-wheel drive system, located below the heating controls. Finally, a better quality audio unit, with easy to use controls and a CD player is fully integrated within the latest dash.

Handling around twisty tarmac is not as accomplished as the sharpest superminis, but it's quite good enough to satisfy most. Besides, there's always the bonus, denied to conventional road users, that when the fancy takes you, the muddy stuff beckons. Like the original Vitara, four-wheel drive is selectable (these days via Suzuki's 'Drive Select' system), a surprisingly painless operation that can be accomplished whilst on the move.

Over reasonably rough terrain, the little Suzuki feels very confident, thanks to its tough ladder frame chassis, a standard design feature that many small off roaders lack; this renders cars like Toyota's RAV4 effectively useless for serious off road work.

You'll have to accept, however, that the Jimny won't ultimately have the wherewithal to reach the places that larger off roaders can. At least not in normal circumstances. Over in Iceland, they prefer light, simple little 4x4s like this because they don't sink into the snow: in soft boggy conditions here, it might well be the same.

One drawback of all this off roading prowess is that it necessitates a harder, more jiggly ride. Again, it's not something that will bother you too much on short journeys, where the light steering, progressive brakes and smooth gearchange make the little Suzuki easy to live with. The cabin, though dominated by grey plastic, is equally user-friendly, with a neat, simple layout that will confuse no one capable of operating a payphone. For a small car, the driving position is excellent, accommodating for anyone up to a six-footer, with plenty of head and legroom.

The standard JLX trim level comes with power-assisted steering, front electric windows, electric mirrors, radio/CD player, ABS and EBD, selectable four-wheel drive with high and low ratios and automatic free wheeling hubs, front seatbelt pretensioners and driver and front passenger airbags. You can, however, get a JLX+ which improves the look of the Jimny with various styling accessories.

In true Suzuki style, you can also jazz up your Jimny by choosing from a huge accessory range. Front guards, alloy wheels, grille covers and surrounds for the multi-reflector headlamps are amongst the obvious add-ons. If you really must, there are also rear spoilers, body graphics and 'themed' spare wheel covers (!). Bear in mind, however, that these things are likely to do little for residual values when the time comes to sell.

If you're really likely to use the car's off roading ability, it makes far more sense than a traditional small hatchback, particularly as it can also perform that role to quite a competent standard. Even if you're not, as long as space and pace don't rank as crucial virtues, the Jimny's well worth considering as something a little different.
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