By Charleen Clarke
Champagne is the devil’s juice. It gets me into all sorts of trouble. Mostly, it involves unspeakably embarrassing things and recriminations (and then, faced with another bottle of bubbly, I proceed to do it all over again). But this week, at the South African launch of the Suzuki Jimny (a 2019 AutoTrader South African Car of the Year finalist), it caused me to do something that I truly regret – once again.
It was all Airlink’s fault actually. I was sitting in the SAA business class lounge, slaving away over a hot iPad. Putting my pearls of wisdom into written form, you know… Then came the announcement we all abhor: our flight had been delayed “due to weather”. It was raining at Kruger Mpumalanga Airport. Clearly Airlink’s planes aren’t waterproof.
I walked to the monitor to check on our new departure time, when I saw it. There, in the corner, was an ice-cold bottle of bubbly. I decided to have a glass while working. Which suddenly became three. (They were really small glasses, okay?) I was not fussed. I did not have to drive that day…we were being ferried to our hotel for a business session, dinner and an overnight stay. The actual driving – which I was very much looking forward to – would only come the next day.
Or so I thought.
On arrival at the airport, I was handed a set of keys to my Jimny test vehicle! I was aghast! There was no way I was getting behind the wheel after three glasses of the devil’s juice! I was really fed up with myself and so I gave myself a hearty slap. After all, if there was one vehicle I had REALLY been looking forward to driving in 2018, it was the Jimny! I knew that it stood a really good chance of performing well at the World Car Awards, of which I am a judge. There’s one particular award called World Urban Car; I was hoping to see the Jimny nail this.
Luckily, on vehicle launches, we always partner with another journo. I was lucky enough to partner with Delicia (not her real name; you’ll find out more later), who pointed out that we HAD received an email warning us not to consume alcohol en route, since we would be driving. My bad… Delicia had followed instructions; she was stone cold sober and thus the (lucky) designated driver.
We started off with a walk around our Jimny… we’d been presented with a GLX model, which is the top-of-the-range derivative (there’s also a GA, which is still decently spec’d) … and decided that we absolutely loved the styling. Well, we thought we did. It was pitch dark, so we couldn’t really be sure. It kind of looked chunky but cute. Like Lara Croft morphed into Bambi. We tossed our suitcases on the back seat (we couldn’t see what the hell we we’re doing, so we were incapable of folding down the back seats).
Then we headed off to Hazyview, which was where we were staying overnight. For the first 10 km, I sat in the back seat … because Delicia wanted to escape the alcoholic fumes bursting forth from my every pore. Actually that’s not true. I wanted to see how spacious it was. It’s great! Only midget amputees could sit comfortably in the back of the previous Jimny (which, by the way, has been around for a whopping 20 years). That’s not true with the new model; I was most comfortable.
I asked Delicia to stop the car (I told her I had to puke). I can confirm that the ABS brakes with emergency brake assistance (BAS) are quite exceptional. We stopped immediately. Of course, I didn’t want to puke, I just wanted to hop into the front of the Jimny and check out everything there.
We agreed that the standout interior feature was the 7” infrared-touch screen with Android Auto, Apple Carplay and MirrorLink integration. We also gave the thumbs up to the USB connector, SD-card slot and Bluetooth hands-free connectivity. Importantly, it’s really easy to hook up your phone to Bluetooth; this takes all of 10 seconds. Also, we liked the spaciousness of the cab.
As we blasted our way towards Hazyview, we agreed that we also both liked the new 1.5-litre petrol engine (the previous 1.3-litre was a tiny bit pap). It delivers 75 kW at 6 000 rpm and 130 Nm at 4 000 rpm; which is absolutely fine. And, unlike me, it isn’t very thirsty. Fuel consumption on a combined cycle has been tested at 6.3 litres for the manual models and 6.8 litres for the automatic. In contrast, the previous generation Jimny was rated at 7.2 litres and 7.8 litres per 100 km respectively.
The GLX comes with a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic gearbox; our test car had the manual, which is great. Apparently, Suzuki’s engineers worked hard to redesign the shift lever and gear selector to offer a more direct shift feeling. The new selector system is mounted partly to the ladder frame and partly to the gearbox for a more direct shift feeling, without transferring too much vibration through the shift lever. Delicia pronounced it “very good indeed”.
All too soon, we arrived at our hotel and paid careful attention during the business session (as all professional journalists do; we don’t just sit there schlurping our wine, you know). I was especially interested to hear about all the features that pertain to its offroad performance. There are lots! For instance, it has a rigid axle suspension system (rigid axles greatly improve serious off-road capabilities, as they mechanically force one wheel down if the opposite wheel is raised from the ground). It also has Suzuki’s proprietary Brake Limited Slip Differential (which adjusts torque to the wheel with grip if another wheel on the same axle starts spinning), Hill Hold Control and Hill Descent Control.
The approach, departure and breakover angles are also rather decent: 37 degrees (35 degrees on the previous model), 49 degrees (46 degrees on the predecessor) and 28 degrees (previously 27 degrees) respectively.
Once our brains were full of information, we filled out stomachs and then collapsed into our beds.
The next morning, we folded the rear seats flat very easily (you just tug upwards on a little tag and… voila… they are flat in seconds). This meant that we had a huge amount luggage space (the squared-off design of the vehicle means that the luggage space is now 1 015 mm wide, versus the previous 915 mm). I reckon I could easily get eight cases of bubbly in there…
Then we got a chance to properly inspect the exterior of our Jimny in the light of day. We both decided that it’s utterly fab. From some angles, it looks like a little Hummer. From all angles, it looks just magnificent. The exterior designers really did a truly tremendous job.
However, the Jimny isn’t all about its looks (although that’s certainly the thing that fellow road users will notice and no doubt adore). As we had been told the night before, it is a serious offroader! So we went to the forests for some serious play time. It was just so much fun! I mentioned to Delicia that I could not think of anything that could be more fun. “I think being a dominatrix could be more fun. I considered becoming one during the Soccer World Cup. I think the Germans especially would have enjoyed my services. I would have called myself Delicia. It’s a particularly good name for a dominatrix, don’t you think?” my certifiable but quite delightful co-driver asked me. I readily agreed. Not that I’ve had much experience in the field, mind you.
Getting back to fun of another sort, the Jimny made mincemeat of the offroad track. It didn’t matter what obstacle we threw at it, our little Jimny took everything in its stride. We didn’t even come close to getting stuck. “How are things going? Enjoying the drive?” one of the Suzuki team asked me en route. “Absolutely. This is like driving on the N1,” I responded. “Oh no, are you bored?” she asked. “Not at all. I’m loving it. But it’s just so effortless!” I pointed out.
And love it I did. Whether we were off or on the road, the Jimny crept into my heart. I want one so, so badly! And, at a starting price of just R264 900, I can even afford it! Alas, there is an extremely long waiting list. Never mind, the best things in life are worth waiting for. And, when I do get my Jimny, I will have a great excuse to quaff another bottle of bubbly! Bring it on!