Last Sunday everybody rushed to the only Suzuki dealership in Hong Kong. Everybody. Including myself. Because we heard that the very rare, seemingly very cool Suzuki Jimnys in Hong Kong are there, so the dealership there was like Soho during Christmas Eve. It was jam-packed.
But I was still unsure about the Jimny. On the spec sheet, it's one of the worst cars there is. It's got a ladder chassis, which even the modern-day G-Class ditched; it's got a 1.5L naturally-aspirated engine with 102 bhp, mated to a 4-speed auto slushbox or a 5-speed manual, which is considered old-fashioned in the 1980s. All Suzuki did is slap a cute body on top and call it a new car. It just doesn't look at all convincing.
So I walked into this showroom. Greeted by a yellow and a khaki green Jimny. I was astounded. Cuteness was an understatement. Black plastics on the front grille went out of fashion in the last decade but it somehow goes with the outdoor-ness of this off-roader. You can't help but fall in love with it.
You slowly walk to the back, those chunky offroad tyres mated to the black alloys. Then the great big door mirrors and wheel arch extensions. The designers had 'tough' in mind and they pulled it off beautifully.
Then you stand at the back and see this full-size spare wheel bolted to the side-opening tailgate. Wow. Then you see the plastic bumper and the light lenses lifted straight from the LEGO set. Somehow this weird package just works.
The yellow door handle is located right beside the spare wheel, you'll have this eagerness to pull on it to see what the boot looks like. Then you grab hold of it, yank it and it won't move. Because of the spare wheel, and it doesn't have assistance at all, it's super duper heavy. So you forced it open, and your jaw would have dropped. In front of you is more like a pencil bag then a boot. With the rear seats upright, you just won't have any luggage space. So your weekly shop would only consist of a sausage, a celery, a 100mL pint of milk, and it'll be full. Sorry.
After some disappointment, I queued up to get into the manual car. Because, as you'd expect, who'd want a 'four-speed auto'? It's like buying a suit from Walmart for a rave party. You just won't.
I queued for a solid 20 minutes. Finally got to sit in the car. Everything apart from the steering wheel feels like it's from the seventies. A sea of black plastic. But everything feels tough, even the gear knob. You grab hold of it, and you have a feeling that it will be there even when you fall off a cliff, which the Jimny will make sure you won't be, because it's got a fancy offroad differential with low-range.
The clutch feels a tad heavy, with the biting point near the top, the brake pedal is firm, and the throttle, well it's just a throttle. The gear shift feels woolly, the throw is a tad long, and the pivot point is too long, which makes the experience a bit weird. The gates are nicely defined though, which is nice.
How you sit is actually rather agricultural. To make yourself comfortable, you'd hang your arm out of the window, much like what you see in those fifties American road movies, and then steer the car with your finger, with your left hand on the gear knob.
Unfortunately, I can't test drive the Jimny because the dealership only has these two on display, and they're both in the showroom with hundreds of people surrounding them. But on paper, I wouldn't want to drive it. It's got a gutless 100bhp engine, the shift quality is meh, the seats are too upright, the seat base lack any support whatsoever, the road noise is going to make you deaf, the in-car infotainment is lacking, the interior looks like it's made of charcoal and judging by how it sits, it's going to roll over at the speed of 20mph.
But, and that is a very big B-U-T, it's got something all of the cars with similar price lack - soul and character. Yes, it's got a chassis that can't handle corners, but who cares? Just look at it! It's got a face of a five-year-old. Your five-year-old would cry every 2 am, he would run across the field and cry because he fell down. He would also make a mess every time he has ice cream. Would you slap his face and let him go? No. Because he's got the face of a koala, the kind heart of an angel, and the talent to die for.
That is the Suzuki Jimny for you. It looks crap on paper, but who drives on paper? This is a car that will make you smile every time you see it, a car giggle like a child every time you roll round a corner, and something you'd be proud of talking to your friends.
I think, to justify the Jimny, you've got to not think of it as a car. Think of it as a toy then it'll make sense. Because all of the drawbacks of the Jimny would be forgiven if you just think it's a toy. It's there to make you happy, which it does very successfully. That's plenty enough.
It may not be any good on the road, but it's a one trick pony, you can tell from the specs. It may only have drums on the back, a ladder chassis, 15-inch alloys, 5MT/4AT, not even a rack-and-pinion steering (it's got a recirculating ball), but it's got hill hold control, hill descent control, even brake LSD traction control, that's like the offroad assists you get from Range Rovers and stuff. It may be a one trick pony, but it does that one trick very well, which is good enough for a weekend car.
And no wonder the showroom is jam-packed. When I was in the car, a few ladies at the back who were testing out the car said that both of their husbands ordered one of these, and they expect them to arrive in October. Next year. And they were cool with it. Suzuki won with the looks and the gimmicks alone.