The one and only small, lightweight four-wheel drive is how Suzuki pitches the Jimny – which sounds fair. At 3.6 metres long it’s shorter even than its predecessor, and at 1135kg it weighs about as much as a heavily laden tool chest.
So to test its off-road chops, here I am, having it scamper up hills in a disused quarry. And it’s very good: a mountain goat or a spring gazelle among a herd of beasts of burden, one of which – a Toyota Land Cruiser – is dutifully following in its tyre tracks.
The latest fourth-generation Jimny is tiny in relation to the Land Cruiser. It remains a kei-class car in Japan (which means, without the flared wheel arches and bumpers of this export model, it’s tinier still), and that was the idea in the first place. The Jimny was conceived as a practical, rugged vehicle that looked ‘Jeepy’, and in 1970 was the first four-wheel-drive vehicle to meet the miniature kei-class regulations.
Weirdly, its generations get longer: the first car remained on sale for 11 years; the second SJ, the one people really knew as a ‘Suzuki Jeep’ and which gained a reputation for falling over, was on sale for 17 years; and the last for 20.
But it feels no bigger inside. The Jimny is unashamedly compact, and though it can fit occupants in the rear, if you fold down the thin rear seat backs to create a flat plastic load floor, from the front seat you can reach deep into the load bay – which I reckon would take a hay bale or a couple of spaniels. With the rear chairs upright, there’s barely a sliver of boot, but the Jimny never was a family car.
It has resisted the move to accepting the mechanical layout of one, too. Where other small off-roaders have adopted a monocoque, the Jimny retains a separate chassis with live axles sprung off it, both front and rear. Where most cars get a turbocharged engine, the Jimny’s naturally aspirated four-cylinder unit is a 1.5 of just 100bhp at 6000rpm and 95lb ft at 4000rpm – high revs for a 4x4, which is why the low-range transfer gearbox is proving a considerable help as it springs in and out of steep troughs with precious little chance of grounding its extremities.