George Barrow feels the love when he puts Suzuki’s diminutive off-roader through its paces.
It’s easy to fall in love with the Suzuki Jimny LCV, but beware because this little 4x4 will break your heart.
Just 400 are earmarked for the UK this year, and they’re likely to be more in demand than a table at your local beer garden was coming out of lockdown.
But what’s so special about the Jimny Light Commercial Vehicle, Suzuki’s first van since the Carry slipped from the range in 2005?
It’s unquestionably cute, in a ‘Honey I Shrunk the G Wagon’ kind of way, and has an air of off-roading ability like a Land Rover Defender toddler that’s just taking its first steps in the world. Then there’s the price, which at £16,796 (ex VAT) makes it one of the cheapest 4x4s in the commercial vehicle sector, just a few hundred pounds more than a Dacia Duster Commercial 4x4, and only beaten on price by the Fiat Fiorino as a normal van.
Both are small volume sellers in the van market – the established Fiorino sells a little over 800 units per year – and the Jimny will be the same in the long term, not least because of its modest annual allocation that will almost certainly see demand out-strip supply. But with Suzuki saying it expects a similar allocation for the following year, the Jimny could be the most exclusive van on the road for quite some time.
Very little has had to be been done to the Jimny car to enable it to be sold as a commercial vehicle. Power still comes from a four-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol engine, producing 100hp and 130Nm of torque. That’s paired to a five-speed manual gearbox within a ladder frame chassis with three-link rigid suspension and coil springs. Aside from a petrol, rather than diesel, engine, it has all the hallmarks of a modest little van with the exception of its selectable four-wheel-drive system, which allows you to choose between two-wheel or four-wheel drive as well as low ratios. There’s no locking differential, instead an electronic traction control system keeps all four wheels turning at the right moment when things get slippy.
Rear seats in the passenger car version are best suited to accommodating children, so their removal in order to make a loadspace was never going to yield a vast amount of space. With the seats and their anchoring points removed, Suzuki has shifted the front seats forward by 10mm in order to achieve the required 900mm length for the loadspace that ensures it is officially categorised as an N1 class commercial vehicle. The floor has been made completely flat and a fixed part-solid, part-mesh bulkhead added to separate occupants from the cargo area. The result is a fairly compact 0.9m3 load volume – roughly 10% less than a Ford Fiesta van and half that of a Dacia Duster Commercial.
While that doesn’t sound like a lot, and really it isn’t, the conversion has at least been done to a good standard. As the Jimny is only a three-door vehicle anyway, it feels and looks like a natural adaptation as opposed to many conversions that make do with poorly fabricated boxes to fill the void designed for rear passenger’s legs, which are revealed when the rear doors are opened. The manner in which the plastic moulded sides of the loadspace neatly join the utilitarian carpet of the flat floor do make it feel entirely intentional, and with a 12v socket on the rear pillar and a hidden compartment for tyre-changing tools under the floor, the Jimny LCV does practicality as well as its size allows.
Up front, the cabin certainly reminds you of an older-model 4x4, not least because of the squat four-wheel drive selector sitting behind the regular gear stick, as opposed to more modern rotary dials. The plastic-heavy interior has no pretences that this is now anything but a working vehicle with chunky, purposeful buttons and dials that you can paw at and twist while bouncing along a dirt track. There’s not much in the way of storage, with a small tray beside the handbrake, one at the base of the central dash column and
a glovebox that an estate agent would describe as bijou. You’ll also struggle to get more than a copy of What Van? in the narrow door pockets. But it looks and feels every inch an off-roader, from the robust grab handle in the dash directly in front of the passenger, down to the hex key styled screw heads in the corners of the square-shaped instrument housing for the engine revs and speed dials. It’s little-wonder this fourth-generation Jimny became an instant hit with punters when it was launched in 2018.
Equipment is basic, but there’s a multifunction steering wheel, air conditioning and electric mirrors. Tyre pressure monitoring, hill hold assist and hill descent control are also standard.
One small gripe is that perhaps Suzuki has undersold its buyers on the infotainment system fitted to the Jimny van. The car version gets a 7in touchscreen with satnav from the Swift passenger car, but as a poor relation LCV it’s been downgraded to a more basic double-DIN typed analogue-looking affair – admittedly with DAB radio and Bluetooth.
Suzuki says they have kept the Jimny LCV line-up “simple in order to optimise supply capacity”, “do not need more than one model grade” and that “there is no indication that the current audio spec will put off interested buyers” – which if the strong demand remains, you can well believe. However, given that they also say they “do not expect buyers of the Jimny commercial version to differ from those previously interested in the Jimny passenger car”, then perhaps some will be disappointed by the downgrade. What they do say is that it will appeal to “a mixture of fans of the design and people that need its immense off-road capability for professional or leisure uses” – so we’ll get back in our box and keep quiet.
That immense off-road capability is certainly a strong USP at this price point, and especially for a van for that matter, but it does rather hinder it’s on-road performance.
Despite having cruise control, the Jimny LCV isn’t the sort of van you’d want to be doing motorway miles in. It’s too basic, too bouncy and far too noisy. But where you’d imagine it to be used the most, deep in the countryside ricocheting between the high hedgerows before hopping off the road and into a field, is where it feels least comfortable. It pitches and leans into corners with plenty of body roll, while the slow steering that makes it so adept off-road means you are busy at the wheel too. The brakes aren’t great but you’ll definitely notice them when the traction control abruptly kicks in, and it does quite regularly on our greasy roads, startling you with a quick but commanding dab to straighten you up. Keep things calm and slow, however, and you’ll soon understand why customers were falling over each other to buy the car.
Will van buyers be doing the same? Well, not once they see the payload capacity. At just 150kg, we had to question how adult occupants could even legally sit in the back seats of
the car, but the maximum is more to do with the axle weight limitations rather than the gross vehicle design weight, which would actually have it closer to 270kg were it not for the capacity of the rear axle.
Ultimately the Jimny LCV has been born out of EU regulations on cars requiring a 95g/km emission level by the end of 2020. Unable to be sold as a car due to its 173g/km emissions screwing with Suzuki’s refreshed and cleaner hybrid-only passenger car line-up, they have been able to reimagine the Jimny thanks to a higher limit for commercial vehicles. Even with the best will in the world, for most van users the Jimny LCV is too small and impractical, but some disappointed passenger car buyers will definitely be happy at the thought of getting one.
Perhaps though, it might also find a home in a few small businesses in need of some off-roading, where I think there’s no denying we’d all fall head over heels in love with a Jimny van wearing a traditional sign-written livery.
For reasons you can probably guess, it’s been more than six months since I’ve been able to bring you a test of anything meaningful that will be in contention for the prestigious International Van of the Year title for 2022.
While the Suzuki Jimny LCV is eligible for the prize, I’m going to bet the farm on it coming nowhere near in the final reckoning for the simple fact that despite a global pandemic, delays to launches and hampered production due to computer chip shortages and bottomed-out boats in canals, the models that will be in contention are some of the industry’s really big hitters.
The electrified Fiat Ducato I told you about in June, an all-new Renault Kangoo and the eagerly anticipated trio of small electric vans from Citroen, Peugeot and Vauxhall will have strong support. So too will Volkswagen’s Caddy 5, which now overflows with smart safety tech. Could the Coventry-built LEVC VN5 be in with a shot too? It’s now being sold across Europe and gaining a following, and then there’s diesel and electric versions of the small and large Maxus vans to consider.
You can also never discount the dark horse that is the Iveco Daily, which has taken a huge step forward with its Air Pro suspension. After waiting so long to tell you about all these new products they’re finally all coming at once. It’s just a good job we’re not talking about buses.
George Barrow is the UK judge for the International Van of the Year, the prestigious prize awarded by leading European LCV journalists.