David vs Goliath. A 20-year-old little off-roader against a £100k luxury SUV
As the fourth-generation of Suzuki Jimny gather pace over the horizon, it’s time to say farewell to the third-generation model, which has hardly changed in the two decades it’s been on sale. But the SUV market itself has changed out of all recognition, as epitomized by a Range Rover Autobiography with a six-figure price tag. The extras adorning it cost more than the entire Suzuki Jimny.
So is putting the two together gratuitous bullying, snidely comparing the scratchy plastic interior of the Jimny with the sumptuous padded leather of the Range Rover’s drawing room? Perhaps if the test was a trip down to the South of France it would be an uneven contest. But there’s one great leveler – mud.
The mud at Avalanche Adventure in Leicestershire is thick and goopy, like soup or melted chocolate. There are swamps of it, and there are steep challenging climbs, some of them two storeys high.
The idea was to pit both vehicles against Nature, but one tester, not terribly 4×4 experienced, decided it would all be a breeze in the Range Rover. So much so that he wore his favourite red trainers. I feel sure that detail hasn’t been lost on you.
At first the be-trainered tester went for the easy bits, confident the white Suzuki box in his mirrors would soon bog down. It didn’t. It kept behind him through sideslopes, thick mud and inclines that went so high that in a building they’d have been demanding a lift. The white box was right there, a safe distance behind, but never further.
So the tester went for the gnarliest thing he could find: a climb that wasn’t any higher than the Range Rover roofline, but which was a very steep climb out of thick gloop that looked likely to both sap power and spin wheels. It did both. The Range Rover for once bestirred itself and applied considerable horsepower, torque, electronics and sheer muscle to all four wheels. And failed. The tester had to admit defeat and reverse out of it.
The little Suzuki failed as well. Then it had another go and made it, hauling itself perkily out of the bombhole and over the top, showing what 84bhp can do when it only has to drag 1090kg around, and when it’s powering all four wheels through a system that Suzuki has got fully sorted.
The man in the red trainers saw red. He had to have another go. He did, and he failed again, this time the four wheels spinning the Range Rover worryingly sideways on the slope in an effort to scramble out. That’s when 2.6 tonnes doesn’t do you any favours even if it has more electronics than some small factories.
Having reversed out yet again our tester got his dinky boots dirty and climbed into the Jimny. It seemed laughably small and crude after the luxury of the Range Rover, yet this was the top-spec model, the 1.3 SZ4, costing £14,784. After the remote and soft response of the Range Rover, the Jimny seemed ridiculously immediate, throwing the tester around, needing armfuls of lock and revs everywhere, and generally delivering a jerky ride even if you kept clear of the ultra-low first gear in the low box.
But it also kept going, through shot and shell, through climb and descent, sideslope, thick mud, deep ruts and everything the site could throw at it. The four little tyres found traction everywhere, and you could feel everything that was happening as the wheels scrabbled, spun, gripped and kept pushing forward.
You’d find it impossible not to warm to the little battler, especially as the six-figure Range Rover sat the side, trying to look unbothered but really not looking as bulletproof as it would like to be seen.
This is a very old 4×4, decades old, and in some ways it’s remarkable that it’s still in production, even if it is going to be replaced soon. But if you want a proper little SUV, one that really can get through anything, then this proves you don’t need horsepower, you don’t need weight, you don’t need a big budget – you just need a Suzuki Jimny.