Suzuki Jimny through the years

Practical and posey in equal measure, this diminutive four-wheel-drive cutey has earned cult status over the past five decades. We find out why...

Suzuki Jimnys are cute. There’s no escaping that heart-melting sensation when you see one clattering up the road. They have remained cute for nearly 50 years, too, since production began way back in 1970.

Originally designed under the strict Kei car regulations, Jimnys found refuge in myriad private and commercial uses with their teeny 360cc two-stroke engines. These units slowly ballooned to the fossilised 1300cc we’ve become partial to over the past three decades.

The Japanese market kept to the Kei car guidelines of a 660cc engine or smaller until halfway through the second-generation model’s lifespan in the 1980s. Look at a Willys Jeep compared with the latest Wrangler, and you’ll immediately think of the contrast between Christian Bale in his roles in The Machinist and American Hustle.

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Although on first appearance a moot point, the Kei car regulations are what kept the Jimny from expanding like a puffer fish. With no real rivals to compare it to, the Jimny’s demographic continued to grow with each update. Once the glamorous ’80s rolled through, the little Tonka toy looked equally at home in Miami Beach with a surfboard sticking out of it as it did on Farmer Giles’ turf.

The second-generation Jimny, named the SJ410/413 (Samurai/Sierra in other markets), was the model we all remember. The looks, the colours and that sweet little Rhino badge all helped craft the characterful puppy we recall with fondness.

Driving through the rutted lanes of a tiny Caribbean island is an image that just seems right with a Jimny – even if the engine did scream like a child informed of the Toys R’ Us closure, and the ride comfort shattered your teeth.

So what’s the difference between an LJ and an SJ?

Although the Jimny has been known by that name since its birth in 1970, most models have been designated with the LJ and SJ name plates defining the first and second-generation models respectively.

As the smallest 4x4 on the block, the Jimny won over the hearts of millions with its generous four-wheel-drive system and overhangs that are shorter than David Cameron’s chin. With reliability to boot – originally proven by completing the Mexican 1000 Rally in 1971 after a 34-hour trouble-free ride – the Jimny really is the real McCoy.

By 2001 Suzuki had managed to convince two million people in the 188 countries and regions in which it’s sold to buy one – and that’s no mean feat. The third-generation Jimny was unveiled in Tokyo at the 1997 motor show, and it has outlived everything on sale at the time.

To put this into perspective, we’ve seen four generations of Volkswagen Golf come and go since then. Even granddaddy Defender has been laid to rest. Suzuki has only recently halted production of the third-generation Jimny to make way for the rip-roaring resurrection – the fourth generation, due for launch next month.

The all-new Jimny

Some statistics need time to sink in; the third-generation Jimny has lived through the death of the VHS and floppy-disk, dial-up internet and Windows 98, and seen the Nokia 3310 give way to the iPhone X (the tenth-generation iPhone). Suzuki spent considerable time upgrading the formula during those 20-odd years, though, having masterfully raided the Halfords parts bin to dump a bonnet scoop on the little fella and whack a sat-nav in the dash. Obviously the latter is completely useless, as you’ll be shaken around as violently as a blender on full speed. Cute thought, though.

With the next Jimny revealed just this week, we know that we're bouncing off the walls like a coked-up rhino for it. So excited, in fact, we'll be booking a test drive as soon as we can.

Just look at it! Some things are best left in the past, and the latest Jimny is certainly not one of them. It’s already been dubbed the ‘mini G-Wagen’, and buyers are clearly gagging for it. Cars such as this are simply not being given the green light in 2018, so in some ways this is a truly special moment.

The latest model will bid a tearful goodbye to the 1300cc engine. Instead, it will employ a 660cc unit for the Japanese market, plus 1500cc and 1200cc four-cylinders as well as a 1000cc three-pot turbo. Early predictions indicate its official launch on July 5, 2018. We can’t wait!

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