Suzuki Jimny 1-0

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Keywords: Suzuki Jimny 1-0

Description: The Sierra SJ was introduced in 1981, following the success of the earlier LJ10 two-stroke model. Although the 540cc two-stroke version had woeful on-road performance, it was brilliant in the bush,

The Sierra SJ was introduced in 1981, following the success of the earlier LJ10 two-stroke model. Although the 540cc two-stroke version had woeful on-road performance, it was brilliant in the bush, combining lightweight, compact dimensions and low gearing.

When Suzuki upgraded the machine by introducing a 970cc, four-stroke engine and stretching the gearing, the on-road performance was improved, but bush ability declined.

In 1984, a 1.3-litre engine option was offered. Badge-engineered Holden Drovers were really Sierras and all had the 1.3-litre engine. The engine was refined in 1989 and had a slight displacement change from 1324cc to 1298cc.

In 1996, the Sierra was given new bodywork and all-coil suspension. The appearance didn’t change much, but the old and new panels aren’t interchangeable.

Competition for the Sierra came from the Lada Niva and then from the base model Rocsta, but both these brands failed to proceed.

A carburettored, eight-valve 1.0-litre or 1.3-litre engine isn’t going to put anything into orbit, so even with the Sierra’s modest one-tonne weight, you have to stir the stick and use the right foot to get it to buzz.

Handling is something the leaf-sprung Sierra never had, thanks to stiff springs, narrow track and a short wheelbase. Progress over any surface rougher than an internationally-rated airstrip was a series of jerks, while the pilot swung the wheel this way and that, aiming his charge.

The poor ride of leaf-sprung versions isn’t helped by thinly padded, vinyl-covered seats. We’ve driven Sierras with aftermarket suspension setups that soften the ride marginally, but there’s a limit to what can be achieved.

The coil-sprung model was a different kettle of fish entirely. The softer springs soaked up most bumps without any unwanted steering effect, so the driver was free to exploit the much lower roll centres that coil suspension brought.

A post-1996 Sierra will corner in the dry with most similar-age front-wheel drive sedans and has the advantage of 4×4 traction should the ground turn slippery or loose. However, it won’t handle like a RAV4 on wet and loose surfaces.

Off-road gearing is the main limitation. With only 30:1 reduction in low-low (it should have been at least 40:1) the Sierra doesn’t like steep stone shelf climbing. Its forte is sand, where the combination of light weight and greatly improved side-slope stability can be exploited to the envy of other 4×4 owners.

The dashboard and controls function well, with everything easily scanned and reached. The rear seats are for really good mates over short distances, but the seriously inclined will whip ’em out to get the fridge and the fishin’ gear in the back.

Noise, vibration and harshness weren’t at the top of Suzuki’s priority list, so the little Sierra lets you know when it’s working. The front axle adds slightly to driveline vibration when the hubs are locked.

The Suzuki Sierra is a blast from the past and a welcome change from the sleekly-styled small 4×4 wagons that now proliferate.

You can replace a busted Sierra headlight for a few bucks at any auto-electrical shop, chuck wet fish in the back without staining carpet and hose it out at the end of the day.

It’s this beach-friendliness that causes many Sierras to have cancer, so have a real good look at a prospective purchase.

Mechanically, there’s nothing radically wrong with Sierras, other than old age in cheaper examples.

We’ll never know, but it probably happened at the Berlitz language school in Tokyo — with a starry-eyed Suzuki junior marketing executive sitting in English class, dreaming of the day he’d be allowed to name a new model. ‘Mnemonic’ was the word that fascinated him and that was the word he’d use as the base for the new model name – ‘Jimny’.

Greco-Japlish apart — and obeying the direction of the Immortal Bard who told us that names don’t matter a sniff of rosewater anyhow — the Jimny was the replacement for the little Sierra and should have had more market appeal than its predecessor did. While being essentially as box-shaped as the Sierra the Jimny had much more style about it.

However, the Jimny arrived in 1999, at a time when most small-4×4 buyers were more interested in 4×4 cache than actual ability, so sales were limited mainly to genuine enthusiasts.

The Jimny came with a five-year/100,000 all-vehicle warranty, so many used examples are still within that time and distance frame. However, the warranty can be transferred only if the maker’s maintenance schedule has been adhered to, so you’ll need to check the service history of any prospective purchase.

‘Smart in city’, said the inaugural Jimny brochure, and ‘Tough in nature’. We think we know what they mean. Although still powered by a small, 1.3-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine the Jimny had more go than the Sierra.

The difference was eight more valves in the head, giving the under-square (74mm bore x 75.5mm stroke) donk more breathing power at higher revs. Output went up to 59kW at 6000rpm — formerly 47kW — while torque barely changed — 104Nm compared with 100Nm previously.

A 2005 upgrade included a four-speed automatic transmission upgrade, a 62.5kW/110Nm VVT engine needing premium 95 RON unleaded and a button-operated 4×4 system.

That’s pretty much how the Jimny has remained; making it one of the longest-running models in history.

On road the Jimny can be enormous fun because it weighs bugger all: 1100kg one-up. That gives the little Jimny a power-to-weight ratio about the same as that of a V6 4×4 wagon, with a lot less inertia. Traffic light grands prix can cause others much embarrassment and if you lose, who cares?

It’s great around town on dry roads, but the Jimny isn’t so composed when things get bumpy and slippery. The little rocket bump steers from whichever end gets the input and there’s no full-time 4×4 to help with traction.

It’s not a serious highway cruiser because it needs to be kept above the peak torque of 4500rpm for constant performance and that soon becomes tiring.

Dirt roads can be fun if you know what you’re doing and if the surface is loose enough to allow 4×4 engagement. (There’s no centre diff so you can’t run in 4×4 on high-friction surfaces without risking transmission damage.)

Off road the Jimny has limitations. It rips along on sand but it needs a bootful of revs in soft stuff, and the noise level can be annoying after a while. On rocky trails the combination of too-tall low-range gearing, short wheel travel and open front and rear diffs provokes plenty of wheelspin, while the firm suspension and short wheelbase set up choppy progress.

The Jimny’s bodywork is built from steel panels with plastic bumpers and lower door mouldings. The body sits on a ladder frame, with coil-sprung, telescopically-damped live axles front and rear. Disc brakes are fitted to the front axles and drums at the back.

Base-model JX variants have vinyl floor mats and unassisted ball and nut steering. JLX models come with carpets, power steering, windows and mirrors, central locking, door pockets, body-coloured mouldings and bumpers, and roof rails. A four-speed automatic is available on the JLX version.

It would be difficult to foul up the ergonomics in a vehicle as small as the Jimny, provided the designer treated the project as a two seater with occasional rear seat accommodation, and that’s apparently what’s been done.

Most front seat occupants will find that there’s adequate space and comfort. The Japanese don’t like their mothers-in-law any more than we do: hence the rear perch.

The Suzuki Jimny is a well-made, well-pedigreed small 4×4 that should appeal to more punters than the plain-Jane Sierra did. It’s no RAV three-door around town, but it doesn’t have the RAV’s price tag.

There’s no way you’ll convert a used Sierra or Jimny into a plush highway cruiser. Both vehicles are best kept for short journeys into the scrub or onto beaches.

We’ve heard of successful engine swaps – the Corolla engine is a popular Sierra repower – but make sure you match the new engine with a larger radiator, plus a taller overdrive or axle gearing or larger diameter tyres.

If you want to turn your Suzuki into a world-class rock hopper there is a choice of crawler gear sets available, with low-range reduction as high as 6:1. Additional ground clearance can be gained by fitting taller coil springs and longer shocks, or by under slinging the axles on leaf-sprung models. However, don’t be tempted into a lift above 50mm if you want to keep your road registration.

An engine swap, tyres greater than 5 per cent over standard diameter or a high lift will require an engineer’s certificate for road rego in most Australian states.

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