Maruti Suzuki Jimny first drive review: A successor to the OG Maruti Gypsy?
The Maruti Suzuki Jimny is an SUV that we have been waiting for since an eternity, now the off-roader is finally here in the flesh. Maruti Suzuki had showcased the three-door version of the 4x4 SUV at the Auto Expo five years ago, but the spiritual successor to the OG Maruti Suzuki Gypsy was not introduced for sale in the Indian markets. We did not give up hope on its introduction however, particularly since Maruti Suzuki commenced exports of the Jimny off-roader to global markets from India. Another fact that bolstered our hopes of the Jimny’s arrival was the success of another 4x4 SUV – the Mahindra Thar, which popularised the lifestyle SUV segment in India. Maruti Suzuki has not sat idle seeing the precedent set by the Thar however, and has brought the Jimny to India, this being the first market for the 5-door Jimny to go on sale. But can it do justice to the Gypsy’s legacy while fending off rivals like the Mahindra Thar and the Force Gurkha? In our first drive review of the Jimny, we drove Maruti’s 4x4 SUV extensively on off-road terrain and also spent time driving on the road with it.
Maruti Suzuki Jimny lineage
You probably know the Jimny is the successor to the legendary Maruti Gypsy we had in India, two generations on. But the no-frills Gypsy wouldn’t necessarily be accepted by buyers today, and that is thanks to the competition moving the game forward, namely the Mahindra Thar. When launched in 2020, the Thar re-entered the lifestyle off-road space with massively improved ride, dynamics, comfort, performance – and of course, frills. It made the Thar something that you could live with on the daily. If the Jimny was to make any sort of an impression, it had to deliver on that front as well.
The three-door 4th generation Jimny has been on sale internationally since 2018 and it has been exported out of India since 2021 to markets such as the UK, Australia and South Africa. India is the first market in the world to get the 5-door Jimny, and after no luck all these years, the announcement for the 5-door Jimny was made at the 2023 Auto Expo, confirming its imminent launch. No doubt, the widespread acceptance of the Mahindra Thar spurred Maruti Suzuki on, and we’re all the better for it.
Getting into the Maruti Suzuki Jimny
With the Thar, Gurkha or any of other full-size hardcore 4x4, you need to use the side sill and hoist yourself into the cabin. That isn’t the case with the Jimny. You can just step inside as you would any mid-size SUV. That’s good, since it requires less effort. What isn’t so good is that climbing up one floor to get into your SUV makes you feel like the king-of-the-road. But the Jimny is not trying to be the king of the road. It is compact in its dimensions and the interiors are familiar, thanks to a rummage around in the Maruti Suzuki parts bin.
You get a 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system from the Grand Vitara, replete with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, though the addition of off-road modes would have been a cool touch. The steering wheel too is from the Grand Vitara. The instrument cluster, with its twin analogue dials housed in those squared off blocks, is a clear homage to the Gypsy. But the rest of it is all new. It’s hardy, robust stuff. A generous use of hard plastics everywhere, but it's the sort you can wipe down with a wet cloth when it gets muddy. You wouldn’t want anything else. Ergonomically, the Jimny as is sound as it can be for the constraints it has. The 4x4 lever sits on the floor behind the gear shifter, well within reach.
You have the rear window controls on the centre tunnel between the two front seats for the driver to access, though the rear passengers do get them on their respective doors as well so they aren’t a stretch. Unlike the Thar, the automatic variants of the Jimny do get a dead pedal. The auto variants also get a small tray for your smartphone under the AC unit that the manual misses out on. You get a rear parking camera. Important buttons are well within reach like the traction control switch, hill descent control and the most important of them all — the headlight washer button. I can’t believe Maruti Suzuki has not deleted that for India! We no longer are at the receiving end of the cost-cutting stick!
The rear bench reclines in two steps and ISOFIX mounts are a huge plus for child safety. The narrow width means you get door pockets wide enough for a microfibre cloth, and some knickknacks — no bottle, not even those tiny 200ml ones will fit in there. There are two cup holders on the centre tunnel and that’s it. You will also likely be rubbing elbows with your fellow passengers if you’re broad. The rear bench is a strict two seater, though there’s enough legroom (with limited under thigh support) for adults to sit comfortably. There’s really not much to moan about here.
Maruti Suzuki Jimny comfort
So much of the Jimny’s capability, so many of its strengths are down to how light it is. Let me give you an example. The first thing Maruti Suzuki did after handing us the keys to the Jimny was point us in the direction of a dry river bed. Getting to the riverbed involved tacking a rutted trail a few kilometres long. Nothing a regular car couldn’t tackle, though most cars would be babied through it. Proper, robust body-on-frame SUVs would be able to tackle it with more speed, thanks to higher ground clearance and longer travel suspension making it far more stress free. A Gypsy of yore would buck like a bucking bronco — its leaf springs refusing to let the rear settle. But even with more modern body-on-frame SUVs with more sophisticated suspensions, there’s a typical body-on-frame shimmy and shake that never allows them to feel completely settled over such terrain. The Jimny, on the other hand, rode beautifully. You could drive it with abandon down that trail, confident that the suspension would soak up whatever came its way. It weighs just 1210kg — for perspective, that’s half a ton less than the Thar — and with less weight to deal with, the springs (and I mean coil springs, not leaf springs like the Gypsy) and dampers don’t need to have the same firmness to deliver good body control. I have to remind you that the Jimny still runs solid axles and despite that it was ironing out imperfections, soaking up bumps and letting you carry genuine speed without ever feeling uncomfortable inside.
Off-roading with the Jimny 4x4
The Gypsy is a legendary off-roader. Even today, people swear by it. In the mountains, every second family has one because it is the only 4x4 that can actually get anywhere once it's fully snowed in, thanks to the petrol engine making it usable in sub-zero conditions and the light weight making sure it doesn’t bog itself down. Look at the RFC entry sheet and a majority of the entrants are driving Gypsys. The Jimny has a legacy it needs to live up to. The dry riverbed was our proving ground. With 4x4 (high, and occasionally low) engaged, we drove over boulders, up and down steep inclines and through flowing streams. We did pretty much everything that could be done to find the Jimny’s limits short of rolling it off a mountain, but it simply refused to stop. Again, weight plays a huge role here. Low weight makes a good power-to-weight ratio — despite just having 103.39bhp of power and 134.2Nm of torque, the 1.5-litre naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engine never felt inadequate on those hardcore off-road trails. It felt unstoppable — clambering, climbing, hocking itself over everything that came its way.
The Jimny’s approach and departure angles — 36-degrees and 47-degrees, are actually better than a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen! The narrow width means you could thread it through tight spaces that wider SUVs wouldn’t even consider as a possible line down the trail. The stretched platform for this 5-door meant the ramp-over angle was a concern, and to be fair it did touch over some really serious boulders, but drive sensibly and you’re never going to cause any lasting damage to the car apart from a few scuffs on the underbody. And what’s an off-roader without its scars?
The most incredible bit was how effortless it felt off-road. Once four-low was engaged, it would crawl over most things in near silence. Unlike most 4x4s with loud clattery diesels (and sometimes petrol) engines, the Jimny’s 1.5 nat-asp is near silent at low revs and simply recedes into the background. All you can hear is the AC blower whirring loudly to counter the summer heat. That level of refinement makes the Jimny feel so different from most other 4x4s that I’ve driven. The suspension already does so much to keep you comfy behind the wheel and the refined drivetrain only adds to that.
Serious off-roaders would really be able to exploit the capabilities of the Jimny, and have a whale of a time while doing so. The SUVs we were driving were shod with the exact road-biased Bridgestone rubber that the Jimny will be sold with from the factory. That it did everything we put it through on bonafide road tyres just makes everything that we did feel even more impressive. Swapping out those tyres for ATs will take the capability a level higher, and add to its stance as well — who wants an SUV with skinny boots?
Maruti Suzuki Jimny ride and handling
Somehow, I never doubted the fact that the Jimny would be capable off-road. However, these lifestyle off-roaders are now increasingly being bought to be used on the daily, with a little bit of adventure thrown in on the weekends — would the Jimny be up to the task? In some ways yes, in some ways, no. You see, the chassis set up of the Jimny is fully sorted. On tarmac ride quality is impressive — that body-on-frame shimmy that I was talking about earlier barely exists. I would go so far as to say that this is easily the best riding body-on-frame car out there today. We drove the same patch of road in the Jimny and in a Crysta taxi that picked us up the following days, and the Jimny felt way more settled and comfortable. Potholes are dealt with confidence — there’s no crashing or uncomfortable threading through them. Over undulating surfaces, it stays settled since there’s less weight to manage. The suspension is truly a highlight.
That is not to say it won’t handle — it has got plenty of enthusiasm on that front as well. It may have a softly sprung suspension and skinny tyres but there’s willingness to lean on them without tying itself into knots. The steering is well judged, still electric power steering but slightly heavier than the Maruti Suzuki’s we’re used to and I actually prefer the weight as opposed to a super-light steering. It feels connected to the front and the nose feels reasonably nimble. Yes, there’s generous amounts of roll but it is progressive and does plenty to help you understand the transfer of weight and its limits. It feels quick on its feet, willing to change direction and particularly fun on our not-so-perfect roads where mid-corner bumps and potholes are just swallowed without batting an eye. Entertaining, it certainly is.
Maruti Suzuki Jimny engine and performance
But there’s a catch. And that’s the engine which is probably my biggest grouse with the Jimny overall. This is the K15B engine, one generation behind the K15C engine on the Grand Vitara, Brezza, Baleno, Fronx, Ertiga, Ciaz, XL6, every other Maruti Suzuki really. It gets auto start-stop but no mild-hybrid tech to boost fuel efficiency and, crucially, unlike every other Maruti this engine is mounted longitudinally.
The motor may be perfectly competent off the road but you do find it lacking on road — particularly on the hilly roads we were driving. It does feel a little underpowered, especially when you want to make overtakes. I found myself having to throw it fast into corners, carry as much momentum as I could so I could overtake whatever car was in front of me on the next patch of straight road I found. The spread of torque that we have come to expect on modern turbo engines simply isn’t there and this could get bothersome while driving in the hills and on the highway. At speed, it isn’t effortless.
That said, the engine is refined at low revs and while a little loud at high revs, it doesn’t sound bad. In the city, it should be a breeze — quiet, refined and even efficient! Maruti claims 16.94kmpl (for the manual) and 16.39 (for the automatic) as the ARAI figures of the Jimny, and while real world numbers will obviously be less than that, you can expect it to be relatively more efficient than something like a Thar petrol. Speaking of the transmissions, you get a 5-speed manual and a 4-speed auto. I expected to like the manual more, but that was not the case.
The manual feels notchy and not slick, very far from the butter smooth gearboxes we’ve come to expect from Maruti. You do get complete control over the gears in the manual which is hugely useful off-road, though with the auto you have one less thing to think about while off-roading, you won’t stall it, you won’t have to slip the clutch, you can just focus on scaring your passengers (and yourself) silly. I suspect the auto is better matched for the Jimny’s dual on- and off-road use cases. The auto is an old transmission and shifts are far from DCT quick, but learn to drive it and it will kickdown when you want it to and get on with it. There’s no manual override with paddles or otherwise, though you can slot it into 1st (L on the gearbox) or second if you’re climbing or overtaking.
Maruti Suzuki Jimny verdict
The Jimny is incredibly lovable. For one, it really feels like a successor to the Gypsy that we’re all so fond of — the same ethos, packaged in a far more modern way. Plus, it has genuine capability. Off-road, it felt unstoppable. It made me feel like an absolute pro, when I am an amateur with a couple of hours of practice at best. On the road, it felt like something I could drive every single day without a complaint, except for when I’m in a hurry. It is practical. There are few compromises you have to make if you get a Jimny. Plus it’s a Maruti — break a bumper, bend a panel, blow a damper, and you won’t spend an arm and a leg to replace it. Service will be cheap. Spares will be in abundance. And you have a network all over the country to lean on when you’re out adventuring. Maruti, it had lost its desirability in the last few years, putting out competent cars which did the numbers but nothing exciting to draw in the enthusiast. This? Well, we finally have a Maruti that enthu-cutlets can rave about.
You know a car is special when it makes you smile. I was grinning the whole time while behind the wheel of the Jimny. I’m grinning as I write this. The Jimny, it has my whole heart. Whether it has yours as well will depend on the pricing. I’m hoping the economies of scale — parts shared with the three-door export model and other Marutis on sale in India — will keep it competitive. I expect it to start at around Rs 11 lakh and go up to Rs 15 lakh for the top-spec auto. Maruti isn’t looking to do big numbers with the Jimny. That scares me, because it may mean they price it out of whack. I certainly hope they don’t. It has to undercut the Thar, but by how much will determine how well it is accepted. I genuinely hope it is well priced because it is such a brilliant machine and I really, truly, want as many people as possible to experience it. As for me, there’s now a Jimny shaped void in my life that I’m very keen on filling.