A car doesn’t have to be perfect to make you smile. Take the Suzuki Jimny. It’s impractical, noisy and slow. But somehow, immensely likeable.
The new Jimny replaces the old model of the same name, which has been around for 20 years. In the modern era where new models are face-lifted after two or three years and replaced in as little as five or six, that’s a lifespan worthy of Methusela.
Its age showed in a cramped, low-rent cabin and a lack-lustre drive on Tarmac. Off road, though, it could still show newer models a thing or two.
The new Jimny fixes some of the old car’s faults, but wears others like a badge of pride. Under the skin it still employs a ladder-frame chassis rather than the monocoque construction used by just about every other modern car. The steering is horrible, inconsistently weighted and seemingly connected to the front wheels by rubber bands. Bumpy roads have the Jimny jumping and jostling, and flat-out acceleration would be more effective if you got out and pushed.
The cabin finish is reasonably solid and the design instinctive, but the Jimny’s tiny dimensions allow for little space inside. The three-door body style means you have to clamber into the back, and once there legroom is tight. With the back seats upright, the boot is absolutely tiny. So choose between passengers or luggage – you’ll struggle to carry both.
And yet, take the Jimny away from Tarmac and play in the mud, and it all starts to make sense. It is downright brilliant off road, even with standard road tyres. Put the Allgrip Pro four-wheel-drive system in 4×4 low-ratio mode, and there’s almost nowhere the Jimny won’t go.
The engine, which seems so lazy on the road, pulls cleanly and with surprising strength from low revs, dragging the Suzuki up vertiginous gradients with remarkable ease.
Will the Jimny make a good tow car? Well, getting away from a boggy patch shouldn’t be a problem, but otherwise I have my doubts. The kerbweight is just 1135kg, giving an 85% match figure of 965kg. So the choice of tourers which make a sensible match is quite limited. The legal towing limit is 1300kg, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable towing anything like that much behind a light, short wheelbase car with just 95lb ft of torque.
If you are tempted even so, prices start from £15,499.
Other cars I’ve driven this month make more sensible tow cars, although they lack the Jimny’s charm. The Mazda CX-5 is a Practical Caravan favourite, having won several positive reviews at the Tow Car Awards.
Today’s CX-5 only went on sale in 2017, so the changes are relatively slight. There’s more safety equipment than before, the petrol model is now available with an automatic gearbox for the first time, and the range-topping diesel has been uprated with more power and torque.
It wasn’t exactly short of either before, but now has 184PS (181 bhp) and 328lb ft of torque. That makes for very swift acceleration without a caravan in tow, and should easily handle a sensibly matched tourer. The auto I drove has a kerbweight of 1820kg, which gives an 85% match figure of 1547kg. That’s well within the 2100kg legal towing limit.
Prices range from £24,795 to £34,395.
Mazda has also updated the 6 family car. In this case the changes are more wide-ranging, with tweaks to the exterior styling, a better standard of finish inside, and new suspension settings promising improved ride and handling. The top-spec diesel from the CX-5 is also available in the Mazda 6, as well as a new 2.5-litre petrol.
Unless you’ve been hiding somewhere especially remote for the past few years, you’ll know that diesel is declining in popularity whereas petrol sales are on the up. Mazda hopes the 2.5 will appeal to those who want strong pulling power, but with the quiet refinement of a petrol engine.
With 194PS (191bhp) and 190lb ft of torque, the 2.5 should be muscular enough for towing duties. On my solo test drive the car felt brisk rather than quick, but the 6 handled with a composure and control that suggests it should be stable with a caravan behind it.
It has promise as a tow car, I think. With a kerbweight of 1610kg, the 2.5 Tourer (estate) has an 85% match figure of 1369kg. A full tow test is scheduled for early 2019.
Of the cars I’ve driven this month, I feel confident in recommending the Mazda CX-5 and 6. But it’s the Suzuki Jimny which has left the most lasting impression.
Take the Jimny away from Tarmac and play in the mud, and it all starts to make more sense