Jimny has followed a familiar path of modern renewal
This week Matt Prior discusses the all-new Suzuki Jimny and how the Land Rover Defender will be rather tricky to refresh
Suzuki looks like it has got the next Jimny right. When it was launched – so long ago that that I had hair – I wasn’t sure the last one was entirely right.
To this day, I remember getting in one at an office in Harpenden and not even needing to get out of Harpenden before realising that the ride was appalling.
I don’t know how much Suzuki has actually improved it over the years and how much everything else has sunk to its level. Mostly the former, with maybe a bit of the latter.
But today, while it’s still fairly bouncy, that’s just a natural and not unwelcome characteristic of a car that has so very many other charms: its compact nature, its exquisite lightness, its continued purity and honesty to a simple idea that I think you generally only see from Japanese manufacturers these days.
Cars tend to get less competitive during their life cycle, but I love the Jimny more now, and it feels more competitive now (although what its natural rival is, I’m not entirely certain) than it did 20 years ago, when it was described as ‘smart in city, tough in nature’ and cost around £10,000. Today, it’s smarter and tougher than ever.
Or, yes, Land Rover Defender, the most mentioned other car when you show people the new Jimny. “That”, they say, “is how you should update a car like the Defender.”
It should be, but I don’t think it’s possible. Yes, it’s the very same way that Jeep updated the Wrangler, and Mercedes-Benz updated the G-Class. They are all true to their former selves, gently, sympathetically replaced – in ethos, if not in mechanicals – in a way that, honestly, the Defender can never be. It was so starved of development, became so inefficient, so ergonomically dreadful, and so expensive to build, that, from a mechanical perspective, Land Rover can do nothing but tear it up and start again.
Toyota can launch a new Land Cruiser that does things 20% better than the old one. If Land Rover launched a new Defender that did things 20% better, it would still be 30% worse than a Toyota Hilux.
So replacing the Defender is less like replacing the Jimny and more like trying to replace a Morgan: a car that, when it was launched, was among the very best at what it did, but by the second decade of the 21st century, had become a classic at the point of sale.
Imagine if the Morgan 4/4 was today deemed too dangerous, too expensive to build, too inefficient to survive, and Morgan had to start from scratch; make a car that was instantly a Morgan, but on 21st century underpinnings.
That’s the task that Land Rover has with the Defender, a car to which the company, presumably, cannot give its own, bespoke platform, but has no existing platform that is quite right: the old Defender was more compact, cheaper to buy and yet more robust than any other Land Rover.
So whatever the new Defender will be, and we should find out before the end of the year, it won’t be the gentle evolution that is afforded similar cars. Brace yourselves.