Size Doesn’t Matter

Benjamin Gracias
We take the diminutive Jimny on a path of titans

Photography: Siddhant Gadekar

Akshay is a die-hard overlander and off-roading enthusiast. He is mostly unavailable on weekends, as he heads to explore remote areas in his trusty Isuzu D-Max V-Cross. He chose the pickup for its space, performance and over all, its ruggedness and famed Japanese reliability. He had a clear vision about his Isuzu and as you can see in the pictures, his V-Cross has been modified to take him anywhere in the world and stay a day or two there. He has spent a lot of time (and money!) to create his version of an overlander but I, being a minimalist (and of lesser means!), feel that his vision of grandeur is a bit ostentatious. Don’t get me wrong, his overlanding rig is built to go anywhere in the world but when it comes to daily driving, surely the Isuzu can’t be practical. 

Now here’s where the Maruti Suzuki Jimny comes in. I feel that it can do everything Akshay’s Isuzu can, and that too without any modifications. Like the V-Cross, it has rugged underpinnings and more importantly, solid axles on both ends and a shorter wheelbase which should help it go over obstacles with ease. More importantly, it has the dimensions of a supermini which makes it easier to drive and park in the city.

Akshay, of course, strongly disagrees with my hypothesis. According to him, the ‘bigger is better’ mantra fits here perfectly and his V-Cross has the advantage of a larger, more powerful diesel engine. Now, we can be stubborn as mules when it comes to opinions about cars and Akshay believes that the stock Jimny cannot go places his V-Cross rig can. There is only one way to prove him wrong, right?

Now he often visits a quaint but tough forest trail that leads to a temple on top of the mountain, sometimes even camping at the very top. Having seen the place only in pictures, I have goaded Akshay to reveal the location and every time the answer is the same, “I will take you there if you bring a worthy SUV along.” This time I convinced him to take me along by proposing a challenge. That my stock Jimny longtermer will do whatever his Isuzu can. We both set off early morning, to prove a point. 

The start of the trail sits beyond a hamlet with a narrow road running across it. While Akshay expertly navigates his big rig through bylanes, with an inch to spare on both sides, I happily follow him with enough space to spare. The Jimny is the most compact ‘hardcore’ SUV on sale in India and I feel that this virtue is its biggest asset. I have been to the most remote corners of India and they all have one thing in common – broken down narrow roads. These places often attract traffic jams as there is barely enough space for two vehicles to squeeze through. That’s one reason why the locals in these places prefer hatchbacks and that’s why I feel the Jimny will work perfectly here. And it is not just the compact footprint, but also the tall driving position and clear all-round view that makes it so easy to drive in the tightest of spaces. The only bugbear is its large turning radius, a price you pay for having a solid axle at the front.

As we enter the forest, on Akshay’s insistence we switch to 4-High. Akshay soon drives his rig over the nearest mound to show off a different kind of flex. I have to admit it looks quite impressive and instinctively, my eyes scan the ridgeline for a viable mount. I see an impressive one between the trees and head towards it. It’s a narrow path with trees and boughs jutting from either side but the compact dimensions mean I have no issue navigating through. Soon I have a flex of my own, the solid axles on the ladder-framed Jimny putting on a good show. I am sure Akshay is impressed too but he does not show it. Instead, he retorts how am I going to reverse through the maze of trees I just came through?

I do not. I back out a bit and simply climb over the mound I was flexing over much to the amazement of my fellow passengers. The Jimny might have a smaller 1.5-litre petrol engine but it is a torquey unit which is well-complemented by the short-ratio manual gearbox. This setup allows the Jimny to climb over most obstacles without overtly revving the motor or putting it into 4-Low. And that’s just one impressive aspect of the motor. It is quite refined and barely audible at tickover. In fact, at idling speeds it is hard to tell if the motor is running.

Further ahead, Akshay asks me to switch to 4L as the trail ahead is gnarly. This is followed by a snarky quip about how his rig is equipped with the winch should I get stuck. While Akshay’s rig has custom bumpers and a 2-inch lift kit installed, my stock Jimny has short overhangs thanks to smaller bumpers that offer it an impressive 36-degree approach and 47-degree departure angle. Also, the short wheelbase offers a breakover angle of 24 degrees which means I do not get stuck or scrape the Jimny’s undercarriage anywhere as I crawl through steep rocky inclines. It is impressive, the amount of grip offered despite the Jimny running stock, narrower profile highway terrain tyres. 

A lot of this has to do with the solid axles on both ends. Besides being more durable and offering better ground clearance, a solid axle offers more traction over uneven surfaces and larger obstacles. For example, if one wheel is pushed up as you travel over an obstacle, the wheel on the other side of the solid axle gets pushed down, thus ensuring both wheels on the axle get maximum contact leading to better traction. Also, the weight of the ladder frame and solid axles help keep the centre of gravity low and make the Jimny quite a stable SUV off-road. Then of course there is the weight. At 1.2 tonnes, the Jimny weighs less than half of what Akshay’s rig does, making it as light as the proverbial mountain goat and as capable too. As we climb higher and the soil gets looser, traction is at a premium but the Jimny still soliders on. In an age where SUV’s gun for tech, I feel the Jimny’s mechanical simplicity and solid bones is what makes it special. To me, it is as charming as the first-generation Land Rover Defender and the Willys Jeep.

While the Jimny relies on Suzuki’s famed AllGrip Pro system which is a simple but robust 4X4 hardware, it does get additional electronic safety features like ESP, hill-start assist and hill-descent control but the party piece is the brake limited slip differential in 4L mode which, when wheel slip is detected, electronically applies the brake on that wheel thus redistributing torque to the wheel on the other side and allowing for a clean getaway.

Once we reach the top, I can see Akshay’s growing interest in the Jimny. He asks me about how it drives off-road. As much as I would like to gloat, I simply toss him the keys. All it takes is a drive back to civilisation for Akshay to start daydreaming about swapping his daily-driver hatchback for the Jimny.

I also have dreams of my own. A Jimny could be a fantastic start for my overlanding journey. It is hardcore enough to take me places and compact at the same time. Sure, space is at a premium but then with a minimalist approach, I can easily envision a dinky overlander.

Later that evening I ask Akshay about his ‘bigger is better’ mantra. “I still stand by it”, he says before adding, “But with SUVs like the Jimny, I am willing to make an exception.” I noddingly agree. The Jimny sits well in my ‘Make small cars great again’ campaign and is a prime example of the adage ‘Size doesn’t matter.’

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