Not the route I drove on my day-trip! This is from Suzuki's global webpage. Clearly not a CUV!
I just got back from a vacation in Cuba where one of our day trips was a "Jeep Tour". Knowing that Cuba cannot import very much from the U.S., I was curious as to exactly what kind of "Jeep" I would be driving for the day. Fortunately for me, as a guy who likes the unknown and odd, the tour's choice was a Suzuki Jimny, which as a Canadian I'd never even heard of before, never mind driven.
Given its size and looks, I assumed that this would be some kind of FWD econobox-based soft-roader and our tour would consist of mainly gravel and dirt roads. The actual tour (which included some boating, horse-back riding, and a great lunch where Columbus landed in Cuba -- great day!) included a fair bit of rocky and muddy two-track. Not the Rubicon by any measure, but a great match for a novice off-roader like myself. And, I suspect, a lot more off-road than most modern soft roaders are desiged to happily handle.
Fortunately, when I looked under the Jimny, I was surprised to see a live axle rear AND front. Some further research and I discovered that this tiny vehicle is actuallly a BOF, part-time 4wd (with low range) Jeep Jr. Think an updated Suzuki Samari and you are probably getting a pretty good idea of what this thing is.
With a 1.3 litre four and five-speed stick, nobody is ever going to accuse the Jimny of being overpowered. And, on a fairly narrow track and on live axles front and rear, no matter how 'cute' this thing looks, it does not have the on-road comptence of anything currently sold in North America.
But, me --- a light and sporty car kinds of guy -- actually grew to love this little trucklet. The engine, though down on power, was smooth and happy to rev. Clutch and shifter could use some work, but they were fine. Given the number of Canadian tourists unfamiliar with stick and the off-road conditions, I wouldn't be surprised if my 48,000 km example might be needing a new clutch sometime in the not-to-distant future. So, on road, it was a bit crude but fine at regular speeds. Steering and brakes were decent and the drive had some personality. In a day where even the cheapest cars are incredibly competent, personality stands out!
I'm no expert, but on the two-track, this thing felt like a sports car. Light, tossable, narrow enough to fit anywhere and place accurately, happy running through water up to its headlights or climbing rocky grades, I was impressed by the capability of this thing. Despite obviously being small and light, it felt quite strong. It was a ton of fun to drive off-road and I suspect I barely scratched the surface on what something this size with an old-school 4WD system was capable of.
After a day of driving on two-lane and two-track, I thought I'd be happy with one of these at home as my second/winter car. Interesting, go-anywhere, rugged and with a lot more personality than an econobox, I'd be all over one of these if it was cheap enough. And, from what I've read (and what I saw in a day of driving) fuel economy is very good for this kind of vehicle.
I also was wondered if this is a small hole in the North American market left to be filled: cheap, small dual-purpose vehicle. Suzuki (and Chevy, with the related Tracker) used to fill this role nicely, but the bulk of the market moved on to CUVs. But, while CUVs do more things well, I doubt many of them could handle even the light off roading I did in Cuba with the competence of the Jimny and none of them would have the much different driving experience to distinguish them. Could something like the Jimny be cheap enough to sell in niche volumes in North America -- especially after meeting our regulations? Probably not, which is too bad. In a world where most cars and trucks are very good at everything, the world needs a few vehicles that are amazing at a few things, even if they are average (or even below average) at a most.
Overall, I had a great time and got to drive an interesting vehicle that (unfortunately) we'll never see in North America. This has made me wonder how I'd like a used Wrangler or even a Tracker ... and given me a sense of why some folks absoultely love driving off-road. It's a very interesting challenge.