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Miniature Hero: A Brief History of the Suzuki Jimny

This year, the Suzuki Jimny celebrates its 50th birthday. This fun-sized, compact off-roader has maintained a loyal fan base since the launch of its first version way back in 1970 and is now sold in 194 countries with over 2.85 million units sold worldwide.

Let’s take a look at the evolution of this iconic vehicle.


Back in World War 2, off-road vehicles of the likes of Jeeps were made to serve as multipurpose vehicles throughout war efforts. When the war ended, these vehicles were adapted for civilian use.

1968 saw Suzuki buying over another car manufacturer, Hopestar, that made a line of these lightweight jeeps dubbed the ON360.

First Generation

1970: Suzuki Jimny LJ10

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Since then, Suzuki launched the Suzuki Jimny Light Jeep 10 (LJ10) in 1970 as a more compact, nimble answer to the other 4×4 vehicles available at the time. This vehicle featured the 2-stroke 2-cylinder air-cooled 359cc engine of its Hopestar predecessor. The three-seater soft-top LJ10 lacked serious power, but at a lightweight 600kg, it was able to traverse hills with ease. 

The Jimny was the first and only mass-produced 4×4 car produced in Japan’s “kei” car category. In order to be classified as a kei car, the Jimny was designed to adhere to the Japanese Transportation Guideline. As a result, the engine size, length and width were all designed to fit within the range, and the spare tire was kept behind the driver’s seat where the fourth seat would be.

The name “Jimny”, as some might have guessed, is a result of a miscommunication. When Japanese Suzuki delegates visited Scotland for the first time, they had decided to call the car “Jimmy”, but the name had gotten lost in translation on the way back to Japan, resulting in the name being “Jimny”.

1972: Suzuki Jimny LJ20

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Two years later, the Jimny LJ20 was released as an exports-focused upgraded version. The LJ20 featured an improved water-cooled engine, front slats redesigns, and options for both left-hand-drive and a hard-top version. Amid efforts to show how sturdy the LJ20 was, one vehicle was made to finish the Mexican 1000 Rally after a 34-hour drive.

1975: Suzuki Jimny LJ50/SJ10

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The LJ50 was again made for export, which prompted for an increase in power courtesy of its new 550cc engine. The spare wheel was moved to the rear door to create more passenger space. The LJ50 was also Suzuki’s first overseas production vehicle, as a factory in Pakistan was opened to accommodate production.

1977: Suzuki LJ80/SJ20

Image source: Suzuki

The last first-generation Jimny featured a four-stroke engine and a pickup variant. The increased power allowed for better performance and off-road handling, while the redesigned and improved interior including a brand new steering wheel greatly improved its quality.

Second Generation

1982: Suzuki Jimny SJ40/SJ410

Image source: Suzuki

The SJ40, known as the SJ410 in most export markets, was the first of the second-generation Jimnys reflects Suzuki’s move away from mere practicality to a more stylish aesthetic. 

The focus towards exportation was evident in the lengthening and widening of the SJ series, a great departure from the kei-car focus of its predecessors.

1985: Suzuki SJ413/Samurai

Image source: Motoring Research

The SJ413 boasted 1.3 liter four-cylinder engine, 5-speed manual transmission and power brakes all-around. When it debuted in North America, it gained a strong following among off-road fans for being the ideal beginner 4×4 with its affordability, lightness, and simplicity.

 The Samurai soon followed as a wider version of the SJ413 to combat its rollover issues.

Third Generation 

1998: Suzuki JB23

Image source: Suzuki

In 1997, Suzuki unveiled its brand-new Jimny, with its most drastic design change since its inception. The new model was far more modern than its predecessors, under the tagline “smart in the city, tough in nature”. It was also given the label of the “more urbane Jimny”, as Suzuki chiefs realised the vehicle’s popularity as both an on and off-road vehicle. 

The JB23 Jimny featured the Drive Action 4X4 system which allowed drivers to switch from two to four-wheel drive.

2013 Suzuki Jimny

Image source: Autoblog

By 2013, the Jimny bore the name “Jimny Sierra” in Japanese and Australian markets. The 2013 model features the biggest design change to the series since 1998. 

Design changes included a more angular grille, a hood scoop, a new front bumper, and fog lights. The interior also received several upgrades such as new seat fabrics and head restraints, as well as Isofix mountings.

2015 Suzuki Jimny

Image source: Motoring Research

Two years after the 2013 redesign, the Jimny returned with new updates in tow. 15-inch alloy wheels, a new meter cluster, and a newly restyled steering wheel were among the additions.

 However, the most significant update was the new standard addition of ESC (Electronic Stability Control).

Fourth Generation

2018: Suzuki Jimny

Image source: Autocar

The first fourth-generation Jimny was released on 5 July 2018. The new retro design paid homage to the original models in the series, but featured several modern technological upgrades like a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system and automatic cruise control.

2020 Suzuki Jimny 

Image source: Suzuki

The latest addition to the legendary off-roader’s family tree features a more rugged exterior than its predecessor, but includes the same entertainment systems as before. 

It carries a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated engine, giving 5kW of power and a nice 130Nm of torque. At 6.4l/100km rate for fuel consumption, we dare say it does pretty well for an off-roader.

These upgrades did not compromise the well-loved affordability of the Jimny, however, allowing it to keep its reputation as a great bare-bones off-roader.

Climbing further

The Jimny’s nickname “the Mountaingoat” may not only be a nod to its ability to traverse up steep planes with ease, but also reflects its solidified status in the budget off-roader world. After 50 years, this miniature hero shows no signs of going anywhere. 

Thinking of getting one of these beloved 4x4s for your own? You’re in luck! The UCARS marketplace has many Jimnys, and a plethora of other models for you to choose from.


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