Compact, tough and extrovert
Glamour model: Suzuki Jimny
When working life is as frantic, as is so often the case these days, there’s much to be said for a bit of mental escape and recreation during commuting trips and at the weekend. Which is why chunky 4x4s enjoy the popularity they do. As well as being practical workhorses that cope with rugged conditions off-tarmac and in winter, they are a fun alternative to the more strait-laced vehicles most of us drive to or for work.
Most 4x4 hunks are pretty pricey, but not all. One well worth considering if you want all-wheel-drive on a tight budget is the Suzuki Jimny, a compact but rather extrovert mini-SUV with off-road capability. This is not one for a shy driver. It is a car with somewhat eye-catching Tonka toy styling, in a bright palette of colours, that seems to attract rather more than its fair share of attention on the road.
The Jimny has been around a while, with four generations spanning the half century since the first one was launched in 1970. In that time Suzuki has sold a remarkable 3.85 million Jimnys in 194 countries. The current model arrived late last year and is still pretty new on the roads here.
It has a traditional ladder-frame chassis, rigid axles and selectable four-wheel-drive. The engine is a 1.5 litre, four-cylinder petrol engine that dishes out 100 bhp of power. On the new and much more realistic WLTP fuel economy rating, it is said to be capable of 35.8 mpg, and on test comes pretty close to that. The CO2 figure is 178 g/km. The standard gearbox for normal road use is a five-speed manual. For off-road use or in tricky conditions there is a low-range gearbox and locking centre differential.
What’s it like to drive? Strangely endearing, considering that it’s relatively rough-and-ready in its road behaviour. The ride quality is fairly rustic – you certainly feel the bumps and undulations in any road surface – and there’s some eye-popping body lean if you scuttle into a bend a bit urgently, but it’s also somehow smile-inducing and fun if you’re not in too frantic a hurry to get somewhere. It’s a licence-guarder, because you won’t be tempted to cruise at any more than the regulation 70 mph on a motorway.
Standard kit on the Jimny includes a full-size spare wheel, chunky all-season tyres and a few other niceties, but you have to upgrade from the base SZ4 version to a better-equipped SZ5 to have touch-screen multi-media infotainment. There’s minimal boot space with all four seats in use, but the rear ones fold flat for when you’re two-up and need to carry something.
The Jimny starts from £15,999 and a top-spec model is £18,499.
Long-range eco with minus points
Glamour model: Business savvy: Nissan Leaf e+
Choosing the energy source for your next company car is a tug-of-war dilemma for many. Diesel has been unreasonably demonised, but still makes sense for high-mileage and long-distance drivers, while many are switching back to lower-mpg but less controversial petrol. Meanwhile the ranks of EV drivers are growing rapidly, as the reliability of batteries and improving range of electric vehicles is wooing more motorists to adopt them.
One of the most successful electric cars is the Nissan Leaf, the top-selling eco car across Europe. The latest model, badged the e+, has an extended range that makes it a more attractive proposition as either a company car or a private one for an eco-conscious early adopter.
The Leaf e+ has a larger-capacity battery that gives a 66 bhp power boost over the standard model. There are other differences. Because the bigger battery pack weighs an extra 90 kg, the suspension has been both slightly raised and also stiffened, to cope with that extra load. Disadvantages are a slightly less cushioned feel to the ride quality and a bit more body movement on the bends than the standard Leaf.
The car’s good points are its longer range, officially 239 miles, and its whispering quietness around town. You hear a bit of tyre crunch, but any mechanical noise is blissfully absent. Point towards a dual carriageway and a higher speed limit, though, and some driving sound ratchets up. For such a shapely car, the wind noise over the body is surprisingly noticeable at speed – mainly due to the absence of an engine at work that would otherwise subdue it.
The Leaf e+ is briskly likeable to drive, although it’s hard to actually love it, and it isn’t a budget buy. The price is £39,395, before you subtract the £3,500 government grant that helps with the purchase of a fully-electric model.
To balance that, the re-sale value ought to hold up well. Second-hand prices on petrol, and especially diesel, models are less firm than on electric cars. That is where the future is heading and good residual value is one of the current advantages of choosing an EV.
Photos ©Sue Baker