Here are 11 baby off-roaders that'll make you smile
It’s been fun, watching the automotive world (mostly) do a happy little dance at the thought of the new Suzuki Jimny. Who would have thought that a small supermini 4×4 from an – up until recently – fairly overlooked manufacturer, would have caused such a stir? And yet, it’s fantastic. The reasons TG likes it are manifold, and very Suzuki: relatively cheap, cheap to insure, run and maintain. Rugged, with a part-time all-wheel drive system and low-‘box, reliable, what with it’s ladder frame and solid axles, a perfect antidote to the more/faster/bigger/complexity mantra that we’ve become used to. It’s got realistic aspiration for many of us. It won’t handle like a hot hatch and it’s not supposed to. It probably won’t be much cop on a motorway. But it’s got … something.
That something is character. And character doesn’t need to be the tight-smile of a well-worn Alfa ‘reliability’ joke, come with a wallet-wilting pricetag, or the retro-pastiche of something like a Fiat 500. Nothing needs headlight eyelashes. It just needs to do the job and look interesting. Yes, there’s a limited set of tropes to it – so far we’ve had mini-Humvee, mini-Jeep, mini-Mercedes G-Wagen, but hell, that’s not a bad thing. It’s boxy, has a rear-mount spare, a sparse interior. But I reckon we’ve hit peak massive, and a little car like this appeals because it shows you are comfortable enough with yourself that you don’t need a three-tonne platinum tank trimmed in leather made from rare tortoises to look cool.
All this thinking led me to a little article on the Car Design News website by Aidan Walsh about ‘honest’ car design. Now Aidan talks about the way Dieter Rams – an exponent of the functionalist school of design – expresses the fact that ‘honest’ design (not just cars) “does not make a product appear more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is” or “does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.” Aidan goes on to apply the thinking to cars, but I think it makes perfect sense. The new Jimny appeals because we perceive its honesty. And as we all know, that’s usually the best policy.
Thing is, this got me thinking: what other cars feel ‘honest’, specifically in the small 4×4 area? Here’s some off the top of my head…