Maruti Suzuki Jimny is no Thar or Rubicon. It’s no ‘failure’ either

The disconnect between what most buyers want to project and what a vehicle is actually capable of has impacted sales of the Jimny.

Over the millennia, countless armies from the Northwest have crossed over the Sutlej River in pursuit of the riches of the northern plains of the Indian subcontinent. And river crossings posed a huge challenge for these medieval armies. If only they had the 2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon that I was driving up in Punjab’s Ropar district a few days ago, where a few kilometres downstream of the Nangal dam, I engaged four-wheel low-drive, took off my seatbelt – ironically for safety reasons – and forded the river. The Wrangler I was driving had open tube doors and cold water went up almost to my knees.

This was the highlight of a long day of off-road driving with the latest iteration of this iconic vehicle, which can trace its heritage back to the ‘Willy’s GP’ (General Purpose); the light-weight go-anywhere vehicle that the United States Army used in World War 2. Driving at the massive Kikar Lodge Estate in Nurpur Bedi, Punjab. I got a sense of this vehicle’s off-road capabilities. But it is a very niche one, with prices starting at Rs 67.65 lakh (ex-showroom) and going all the way up to Rs 71.65 lakh. You will have to pay extra if you want to remove the doors and get the version with tubular steel doors I was driving, which while a cool accessory, is completely ridiculous in this country.

A growing off-road culture

Off-road lifestyle culture is growing, not just evident in sales numbers but also the number of people joining off-road clubs. Last year, Jeep sold over 400 of these cars according to company officials. If you look at other hugely expensive but immensely capable off-road vehicles – such as the Land Rover Defender, Mercedes-Benz G-Class as well as Toyota’s Hi-Lux and Landcruiser – demand is soaring. I also recently drove the Mercedes-Benz G400 d and this vehicle, used by several European land forces, felt like a slightly smaller version of a Leopard tank. Despite its Rs 3 crore price tag (over Rs 4 crore if you want the G63 AMG model), there is almost a year-long waitlist as India’s rich and famous can’t get enough of them.

But it is not just at the high-end of the market; Mahindra sells between 5,500-6,000 units of their Thar every month, and expects a boost in sales after it launches a five-door variant later this year. Pune-based Force Motors is also launching a five-door variant of their Gurkha off-roader to compete with the Thar. On the flip side, many consider the Maruti-Suzuki Jimny, launched with a lot of hype last year, to be a commercial failure, with total sales of 17,000 units and moving under a thousand units in the first three months of the year. The Thar sells ten times more units every month.

Don’t underestimate the Jimny

It is not as if the Jimny is a ‘bad’ car; talk to any off-road enthusiast, and people who know what they are talking about will tell you that the car’s lightweight, narrow track and Suzuki’s ‘All-Grip’ system make it possibly the best value-for-money vehicle out there. Several of my fellow automotive journalists have spoken with their wallets and bought the Jimny, even though the vehicle did not win any major automotive award. I am seriously contemplating buying the vehicle myself and not just because I grew up with Maruti Gypsies all around me. I really know the capabilities of the car.

While the Jimny boasts impressive off-roading capabilities, its diminutive size goes against it. In Punjab for example, the Mahindra Thar has become, for better or for worse, deeply associated with ‘Gangster’ culture. The Thar features in multiple music videos extolling this, in both its current and previous iterations. Sidhu Moosewala, the artiste who embodied this culture, was sitting in a Thar when he was gunned down. And if people can afford better, they opt for a Wrangler or a G-Class.

A few months ago, I was chatting with Harry Singh, a real-estate dealer and Jeep Wrangler owner from Mohali who told me that the progression was obvious – the Thar, then the Wrangler, and finally the G-Class. Recently, while I was driving the G-Class, another friend called it, “the ultimate Bro vehicle”. Sure, the German Army uses the car, which can climb 40–50-degree inclines, cross rainforests, and has multiple settings to lock and unlock the differentials on the front and rear axles independently. The Wrangler, as I mentioned above, can ford rivers up to a meter deep. But at the end of the day, many of those who buy such ultimate off-road vehicles worry more about the impact it will make at an ahaata in Gurugram on the weekend than on a small mountain around Mewat. The Jimny does not offer a stripped-down two-wheel drive variant like the Thar, and Maruti-Suzuki has clarified that such a version will never be launched. 

And the strange thing is, when one has to do serious off-roading, the Jimny is the vehicle to have. Neeloy Sarkar, Founder of Terrain Tigers – one of the largest groups of off-road enthusiasts in India with over 10,000 members based in Gurugram – considers the Jimny to be the best off-roading vehicle for beginners and experts alike.

“For beginners who want a vehicle they can use inside the city but also a forgiving vehicle off the road, it is perfect. And for experts, it is infinitely modifiable, [with] a lift-kit (to raise the suspension) and fitting M/T (Mud/Terrain) tyres and if you know what you are doing, even [with] slight engine modifications, the Jimny will go places that I might not necessarily take all these other more expensive vehicles,” he told me.

However, the disconnect between what most buyers want to project and what a vehicle is actually capable of has impacted sales of the Jimny. Sarkar told me that there are a large number of folks who want to climb a mountain just for an ‘Instagram post’, something he frowns upon. “For me, this is a sport that expires the limits of man and machine, but I understand that many people just want an image.” And the Thar, Wrangler and G-Class can help them do just that. But as the saying goes, you have to look on the inside. So while sales are down for now and many news articles are writing off the Jimny as a failure, a turnaround is inevitable. And what I wrote about buying one? I’m very serious about that because I know what I want, and I don’t want something to show off.

Leave a Comment