Why the Maruti Suzuki Jimny failed to shine


The Maruti Suzuki Jimny has just received yet another wave of discounts, this time, wiping off 3.3 lakh from the compact SUV’s base level ex-showroom price. As it stands the Maruti Suzuki Jimny’s entry-level Zeta variant, which formerly cost 12.74 lakh, can now be purchased for 9.99 lakh, should the customer avail a loan from Nexa dealerships. More importantly, the discount now allows the 4×4 Jimny’s price to undercut that of the rear-wheel drive Mahindra Thar. Despite this, dealerships across the country are having a difficult time clearing inventories of what was once a sure bet.

The Maruti Suzuki Jimny 5-door was a very promising vehicle on paper. A descendant of the mighty Gypsy, (itself a rebadged, long-wheelbase version of the second-gen Jimny) it garnered enough interest on launch for Maruti Suzuki to receive 35,000 bookings. Even before its launch, the Jimny had provenance and history with the Indian buyer that can only be accrued over decades. And yet, by the end of 2023, dealers were struggling to clear inventories.

Watch: Maruti Suzuki Jimny SUV: First Drive Review

Poor Performance and pricing

The first nail in the Jimny’s coffin wasn’t just its high price. It was the price-to-performance ratio. Equipped with a meagre 1.5-litre naturally aspirated unit, the Jimny was instantly outgunned by its arch-rival, the Mahindra Thar, which featured a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol unit (along with a diesel option that the Jimny also did not benefit from) which made 150.19 bhp as opposed to the 103.9 bhp made by the Jimny. It didn’t help matters that Mahindra launched a RWD version, with a smaller 1.5-litre turbo-diesel that not only made more power (130 bhp) than the Jimny, but, at 10 lakh (ex-showroom) was a good deal cheaper upon launch than the Jimny whose top-end version cost a cool 15.04 lakh. Today the Thar RWD accounts for 50% of the Thar’s overall sales.

Even with pricing matching that of the Thar RWD today, the Jimny still remains underpowered. According to Vaibhav Jhaveri, a Jimny buyer who later sold his vehicle, the Jimny failed to perform on uphill climbs “even with a Stage 2 remap of the engine”. For any SUV to truly shine in India, its on-road mannerisms are just as, if not, more important than its off-road ones. This is true not only of relatively inexpensive offerings like the current-gen Thar with vastly improved on-road dynamics, it’s also true of a lot of luxury off-roaders, including the Jeep Wrangler, which in its current iteration boasts of far greater on-road drivability.

Also Read : Best time to buy a Maruti? Big discounts on Fronx, Jimny, Grand Vitara and more

Poor Positioning

According to Vinkesh Gulati, the former President of the Federation of Automotive Dealers in India, Maruti Suzuki positioned the Jimny wrong. Gulati claims that what was positioned as a recreational, lifestyle vehicle should have been positioned instead as a five-door, family SUV. Simply put, the added utility of five doors, and the subsequent addition in price did nothing for the hardcore off-roader slash lifestyle vehicle aspirant. And positioning the Jimny as a lifestyle vehicle did nothing for the rapidly growing base of compact SUV buyers, looking for greater on-road performance. Especially since the fully-loaded version cost 15.05 lakh (ex-showroom). “Jimny is a very good product. But pitting it against the Thar was a major blunder for Maruti Suzuki. Because it raised customer expectations”

“How does a rigid axle set-up help the dealer? How is he to explain its merits to a customer?” says Gulati, attesting that the Jimny’s modest power levels are actually sufficient for everyday city driving and if positioned as a family SUV, it could have at least entered the space dominated by the Kia Seltos and Hyundai Creta. “Why does off-roading need to be the USP?”

Fact remains that hindsight is always 20/20. With the five-door Jimny arriving years after the current-gen three-door model was launched internationally, it was too little too late for Maruti Suzuki. Price can be lowered but there’s simply no remedy for the perception problem faced by the Jimny. “Dealers are still struggling to clear inventories”.

Too niche a product

Despite not being able to appeal to a wider consumer base, the Jimny was particularly well-received by hardcore off-roaders, many of whom put it head and shoulders above the Thar when it came to sheer off-roading prowess. Ashish Gupta, founder of Cougar Motorsport, an outfit that organises self-driving motoring and off-roading events, the Jimny surpasses the Thar in terms of hardcore off-roading because it offers among other things “a rigid axle suspension set-up”. Gupta, who is among the country’s foremost off-roaders and off-road vehicle aficionados claims that solid axle gives an SUV better wheel travel, allowing it to clamber over rocks with greater success. Rigid axle suspension is also more durable and cheaper to replace.

Also Read : Force Gurkha 3-door SUV vs Mahindra Thar, Maruti Jimny: Price comparison

In comparison, the Mahindra Thar offers independent suspension, which, while being less durable, offers greater comfort, since what is felt by one wheel on a rigid axle set-up is easily transferred to the wheel on the opposite side of the axle. Not in the case of independent suspension. But the Jimny had other benefits. It has a smaller wheelbase, a narrower frame and a lighter body, allowing it to scuttle-up surfaces with greater ease. Its narrow frame also allows it to enter narrower trails. In that respect, the Jimny remains encumbered by the presence of an additional set of doors that not only worsens its power-to-weight ratio, but does nothing for its off-roading ability. Assuming that the 3-door version sold worldwide (and exported from India to Latin American and African markets) would see lesser demand on account of lowered utility was an uncharacteristic miscalculation from India’s largest carmaker. A carmaker that appeared to be on a winning streak with the Grand Vitara, despite its delayed re-entry into the SUV market.

(Parth Charan is an independent automotive journalist and writer who has written on cars, motorcycles and the automotive industry for the past 12 years. He lives in Mumbai.)

First Published Date: 11 Jul 2024, 10:16 AM IST



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