SUZUKI SJ 410 and SJ 413 SAMURAI
The diminutive Suzuki Jeep is not considered a serious expedition platform because of its small size and inability to carry the kinds of loads needed for extended trips. It is also slow and uncomfortable. However, its off-road ability is excellent due mainly to its small size and light weight. On the beach and over dunes it will out perform most 4x4s but its limitations show when asked to climb hills on uneven terrain where its lack of weight and stiff suspension hamper ability.
Early models roll over very easily, so a novice driver should be very careful with obstacles taken too fast. When bogging down, even in the worst case, a SJ can be easily dug out. Suspension is by solid axles on leaf springs on older models and coil springs on the new. The current model is enlarged marginally and is called Samurai. It offers improved comfort and better features with its revised suspension and a wider track, making it more stable. The long wheelbase models are better working machines and are a favourite with aid organisations operating in Central Africa.
SUZUKI VITARA AND GRAND VITARA
Suzuki’s best 4×4 is the Vitara, a vehicle with two wheels in the softies category and two wheels in the off-road category. Unlike many vehicles often compared to it, the Vitara has a low-range gearbox, equipping the vehicle with reasonable off-road ability. It does, however, suffer from a lack of clearance. Despite this, and its road tyres and feminine looks, it is surprisingly agile off-road and has even been used for difficult long distance trips into Botswana by some who are more daring than me. Current models have a 4-cylinder, 16-valve double overhead camshaft engine producing 122 kW or a 3-litre, 6-cylinder producing 165kW. This last one is very nippy and great fun to drive.
The nimblest, lightest 4×4 of them all, the Jimmy tries hard to be a four-by-four but doesn’t really make it. It tries hard to be serious, but fails, and so every Jimmy needs a sticker on the back: ‘Stop calling me Jimmy. My name is James!’. It reminds me of the SJ410 but without the SJ’s uncontrollable tendency to fall over. Powered by a 4-cylinder, 1300cc petrol engine it’s meant as a fun plaything rather than an adverturer’s vehicle. But it does have true low-range gearing and just enough clearance to be real fun.