The Suzuki Jimny has been updated but it hasn’t strayed too far from its roots, writes Chris Nixon.

Suzuki’s charming Jimny baby four-wheel drive has just been upgraded with stability control and other minor mods, but it’s still easy to see its origins in a Tonka-like mini-jeep born 41 years ago as the unstoppable LJ50.

The LJ50 had a 550cc three-cylinder, water-cooled two-stroke engine that developed just 25kW. It sported a ladder-frame chassis, drum brakes, semi-elliptic springs all around and a four-speed manual transmission mated to a separate transfer case.

It soon gained a reputation as a fun, go-anywhere vehicle and the perfect all-terrain iron horse for Queensland’s farms and outback cattle stations. A mini Land Rover, in fact.

As the smallest four-wheel-drive, the bullet-proof Suzuki LJ50 tipped the scales at an ultra-light 700kg, but soon became a heavyweight contender in the four-wheel-drive stakes.

It could climb a 36.5 degree incline and clamber over impossible terrain with ease thanks to an unburstable drive train, 240mm of ground clearance and 16 inch wheels.

By today’s standards, it was utilitarian. If you wanted a clear view ahead you had two options – push the rubber button located on the dash plate to manually squirt water on to the windscreen or simply fold the screen forwards on to the bonnet.

And of course, you never needed to worry about how to clean the carpets, vinyl floor liners or fabric trim, because there weren’t any.

Queensland distributor Suzuki Auto Co. released that first two-seater LJ50 at $3485 for the soft top version.

Four decades later, the Jimny Sierra is still the mouse that roars.

A 1.3 litre, twin-cam, multi-point, fuel injected four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing, electronic stability control, power steering, electric mirrors, air conditioning, remote locking, a CD sound system and a host of other comforts are now standard. But there are.only two airbags.

The Jimny remains a focused true 4WD. Short length, short overhangs, 190mm ground clearance, weight of just 1060kg and low-range transmission ensure off-road ability to leave bigger vehicles floundering.

Its main compromises are space – decide if you are going to have back seats or a boot, rather than both – and the modest if sturdy engine.

Quoted top speed of the 4-speed auto version is just 135kmh. Reaching Fraser Island might be a chore, but once there the loveable Suzuki would be totally in its element.

Here’s how the 1974 Suzuki LJ50 and 2015 Jimny Sierra compare:

LJ50 JIMNY SIERRA
Engine 539cc three cylinder 1328cc four cylinder twin-cam
Power 25kW 62kW
Transmission 4-speed manual with transferCase. 5-speed manual or 4-speed auto with transfer case
Suspension Semi-elliptic leaf springs front and rear 3-link rigid axles with coil springs front and rear
Steering Manual ball screw nut Power-assisted recirculating ball
Ground clearance 240mm 190mm
Weight 700kg 1060kg
Price $3485 $19,990

$19,990 plus on-roads | Light 4WD

1.3 litre petrol | 62kW/110Nm

 FOR: Simplicity, ability

AGAINST: Interior space

VERDICT: In a 4WD class of its own