Original vs Modified the debate settled?

Many modifications are available today from different aftermarket suppliers, allowing overlanders and adventurers to transform their steeds to suit their needs perfectly. Are they worth it? Are they even necessary? Anton Willemse Snr pits a stock-standard Jimny against a highly modified model.

You just bought your new Jimny and have to decide if you will leave it standard or amp up the ability with some modifications. After chatting to some enthusiasts, we were persuaded that the mods not only look cool, but improve capability, which becomes clear when you regularly venture into the bundu.

The manufacturers prefer owners to keep their vehicles as stock standard as possible, because they say the mods don’t add extra ability and might have warranty implications. Their view, naturally, is that a standard vehicle should handle most of the challenges or obstacles that come with the typical demands of overlanding. In search of the truth, we decided to test these opposing points of view and headed to Bass Lake near Meyerton to pitch a standard Jimny against a built-up Jimny.

Our standard Jimny was stock, apart from a set of Dunlop Grandtrek all-terrain tyres in the same size as any vehicle fresh from the dealer floor, which is a rather narrow 195/80 R15. There were no other modifications on this vehicle, which is used by Alan Pepper to provide 4×4 training to new Suzuki Jimny owners. The built-up competitor is owned by Opposite Lock South Africa, and sports Tough Dog Foam Cell shock absorbers and a60mm suspension upgrade (designed to give a more comfortable ride), along with wider all-terrain tyres, a snorkel, roof rack, and a winch. In other words, it’s still very close to the standard model and certainly not weighed down with extras like a drawer system or replacement front bumper.

The key items for our test purposes are those chunky and slightly taller 235/75 R15 BF Goodrich KO2 tyres, allied to the 60mmsuspension lift. These give the Opposite Lock Jimny an extra 21mmof ground clearance under the diffs and 100mm on the body. The downside is the higher centre of gravity.

Our drivers for the day were the aforementioned 4×4 instructor Alan Pepper in the “OG” (for those wondering, the original or standard Jimny), and Ryno Cloete from Jimny 4×4 Adventures SA in the Opposite Lock (OL) Jimny. He is known on social media platforms as RollingRyno (we’d rather not ask why), and his business focuses on tours, trips and training specifically for Suzuki owners. While we could have dreamed up a myriad of tests for this shootout, we decided to keep it simple and focus on two core parameters: handling on gravel and off-road ability.

Gravel Travel

The test was to see how the extra height on the OL Jimny would affect its handling and whether or not the suspension upgrade would give it the upper hand. The track was laid out with staggered cones, and the idea was to drive at 60km/h down the slalom in 2H to start with and then again in 4H. To ensure parity, we set the tyre pressures on both vehicles to 1.2kPa. Runs down the slalom course were alternated between vehicles to ensure we got a fair indication of what was happening and to help with direct comparisons.

We also included a braking test to ascertain whether the OL Jimny’s fatter BFGoodrich tyres would deliver better braking performance than the OG Jimny’s narrower Dunlop Grandtrek ATs. The average braking distance for a vehicle travelling at this speed is about 26m on gravel, and our braking test gave a surprising result –the OG Jimny stopped inside the average on three tests. By contrast, the OL Jimny went over the distance twice – but only by half a metre and then by a metre. This was close enough to have been due to reaction times when applying brakes, so the team decided to call it a draw.

The slalom test uncovered a real difference in how the vehicles performed in terms of ride quality, body roll and grip, and although both vehicles were able to complete the test without mishap, it showed how suspension changes can significantly alter handling. With the OG Jimny in 2H, the vehicle did some sliding around the cones, but body roll was well contained, with the forces transferred to the passengers inside, who had to hang on tight. In 4H, the vehicle sliding almost completely stopped, as one would expect from the extra grip offered by four-wheel drive, but the forces being transferred into the cabin were even more intense. It did feel as if the Jimny was close to tipping at full slalom speeds, which one might expect from a narrow vehicle with a short wheelbase, but it tracked accurately through the cones.

The OL Jimny handled rather differently on its Tough Dog suspension upgrade. At 60km/h going through the slalom in 2H, the rear wheels also slid out at the extremes of the turns, but it felt very different inside the cabin, thanks to the softer ride. Things felt more under control, and we certainly felt less like ragdolls being flung about.

In 4H, this difference was even more noticeable. Although the OL Jimny was firm through the first couple of cones, it started to pick up asway momentum – almost like a pendulum – and through the last two cones the Jimny’s rear became very loose and caused us to finish the slalom almost off the road. Strangely enough, despite the effect caused by greater body roll as the suspension absorbed the loads, it never felt like the vehicle was at its limit with the risk of tipping over.

Judging the gravel handling on a slalom course was difficult. The outcome was left in the air with no clear winner. The upgraded suspension made us feel more in control of the vehicle, yet in the OG we never slid around the cones the way we did in the OL.

Going off-road

Most people modify their vehicles to go off-road and to use them for weekend warrior challenges. With an extra 100mmmore clearance on the body, and 21mm under the diffs, plus the extra grip offered by wider tyres, there was never any doubt as to which Jimny would fare better in our off-road challenge. Not to say that the OG Jimny wasn’t able to do everything the OL Jimny did, just that the latter seemed to do everything a bit more easily. Here again, to ensure parity, we kept the tyre pressure on both vehicles at a low-ish 1.2kPa.

The real tie-breaker was a specific obstacle: a big step with a ditch in the middle which had to be approached at an angle to avoid going into the bush when exiting the obstacle on the left. To overcome this one, Alan in his OG had to reposition himself a couple of times, searching for traction and enough clearance to get over the step. By contrast, the OL Jimny lined up just once and easily cleared the obstacle because of its extra height and “grippier” tyres.

The axle twisters also underscored the advantages of more clearance and slightly bigger tyres. In every case, we saw less wheel lift (and therefore less wheelspin) from the OL Jimny compared to the OG Jimny. This also meant the upgraded vehicle was able to negotiate mid-obstacle turns far better, while the less flexible standard suspension left the tyres scrabbling for grip.

Going through a water hazard, the OL Jimny also scored higher than the OG Jimny – simply because the extra 100mmof body clearance meant that our wading depth was also increased by an extra 100mm.When it came to a mud challenge, however, the fatter tyres offered almost the same grip as the thinner stock tyres, which seemed to dig a little deeper to the hard-packed stuff. It might be a different story in sand, where you would imagine the slightly wider BF Goodrich tyres would be an advantage, though here the softer sidewalls of the Dunlop Grandtrek Ats might compensate by offering a longer footprint.

The verdict

All in all, the OL Jimny came out on top. However, there are a couple of things to consider here, of which affordability is key. The magic of the standard Jimny is that it offers decent off-road capability at R400k. If you want aftermarket upgrades, your costs will rise by anything from R50-R150k, depending on what you choose to do and where the upgrades are fitted.

This is where the real debate lies. If the purpose of your vehicle is to have fun on 4×4 tracks over the weekend, modifications are a definite must as they will allow you to tackle obstacles with more ease and confidence. A standard Jimny will most likely still make most of those obstacles, a sour tests showed, but a set of fatter tyres and a suspension upgrade will make those harder obstacles easier, with less chance of mechanical damage. One issue to carefully consider is the raised centre of gravity that comes with a lifted suspension. If you also fit a roof rack, rooftop tent and add a few jerry cans, that centre of gravity would be raised even more.

Considering the sliding we saw during the slalom test, this would need to be in the back of your mind when travelling long distances on gravel roads – especially in the case of emergency braking or if you need to swerve for something on the road. You need to be conscious of the behaviour of your vehicle and know what it will do during emergencies. My advice is to get familiar with how any modifications affect your vehicle in a controlled situation, before going on a long trip. You should also consider taking an advanced driving course to ensure you understand the vehicle’s behaviour, and can react appropriately in an emergency.

Remember that manufacturers have to work to stringent safety standards, and every aspect of vehicle design puts safety considerations first – often to the detriment of other vehicle attributes, which may include off-road ability. If you then add modifications to improve clearance, wheel travel and raise the centre of gravity, the vehicle’s handling in certain situations is changed, along with the safety parameters.

So, it is important to define and understand your needs. If you only use your vehicle 20% of the time to explore off-road, there is no need to modify. And for all those who are doing modifications to up the coolness factor, you are doing it for the wrong reasons. A modification should always be for functionality first and aesthetics second. Whether it’s a Jimny or a Hilux that you modify, ensure the changes made are functional and not just for bragging rights around the braai!

Those bragging rights are a big part of what we love to see, though. So, remember to check out our Four-Wheel Partner section on page 82 and enter for “real” bragging rights!

When the going gets tough

Tough Dog’s award-winning Foam Cell shock absorbers are Opposite Lock’s best-selling shocks for all-round performance. Whether you head to the bush on the occasional weekend or for the majority of the year, Foam Cell shocks will handle your application.

The ‘Foam Cell’ that makes all the difference is a micro-cellular foam insert that helps to drastically reduce the effects of shock fade, allowing your shocks to perform better for longer, even on the harshest of corrugations. Cavitation and aeration are the undoing of any shock absorber. As the shock is worked harder, the oil and gas in the outer chamber begins to mix and form bubbles, lowering the viscosity of the oil. When this aerated oil passes through the valve, there is reduced resistance, stopping the shock from performing correctly.

The Foam Cell insert, with its trapped gas micro cells, takes up the empty space in the shock normally taken up by air or nitrogen gas. This eliminates the possibility of bubbles forming, allowing the shock to get on with the job with an unparalleled resistance to shock fade.

*Tough Dog is stocked by Opposite Lock: www.oppositelock.co.za

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