Americans love many things, the Superbowl, Kardashians, and of course, trucks and SUVs! It doesn’t matter where you are, at the convenience store, school drop-off and pick-up zones, or in traffic, you’ll spot an SUV. Sport utility vehicles are precious; they combine the comfort of your typical passenger car with the practicality of a pickup truck.
SUVs were initially designed for off-roading and included four-wheel driving capabilities, but with time, more are being manufactured for on-road driving. Japanese automakers maximized this opportunity. In the 2000s, they produced some of the best trucks, crossovers and sport utility vehicles specifically for the U.S market. Here’s a list of the ten best Japanese SUVs of the 2000s.
10 Suzuki Escudo/Grand Vitara
The Suzuki Escudo is a compact SUV produced for four generations since 1988. In the US, the first-generation markets as Suzuki Sidekick, and was designed to fill the spot above the Suzuki Jimny. It gained its recognition by taking part in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb mountain race in Colorado. It won the challenge in 1995, as well as the Queenstown Gold Rush from 1998 to 2001. The 3rd Generation, known as the Suzuki Grand Vitara had a facelift offering two engine options the 2.4L producing 166 hp and 163 lb. Ft of torque and the GM-sourced 3.2L V6 offered with the flagship model producing 231 hp and 231 lb. Ft torque.
9 Mitsubishi Outlander
The Mitsubishi Outlander is a mid-size crossover that boasts impressive capabilities both off-road and on the highway. In 2003 Mitsubishi Corporation finally got on the SUV bandwagon and released the Outlander SUV. The Outlander is a fully-featured SUV with plenty of customizable options.
The 2004 model had a 2.4L engine, increasing its power to 160 hp. The 2005 version came with an optional manual transmission, disc brakes, new advanced airbags, and safety features. By 2007, Mitsubishi had redesigned the Outlander with a bigger body, a third row, and a V6 engine producing 220 hp. For the 2008 model, buyers had a choice between a six or four-cylinder engine paired with a standard CVT.
8 Nissan Pathfinder (3rd Gen)
The Nissan Pathfinder is a popular SUV by Nissan. The Japanese automaker began its production in 1986. It goes by Pathfinder in North America and Terrano in Parts of Europe. The 3rd Gen Nissan Pathfinder first made its debut in the U.S at the North American International Auto Show. This new version had a body on frame construction based on a modified version of the F-Alpha platform used on the Titan. Nissan also added a third row of seats making this compact Japanese SUV a seven-seater. The Pathfinder came with a 4.0-liter V6 engine that produced 266 hp and 288 lb. Ft of torque. In 2008, the Pathfinder raised its power with a 5.6-liter V8 derived from the Armada that produced 310 hp. The Nissan Pathfinder could tow up to 7,000 lbs.
7 Honda CR-V (2nd Gen)
The Honda CR-V is a Japanese compact crossover SUV manufactured by Honda since 1995. It did not sell in the U.S until 1997. It’s a mid-range vehicle with an SUV body design that slots between the Honda Pilot and Honda HR-V. CR-V stands for Compact Runabout Vehicle. The 2nd Gen CR-V had a complete redesign, although based on the Civic platform. It runs on a K24A1 engine but still lets users enjoy the same fuel economy as the Civic thanks to Honda’s i-VTEC technology. The K24A1 produces 160 hp. It also features an improved chassis for increased bending and torsional rigidity. The CR-V has MacPherson struts with a rear reactive-link double wishbone. The Honda CR-V is still one of the best-selling compact SUVs on the market.
6 Nissan Patrol
The Nissan Patrol has had a long and proud history globally. Unfortunately, it ceased production in 2016. Available in Short wheelbase or Long Wheelbase, this king of the terrain has been around for 65 years. The Nissan Patrol started its journey with an off-roader in 1951, just like its rival the Land Cruiser. In 2001, Nissan introduced the ZD30 engine that replaced the RD28ETI which was a 2.8-liter turbo diesel six pack engine. The new ZD30 was a four-cylinder turbo diesel engine paired with an automatic transmission. The ZD30 was a flop due to poor reliability, and in 2001, Nissan Increased its capacity to 4.8 liters, giving it class-leading performance.
5 Toyota 4 Runner
The Toyota 4Runner is a popular Compact Japanese SUV that has been in production since 1983. It’s a slight modification from a Pickup truck, the Toyota Hilux. The current 4Runner, 5th Gen, is one of the major players in the US market for a buyer looking for a double truck-based SUV.
The 2000’s 4runner (4th Gen) is based on the Land Cruiser Prado 120 platform. In 2003, Toyota introduced its large body design. It came in two options, a standard 245 hp V6 engine or a 4.7L V8 producing 235 hp and 320 lb. ft of torque. The V6 option was paired with a 4-speed automatic transmission while the V8 option came with a 5-speed transmission.
4 2003 Lexus RX 350( 2nd Gen )
The Lexus RX is a popular mid-size luxury crossover SUV. It sparked a revolution when it first came out. This Japanese luxury crossover was first introduced in 1998 and is arguably the model that started the crossover division. The RX350 is the brand's best-selling model. The 2nd Gen RX 350 was first introduced in the U.S in 2003 and packed a 3.5-liter V6 engine paired with an automatic CVT. The RX350 is currently available with an F sport package. Buyers can also get it in two different options as a five-seater or a seven-seater. This luxury SUV is so popular it rivals Audi Q5, Lincoln MKC, and Volvo XC60.
3 Mitsubishi Pajero
The Mitsubishi Pajero is the unsung off-road hero, and what started as a recreational jeep turned out to be one of the most iconic SUVs of its time. Mitsubishi Pajero has had 35 years of success. It’s also a proven Dakar Rally Champion, winning it 12 times. This Japanese off-road SUV is popular in the American market as Montero, Shogun in the UK, and Pajero in Spain, Africa, and Asia. It's no longer sold in North America as of 2006. The Mitsubishi Pajero has a lower, wider stance and unibody construction with an integral ladder frame chassis for torsional rigidity. The 2000’s Pajero (3rd gen) had a 3.8-liter SOCH V6 motor that used an ETV (Electronic Throttle Valve) that produced 210 hp replacing the initial GDI V6.
2 Toyota Rav4
The Toyota Rav4 is a compact crossover SUV that made its debut in 1994 in the UK, and 1995 in North America. Its launch was in an era dominated by sedans and minivans; however, this Japanese crossover prove its staying power. It’s over the years held the record of being U.S best-selling Toyota. The 2000’s Toyota had a 2.0L four-cylinder engine that produced 148 hp and 142 lb. Ft torque paired with a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. In 2006 the RAV4 had an upgrade offering the first V6, derived from the Avalon, producing 269 hp and 246 lb. Ft torque. The Rav4 earned its popularity for its nimble off-road capabilities as well as being a great family car.
1 Toyota Landcruiser
Perhaps the longest surviving brand under Toyota, the Toyota Land Cruiser traces its roots to an early automotive age where vehicles earned their reputation based on their off-road capabilities rather than their luxury features. That doesn’t mean that the 2000s Toyota Landcruiser resembles a relic. In 1998, Toyota redesigned the Landcruiser with a smooth V8 and stiffened chassis that did wonders for its road maneuverability. It was fitted with high-quality leather that hid any evidence of its utilitarian past. If it was not for its lack of wood inlays, the Toyota Landcruiser could easily pass for a Lexus. The Toyota Landcruiser will go down in history as one of the best-off roaders in the market.