The 90s were the decade of SUVs. People seemed to be eschewing sedans in favor of the bigger, the better and the more rad SUVs and trucks. With demands rising, the carmakers, or should we say, the SUV-makers, got to work and began to churn out one SUV after another.
In their haste to make more and more, and outbid the competition, some jewels did come out in the 90s...but then, so did some duds. Here we list five SUVs from the 90s that were built to withstand Kingdom Come and five whose unreliability made owners cry tears of regret.
10 Built Like A Rock: Isuzu Trooper
The second-generation Isuzu Trooper may have looked a bit too mafioso on the roads but was more or less built like a tank. Rebadged and sold in different parts of the world as the Holden Jackaroo, the Honda Horizon and the Acura SLX – the second generation - launched in the US in 1991.
Sadly for the Isuzu and the Acura SLX, Consumer Reports did them a bad turn by writing a review that stated these cars had a rollover problem when they swerved. It was found to be false but the damage to the sales had already been done. Those who were lucky enough to still go ahead and buy or retain one rejoiced with a car that simply refused to quit.
9 Tanked Pretty Quick: Isuzu Amigo
The Slinky toy from the 70s came with one irritating jingle, and we don’t know why Isuzu decided to go the Slinky way for its 90s campaign. Honestly, it looked like a chopped Isuzu Rodeo (Honda Passport) but looked fun to drive with its initial 2.3 and 2.6-liter engine offerings.
The short-wheelbase and those soft top looks soon ran into a host of troubles, with things conking off as soon as the warranty expired. The engine was also no friend of yours - several complaints kept popping up, often related to overheating. Clearly, not a very friendly effort by Isuzu.
8 Built Like A Rock: Land Rover Defender
The 90s Land Rover Defender may not have been much of a looker, but it could take a beating and remain standing tall. Built tough and to last, it used to be called the Land Rover 90 and 110. In 1989, Land Rover launched the Land Rover Discovery, so they had to rename their existing vehicle, choosing to call it the Land Rover Defender.
It was tough, but not great to look at. It was meant to be an all and out workhorse, which could tow just about anything, and is considered to be quite a classic find on the car bazaar now. So if you want one of these, they will cost you.
7 Tanked Pretty Quick: Suzuki X-90
What a confusion of a car. The Suzuki X-90 rolled in as a relative of the Suzuki Sidekick, which in turn replaced the unnecessarily infamous Suzuki Samurai. The X-90 was introduced in 1995 mostly to sniggers that turned into full-fledged guffaws as it slunk away in 1997 with barely any sales at all.
The car was an identity crisis on wheels that tried too hard to fit in as an SUV / Roadster. It simply fell through the gaps instead. Plus, no one could quite figure out the design, and it remained an underpowered and boring drive from start to end. Often listed as one of the worst cars of the century, the Suzuki X-90 should have simply remained a concept car that never got made.
6 Built Like A Rock: Subaru Forester
The Subaru Forester rolled into the US in 1997 and has stayed firm ever since because of superior performance and, of course, competitive rates. It kickstarted the trend of the crossover SUVs, with more driveability and comfort, along with the standard toughness an SUV must possess.
While its stance was like an SUVs', the Subaru Forester was built more like a car in that it came with an all-wheel-drive system as well as ruggedness. A continuously variable multi-plate transfer clutch that was computer-directed, let the Forester figure out the speed difference between its front and rear wheels. It could then add or subtract variables to avoid any skids and slips – and this made it stand out from all the other 90s SUVs.
5 Tanked Pretty Quick: Honda Passport
It’s not always a good idea to have any car manufacturer make you an SUV, for you to badge it as your own and sell it at a higher price. By now, we are pretty sure that Honda knows that, though there was a time, in the 90s, that it didn’t. When pressured by the world in general to make an SUV, Honda turned to Isuzu and rebadged the Isuzu Rodeo as the Honda Passport.
And it sold the Passport at higher prices than the Rodeo. Anyhow, it took Honda a while to come out with its SUV, dubbed the Honda Pilot, in 2003. Till then, it made do with the Passport with engines best left untouched and undriven. Plus in 2010, there has been a recall issued for the Passport and the Rodeo, over rusty frames.
4 Built Like A Rock: Toyota Land Cruiser J80
If Land Rover had the Defender, Toyota had the Land Cruiser. As of 2019, Toyota has managed to sell some 10 million of these. While the Land Cruiser was introduced way back in 1951, it is the 1980 model – the Land Cruiser J80 – that has withstood the test of time the most.
Its durability and all-terrain capabilities can sometimes put Jeeps to shame and it is often used by aid-workers in the toughest of terrains. Of course, it's so tough, even those who have moved to the dark side love to use it, as do soccer moms who appreciate the myriad cupholders strewn throughout the interiors.
3 Tanked Pretty Quick: Daihatsu Rocky
Daihatsu who?, you may ask. And considering the brand came in 1988 and went belly up (in the US) in 1992 – you would be justified. A Japanese automaker of repute, its Chi was utterly decimated when it came to the US. The Daihatsu Rocky, much like the Isuzu Amigo, was a two-door SUV introduced at a time when everyone in the US was looking for bigger and better options.
Remember this was the time of the Chevy Suburban and Tahoe, and the Ford Explorer and the Jeep Wrangler. So no one wanted the Daihatsu Rocky even though with 94 horses, it was the most powerful two-door ute around.
2 Built Like A Rock: Hummer HI
With the 90s gone, the Hummer is a pretty reviled vehicle today. But at the time of its launch, it was the next best thing to sliced bread. When the military began to use these giants on four wheels and called them Humvees (actually HMMWV), the car-crazy civvies wanted a slice.
So they got the Hummer H1 with a softer, more driveable suspension that did not crack your bones, a lesser-powered drivetrain lest you blew through the parking wall, and an actual interior. Then they added in radio and other little perks of life the boys in uniform didn't get in a Humvee, and the Hummer H1 became a hit. The fact that could drive circles around a Jeep also helped.
1 Tanked Pretty Quick: Mazda Navajo
There was a time when Ford and Mazda were great chums – and anything one of them did, the other wanted to do too. Thus, when Ford brought out the Explorer, much to the delight of SUV-starved Americans, Mazda wanted to do the same. Sadly, for Mazda, they came up with the Navajo simply because, at the time, the Ford Explorer came in a two-door version as well and that was all that the Ford was willing to lend.
Needless to say, while it was a big deal for Ford to supply and Mazda to rebadge a vehicle because usually, it was always the other way round, it wasn’t. No one wanted the Navajo, and it lasted on the car bazaar as an ignored step-sibling for just three years.